Faraway Dream

The idea of foreign domestic workers having the same rights, opportunities, and welfare as the rest of us is something that should have been a given in any decent society. Agatha Celia’s piece, elegant in its simplicity, makes us wonder why this dream still seems so far away.

The auditorium’s glaring neon lights don’t faze me. 

My rugged husband waves his copy of the programme around, trying to make a way among the sea of fellow parents. I make sure not to rumple my custom embroidered baju kurung. Our youngest daughter, Aminah, is about to graduate today. 

I left home for the first time to find a job when Aminah just got the hang of walking. I didn’t dare to dream of sending my children to high school, let alone college. It seemed too far away. I’d be lucky if I could send them enough money to keep the lights on. I’d even be more fortunate if I could end up with a boss who wouldn’t beat me or pour scalding hot water every time I made a mistake. The stories were petrifying, but my husband couldn’t get a job, and we needed to eat.        

I first heard about the Domestic Worker Protection Regulation from a friend at the wet market. She told me the parliament was deliberating on passing it. I rolled my eyes. As if they cared about people like us. I didn’t know the legislation had passed until my employer let me go.        

An acquaintance put me in touch with Mr Malhotra, with whom I have been working for ever since. He is a decent man and employer, but I don’t know if he’d pay me the same wage and benefits without the threat of hefty fines and imprisonment—especially after years of being paid very low, far below the minimum wage.

Since I started working for Mr Malhotra, my family’s quality of life back home has improved. We could finally buy a house. My newfound health benefits allowed me to seek help for my high blood pressure. I’d also invested wisely in my sister’s farm and my neighbour’s coffee stall. 

Now, I see my beautiful Aminah in the front row, perched in elegant regalia. 

The lights die down. The band plays a rousing march. The dean gives a speech. He talks of resilience and the future. I stop listening in the middle to think of my own. 

My retirement account is filling up quite nicely. Mr Malhotra has never skipped a  payment contribution, and sometimes I , too, would set aside some of my earnings into that account. In a year or two, I should have enough to retire to my village and live comfortably for the rest of my days. 

There are several dreams I have put on hold. I want to live by a pond, so I can wake up every day and admire the crystalline waters reflecting in the early morning rays. I’d also like a small chicken coop in our backyard so we can have fresh eggs for breakfast.  Our grandchildren can play with the chickens during holiday visits. I close my eyes  and imagine a cool afternoon breeze blowing by the verandah, perfect for jasmine tea  and biscuits. 

The dean finishes his speech. The student body hollers. One by one, each graduate’s  name is called out. My husband squeezes my hand. 

“Aminah Baringin…” 

I don’t register the rest of it. Jumping on my feet, I yell, “That’s my baby!”. I clap as loudly as I can with my calloused hands from years of  scrubbing floors. Aminah walks across the stage, tipping her hat midway through.  Tears brim my eyes as they hand her diploma. 

This is it. This is the dream.

This work is supported by Heinrich Böll Stiftung, Grant C12.22_2021

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