Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Independence Day

Its heading to August 17th, the day of independence for Indonesia, and the kids are all revved up for it. Thursday, students from each house (a vertical grouping of years 7-12) have to dress up, provide food and put on an exhibition and a dance from a specific area of Indonesia.

Friday, its flag raising with all the pomp and ceremony the school can muster. It’s quite a sight. Assemblies such as these are run along strict military lines, with lots of marching, standing at attention and goose stepping etc. The rigid display of military style marching is taught by a few teachers who appear to regret the fact that they are not serving in the forces. One teacher in particular, a skinny chap with a penchant for dramatic flair when teaching dance, leaves all this behind when burdened with the responsibility of whipping the squad student leaders into shape. His emphatic tutoring of the students brings to mind those fierce warhorses depicted in most Hollywood flicks. However, the students will practice and practice until they get it right, seemingly aware of the importance of their roles.

Students smartly dressed in school uniform but wearing the national hat (the peci) and white gloves lead the assembly. A number will direct each year level of students standing to attention under the rapidly warming sun, two more students will stride, arms swinging in precision, to the centre of the field and snap to attention before reading the declaration of independence, followed by the Pancasila. Each line of the Pancasila is repeated by the student body in a roar of affirmation. Others are in charge of taking the flag to the pole, all in precise and concise movements, tying it on, and then raising it with salutes sharply held to attention. The national anthem will play over the loudspeakers and the entire group of students and teachers will also salute, singing along with gusto.

The ceremony is conducted with serious intensity, a brief moment where our students, of whom most are Chinese Indonesian and have little time for patriotism given their history of repression, are given cause to take pride in their country of birth. That they do so uncomplainingly, standing in the morning sun for a good hour or so, points to a need to belong to something greater than their individual parts.

The reverent handling of the flag and uniform declaration of independence and Pancasila all accompanied by a strong military influence harks back to an age where Indonesians, unsuited to the notion of collective warfare (coming from disparate groups across the archipelago), were forced to adopt a militaristic style in order to overcome their natural tribal divisions. I once wrote a few years back about the guards of our housing estate who also trained and acted as if they were in an army division. This attitude of military ethos surpasses all and links each person to the collective whole.

This can be quite different from what we would perceive to be a school style assembly. I remember that on Anzac day back home the students would gather in ragged ranks and watch the flag go up then sing half heartedly the national anthem, all rather embarrassing don’t you know, they seemed to indicate.

Profuse declarations of patriotism and adherence to crisp military authority just don’t seem to fit the Australian style. I have a friend who was in the military and said he couldn’t be fussed to salute but a general wave in the recipients direction was considered enough. He remembers fondly how his army buddies and he would go bush and have a great old time wandering round thinking of ways and means to trip up the boss.

Not so here. The respect for authority is ingrained on the Indonesian psyche, possibly a side effect of a seriously authoritarian regime in power for 30 odd years which took the place of a seriously authoritarian regime led by the Dutch in some parts of Indonesia, while in other parts the regimes were dictated to by sultans/kings and the like. In fact, if you ever get the chance, take a squizz at “Mirror of the Indies” by Rob Nieuwenhaus. Remarkable stuff. Another interesting text is by H.W.Ponder titled “Javanese Panorama”. While both texts are written from the perspective of white racial superiority, they do offer some fascinating observations (that is, if you can get past the rampant condescending snobbery).

I digress.

On Friday morning, we will all gather on the oval in silent ranks and watch the flag raised, then listen to a speech by one of the senior Indonesian staff on the importance of the independence movement and the sacrifices made by all involved. The flag will flutter in the breeze and this solemn occasion will end with the students sent home.

Another year has passed, not only for Indonesia and its inhabitants but also for us.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Trust and Consequences

It’s been a tumultuous week in our household. Something happened that I thought never would, our faithful and gentle nanny, Patsy, was found to have extracted almost US$3000 from our account over a two month period. She had used the ATM card taken from my wallet then replaced it after each time. C had left the pin no in my wallet when she had gone to Australia. I did get rid of it but obviously not fast enough. The amounts withdrawn were staggering in their audacity, in one month alone she took nearly US$2000. We didn’t catch it until C checked our account online and noticed all these withdrawals in rupiah from our US $ account.

First it was disbelief, and then an urgent checking back over the months, hearts sinking as the magnitude of what had been taken sunk in. It’s been a hugely busy couple of months for us, with C going back home twice for university, then our holiday in Bali then school prac for C and school for me. Our fault that we hadn’t checked it more often I guess, but we had been operating on the assumption that take what we need and keep the rest. The rising aussie dollar also stayed our hand, we were going to send money home but held back, hoping that the recent surge in the dollar would subside.

We thought it might have been her but were unwilling to acknowledge it. That is, until I found a receipt for a deposit into her account for near US$1000.00. Then we knew.

I sat her down and adopted the empathy approach. I asked her if she had taken any money. She denied it but when I showed her the deposit slip, all was revealed. Yes, she had taken the money, no, she didn’t know how much. When I showed her the final amount, she was visibly shocked. She said she didn’t have that much left so I checked her account. US$1000 was still there which she handed over. Her excuse? Once started she couldn’t stop. Remember, she was suddenly given access to what would have seemed like untold riches. Maybe she buried her reservations when faced with such large quantities of money, I don’t think we will ever really know the answer.

I was prepared for crying, hysteria, wringing of hands and so on, but not a peep. She was very calm, and in some ways defiant, telling me her salary compared to other expat maids was lower, that I had only given her 4 pay rises in 3 years, other expat maids had longer holidays and so on. That she was paid handsomely by us, and taken care of in a myriad of ways didn’t enter into it. I have recently checked with other expats (see (www.jakartass.blogspot.com) who assured me that she was paid well above the going rate. It’s possible that some our friends, corporate types do pay more but they can afford to. We have always thought we were doing the right thing. She had obviously drawn up a defense line from which to operate and assuage her conscience.

But, all this is still no excuse.

I contacted our bank, HSBC, who are now trying to get the picture records from Citibank whose ATM was used. Havent seen them yet, and I'm still hoping that we will see another also involved, someone who somehow influenced her.

I sat Patsy down again and tried to work out just what she had done with the other US$2000. Some had been lent to family, some given to friends, some spent etc. I suggested she try to get it back. In the meantime, general consensus from friends and comments left on jakartass was that we couldn’t keep her on. Both C and myself agreed. It was just too uncomfortable. She had been part of our family for so long, the children were deeply attached to her, but in the final wash up, we realized that we could not trust her again. Once trust is gone, there would always be that niggling worry at the back of your mind each time you left the house, or had her look after the children.

So, I came home this evening and told her that she had to go. Again, it was done gently and with regret. The regret was unfeigned. Patsy has been an integral member of our family. She has watched over Lil D since he was just 3 months old, dried his tears, cared for him, and watched over him, taking part in his growing delight in the world around him with exemplary gentleness and patience. She fussed over Lil C, tended her when we were occupied and did everything right.

We taught the children to treat her as they would one of us, with respect and also taught them to never take her for granted. She learnt English under our roof, and always used it when speaking to us, even though I used to speak in Indonesian (just to practice I would joke). We would give her magazines to read, learning books, newspapers and recipe books. She taught herself with an admirable focus and determination. Lil C would only use English with her and they would constantly be heard trying new ways of saying things, her trying out phrases and sentences on Lil C and vice versa.

Patsy had her own room outfitted with tv and dvd player, cupboards and tables, comfortable bed, and bathroom. When we first moved to this house we asked her if she would share but she asked if we could let her have the room by herself as she enjoyed the sense of freedom. We agreed and hired a cook who lived out. In turn, she repaid us by never complaining, never taking days off, and never settling in for the night till the children were in bed. She would come on holidays with us, to help take care of the kids but mostly as a bonus for her service, getting spending money and ample time to go off and explore. All in all, it was a pretty good life for her.

As Patsy was leaving, she asked me if she could come back if she repaid all the money. I told her we could discuss that but knew that even if she did somehow miraculously come up with the money we could not let her back into our lives. She packed a small bag of clothes, said goodbye teary eyed but still with a calm composure that reflected a strong inner self. Maybe she had always known this would occur and had prepared herself for it. Or maybe she was thinking of all that money still stashed away somewhere. Or maybe, naively, she was still hoping that there was a chance of returning.

I asked our driver to take her to her friends house in a village nearby while our children were out. C and I knew that if they had been around, the whole thing would have been just that much harder.

Afterwards I checked her room and she has left just about everything there, maybe hoping we will see this and keep a place for her. A diary was placed in an obvious spot, I guess she wanted me to read it. The entries were dated from when we had our first discussion last week. As I turned the pages, it was increasingly evident that either she was covering her tracks extremely well, playing on our sympathy by writing how she would do all she could to repay us, or she indeed felt this way. Must admit, I was sad to read her entries detailing how ashamed she was etc. She asked Allah to look upon her kindly, asked her parents and our family to forgive her, and wondered at her own stupidity.

Whether the diary is a put up job or not, we cannot ignore the past three years and her service to our family. Yes, she was well paid and cared for, but equally she treated us all well.

Thus, I just can’t understand why Patsy would have committed such a gross mistake as to take so much money. She must have known we would figure it out; she was not stupid by any stretch of the imagination. Born to a different family, Patsy would have gone on to university and done well for herself, on this I have no doubt.

My only conclusion is that she fell in with the wrong crowd or guy, and lost her perspective. Look, let’s face it. We all make mistakes, and when I think of some of the mistakes I made back in my twenties…

Or, the whole last 3 years have been one gigantic cover up of a duplicitous nature that we are only now finding out. This I can’t accept. Too many kindnesses, too many acts of generosity and a solid history of hard work.

So, Patsy has now left our house, and Lil C sobbed when we told her that Patsy had to ‘pulang kampung’ (go home to her parents – we didn’t say why). Lil D hasn’t understood what has happened and no doubt we will have to deal with his emotions over the next few days when it sinks in she isn’t coming back.

My advice to those who do have maids? Treat them as you would a valued company employee, pay them well, look after them and hope for the best.

However, never, ever, put temptation in their path. Don’t leave wallets, money, jewellery lying around. Be cognizant of the vast gulf in wealth that exists between you and them, and respect that difference and all it entails. To do otherwise leads to their ruin and your disillusionment.


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