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Work Is a Snap: Indonesian Maid to Show Photographs at Singapore Exhibition

Farah Fitriani Faruq
Farah Fitriani Faruq
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Work Is a Snap: Indonesian Maid to Show Photographs at Singapore Exhibition
Singapore. Indonesian maid Turiyah Mansur is having the time of her life after 14 years working here. Her Swiss employers treat her like one of the family. She not only gets every Sunday off, but public holidays as well. The highlight of her week? A two-hour photography class every Sunday afternoon, followed by 'homework' assigned by her teacher. Her businessman employer and his homemaker wife paid the $30 fee for her to take the class. It is run for foreign workers by community arts organisation Migrant Voices and conducted by professional photographers from Objectifs, a film and photography centre. The latest class project for Turiyah, who is 30 and single, is a photo series based on a theme of her own choosing. 'It's very difficult. I'm doing the letter boxes in my neighborhood, I have to walk up and down the street and take all the pictures the same way,' she says happily. Her English is near-fluent from having lived here half her life. Home is a three-story bungalow where the Swiss couple and their teenaged children live. It has a small garden and swimming pool. Turiyah does all the housework, including washing the two family cars and bathing the dog. When free, she loves pointing her Samsung digital camera - a Christmas gift from the Swiss family - at anything that catches her eye. Born and bred in a village in Kendal, a mountainous region in central Java, she came to Singapore at age 16, after completing high school. She had to work as a maid to supplement her family's income from growing rice and other crops. Her earnings from scrubbing floors and fixing meals in a foreign land helped see her two younger brothers through high school, and the youngest of them to vocational college where he qualified as an electrician. Her income also paid for brand new beds and a toilet. 'Last time, no toilet, we use the river,' she explains. Her experiences with her employers have given her a good impression of Singapore. For 10 years, she worked for a Singaporean teacher and her elderly mother. After the latter died and her services were no longer needed, she moved to her present employer. She says the elderly woman was 'a good person and very nice to me', although her contract then gave her only one day off a month. Domestic-worker friends in Hong Kong have told her the money is better there. But each time, her reply is the same. 'I say, 'No thank you. I like Singapore, it's safe, my employer is very good.'' The only blight on her life here are the dirty looks she sometimes gets from strangers in public. 'People look at you, up and down. They know we are domestic workers. Sometimes on a bus, when I sit down, the person next to me moves away. 'I think, 'Never mind, I got more space to sit,'' she says with a laugh, her chin sticking out defiantly. Through the Indonesian Family Network, a support group for Indonesian maids, she has made many friends here. The group is a partner of Migrant Voices and the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, a migrant worker welfare group. Turiyah is one of 17 participants in the 10-week photography workshop. Mostly Filipinos and Indonesians, they learn how to document their lives with digital cameras. These are either their own or donated by well-wishers. The classes culminate in an exhibition next month, titled InsideOut, which lets audiences see Singapore through the eyes of migrant workers. She says that when she first showed her friends her photographs, 'they cannot stop laughing at my pictures'. The exhibition is an opportunity for her to showcase her improved photography skills. 'I tell my friends to come. Laugh laugh, never mind. I just try my best.' Reposted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia.

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