Sunday, July 17, 2011

Being invisible.

I got home a week ago and I had to push myself to start doing some research for the RP. I didn't have official permission to go to the place I planned to, because it's an educational institution and my paranoid self thinks I could be trespassing. But I don't have much time (about 5 weeks) to get data, so I just went to the school early in the morning to try my luck.

Surprise - although my father sent me there in his fancy car, the security guard thought I was just one of the domestic workers and said "Masuk, dik" (Come in, child). Not to exaggerate, but it was probably the first time I felt completely invisible - that I was exactly the same as everyone else in that vicinity - and undifferentiated on the basis of clothing, skin colour, accent, nationality or cultural background. (When in Ponorogo I looked the same as most people but my clothes and headscarf gave me away as being from Singapore, Malaysia or Brunei).

I asked around and found my initial contact person and had a chat with him, before being introduced to the head of the school program for domestic workers that I was looking for. I was most surprised by her sudden switch to Singlish, so fluent she was, having worked for a Chinese employer for several years. My contact person gave me some background info on employer-worker relations, and that he found that Malay employers are disproportionately represented in cases of abuse or low wages. Why??

Since my target are women who work for Singaporean employers, she introduced me to some of them and I learned so much about their studies and their goals for themselves. I was lucky that there were actually no lessons on that day - they were having a big carnival to celebrate Independence Day before Ramadan comes and they were busy having fun! And the fact that I could speak Singlish mixed with Malay was the best part - I could really be myself and also prevent any miscommunication.

I saw some women playing volleyball too, and what struck me the most was how fully a person they could be here. I look at my own domestic worker as just that - a worker, but I could not imagine her playing soccer or volleyball, or just having fun. It made me look deep inside as to why I had such prejudices.

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