As Indonesia wraps up its starring role as the guest of honor at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, we’re shining a spotlight this weekend on Indonesian writing from our archives. Our January 2009 issue, “Tropical Currents: Writing by Indonesian Women,” offers up “Maybe Not Yem,” an unsettling story about a migrant domestic worker who encounters abuse and resistance, both immediate and rumored, while traveling along Java’s northern coast:
“Can you believe it? One of my friends threw her boss’s baby into a washing machine, just before going back to her village,” the woman beside me said in a flat voice. I turned my gaze to the darkness outside the car window. The woman was terrorizing me. Damn it all! A chill ran through me as I thought of what she had just told me.
The air was stuffy. Our small van crawled along the road. The heat from the van’s engine was enough to make frozen blood boil. As we traveled along Java’s northern coastal road it felt as if we were on our way to hell. Since six o'clock my body had been bent like a hook. The pain in my back made me feel as if I had arthritis. With the feeling of pins and needles in my flesh, I was afraid to move a limb. And of course, I didn't have the nerve to state my displeasure at the woman’s story. I looked at her again, hoping that she had finished terrorizing me. She shouldn't be making things up as we exchanged our experiences as guest-workers abroad.
This piece by author Etik Juwita, who herself works as a housemaid in Hong Kong, raises more questions than it answers about the atrocities exploitation can drive a person to commit in a bid for power and freedom.
For more writing from Indonesia, check out our “Myth and History” issue from August 2015.