I dreamt of being president but instead my lot in life turned out to be so awful and I ended up being a servant
Dear Mr President,
Firstly allow me to introduce myself. My name is Minah, short for Rosminah. I come from Kediri. I am currently working in Hong Kong, looking after my boss’s five dogs. I have left my young child back in the village to be looked after by her grandmother.
Krinnnggg…! Krinnnggg…! Krinnnggg…!
The alarm went off at 7 am, interrupting the thoughts that Minah was formulating to write down on a scrap of paper. Hurriedly she folded the paper and slipped it under her threadbare mattress. The 20-year-old woman hurried out of the storeroom—the room assigned to her by her boss—and went into the kitchen to prepare food for his five dogs. Their hungry barking was audible from their pen in the storeroom. She didn’t want to let their barking go on any longer and she quickly took them their food. The dogs fell silent, greedily wolfing it down while Minah got out their leads. Her next task was to take the dogs for their morning walk. Before Minah left the storeroom, which was separated from the back of the main house, she took out the piece of folded paper from under her mattress and slipped it into the pocket of her shirt.
Dear Mr President,
I dreamt of being President but instead my lot in life turned out to be awful, and I ended up becoming a servant. My father once told me that you, Mr President, know everything and are so good at solving all the problems of your people: in short, you are the most clever and best person in the whole of Indonesia. This is why I want to tell you about me and the problems I’m experiencing. And I’d like you to help me.
Sitting on a park bench Minah went back to her scribbling. Fortunately the dogs weren’t making too much fuss. They were sitting quietly near the park bench, watching the passersby who were going about their morning business. Maybe they were too full. Minah was thinking about what else she wanted to write when suddenly two of the dogs crapped. Instantly the stink was overpowering. Minah panicked. She’d forgotten to bring any newspaper with her!
She was confused about whether to just leave the dog crap there and walk away, pretending nothing had happened, or to use the paper she had in her hand instead of newspaper to pick up the crap and dispose of it in the bin provided. If she chose the first option then people were sure to report what she’d done to her boss, in which case she’d be punished. If she chose the second option she’d lose the draft of the letter she’d put so much effort into composing. Minah chose the second option but she didn’t throw away the paper. Even though it was smeared with dog crap she folded it up and took it home. She planned to copy what she had written onto a new piece of paper.
Minah had only finished elementary school. She’d gone to Hong Kong through a labor scout. The scout had taken her to an agent who had organized the details of the job and all the necessary paperwork. Minah didn’t understand any of it. Her unemployment and her family’s poverty had blinded her. She had been so trusting when she signed the contract presented to her by the agent. The most important thing was getting a job. Better yet, the agent didn’t demand a large fee. She was told all the costs would be taken out of her pay. Minah was quite convinced she’d improve her family’s economic situation by working overseas, even though this meant she had to leave behind her four-year-old child.
Dear Mr President,
Firstly allow me to introduce myself. My name is Minah, short for Rosminah. I come from Kediri. I am currently working in Hong Kong, looking after my boss’s five dogs. How could I bring myself to choose to look after dogs rather than look after my own child? I have left behind my baby, to be looked after by her grandmother. But this is my fate, Mr President. I can only accept it.
Dear Mr President,
I dreamt of being president but instead my lot in life turned out to be so awful and I ended up being a servant. My father once told me that you, Mr President, know everything and are so good at solving the problems of your people: in short, you are the most clever and best person in the whole of Indonesia. This is why I want to tell you about me and the problems I’m experiencing. And so I beg you to help me.
But I don’t know how to tell you about it, Mr President. I’m no good at writing. My friend Tutik says if I want to learn to write I have to write as often as possible and write whatever comes into my mind. The thing is, whatever’s important, just write it down, she says. If at the moment I’m trying hard to write to you it’s because of Tutik. She always gives me advice and encouragement, to have the courage to speak out about my feelings and opinions. Tutik is clever too. Even though she’s a maid like me she’s luckier. Her boss isn’t as mean as mine. She even gets holidays, and she uses them to take various courses. I want to do this too, Mr President. But I don’t have the time. And my wages are really low. Nothing like Tutik’s. She says I’m underpaid and she’s told me to demand my rights. But I don’t know how I should go about it.
All l can do is write this letter. I haven’t got a clue how I’m going to deliver it to you when it’s finished. I don’t even know your address or whether I can afford to post it. It’s sure to be expensive. Since I started working here I’ve never even sent a letter to my family in Kediri. Why waste a stamp, Mr President? I’d be better off saving the money to take things home with me later.
The dark-skinned woman was not as rosy as her name. The perfume and freshness of her youth had vanished and she had withered from the harshness of her life’s path. Her thorns had been blunted, ground down by sorrow and suffering. When she finished elementary school she had gone straight to work in a cigarette factory as a roller. Her wages were barely enough to make ends meet for the family, especially as her two younger siblings were still at school. Even so, her aim was to keep them at school right to the end. Right at the time that one of them finished elementary school the cigarette factory where she worked sacked a large portion of its employees. A foreign investor had bought a majority share in the factory and had modernized it, streamlining the workforce. Minah was one of those who lost her job. She had no choice but to suppress her vision for her siblings’ education.
Dear Mr President,
Why is it that school has to be so expensive? How long before people like me can improve their quality of life if school is beyond our means? If I may ask something of you, Mr President, I want you to help me keep my brothers and sisters on at school. I’m sure you have lots of money to send many poor children to school.
Dear Mr President,
I want to go back to school too. Tutik says I’m still quite young with a long future ahead of me. I don’t want to spend my whole life as a contract worker. I want to continue on at school like Tutik, but while I’m still working. Please pray for me that in my next contract l’ll get a good boss and high wages.
When Minah was still very young she married a tobacco farmer. Along with her husband she worked on someone else’s tobacco farm. Their wages from tilling the soil were barely enough to live on. Just when her first child was born the crop failed on the farm where her husband worked and his wages were drastically reduced. Minah was forced to borrow money anywhere she could to cover the cost of the birth of her child.
Misfortune continued to dog Minah. One day her husband took off, leaving her without a word after they’d had a quarrel over the mounting debts. Minah was in despair. Then when someone offered her work overseas she welcomed the opportunity with open arms.
Mr President, how much is your monthly salary? It’s sure to be a lot. You can certainly pay for your children’s education right till they finish school. Not like my wages. Tutik says I ought to be getting a much higher wage than I do now. But I don’t know how I should go about this. Even if I got a proper wage one day it would still be a lot less than yours, Mr President, as the Number One person in Indonesia. I’m only a contract worker, while you’re the President.
Usually Minah would return home once the day began to heat up and the dogs had had enough of a walk. Her next task was to clean up the crap in their pen and in the yard, and also to give them a wash in the afternoon. This was her daily routine, apart from other housework. To avoid her boss’s suspicion she would always hide the paper she’d been writing on under her threadbare mattress. Minah didn’t want him to think she was writing something that could damage him.
One day one of the dogs fell suddenly ill; Minah was blamed. She was beaten and given no food rations for three days. The first day of her punishment she was able to bear the hunger. The second day she was tempted to eat some dog food to fill her belly. The third day she was desperate enough to actually swallow some dog food, but only a little. She was worried her boss might find out that the dogs’ rations were short.
That night, after her punishment period was over, overwhelmed by hunger and exhaustion Minah leant against the wall of the storeroom and continued her letter.
Is a servant like me worth less, regarded as worse, than a dog? How do you feel, Mr President, as my leader, when you know that I, your citizen, am being treated worse than a dog? Ah maybe you’ll never get to know about it. Maybe you only concern yourself with other bigger more profitable issues, not the trivial issues of little people like me. But, aren’t I your citizen? Supposing I’d been able to stay on to finish my schooling? Surely I wouldn’t be suffering a fate like this, wouldn’t you say? This is why I’d like my siblings to continue at school so they don’t suffer the same fate as me, being treated worse than a dog.
Minah folded her letter and held it for a few moments. The smell of dust and the foul stench of the goods in the storeroom filled her nostrils. And the smell of the dog crap in the pen, which was so close to where she slept. She hadn’t even had a chance to put the letter under her mattress before she fell asleep; her body was completely exhausted. The alarm to tell herit was time to feed the dogs went off but it didn’t wake her. Even the noise of the dogs barking with hunger didn’t stir her from her sleep. When it was almost midnight she felt the dogs licking her and nibbling at the palm of her hand and her wrist, but she paid no heed. She didn’t have the energy to wake up fully. She just wanted to fall back into sleep.
That night there was no one at home. Her boss had just left for Shanghai and was not expected back until the following day. This was why Minah didn’t much care that his dogs were barking with hunger. She only wanted to have a little taste of freedom, if only for one night. She didn’t want to think about anything but her little boy back home.
The dogs got a whiff of the smell of food and approached Minah. At first they only jostled with each other to lick the palm of her hand, the source of the smell. Although Minah always washed her hands after feeding the dogs, the smell of dog food lingered.The biggest of the dogs growled and pushed the other dogs away so he alone could enjoy the palm of her hand. The other dogs didn’t accept this and responded by pushing too. Not wanting to be outdone, the biggest dog bit Minah’s palm really hard, right on the wrist as if to gain control over the source of its food. The other dogs, not wanting to be outdone either, fought over Mina’s hand.
Minah screamed and rose up to hold off the pain but she didn’t have the strength to get her hand free of the dog’s bite. Fresh blood spurted from the artery in her wrist, smearing the pages of the letter which was still in her grasp. The dogs growled, getting more and more crazy. Minah’s wrist was torn at again. With what remained of her strength she stood up to kick the dogs in an attempt to stop their biting.
For almost half an hour Minah wrestled with the dogs. She screamed for help but no one came. There was no one to hear her screams. When she finally succeeded in getting her hand free she collapsed, her strength exhausted. Her blood spurted out faster and faster, pooling on the floor of the storeroom. The bites had pierced her artery. The barking became frenzied. With the very last of her strength Minah reached out her hand to retrieve the letter, which lay scattered across the floor smeared with blood. But just as she succeeded in grasping the pages, everything went dark. Minah drifted away.
Hong Kong, Apple Daily
A migrant worker from Indonesia was found dead in a house in the suburb of Tai Po. The 20-year-old woman had committed suicide by slitting her wrists. The victim died due to loss of blood. The suicide took place when Mr Jiao, the owner of the house where the woman worked, was in Shanghai. The victim was first discovered by the cleaner who was suspicious when she heard the noise of the dogs from inside the storeroom. The victim was clutching a letter which is thought to be her suicide note. The police have secured the letter as evidence for further investigation.
Jaladara was born in 1987 in Ciamis, West Java. With a background as a migrant worker, she is founder and director of the Abatasa Library and Learning Centre in Hong Kong. Her books include Un Dans L’eternite (In an Eternity) and Surat Berdarah Untuk Presiden (A Blood Stained Letter to the President); she won an all-Asia “Letter to the President” writing contest. Her work is published in various Indonesian language media in Hong Kong.