Sitting in a restaurant near Kowloon Railway Station in Hong Kong, 45-year-old Malang-born Mega Vristian did not feel awkward sharing her thoughts on just about any topic.
The stories she told were so touching that two writers from Singapore joined in on the conversation. When she spoke, the poet, deftly switched between Cantonese and Javanese and also inserted a few English sentences.
“I wanted to support my fellow migrant workers by writing so people could understand what we experience overseas,” she said. Then she described her dream of publishing the literary works of Indonesian workers overseas spread across various countries.
It seems her dreams won’t be coming true soon though. The network of cross-country friendships developed by Mega hasn’t taken off yet. “[Am only receiving contributions] from a few countries,” lamented Mega. A growing number of Indonesians working in Hong Kong in the last few years have been participating in art and literary activities.
They have performed in many theater plays, written poetry anthologies and published short stories about their plight.
In fact, migrant workers have become happier because of the increasing and widespread media attention they are getting through their artistic expression. In their homeland, a number of media outlets regularly publish their works.
“This has created a great opportunity for us to develop [our creativity] because the editor of the tabloid Suara has published our works,” she said of Suara, an Indonesian-language bi-monthly publication in Hong Kong with a circulation of 35,000.
This publication is aimed at Indonesians working overseas, 130,000 of whom live in Hong Kong. Through the newspaper, Indonesian migrant workers have had the opportunity to contribute stories about their lives.
Mega and her friends have been reading poetry and staging short stories at theaters, usually reflecting on workers’ daily inner struggles and adventures. Their joys, alienation, sufferings and also their longing for their hometown and family always color the stories they tell.
Is the type of literature developed by Mega a new genre in Indonesia literature? Opinions vary. Some support their art while others are more sceptical. A number of former migrant workers who have returned to their homeland still maintain their interest in literature and continue writing about their lives.
Jodi Yoedhono, the literary editor of the news site kompas.com, which has published many of Mega’s poems, believes the spirit behind the work of Indonesian migrants should be rewarded.
Even though there are limitations to their aesthetic value, other issues must be taken into account given they have had little training in the field of arts and literature.
“In the middle of their busy working days they still take the time to practice; this is important,” added Jodi.
According to Jodi, readers can still identify an aesthetic value in Mega’s poems. Her work is certainly better than the poems of other people, which often seem vulgar. Mega’s works go through a tight selection process before being published.
Bonari Nabonenar, a poet from Malang, sympathize with Mega’s struggle. He thought Mega was very serious in her work and mobilized the writing community. “Generally her friends in Hong Kong have been running the project to empower themselves, including in the field of literature,” he asserted.
Bonari regretted the government wasn’t supportive of the migrant writers’ valuable activities. All of the Indonesian migrant workers have had to spend their own money to fund their artistic endeavors.
After about an hour of casual conversation at Kowloon station, Mega’s cellphone rang again. She uttered a few sentences in Cantonese an her eyes brigtened.
“My son won again, he came third in a harmonica competition in Hong Kong,” she said.
This elementary school student is not her biological son, but the child she cares for and loves very much. Every day, Mega looks after her employer’s son and their eldest daughter.
Mega has been working for the Lem family for more than 10 years, so it’s not surprising that an intimate relationship has developed between the children and her.
Mega’s poetry was once published by accident under the name of their eldest daughter Candy Lem.
Back in 2004, Mega wasn’t very familiar with computers and the Internet, and sent one of her poems using Candy Lem’s email account.
The poem was subsequently published under Candy’s Name. Intrigued by the incident, Mega’s employer allowed her to use the computer and Internet at the family home, giving her the opportunity to develop her artistic and literary skills.
As a housemaid, Mega is very happy because her writings have put her on the same level as other writers. In an anthology of poetry titled “Nubuat Labirin Luka”, (Predicting the Labirin wound), Mega pays homage to the late human rights defender Munir by collecting a number of poets’ works such as those by Eka Budianta, Donny Anggoro, Sobron Aidit and Saut Situmorang. (Donny Iswandono, Contributor, Hong Kong)
Tulisan ini pernah dipublikasikan di http://www.thejakartapost.com/ 12 April 2010.