When I look at the dreamcatcher I think of my friend, Riani. Riani is a foreign domestic worker from Medan, Indonesia. She works for a couple with two children ages, 8 and 6.
The first time I met her was at the swimming pool near the beach which we frequent. She would sit by the poolside and watch her employer’s children while they swam in the pool. I smiled at her but she was afraid to talk as her employer was sitting on the bench near the swimming pool.
Once, I saw her at the children’s playground near the swimming pool. My girls love the playground too and I would sit with Riani and chat with her. As the Indonesian language is similar to our national language, we have no problem understanding each other. Her employer, both the husband and wife would be seen sitting at the nearby restaurant drinking and talking to their friends. Occasionally, the wife would steal a glance toward the playground.
I remember the last time I saw Riani. It was a Saturday. That morning, she was told to get the children ready and to pack their swimwear and clothes. On the way to the beach, she could recognize the route and thought they must be heading to the swimming pool near the beach. She said in her heart, she hoped she would see me there. And that explained why she was so happy when she saw me.
While we were at the playground that day, Riani shared with me her plight working as a domestic worker. Her employer, the husband seemed reasonable but his wife treated her badly. Even when she was sick, she was given just a few Panadol tablets. Every day, she has to take care of the children, cook and do all the housework. The husband leaves for work early and comes home late. The wife would not lift a finger to help with anything around the house and she would rather sit in the house and do nothing. If the family had to go somewhere for a few days or for holidays, she would be sent to a relative’s house to do more housework. It’s ironic to know that she never had a day off since she started working with this family more than a year ago.
She had previously worked in Saudi Arabia for a couple of years. Though the laws there are strict, her employer treated her well. She regretted coming here to work. She felt she would be better off and happier working in her own country. She cannot wait for her contract to finish so she could go home and be reunited with her family.
I had a lot of time that day as my hubby had taken the girls to the beach to swim and pick seashells. I just sat there with her and listened. I knew that she needed a friend to vent her frustrations. I advised her not to hold any grudges against her employer. And that she is not to be blamed if her lady boss sulked all day, never smiled at her or talked to her in a kind manner.
I told Riani that she has every right to be happy and she must always have happy thoughts no matter how difficult life may seem. And she must persevere and look forward to the day she can pack her bags and go home. Even as I was talking to her, I could see her employer watching us from a distance. We sat next to each other on the bench but we talked without facing each other. I do hope that she did not get into any trouble as she was told to refrain from talking to other people.
About half an hour later, her employer took her children to the beach. It was a relieved and a good break for her. I offered her some chocolate because chocolate always makes me happy when I feel sad.
Before we said goodbye, I gave her a dreamcatcher. I wanted her to have something that was made in Indonesia. Something that would bring beautiful memories back into her life. I hope she will never let go of her dreams. I also wrote down my name and mobile number on a piece of paper for her but she said she was not allowed to use a mobile phone.
And I said to her “It’s okay. Maybe one day, when you’re back in Indonesia you could text me and let me know you are safe and happy.” She thanked me and quickly slipped the piece of paper and dreamcatcher into her shirt pocket.
Riani’s story is commonplace. It is sad that Riani is one of the many people trapped in some form of modern-day slavery. I am ashamed to say that there were many cases of domestic workers being abused by their employers in this country. And some were physically abused and there were a few cases where the workers were being locked and starved in the bathroom.
But the only consolation for Riani is that her contract would come to an end in a few months and she will be free to go home.
May we never stop catching our dreams even if we have to go through the worst nightmares.