“On behalf of everyone from the K Co-op, I would like to thank you for all your help, and most of all your friendship. We’ve grown close together, you are one of us, and you are family. This is not goodbye; this is just one of those phases of our journey. There is no word that I can use to express our gratitude here, without your guidance; we won’t be as what we are today.”
I look around me and try to absorb the entire warm glow from each and every one of these group of people, warm, simple, generous, kind, thoughtful, caring individuals, and trying hard not to break down in tears. This appreciation that they bestow on me is so much welcome, in a way, I feel so self-conscious, wrecking my brain trying to figure out what I have done to deserve such gratitude. Yet, my soul soar tonight, my heart takes wings and my smile almost crack open my jaw. I drank; I sip greedily as this is the highlight of my works. This is my achievement, this is my pride. This is the nectar of life that I store dearly safely tucked on that special corner of my being. This is the moment of reveries that I will be needing when life takes that wrong turn again and I am left alone again and lost, again. This is my string of pearls, this is my invisible tattoo, and this is the fountain where I draw my courage from to move on, to keep on trying, to put one step one after another. This is the core of my self-survival mechanism.
I have been working with these groups of people almost all the time in my career path. From one place to the other, this revealing kind of moments when others make me aware that I am needed and that I am useful, is what makes me grow and grow I did, am and will.
“Fasten your seatbelt, M’am.” Smile the stewardess while lightly tapping me on the shoulder waking me up from my day-dream. The plane from Medan to Jakarta is crowded as always, people from all sort of passage almost all with their heavy hand carry and wait until the plane landed, the conveyor bell will surely be full with rows and rows of big luggage, boxes big and small, all sort of odd packages and of course roll cakes’ boxes. Funny, from all of the culinary delights, why people decide on Medan’s roll cakes, it is a phenomenon on itself to me.
Glancing to my left, two heavy-set of men are sitting in row. Enjoy my window seat you, think I while flash eyeing the guy next to the window. I don’t like the aisle seat, but then again, it is better than the middle seat. I surely wouldn’t want to be stuck between these two big birds. I never have any complain for leg room, short as mine, I can snugly fit in most places. But, in a small plane, economic seat, I need my elbow room, thank you very much. The sure bet will be window seat, or ok, fine aisle seat, at least I can lean to the side and take up as much elbow room as I can secure. “Sorry,” says a lady passing by struggling with her large handbag and a sizeable shopping bag on each arm. Did I mention that when sitting in aisle seat don’t start leaning to the side to take ownership of that comfy extra space before the plane took off? You will only annoy yourself and other passengers. Wait, sit straight, read your book or blank your mind, when airborne, then attack. I mean, take up that space. Occasionally, you will annoy the air hostesses when they have to manoeuvre around your elbow, but then again you’re the paying passenger; take that privilege to be a jerk once in a while.
Closing my eyes and folding my arms close to me, trying to block away all the chatty people around me. Obviously also giving a clear sign to the guy next to me, to stop asking further questions than where are you going? Mister, we are sitting inside the same plane, my boarding ticket surely mentions Jakarta, and the same as yours I’m sure. Oh yeah, true, I can always be on my transit to Timbuktu. Breath, breath, relax, negative thought be gone. A baby cries somewhere and a child start nagging her mum for something. Lady, please whatever she wants, just give it to her. I open my eyes and glance across the aisle, an old lady smiles at me and offering me a piece of her snacks. I smile and politely shake my head, “No, thanks, M’am,” and quickly as politeness permit, which is by slowly moving my head to a straight neckline forming 90 degree alignment to my shoulder while maintaining that smile, I return to my catatonic position, she might want to know where I am going too. Beat me, where am I going, actually?
God in heaven, oh the mighty powerful being, who ever and where ever you are, this is my last work trip, soon I will be unemployed, please please please ensure that this period will be as smooth as possible. Please please please, let me be by my potato’s side when it is time for me to scan that newspapers again and browse the net for an inkling of any promising and suitable job. Please, hear me, please, by the way, you can send me one of your rainbows, I haven’t seen one lately. That is not too much to ask, right? Just a rainbow please, then I know you heard me and things will be just fine. Ok fine, next time soon eh? Today is just too bright and muggy, a rainbow is yes, indeed too much to ask for now.
Life is not simple, I know, injustice prevails most of the time. I have witness first hand, many of that. You would think that a fair trading system designed with disadvantages producers in mind, will do exactly that, correcting the bias trading system. But, think again, it is actually not how it is done in practice. Maybe I am being too harsh, but from this past 10 years, I am more convince that there is truly indeed that something is fundamentally not right. What exactly it is? The design of the system? The people operating the system? There are surely many variables that you can analyse for any given situation, but the rule of thumb will always differentiate the root to two broad categories, the system design or the people. These two are also interlinked; unqualified people will design an inadequate system. I am not talking about people credibility in the forms of hard-earned institution disperse papers or even about their long listed experiences, but their ability to see and walk in the shoes of the disadvantage. I am not talking about complete range of grand design from needs assessment to monitoring and evaluating and fancy long-winded academically written periodical reports plus a state of the art infrastructure, but a people system that evolve and adjust by, for and with the disadvantage.
An idealist, I am, yes. A hypocrite, I am, yes. Acknowledging that I have to enable myself to walk in their shoes and see life from their eyes, is something quite different when it comes down to action it all in. No matter how it is, I am always going to be the outsider, a visitor, who come for a visit, performing my tasks, pack up, leave and back to my own privilege life. My life will always be in contrast with theirs. My material advantage, my surrounding, and my support functions will always give me a better head start. In all honesty, I am the one who is soaking my life in them and taking advantage of their disadvantage. They are my job, my work, my career object; they are my source of income, but most of all they are the source of my sense of well-being. I might have contributed to their daily predicaments by just doing my job, I would never know for sure. My emotional attachment and dedication are seasonal, chain to my immediate present and involvement in any given task. When I pack my bag and move on, I leave their lives behind me, their lives carry on as always. I would like to think that I made a difference, tiny as it is, during my stay, deep down inside, I hope I have carry a bit of their weight.
See that big bright yellow double arches shaping M? You probably never consider it to be one of THE fancy places to eat. 14 of us do. We are a group of 15 women, young and old, 14 of us born and take up resident in a small village on a foothill of a mountain, 1 of us a temporal resident logging with one of the village leaders, ‘adopted’ as one of the ‘family’ members. This one is also the village leader, in a sense; she is the manager of the community centre. And yet, she is an outsider. The village is our eco-tourism project, the ladies are our village guides, trained to bring warm hospitality to the venturing guests. They are our ambassadors to the outside world looking in.
“Anyone fancy an ice cream?” I smile broadly, thinking that a trip to this mall will not be complete without ice cream. We are sitting in this standardise white, yellow and red world franchise setting, joining 6 of its red-white tables forming a long island of our own temporarily with two rows of yellow chairs. “So, ice cream everyone, I’m paying,” noticing intuitively that somehow my 14 companions have switch to a bit of awkward demeanour. Then, come shy nods around me, and the mist lifts and chatty chat of 14 women spring back to life.
“It’s our free time, if you want, you can have a look around at the shops, and I’ll wait for you here. Don’t worry, I won’t go anyway heheheheh. How about we meet here around 5pm, in an hour? Then we can all go back to the inn, rest a bit before dinner time.”
“Why don’t you come with us?”
“Nah, I’ll be fine here, I don’t like shopping, so ladies, go ahead.”
“I’ll stay with you then,” says some of the older women, “It’s been a long day, and it’s nice to sit here, in air-con room eating ice cream.”
“Hehheheh my thought exactly, Inaq (Madam or mother in Sasak, Lombok local dialect).”
All the younger ladies and some of the older after finishing their ice cream start going about in twos or threes. Me and few Inaqs, we enjoy our ice cream slowly and chat mundanely. In less than half an hour, the first trios come back in sight. “Eh? So soon?” I greet them back. “Ya, we miss you hahhahahah.” Then, soon the pairs and the small bands start appearing back. “Eh? So soon?” Parroting like a dumb bird, I say. Knowing smiles broke all around the occupied chairs now and I am kind of puzzled.
“Everything is so expensive, I saw this beautiful outfit for my son, but it is more than 100.000 Rupiah for a shirt.” All the other chime in and describing their same desire, a hat for a daughter, a toy for a son, a pair of slippers for grandma and so on, souvenirs for the love ones at home. I sit there stunt as if someone has just slap me hard one person at a time. I am sooooo… sorry… all kind of thoughts rush through my mind. Stupid person, inconsiderate person, the big words I heard playing in my head over and over again. I scan their faces, are they masters of camouflage? There are no sad lines on their face. Should I be relief? A big slap lands again on my left cheek, this time I know my brain is keeping me in check and remind me of something fundamental that I should have been aware of. I am sooo… sorry … my dear friends, I didn’t know, I should have been more sensitive.
The plane lands with a sharp jerk, shaking me back to the now.
“This is Jakarta, eh?” exclaims one of the big birds beside me while yawning a big yawn. “Eh… maybe Timbuktu, Pak… (Pak/Bapak – Sir in Indonesian)” I grin loonilly at him and walk away quickly with my sling bag.