Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I'm Angry!

Ema was quiet. On first impressions, she came across as a shy person. She moved slowly, deliberately. She looked sad. But the first words that came across was, “I'm angry.”

Emotion Portrait No.1 by Jella-bella

Ema was angry that she was detained at the airport and brought to the mental ward of the hospital. She had earlier contacted her husband to come and fetch her, and therefore was shocked to find herself detained in the mental ward of the hospital. Though she was given a cursory health inspection, she still intends to check in to a hospital, one which her employment agent will take her to. That is because she still feels the aches and pains from all the abuse bordering on torture she had suffered while she worked 11 months for her employers in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.

“They only gave me paracetamol, but I'm not having a headache!” She had complained that she could not sleep the night before, and had been only offered paracetamol. The toll of the lost night of sleep was visible the following day, from her movements and quiet demeanour. Such was her frustration and incredulity at being held at the mental ward without proper medical attention or care.

Ema does not live very far from the centre of Jakarta; about 2 hours away by bus. By local wisdom, her proximity to the capital should have meant that her opportunities for employment and for making a good living should have been better than most people. Yet, as reality bites, her situation is made all the more desperate and dire in the globalized and outsourced labour marketplace.

A year ago, her husband chose to remain at work in a private company, while she tried her luck in working abroad. If first impressions are anything to go by, it would be difficult to place Ema and her husband as Jakartans, even if they do live on the fringes of the greater metropolitan area. Already in their forties, the one shining attribute is that they still do care and try to look out for each other, as opposed to other couples torn apart and broken up by the fickle fortune afflicting migrant workers. All the more tragic are the migrant workers, mostly women, who return abused and tortured, to an empty home.

The burden to care for these migrant workers, who are sometimes in a coma, falls unto their relatives, especially their parents, even if they are hospitalized. Most economically-accessible hospitals in Indonesia tend to supply very basic medical care, and depend heavily on the presence of family members to cover up any gaps in the care of patients. Such is the bitter fruit that gathers at the bosom of their fathers and mothers.

For Ema, her ordeal in the mental ward was quickly coming to a close. After being held for one night, she is being discharged into the care of her employment agent, and her husband, who has taken time off from his work. But she is still traumatized, she is still angry at how she has been treated. The only thing is, she is too weak to make a stand, to demand for her rights. Her quiet and quick words with her husband belie the true and full strength of her emotions. Especially when she learns of her husband's complicity with the employment agent's plan to get her admitted into the hospital upon arrival at the airport.

Ema's husband did not really understand the true nature of his wife's sufferings, and felt it was rational to follow the suggestion of the agent to let Ema be picked up by the authorities and be placed into the present hospital, though it was not determined if her placement in the mental ward was criminally intentional, medically warranted, or accidental. He had earlier signed some agreement papers, on behalf of his wife, with the employment agent who seemed to know what was happening, what to do next, and seemed to be on good social standing with the nursing staff at the mental ward. He just wanted the best for his wife. But Ema felt betrayed instead.

Instead of being met at the airport as she had requested, Ema felt betrayed at being detained in the mental ward without means to contact anyone. Instead of having her pains and aches being seen to, she was ignored, for in all intents and purposes she could still stand and walk, albeit very slowly and painfully. As a person, deep down, she felt that she should have had the freedom to do what she wanted done to her, and to do what she wanted to do. Yet, the authorities do not listen to her demands, nor do they treat her as a person, but more like a commodity to be processed, to determine certain qualities from her, her whole being and value reduced to being only a thing to be checked and put in its proper place.

Ema leaves the mental ward with her concerned husband, fuming silently. Her thoughts grudgingly move forward, to the hospital that the employment agent will bring her, though it remains to be seen if she would be accorded the proper care and attention there. As she leaves her nightmare of the mental ward, it's not clear that all will be well, as she faces uncertainty about her health, and her economic future. For apart from her health deficit, there would also be the trumped up claims from the employment agent to deal with, despite not drawing any pay for her 11 month's work. Apart from all the economic difficulties, apart from all the abuses of human rights, apart from the bureaucratic parasitism, there is also the indifference of society, and even the stigma of being a failure, a failed migrant worker laden with debts and poor health.

All she knows, all Ema can do now, is to be angry, but even that, quietly, restrained, like a tortured soul too tired to scream, too weak to pour out its anguish, though she continues to be pricked and pierced by its pooling pain. Her only comfort is that her husband has remained at her side, for all that is worth. This bitter-sweet consolation accompanies her out the door of the mental ward, and into her dismal future, none all too different from the millions of unfortunate migrant workers dealt a cruel and common hand by fate.