I yesterday drove my niece from tuition to home. It was almost 8.00pm. At one junction in Kota Damansara, she saw some labours assembling at an entrance of construction site. She asked, “What are they doing?” I took a glimpse but couldn’t see clear enough if there was an accident causing these people to amass. About 20m ahead, I stopped my car. I noticed that all of them outside the gate were not wearing safety helmets nor the safety boots. I wasn’t sure what they were up to. We waited not long enough to know what exactly was happening.
A few minutes later, the gate was opened and a man with safety helmet, boots and striking lime safety vest walked out. These people began to shout and cry. It was chaotic. I later could listen to a very loud voice from the man with striking lime vest answering these people’s scream, “Sepuluh sahaja!” (“Ten only!”) before these men running into the gate desperately like it was a fierce competition. The ten who made it were lucky, and the man with striking lime vest went behind the gate immediately - leaving the rest hopeless labours shouldered walking, deadly net of frustration and maybe in hunger. They slowly left the site while I sighed and continued driving.
My niece was all quiet until the minute we almost reached home. In her wobbly cracked voice, she teared up, “Kesian uncle tu semua!” (“Poor all the uncles!”) I didn’t reply to her.
That situation before my eyes was an enormous under-estimate, because we were fed that our country had so many jobs to offer that no one in this country shall be unemployed. Everyone in this country has the opportunity we say but we are choosy. I begin to doubt that.
I remember when I was in primary school, my teacher once asked, “What is the most important thing in the world?” Some answered house, some said food and some said family. The teacher then told us that we are primarily a bag for putting food into. Only with foods, we live and build a family. And to buy foods, you need money. If you want money, you have to work. I asked my teacher, “If food is the most important thing in the world, why are we building factory instead of having more rice fields, poultry farms and grass fields for cows?” Unfortunately, I don’t remember if my teacher replied or I was kicked out from the class.
Having seen the situation of the labours yesterday, I started to wonder the question my teacher asked me, “What is the most important thing in the world?” These labours begging for job must be living their lives in heat, noise, confusion, darkness, foul air and unbearably cramped space. I wonder if foods were the only determination to strive against the steeplechases of immigration.
Sungai Penchala for instance is filled with majority of Indonesian Kerinchi people. Do your research and you will find beautiful paddy field across the lands, alongside their roads. Or whenever you come for lunch at infamous Sambal Hijau, have a chat with the kakak behind Kedai Runcit Hayati counter; she will be so excited to show you her lovely kampung, maybe the chickens and ducks too. When my family and I lived in Taman Tun Dr. Ismail while Abah was serving the police station, Abah made friends with the Indonesians in Sungai Penchala, Once, when we were desperate looking for someone who could repair our leaking roof and do piping work, we asked the kakak behind the counter at Kedai Runcit Hayati and she introduced us to Uncle Mohsin. I remember the first day he came to our house with his wife. I was also amazed to listen to his lingo which sounds ever alien than the TV3 sinetrons which later he told me that they were from Kerinchi. I also learnt that day that they were in Malaysia for money.
“Untuk makanan ye, Uncle Mohsin?”
(“Is it for food, Uncle Mohsin?”)
“Tidak. Semua di sana punya sawah, kebun dan lembu sendiri. Di sana pasar tak laku.”
(“No. Villagers have their own paddy fields, farms and cows. There (in my village), the market has no business.”)
“Supaya ada wang boleh membeli. Supaya boleh membeli kereta, membeli batu buat rumah lagi besar, membeli buku untuk anak-anak di sekolah, membeli baju cantik-cantik.”
(“So we have money to buy stuffs. So we could buy cars, bricks for bigger house, books for kids in school and pretty clothes.”)
I wanted to ask further but I didn’t want my question to be misinterpreted as an insult. I knew some stories of people coming to Malaysia by boat and the foul air they have been breathing in the construction site, coughing the dust out of their throat and nostrils – I wonder whether being in Malaysia is wonderful enough with the amount of money these people bring back home. I also wonder whether their rights as labours are protected. I wonder whether they successfully build big house as they dream or the children go to school without new books, new uniforms. I wonder a lot.
But, what is the most important thing in this world for the labours begging for job at the entrance? They might not come from Kerinchi where availability of foods is unquestionable. They could be coming from the poorest family in the district and having bedridden parents. They also could be escaping from wars in their hometown. They could be having many stories to tell.
The unemployment among immigrants is a problem to think. It is scattered and queerly unobtrusive. These unemployeds cannot settle to anything. They cannot just simply command the spirit of hope to bring good news to their families, with that unemployment hanging over them. I believe that they came here to prove the existence of hope but instead of raging against their destiny, they pushed themselves to make hope tolerable by lowering their standards. They begged for job. The competition among themselves has become so fierce. I don’t want that to be an extraordinary custom well worth seeing. I didn’t stop my car to enjoy watching them losing hopes.
I didn’t tell you earlier. When my niece cracked, “Kesian uncle tu semua!” (“Poor all the uncles!”) and contemplated such sadness, there were two questions that stroke me. First, is this inevitable? Second, does this matter to ‘us’? Me, you?