My Life as An Indonesian Migrant Worker in Malaysia

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We Malaysians depend very much on foreign labor to carry out 3D (dirty, dangerous and demeaning) jobs that regular Malaysians will never do. In 2017, there were more than 1.7 million foreign workers!

More often than not, Malaysians treat them with disdain and even disgust. They’re seen as less than human, but I’m fortunate enough to know one of them personally.

Meet Komang from Bali. She’s been here since she was 19. This is her story:

I was born in Desa Sambangan in Singaraja, Bali. That’s at the Northern tip of Bali Island. It’s quieter than touristy districts like Ubud and Kuta. My village is quite deep inside, and you’d have to drive off the main road for about half an hour.

I wasn’t born into a rich family. In fact, growing up we struggled a lot financially. Dad is a tailor, and Mum supplemented the family income selling food. She would get up in the wee hours of the morning and cook. She would bring the food to my school (I would follow her), and she’d sell it to the kids there. There would be porridge and some kueh (small cakes) plus other Balinese breakfast foods.

My parents also planted cloves and lemongrass on the land they had. These would be harvested and sold at the town market from time to time. There were also fruit trees, and they’d sell the fruit when it was in season. That’s how we got on.”

Coming to Malaysia

I had a happy childhood even though we didn’t have much money. I mean, my parents tried their best to give me and my brother and sister everything we needed. I started helping them on the family plantation when I was about 13.

I had to tie the lemongrass leaves and my mother would cut them. Sometimes, my parents planted flowers too, and I had to harvest them for market day. In Bali, flowers are an important part of Hindu worship as they’re offered to the gods and used in various rituals.

One of my most heart-breaking moments growing up was when my parents told me they had no money to send me to college. I had finished high school and wanted to further my studies, but the funds just weren’t there.

Around that time, my cousin who was working in Malaysia contacted me. She said the hotel spa she was working at was looking for more Balinese people. That made me happy. Even if I couldn’t go to University, at least I would be able to see more of the world. So, I took her offer to work as a spa therapist.

It was rough at first. Within one or two weeks I felt really bored and homesick. The culture and language was so different, and the food too. I struggled to get used to it, but it takes time I guess. I managed to pull through and after the spa, I worked in retail until today.

A Bad Encounter

Most of my employers and the people I’ve met have been nice. But I had this horrible experience in KLIA once when I was trying to go home. My passport had accidentally been put through the washing machine and I didn’t have time to get it replaced.

The immigration officer on duty was merciless. He screamed and screamed at me while I was going through the customs. I can’t remember what he said but he was so brutal I cried there and then. Needless to say I couldn’t go home that day and had to waste my flight ticket.

Replacing my passport was another nightmare. I had to travel up and down to the Indonesian embassy, pay an agent to help me get it done and then travel through Batam to Jakarta for more paperwork before actually being able to go home to Bali. So much money and time was spent there. It was the worst week of my life.

Life Goes On

I’ve been here in Malaysia for about five years now. My biggest concern is still getting used to the culture and way of life here. I miss home, a lot, especially Mum’s cooking. My parents are vegetarian Hindus, and my Mum makes one of a kind vegetarian food that you can’t find anywhere else.  I miss the temples, the rituals, the traditional dances and all the cultural stuff too.

It makes me sad whenever I hear about domestic maids being abused. It makes me wonder how anyone can be so heartless. I didn’t enter as a maid, so I consider myself lucky. Being able to speak English helps my job prospects too I think.

I still want to succeed and make my parents proud of me. I want to be able to help them in their old age. That’s why I’ll press on and hope for the best.

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