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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Day I Died

I died that day. I can tell you every vivid details of what had happened, and why I ended up being among the dead like I am right now. You don't want to hear about it? Well I really don't care. I would tell you all about it anyway and you will listen. That's what bartenders are for, goddamn. You got other customers, you say? Well honey, this is no bedtime stories. Feel free to do whatever you want, but just pretend to listen. Now pour me another glass, will you?

How old were you when you first saw the sea? Too young to remember, eh? You lucky dawg. I first saw the sea almost a year ago, and I still feel like crying. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my whole life. The blue water with the streak of white wave. The cool sea breeze with the scent of salt and foreign lands. The warm sand that massages my feet. The sunshine that warms you to the soul. My god,  James; it is the most beautiful thing ever. I pity you for being robbed of that first impression, really. There is nothing like seeing the sea for the first time and fell in love with it. What? Your name is Jonathan and not James? Well, same difference.

I have lived all my life in the arid mountain. You get to see a whole lot of cactus and ocatillo and pebbles and sands, and lots and lots of dust. I remember the song we used to sing when we were a kid: “In the shade, in the shade of a saguaro, you and I can't find relief”. That's exactly how it feels like. All the little things thrive there in the mountain: the scorpions, the spiders, the mice, the rattle snake; yet we people have to deal with it the hard way. The dry weather would parched our lips and skin, and water is scarce to say the least. There is nothing to see or do there, not that there is anything we would want to do after a tiring day in the sun. I worked as an office clerk, and after work and dinner all I wanted to do was to retire to my bed with the fervent hope that the swamp cooler would actually work for once. I can't believe I lived that life for so many years. Then it all began. 

My husband's friend invited us for a week vacation in his beach house here at Mission Bay. I don't know much about him because he had already moved to California by the time I met my husband, but apparently they were really good friends at that time. I had my doubts, mind you. I was reluctant to drive eight hours to an unknown land and have to share a house for a whole week with a complete stranger. Despite the hardness, I was so used with my hometown and the comfort of my own house. My Ma is from the mountain too, and my husband is from the nearby city. We would go to Tucson now and then to visit my husband's dad, and that's about as far as I have been in my whole life. I wanted to tell my husband to decline the invitation, but I felt selfish for even thinking about that. In retrospect I think I wanted to go as well, thus the silence. I should have said no.

On the designated day we started our road trip to California. It was a pretty sunny day, and I could feel his excitement rubbing off on me. The bags were safely stowed in the trunk, we have a little soft cooler filled with cold drinks and snacks, and our MP3 player was stocked with at least 100 songs to accompanied us in the road trip. We were all prepared and all set to go. The road trip itself was amazing, I've had never seen such vast land and such long long road. The windmill farm took my breath away, they were so huge and majestic! And the rocky mountains that looked like it's made by a giant who decided to play with a bunch of pebbles, it was just gorgeous. It felt like we were in an old episode of Star Trek. And after the mountains came the lush greeneries of San Diego County, such greens that I have never seen in my whole life. The shops and the cars and the people, all looked so noisy and crowded and interesting. I was scared, I really do. I felt so out of place with my jeans and boots among these people who barely cover themselves, and I wanted to ask my husband to return immediately. I didn't though, and we continued our trip.

I couldn't tell you how it feel to be there at that time, when I finally subdue my fear and discomfort and just give in to the stimulation. All of my five senses were awoken, and they were wildly enjoying themselves. The pastrami sandwich we had for lunch cost us $15, which was roughly the amount of money I spent on grocery shopping for two days in our hometown, but it was such a treat! I have never eaten anything as delicious in my whole life, and the difficult name and explanation like stone ground mustard or Russian slaw, for me, justify the whole experience. The vacation house was decorated in white and had all these pretty ornamental sea shells and bleached white starfish, a balcony for each level of the house (total three levels), and was located only a short walk to the beach and an even shorter walk to the bay. The bay was beautiful and looked like the lake we visited one time in Arizona, even though this one had more sailboats and paddle-boarders and the water was definitely colder. But the sea, ah the sea. It was surely love at first sight. The water was colder than I imagined it would be, even colder than the bay. The seaweeds and kelp were no beauty as well, and the seagulls were intimidating. Yet the sea was beautiful and magnificent. I fell in love with her.

In the house, my husband's friend Mark greeted us and gave us a room for ourselves in the second floor. To my relief there were two other women and another couple joining us for the vacation, they were all Mark's friends. All of them chatted easily, even my husband, but I was too shy to say anything. Such a meek little mouse! I could only smile shyly and nervously holding the glass of wine they have given me, while everyone was already on their third glass or more and looking more lively than ever. My husband was appointed as the chef of the day, and even though we have made barbecue for so many times before, it felt really different to be among those lively beauties. We, I mean they laughed and joked around and were so joyful and merry, so confident with themselves and loving the hell out of their life. After dinner we all walked to the bay to see the fireworks, huddling and playing tags on the sandy beach which we all ended up in some sort of a pile just before the fireworks, too sloshed out to untangle ourselves and just laughing uncontrollably.

The next day we all went out to the beach, this time I was in my first two-piece ever, courtesy of Mark's friend Miranda. She was a beach wear designer and insist on giving me one of her work so I can get a 'healthy glow'. I was embarrassed at first, but the look on my husband's face was priceless, and so did the intense gaze from Mark. I felt powerful and in control. I loved it. The women, delighted with their new toy A.K.A. me, taught me everything they know about their life. They taught me about their gluten-free diet and vegan lifestyle, they taught me about matching accessories and shoes and dresses, they taught me how to flirt and win attentions. As the days went by, my skin became darker and my confident grew stronger. The little meek desert mouse have transformed into a genuine So-Cal girl. Another drink please, if you have time, so I can finish the story.

Don't get me wrong, I resisted the changes at first. I was uncomfortable with the amount of money they spent, or their wasteful habits. They insisted on the healthiest food possible, but a whole bunch of those went to the drain or stored for an eternity in the leftover boxes inside the refrigerator. They insisted on keeping the earth 'green', but they kept on buying these purified water in the bottle instead of reusing their old water bottle with tap water. They talked confidently about themselves and boasted their adventures and lifestyle, but they get super insecure when they saw somebody dressed a tad nicer than they are and would end up bitching about that person while buying another 'bling' to comfort themselves. It was all a facade, a rat race to ensure that they were better than others. Oh I could see that all right, I could see that as clear as day. Yet even though the logical me hated all of those things, even though the sensible me kept on reminding me of the comforting life I have back home, I still wanted to be a part of them. I wanted to be a part of these beauties, these attractive creatures-by-the-sea that were everything that I was not. Here, fill my glass. It won't be long now.

On our last day, Mark threw a party for us all. Miranda dressed me up in her sexy red dress, and Kerry – Miranda's partner – did my hair and makeup. I felt like Cinderella. We danced and laughed and had a good time, and then Mark suggested that we hit the club. Everyone agreed except my husband, who said he'd rather stay home and rest for our long drive tomorrow. Miranda cheekily asked if I would be driving tomorrow, and when my husband said no, she announced that she would 'kidnap' me for the night to everyone's laughter. I should have stayed home with him, but I wanted the night to last a little bit longer. There would be no more crazy dancing and joyous laughter in our desolate little home in the mountain, I told myself. I wanted to live the dazzling life just a little bit more before I return to my dreary old existence. Before we all went out my husband hugged me a little bit longer than usual, which should already be a premonition. I hugged him back and kissed him and told him I'll be back before midnight. We both knew it was a lie.

We went to so many clubs that I couldn't remember how and why we ended up losing the remainder of the group, and it was just me and Mark in his car. Mark was driving us through a beach side parking lot  when Miranda messaged him, saying that she and the others were already at home. I nervously smiled at Mark and told him we should be heading home, I didn't want my husband to be worried. He said OK, but asked that I should allow him a few minutes enjoying the quiet beach at night. So I did, and we walked to the edge of the water and sat there in silence. My phone rang soon after, it was from my husband. Mark pulled the phone away from my hand before I could answer it, and pushed it into my purse before he gently kissed me. The split second felt like an eternity for me. I should have slapped him and demanded to be brought home immediately. I should have cried for being violated in such a way. I should have cussed myself for allowing myself to be violated from the first place. But instead I kissed him back. Our kisses became stronger and more passionate as we hungrily devour each other in the reek of champagne and expensive cigar and in the comfort of warm sand, all while my phone rang. And that is when I die. 

It was already past two when we returned home. I took off my dress and went to bed, but my husband didn't even flinch, either he was deep asleep or pretending that he was asleep. When the dawn broke I saw him sitting on the edge of the bed, looking at me and caressing my hair. His bags were already packed, but mine had not. He already knew what will happen. He kissed me over and over again, and between his tears and silent sobs he said “I love you sweet angel, I love you so much”. I cried with him, but I have made up my mind, and he knew it. He left shortly after while everyone was still asleep. Silent tears were streaming down my cheeks as I heard his car engine down in the garage, and how it faded as he drove away. Mark came in while I was still sitting there, crying and grieving. He hugged me close and wipe my tears away, and soon we were making love on the bed that still has my husband's scent and warmth. 

This one's on you, you say? Thank you but don't pity me honey, I did what I have to do and I have no regret. When I said I die, I really die inside. Mark and Miranda helped me to established myself here, and I flourished quite well. Yet day after day I could feel myself eroding, and my existence is now measured on how other people looked at me. I am a walking empty shell, albeit an attractive one. This life I chose is an empty life indeed, and often times I missed the simplicity of my old life, but I can't go back. We tried to reconcile, my husband and I, but I could only stay with him for a little over three months before returning back here. I have glitter in my eyes, and that's all I wanted to see. I have no regret.

JONATHAN: The lady had walked herself out when I saw her coat at the bar stool. I ran outside to give it to her when I saw her standing still at the sidewalk, looking intently at the live band across the road. “Kiss me, out on the bearded barley/nightly, beside the green green grass,” she sang softly along with the band, hugging herself tightly and swaying to the music. I stood next to her till the end, as she whispered the last part of the song with tears on her cheek, “So kiss me...” I wrapped her in her coat and she cried for a long time in my arms.

Note: This short story won the Commendation from Society of Southwestern Arizona on their annual writing competition. The judge's comment is as below, but feel free to add your own in the comment section below!

Great description at the beginning. Who is James/ Nice, good character, at the top of page 3. Great description throughout. Character is strong. Needs tightening, but has potential. Enjoyed the format. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

White, Black, Discrimination, and An Indonesian in Between

Just like the author, my husband had a biracial daughter and biracial son. Oddly enough, I don't think any of the author's concern ever popped up in any of our conversation regarding the children's future. They are both light-skinned, but he assured me that anyone with black ancestry could easily figure out that they come from black descendant. Nevertheless we are more worried about how they can cope up with the already difficult and sometimes nonsense life in America, and more importantly, how they can open their eyes and accept the world in all its glory. Their mothers are accomplished women on their own, I guess that's also one of the reason why we wasn't that worried. 

Being an immigrant, it's always difficult to read about things like this. If we are talking about discrimination, frisking, and all that jazz, I would like to point out that I have to have my green card with me all the time when I am in the state of Arizona. I don't think Iggy Azalea would have that problem even though she was an illegal immigrant for 6 years. A friend of ours who is a Hispanic descendants told us she was frequently stopped at border patrol station, and at times even have to explain on how she was driving with a truck that was registered under somebody else's name (which is her husband). She is a natural-born American. My cousin wanted to take the Greyhound bus to visit me in LA, I urged him to think twice and look for other alternatives because I am very afraid that he would get harassed and bothered during the lengthy (more than 24 hours) trip. I went on a bus ride in Los Angeles and there was an intoxicated young black man busy harassing a Hispanic woman, calling her names and such. It was only a 10 minutes ride. 

Immigrants are always at odds. An agent from the Child Service Agency was positively aghast and in awe when I could answer her back in English and phrase my words more eloquently than she could. But even before I arrive in US, I have been a subject of doubts with many of husband's friends and family tried to talked him out of our relationship because they believe my motive is not love. How is that for prejudice? As for job opportunity, despite my stellar skills and impressive track record I have yet to secure even a single job in US, and only gotten about 3 or 4 interviews so far. I may have applied to the wrong companies for the last 2 months, but the fact is that my other friend from Indonesia has been applying for work since December 2012 and had only acquired one this month, and her field was more specific than mine. She got it only after she took courses in America, despite her own already qualifying education and lengthy job experience in Indonesia. It's like catch 22: I can get a job if I can show I have the experience, but how can I have the experience without getting a job first? This sounds unfair, and it is. Can I considered this as racism? I can, but I would choose not to. It sucks, but I am aware that if I were in their shoes, I would also thought hard about choosing someone from a country that I never even knew existed; even someone with American education and job experience can be a bit dim, why risk with someone who had none?  

Discrimination with a hint of slavery is not unfamiliar for Indonesia people. Some Indonesian, thanks to the Dutch that colonized (read: take over our land, enslaved our people, and dried out our resources for their own profit) Indonesia for more than 350 years, still have the slave-master mentality. These Indonesian think the white men are better than the Indonesian, and adore anything western. A great number of Indonesian celebrities are half Caucasian, people who went to western countries for their education (Australia, US, etc) are also considered more worthy than people who were just educated in Indonesia. I myself have enjoyed this obvious racial prejudice for a while, getting to have a well-paid jobs just because I happen to be fluent in English. To make matter worst, apparently a vast majority (if not all) tourists from western countries still have Allen Quatermain's 1800's way of thinking: that we Indonesian are a bunch of barbaric lawless uneducated people. Stories about how foreign business proprietor treat their local employees in a way that would not be accepted if it's done in their own countries (inhumane, disrespectful, unfair) are dime a dozen in Bali. These foreigners also demanded a higher salary and/or fee than the locals, and they will get it even though some of them work there illegally. I accompanied a western friend to a business meeting where, after he got a little too cozy and apparently forgot that I am Balinese, divulged that he hated Balinese and he thought they were just a group of greedy MFs. The potential clients kept glancing at me in horror and I could tell she was absolutely uncomfortable being caught in that situation. He didn't get the job, of course. 

If at this point you already said in the top of your head, "White man is the worse!" then allow me to rectify that. White man is not the worse. Discrimination is, and it is done not only by white men. Discrimination, or should I say fear for something different, happens everywhere and being done by everyone in this world. It is not only the white that discriminates (me as) an immigrant, the black also did the same, and even in the immigrant circle that would ascertain where you stand in the pecking order. My white husband can easily do all of the 7 points that the author wrote, but get this, people could still complain that he achieve all of that because he is white. "Of course he could get that education, he is white. Of course he can go anywhere he wants, he is white. Of course he can protest, he is white." Which sounds like a discrimination to me. You know what he can't do? He can't walked in a predominantly black or Hispanic neighborhood without looking so out of place and worried he'd get mugged or harmed. This is not a baseless fear, he can't even walked in LA without somebody asking him for change, while I can walked about without being bothered. He married a black woman for 10 years and in the end he still doesn't get accepted in the bro clique. When he casually told our waitress in a Colombian restaurant that he was born in Latin America she asked, "How come? You are white!" although to me the waiter looked as fair skinned as he is. He is also a 'target' back in Indonesia, where people charge him for things many times more than they would usually charge the locals because of his skin color. Is this all not discrimination?

When my cousin first came to US, he told me how his fellow student from Africa received harsh discrimination in the suburb area where they live, with people locking their apartment doors whenever the dark-skinned students walked by. It exists. It is painful. It is unfair. The question now, what can we do about it? You can't forced someone to change their perspective towards you, however, you can always offered a new, more favorable perspective. 

A few weeks ago I saw a black woman got denied entry in the Social Security office in Downtown LA because she carried prohibited items in her bag. She was told to leave the items outside the building, and she wasn't taking it. She cussed and insult the officers, even went as far as accusing them to target her and trying to prevent her from completing her business in the office. The officers, naturally, gradually became harsher and harsher towards her with every angry and insulting comments she made. The thing is, I knew for a fact that just a few minutes before her a black woman and her grandma was also denied entry, this time because her stiletto looked like it can be use as a weapon. She manage to resolve it gracefully and got inside in less than five minutes without any voiced raised. A few minutes before her my white husband was also denied entry, this time over a mini screwdriver. And in the morning a white woman was denied entry because she had some lead pipe pieces in her pants. And just before that, I had to go back home because I had accidentally brought a Tasser with me to the office. I was denied entry as well, but the atmosphere were much lighter back then compared to when they were dealing with the angry black woman. If anything, it should be more strenuous because stun gun is actually a dangerous weapon; but I was laughing and being polite all round, and the officers even made jokes with it and invited me to come straight back without waiting in line once I have placed the stun gun in a secure place. Mind you, I look very foreign and anyone who saw me would know instantly that I am not American. Shouldn't I be considered more dangerous than the other 'suspects'?

The story above has two significance. The first is the significance of attitude. Considered yourself in the officers' shoes, which person that you dislike most? Naturally, it would be the angry black woman (even though my stubborn white husband would probably come second since he too was very vocal about having to secure the insignificant screwdriver elsewhere). Then, you would undoubtedly resort to the readily-available stereotyping that black people are violent and unreasonable. It is always easier to generalized people according to the already popular belief, especially if it's a negative belief. It's like saying all Muslim are evil, all white girls drink Starbucks, all straight Christians hate gays, all third-world-country people are uneducated; even if there's only a few people that actually do that in each respective group, it is enough for others to condemn all the group members as a whole. The fact that there was another black woman that was not angry or violent may not even registered in your mind, or if it was registered you would label her as an outlier. 

When I told my cousin that the black people in America scared me, I did not think about my husband's exes or his friends from high school, I did not think about the young man from Mississippi that I helped at a TAP Metro station or the old man that chat with me on the train to Culver City, I did not think about our eccentric neighbor or anyone in LA that has been so generous to me with their smile and assistance. When I told my cousin that the black people in America scared me, I was thinking about the verily drunk man that pulled the zipper on my backpack and went on an expletive-laden tirade because I was apparently blocking his way (I was not) and then proceed to harass my husband, even though he was with his toddler child, for some money. I was thinking about all the other people with smug look in their face when they stopped and asked us for money, even settling with slices of our pizza as if we owed them something. I was thinking about the rap songs that is filled with expletive and violence and glorified criminality. This, mind you, is how someone who is not tainted with American culture sees what's happening in America, how someone who is not brainwashed, so to speak, about white supremacy sees what's happening in America. Attitude matters, I always say to my Muslim friends. It is not enough to quietly disagree with the violent way a very few Muslim behave, they need to speak up and show the world that terrorist way is not equivalent to Islam's way. Can't this be a similar approach to the black people in America?

The second significance from that story is to try to keep your head clear. The angry woman accused that she was targeted, when actually other people had been denied entry as well. I don't know what it's like to live as a black in America, but I know what it's like to live as a minority in Indonesia. When we live in the outskirt of Jakarta where Hindu is minority it is very difficult for us to build temple/praying site, with neighbors looking at the temple in our house as if it was the devil's shrine and some other people throwing human feces to the Hindu community's newly-built main temple, the only one in miles around. The education level in some places in Indonesia were very low, and it makes them an easy target for "Salem Witch" type of riots, where innocents people would be persecuted and harmed if they were from different tribe or religion. In the big 1998 riot, churches and other praying sites were burned, the Indonesian-Chinese were robbed, raped, killed. Even now, there are still religious leaders and groups that spread out false accusations and inflames hatred towards other religion. And yes, the living condition in Indonesia is not as benefiting as the living condition in America. How'd you like that? I didn't froze and lament on my unfortunate situation. I can't (and won't) change the fact that I am not the majority, or the fact that there will be ignorant out there that would harm me if they can. To me, the only option is to keep moving forward, to keep improving myself, because for hell I don't want to be stepped on by anyone. Anger and self-pity won't get you anywhere, because it could work as an excuse when you actually haven't done your best. You just have to keep moving forward and focus on yourself.

One thing that always amazes me is the amount of information and self-education you can easily get in US. Unlike Indonesia, even the smallest libraries here have decent amount of books and Wi-fis are available almost anywhere, and books can even be owned for as little as 50 cent from Friends of The Library. I had to taught myself English through books/songs/movies, Internet is slow and expensive, and books are difficult to come by. At times I would stand for 4 hours just to finish reading a book at the bookstore (because it was too expensive to buy it). Yet here I am in America. My career has been illustrious to say the least: A medical graduates, an English teacher, a wedding consultant for high-end clienteles, and a budding writer that just won her first commendation. Mind you, I was the only dark-skinned person in the ceremony and I heavily suspect I am the only one that is not American as well. If I could do all of this, why can't others? 

For all that matters, it is unfathomable for me and my husband to say: "I wish our child(ren) would stay white" in order for them to be able to do things that my husband could do because of his so-called white privilege. The world is rapidly changing, battles lost and won, wars started and ended. It is far more important for us to teach our children about the dynamics of the world, about how to be good and nice and strong, and how to keep themselves from harm's way. We can't protect them from the ignorant people that could hate them because of, well, anything actually; but we can taught them pride and that mindless haters are just a part of this world as termite and zombie bees (albeit with more annoying quality). Everyone got discriminated one way or another, and it's happening all over the world because the majority of humans right now is a bunch of d*ck who can't come to term with their own insecurity and jealousy. Why fear the inevitable? 

Friday, October 24, 2014

When You Walked Out That Door

The room got a lot colder when you walked out that door. Just like that. Some people wouldn't even notice the difference in temperature, but for me it was like between cozy spring and chilly winter. The clock seemed to tick a lot louder, filling our apartment with the automatic tick tock, a grim reminder of the time I have spent without you. I pulled the duvet over me. The down feather filling would've caused me heat stroke should I use it in my hot and humid tropical country, but this morning it felt as thin as my beach sarong, and twice as cold. It's so cold. So very cold.

Was my life without you ever this cold? Was my life without you ever this lonely? You went away and suddenly my life froze. Am I being delusional? A crazy clinger and a madwoman desperate for love? But life before you was cold. Life without you was lonely. In the sunny days filled with amazement and adventures, in the lovely nights filled with enchantment and mysteries, I have walked alone for so long, and deep inside, a chilliness grew that can't be broken even in the hottest, sunniest day. I laugh and I smile, but the hollowness were there, silently freezing my soul from within. Then you came, and your embrace broke the spell I cast on myself.

With you, there is no need for pretends and facades. I am allowed to be myself, without limits and restriction. There is no need for me to smile a fake smile and say "Everything is fine" when it is actually not, just to protect your feeling. I could cry if I want to. I could scream if I want to. I could cuss if I want to. I could give you my all, because you were strong enough for that. For the first time I don't need to think what or how my partner would feel, because with you, I know you would understand. And when I see your face in the morning, sleeping so soundly next to me, it is like looking at myself. You are my reflection in the mirror. You are the one I have been waiting for so long.

I love how warm your body is when I lay next to yours. I love how you embrace me so close and never let go. I love how our fingers intertwined and locked in their own embraces. I love how you made me feel wanted and love. Every night that we sleep in each other's arms feels like a new blessing, and I keep telling God how good it feels to be with you and how thankful I am to have you in my life, even though I am sure He already knew that. The scent of your body, the strength of your arms, the softness of your hair, the stubble on your chin when you forgot to shave, these are the things that lulled me to sleep, the things that represent stability and strength that you provide for me. Lest forget the occasional kisses, which I am sure to receive every now and then even when you were barely awake, a beautiful reminder of how much you love me.

Then you walked out of the door, and the room became very, very cold and lonely. I know you would be back in the evening, smiling and grinning happily because it feel so good to be home. I know the apartment will then be filled with laughter and love once again, and the coldness in the apartment and inside me couldn't touch me anymore. I know that there will be days where I wouldn't be in the apartment all by myself, when I got a job or have other things to do. I know that. Yet this morning, I also know how cold and lonely my life was before I met you, and how cold and lonely my life would now be without you. Come home soon, love. I miss you already.

IKEA, KFC, dan Budaya 'Makan Brand' Orang Indonesia

Jadi menurut postingan Mbak Jihan, blogger favorit saya, di medsos beredar tulisan yang intinya "Mereknya sih IKEA, tapi kelakuan Indonesia". Waduh.

Sebenarnya sudah agak lama saya ingin menulis tentang IKEA di Indonesia, dari semenjak saya baca berita tentang IKEA yang dibuka di Alam Sutra dan mengecek harga-harganya yang bikin melotot. Bayangkan saja, beberapa item yang saya lihat di katalog IKEA Indonesia bedanya bisa sampai sekitar Rp 450,000 ($45) dengan harga IKEA disini. $45 itu lumayan lho, bisa buat masak 4 hari untuk berdua disini. Rp 450,000 di Indonesia mungkin bisa masak dua minggu atau bahkan sebulan untuk berdua. Padahal itu barang produksi Cina juga, bukan buatan asli Denmark. Dan lagian, buat apa juga beli IKEA sementara pengrajin lokal bisa bikin dengan kualitas lebih bagus?

Disini IKEA itu bukan barang mewah, IKEA itu justru dianggap ringkih dan kurang bagus. Saya belum pernah ketemu orang sini yang dengan bangganya "Saya beli IKEA lhoo!!". Bukan berarti IKEA jelek ya, tapi IKEA itu terkenal bukan karena brandnya, melainkan karena low cost dan space saver. Disini banyak sekali blog-blog yang isinya bagaimana mendesain rumah/apartemen mungil dengan menggunakan produk-produk IKEA karena harganya terjangkau dan anda bisa modifikasi sendiri sesudahnya. Prinsipnya anda datang, pilih produk, bawa produk pulang, bangun sendiri. Manual book nya juga pake gambar, bukan tulisan; jadi benar-benar idiot proof gitu. Set lemari/partisan seri KALLAX yang kami beli di IKEA lebarnya 3 meter dan tingginya sekitar 1.5 meter itu muat masuk di mobil VW Golf compact kami yang mungil, bahkan plus beberapa pernak-pernik. Hitungannya murah (menurut orang sini) karena mereka menghilangkan biaya pengiriman, biaya assembly, dan biaya asisten toko. Sekedar gambaran, harga produk jadi di toko lain (bahkan Walmart yang terkenal lebih jelek lagi) itu bisa 2-3x lipat harga yang kita bayar di IKEA, belum lagi ongkir dan uang tip petugasnya. 

Masih ga percaya? Kalau mau IKEA anda diantar ke rumah, disini biayanya start dari $59 (catet, start ya... jadi sangat amat mungkin lebih tinggi lagi biayanya); kalau malas pergi kesana dan mau pesan online/via telp, biayanya start dari $99 (biaya delivery start dari $59, biaya petugas IKEA mengambilkan barang dari gudang $40); kalau sudah begitu mau minta ada yang assembly juga, biayanya start dari $79. Jadi ga mungkin ada orang yang beli IKEA demi brand name belaka, karena hitung-hitungannya sekalian dia beli barang jadi daripada yang mesti dibikin/di assembly sendiri. 

Buat saya, salah satu alasan kenapa orang Indonesia menganggap brand luar itu lebih wah adalah karena faktor harga. Kelihatannya memang iya, karena nilai tukar yang tinggi jadi barang yang di negara aslinya murah pun dianggap mahal di Indonesia. KFC misalnya, atau resto fast food lainnya. Disini nggak ada bangga-bangganya makan di KFC ato McD, karena bisa dibilang cuma orang yang ekonomi menengah kebawah yang beli KFC atau McD. Burger McD yang $1 misalnya, itu sudah salah satu menu yang paling murah yang bisa anda dapatkan disini (berhubung satu sachet kecil cookies model oreo harganya juga bisa $1). Sementara di Indonesia, duduk di McD beli burger mungil seharga Rp 10,000 (alias $1) rasanya sudah wah gimana gitu, padahal ngebakso (yang lebih kenyang) harganya bisa cuma setengahnya. Tapi makan bakso kan nggak elit, ga menunjukkan kemampuan ekonomi ceritanya. Ga percaya? KFC dan McD dekat rumah saya di Bali tiap malam minggu isinya ABG semua. Disini waktu saya cerita ketemu si Akang pertama kali di KFC malah diketawain. Belum lagi rasanya KFC sini, bweehhh..... Serius, bukan cuma pelayanannya saja, bahkan rasa fastfood Indonesia pun lebih enak daripada disini.

Untuk menghilangkan minder terhadap produk luar, yang paling penting adalah mengukur nilai mata uang secara proporsional. Waktu saya pertama mencoba mencari kerja disini, kerjaan dengan gaji UMR pun saya coba, karena saya pikir gaji UMR sini sudah cukup untuk menabung dan kebutuhan sehari-hari. Lagi-lagi masalah konversi mata uang bo'. Tapi waktu iseng menghitung, ternyata gaji saya dulu sebesar 2x UMR Denpasar, jadi seharusnya saya pantas mendapatkan setidaknya 2x UMR di sini. Rugi bandar kan jual diri dengan harga dibawah harga pasar. Balik lagi ke soal IKEA, misalnya saja UMR disini $64/hari, maka dengan bekerja satu hari saja orang bisa beli 1 unit Kallax di IKEA US. Terjangkau untuk orang pas-pasan bo'. Sementara dengan UMR di Jakarta yang sekitar Rp 105,000/hari, seseorang harus menabung selama 12 hari lebih untuk membeli 1 unit Kallax di IKEA Indonesia. Rasanya jadi ga masuk akal kan beli barang mahal yang di negeri asalnya dianggap barang murah? Kecuali, tentunya, anda tipikal orang-orang yang kalau kaya akan beli iPhone App 'I'm Rich' seharga $999.99 dan tidak ada faedah apapun kecuali menunjukkan ke dunia bahwa anda sanggup membuang uang sebesar itu karena, yah, 'I'm Rich'. 

Kalau memang masih mau memaksakan 'makan brand' dan ikut trend jadi orang kaya ala negara maju, jangan setengah-setengah. Ada banyak hal yang bisa dilakukan di Indonesia dengan tetap bergaya "Gue orang kaya lho". Makan bayam misalnya. Bayam seikat disini harganya $1.29 lho. Yang organik lebih mahal lagi. Seporsi salad biasa sekitar $4-$5, jadi makanlah gado-gado anda sebanyak-banyaknya. Tahu harganya bisa lebih mahal dari daging, apalagi tempe yang lebih susah dicari. Jalan-jalan ke Bali dan menginap di hotel yang harganya sejutaan? Monggo lho! Di Los Angeles sini hotel esek-esek saja tarifnya $70 semalam, dan ini yang hotel reyot isinya wanita malam semua ya. Tiap hari ke dokter juga anda harus bangga. Dokter umum di Amerika bisa mencharge $100 kalau tanpa asuransi (yang berarti 1.5x UMR/hari), dan itu juga harus pakai appointment yang telpon sekarang baru dapat giliran dua minggu lagi. Di Indonesia dokter umum startnya Rp 35,000 - Rp 50,000 (sekitar setengah UMR/hari) dan sudah dapat obat generik lagi. Jadi kalau anda bisa dengan entengnya ke dokter umum di Indonesia berbanggalah, karena anda sudah terhitung berada di Amerika sini.

Dunia ini penuh dengan orang yang ignorant, yang nggak tahu (dan nggak mau tahu) dunia diluar tempurungnya. Banyak orang Amerika sini yang saat tahu saya dari Indonesia langsung menganggap saya 'terbelakang', dan syok saat saya bisa nimbrung berbicara Bahasa Inggris dengan lancar. Seorang famili si Akang dengan polosnya berpikir kalau Indonesia dan India itu sama. Baca-baca di Internet, ada yang komentar wajar kalau banyak perempuan dari negara dunia ketiga mau nikah sama orang Amerika karena bahkan hidup pakai welfare/bantuan pemerintah yang minim disini lebih enak daripada hidup di negara asalnya. Nyesek kan dengarnya? Tapi apa bedanya dengan kita? Reaksi kebanyakan orang saat saya bilang saya tinggal di Amerika adalah "Aduh enak ya bisa ke Amerika". Apa enaknya coba? Semua-mua diatur, saya harus berparno ria dengan segala kelengkapan identitas saya agar tidak dideportasi, bahkan sampai imunisasi pun harus lengkap. Disini memang lebih teratur, namun itu juga berarti lebih banyak aturan dan kekangan. Makanan instan semua, karena makanan yang dimasak dari awal/home made cooking itu mahal harganya. Belum lagi biaya kesehatan yang tidak terjangkau. Tapi kan kebanyakan orang tidak tahu soal ini, yang mereka tahu orang yang diluar negeri saat pulang ke Indonesia bisa foya-foya, padahal justru menurut orang luar negeri gaya hidup Indonesia yang santai dan menu Indonesia yang sehat dan super terjangkau itu luar biasa. Bisa dibilang kita sama ignorantnya dengan rekan-rekan kita di negara (yang konon) maju.

Orang dimana-mana ya sama. Bahasanya boleh beda, kemancungan hidung dan warna kulit boleh beda, gaya hidup boleh beda, tapi soal ignorant/pikiran sempit dan segala kejelekan manusia lainnya mah sama. Stupidity transcend races. Bego itu nggak ada batasan ras nya. Balik lagi ke komen antara Kucing Persia dan Kucing Kampung, definisi 'kampungan' itu sebenarnya luas sekali, dan perilaku yang 'kampungan' untuk sebagian orang mungkin biasa saja untuk orang lain. Ibu saya pernah bertanya, apa tidak apa-apa saya membawa masuk beliau dan keponakan-keponakan saya ke gerai eskrim punya bule di Seminyak karena mereka tampak lusuh. Saya ingin menangis rasanya, karena sama sekali nggak ada yang 'kampungan' dari ketegaran dan kecerdasan ibu saya dalam mengarungi hidup. Saya bangga terhadap ibu saya.

Sudah saatnya kita berhenti melabeli orang dengan 'kampungan' atau label lain yang mendiskreditkan seseorang, atau membabi-buta menyukai sesuatu dari luar negeri karena dianggap unggul (walau sebenarnya tidak). Sudah saatnya kita, di jaman internet ini, mau berusaha sedikit menggali informasi dan berusaha melihat segala sesuatu dengan obyektif. Sudah saatnya kita, orang Indonesia, berhenti berpikir kalau Indonesia itu tidak keren atau kalah keren dengan negara lain. Sudah saatnya kalau kita menyadari perilaku kurang terpuji apapun bukanlah dikarenakan 'label' orang tersebut (agama, ras, kewarganegaraan, etc), tapi karena pribadinya saja yang kurang terpuji. Sudah saatnya kita membuka mata dan membuka hati, dan melihat manusia lain sebagaimana adanya.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Confession of a Weekend Stepmom

Of all the many things my mom has been worrying about me, her greatest uneasiness was when I choose to marry my (then) boyfriend. Not only that my husband is divorced (which is considered a bad trait in Indonesia, if he could divorced once he could divorced again), he also a father of two children. With two different mothers. In two different states. "It will be very difficult for you," my mom said one time, trying to made me come to my sense. I was adamant though. To me, his previous failed relationships are proofs on how badly he wanted it to work, how badly he wanted a solid relationship. If anything, his dedication towards his two children showed his real worth, and I liked what I saw. I was all too ready to give him what he wants, to make 'us' work. As for his children, I really wasn't calculating much. They are with their moms, and the only responsibilities I have for them is merely on the weekends, even then I would only be an aide for my husband. It's not  like I was going to be their stepmother or anything.

My mom, bless her soul, was right. It wasn't easy being 'the other woman'. Even though he has been divorced and was not in relationship for some years, the mothers of his children were still prominent in his life mainly because he needs to constantly communicate with them regarding the children. I was fully aware that they have been a part of his life for a longer time that I have been, with their own stories and intimacies and griefs. I accept that, yet at times I still feel sad and jealous that I am not the only one that 'owned' him, that I have to share him with the mothers. Even with his constant reassurance, the ugly me still doesn't want to share. And it cannot be helped. The mothers opinions and requests are considered and even contributes to decision making between me and my husband since they are the one with the children, including decisions about daddy-time and money. Sometimes it gets so intense that I feel as if they are living in the same house as we are; that I am not only marrying my husband and his children, but also his exes at the same time. His rant and sadness when the mothers give him a hard time regarding the children, just as the pictures of him and his e-wife and their child hanging in his family's house, they are a constant reminder that there is a part of his life that is not mine. Which is only natural, I keep telling myself, even twins don't always share the same life. That doesn't stop my heart from aching occasionally, or quenched the fire of jealousy that sometimes rage in me.

You might think that I would treat the children with indifference, and you are quite right. At first, I did treat them with indifference, that is I positioned myself as a spectator and let the daddy did all the work. It was a decision made not because I hate the children, but because I don't know what to do with them. I was so worried that, since I grew up in foreign country and was unfamiliar with US parenting type, I would 'handle' them incorrectly and infuriate the mothers which then can lead to them giving my husband more difficulties to meet the children. I would asked my husband for the littlest detail regarding the youngest child: "Can I give this? Can I do that? What should I do?" to the point that he started to think I was too passive and unable to make my own decision. As for the eldest child, I tried to look as distanced as possible with my husband because I didn't want her to feel I took her daddy away from her. I did not dare to scold or be strict with any of them, when I felt they are over the line I would tell my husband and let him do the disciplining and such. We only have them for weekends anyway, what's the point of trying to 'better' them if it's only going to be unraveled during the next 5 days?

That was what I thought. I couldn't do it though. I come from a big family and I have seen my mum rearing my younger siblings (and then rearing my nephews) since I was twelve years old. If there is anything that I am proudest about my mom, that would be how good we've all become. All of us (my nephews included) are sharp, problem solvers, strong minded, and full of love and kindness; everyday is an adventure for us and we all have a pretty satisfying life. This might just be in the gene, but I suspect it is because we are copying our (grand)mom's own strength and her view of life. She let us be what we want to be, and only interfere when she think it is necessary to, all while letting us know that she is there for us. This is the kind of life that I know and love, and eventually this is the kind of life I encouraged my students to have when I work as an English teacher: "Go out there and enjoy the world, never fear because I am always here for you." It makes a whole lot of difference in their confidence and how they see the world. This belief, and the fact that my husband's children are roughly the same age as my nephews, make it difficult for me to turn blind eye and pretend I don't care. Little by little I began to be more involved in the weekend parenting. 

I shared the joy of new discoveries with the children since I am too a newcomer in this (part of the) world; this include food, museums, trains and buses, and all the weird and wonderful things this world has to offer. I explained them things like why some objects (fan, fire, electricity) can be dangerous, why they have to clean up their toys, why they should be considerate to people's feeling, or why they should try new things; because I want them to understand the whys instead of following the order. I gave them love and affection when they wanted it, always so careful to not trespass their privacy or touch them when they just want to be left alone, but letting them know that I will be there for them when they need me. What began as an effort to help my husband with the children grow into an effort to help the children get the best of their childhood years. I don't even consider myself as a stepmother. Just because I am married to the father doesn't mean I would instantly become the mother. Only the real mother, in my opinion, deserve that badge of honor. The reason why I am here with them is because everyone can and deserves to be happy, and I wanted them to know that and preserve that thought in their mind. It is a cruel world out there, and children's sense of adventure and happiness are the sword and shield that will enable them to slay the dragons of wickedness and the hydra of despairs in order to find their happily ever after. And I wanted them to know that they are precious, that they are worthy; because self confidence without looking down to others is the most important thing a person could have. I wanted them to be someone who love their own life, and be joyous of it. 

Granted, this is not always easy. There are times when I just need to have a time out and let my husband deal with the child(ren). There are times when I get annoyed with their behavior and attitude, which is not only because of different rules and upbringing at their mothers' but also because children can be really annoying at times. There are times when I asked myself, "Why am I doing this?" or "This is not even my children! I don't even share a drop of blood with them!". I never let it out in front of the children though. My mom had taught me that the most selfish thing you could do to children is letting them see your tears and ugly emotion. It makes the children unrest and insecure and helpless. It is not the children's fault that life can be very tiring and very emotional for their parents; especially since it's not even their decision to be here in this world, it is their parents' decisions. As I read this paragraph, I realize I sounded like a really horrible stepmother/dad's wife, and I am half convinced that if the mothers ever read this article they won't allow the children to be with me anymore. But if you are a parent, a biological dad and/or mom, don't you also feel this way sometimes with your children? The tiredness, the need for 'time out', the annoyance, the denial and exasperation ("Why do I even have this kid(s)?!"), aren't those a part of being a parent?

More than a year has passed since I first entered their life, and they have changed mine. Weekends are something that I look forward to, since it means we will have our adventures together. I look forward to hear their happy laughter and to see the awe in their face as we present them with the little wonders of the world. I look forward to hold them in my arms or at least to tickle them and run my fingers through their hair. Children's little bodies are amazing vessels of love: they are created from love and they can accept, and equally gives out, a limitless amount of love. Anyone who love children with agree that being with children is like getting a fuzzy-rainbow-colored love recharge. The feeling will get duller as the child grew older and more mature, as they would lose their childhood wonder and take a more defensive/aggressive stance against the world in order to protect themselves, even if deep down inside they are still only a scared little child (aren't we all?). This threat of teenage angst (and adult madness) is the more reason why I want to give the best for my husband's children. Looking at them now, I realize how precious they are to me. Whenever I see the mothers' face/physical characteristic in their face, instead of the usual fiery jealousy I feel a strong desire to protect them. They are made from my husband's love and pure intention. I wish, I really wish it would work well with the mothers, so they (or at least one of them) can have the beneficial effect of a real family without the hassle of weekend commutes. Since it is not possible, all my husband and I could do is love them and care for them as good as we can during the short hours we are together, to show that them love and happiness and fun are attainable, and to prevent them from making the same mistakes and going through the same hardship and sadness that me and my husband has to go through before we are finally together. At this point, I couldn't care less about their mothers. The children's little hands and bright smile has killed that monster in me, and made me and my husband loved each other even more. To this, I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

I have always thought that would be the end of it. I always thought for them I am 'daddy's wife', or 'daddy's sidekick', a cool person that always care for dad and always in for a good (and silly) time. Yet a couple of weeks ago my husband's youngest child rushed from his playroom to the kitchen to asked my husband: "Daddy daddy, where is my Ibu?". We did teach him to call me Ibu, which means mom or older woman in Indonesia language, since he is too small to call anyone by first name only; but we did not teach him the 'my' part, it is his own preference to think I am 'his' and that I am a part of his world. And last weekend his oldest child demand to sleep in my arms instead of with him and told me "You look like mommy" with adoration and love in her eyes, which is, to me, the highest compliment a child could give to a woman who is not his/her biological mother. Their acceptance and love, given to me when I didn't expect nor request any, is my own badge of honor. Time will come when the childhood wonder wanes, when the grief of real world take charge of these innocent children, and when we have to face each other as adults. When that time comes, I just want both you to know: Me and Daddy love you very very much, kiddos.  

Menjadi Manusia yang Sebenarnya

Saya kemarin dapat penghargaan untuk cerpen yang saya ikut sertakan dalam lomba cerpen sebuah perkumpulan penulis di Amerika. Commendation itu artinya "Special Praise" alias pujian spesial. Saya sempat bete karena statusnya Commendation itu dibawah Honorable Mention dan (jelas) juara 1-3, istilahnya cuma juara harapan gitu; lalu si Akang menegur saya: "Kamu sudah termasuk winner itu sudah bagus, mau juara berapapun yang penting kan sekarang ada bukti kalau tulisan kamu disukai dan dihargai orang." Lalu saya teringat kalau sebelumnya saya sudah menguatkan diri untuk bahkan tidak menang apa-apa, tapi dasar manusia begitu tahu saya termasuk winners/pemenang saya langsung kecewa karena 'cuma' commendation. Padahal saya sebenarnya sudah menang saja itu sudah against all odds, sudah luar biasa.

Kenapa against all odds? Karena demografis saya jauh berbeda dengan demografis para penulis lainnya di perkumpulan itu. Sekedar gambaran, saat saya berada di acara tersebut hanya saya dan satu orang penulis lainnya yang berusia dibawah 50 tahun, hanya saya yang tinggal di negara bagian California, dan hanya saya yang imigran dan berkulit gelap. Demografis ini penting karena ini menunjukkan bahwa pendidikan dan lingkungan saya berbeda dengan mereka (faktor tempat tinggal), buku yang saya baca berbeda dengan mereka (faktor imigran dan usia), dan mereka sudah jauh lebih banyak menulis daripada saya (faktor usia). Tapi saya tetap bisa bersaing dengan mereka. Hal ini dikarenakan sistem penilaian yang mereka berlakukan: karya harus diprint tanpa nama, dikopi 4 kali, dan dikirim via pos. Para juri tinggal menerima tumpukan cerpen/puisi/cerita non-fiksi yang harus mereka baca, dan mereka pilih yang mana yang bagus menurut mereka. Itulah kenapa ada beberapa orang yang menang 2 penghargaan sekaligus, baik dalam kategori yang sama atau kategori yang berbeda. Itulah kenapa bahkan presiden klubnya bisa menang juga. Itulah kenapa saya, yang bahasa ibunya bukan Bahasa Inggris punya kesempatan berkompetisi dan menang. Untuk para juri tersebut, yang penting bukan siapa yang menulis, yang penting adalah hasil karya itu sendiri. Bagi saya yang penulis, ini menunjukkan bobot karya saya; dan ini membuat saya merasa dianggap sebagai manusia.

Kesetaraan kesempatan dan derajat seperti ini sulit dibayangkan ada di Indonesia. Mungkin untuk kontes-kontes (menulis, olahraga, dll) masih bisa ya, selama ada guidelines/aturan resmi untuk penilaian; tapi kalau untuk kehidupan sehari-hari tidak terbayang lho. Di Indonesia, sarjana lulusan sekolah ternama seperti UI 'dihargai' lebih tinggi daripada sarjana lulusan universitas kecil/tidak ternama. Logikanya sih masuk akal: sekolah yang 'elit' (baca: selektif memilih murid dan punya nama) pastinya akan menghasilkan orang-orang pilihan juga. Masalahnya, tidak semua orang mendapatkan kesempatan masuk universitas ternama. Dari segi uang, tidak semua orang mampu membayar kuliah di universitas swasta elit atau membayar bimbel (bimbingan belajar intensif) agar bisa lolos seleksi universitas negeri elit. Dari segi pendidikan, karena lemahnya pendidikan di Indonesia saya yakin banyak bakat-bakat terpendam, banyak pikiran-pikiran cemerlang yang tidak terasah tapi tidak memiliki kesempatan untuk 'bersinar'. Saya dulu sekolah di SMAN favorit di Jakarta, tapi tetap saja saya harus di-drill oleh guru SMA dan guru bimbel saya agar bisa 'menguasai' tipe soal yang akan dikeluarkan di UMPTN/SPMB dan EBTANAS; kebayang tidak nasib murid-murid SMA di daerah terpencil yang gurunya saja jarang masuk? Atau SMA kakak saya (di Jakarta) yang gurunya malah mengorganisir agar murid-murid yang pintar bisa meninggalkan jawaban untuk murid-murid lain yang kurang pintar saat EBTANAS? 

Pengalaman saya mencari kerja disini (sebagai sales/admin), jarang sekali ada yang mensyaratkan gelar spesifik (sarjana sastra, sarjana ekonomi, etc) apalagi sampai minta IPK. Biasanya yang mensyaratkan gelar spesifik (dan IPK) adalah perusahaan yang memang bergerak di bidang spesifik seperti hukum atau penerbitan, jadi wajar mereka memerlukan seseorang yang dianggap ahli dibidangnya. Masalah penampilan pun biasanya tidak dipermasalahkan, dan kalaupun ada itu biasanya untuk dipakai saat mencari front liner dengan istilah "Polished demeanor" atau "well groomed". Dengan kata lain, walau wajahnya kurang menarik pun tidak apa-apa asal terlihat rapi dan profesional. Bandingkan dengan iklan lowongan kerja di Indonesia yang keywordnya, bahkan untuk pekerjaan tidak spesifik seperti sales atau staf kantoran biasa, biasanya seperti ini:
  • Sarjana (isi bidangnya) dengan IPK 3.xx --> padahal IPK tinggi tidak menjamin bisa kerja bagus, dan hapal teori belum tentu bermanfaat bagi tugas di perusahaan
  • Berpenampilan menarik --> padahal ga ada hubungannya penampilan menarik dengan kinerja perusahaan, mungkin kecuali front liner
  • Berumur maksimal 25/27 tahun --> padahal ga ada hubungannya umur dengan kinerja perusahaan, bisa saja ada yang berumur lebih tua tapi lebih mengerti kondisi perusahaan
  • Single (dan harus mau teken kontrak untuk tetap single selama menjabat) --> Padahal ga ada hubungannya status pernikahan dengan kinerja di perusahaan, punya keluarga pun selama bisa tetap profesional tidak masalah
Iklan lowongan kerja di Indonesia terasa diskriminatif sekali, bukan? Kalau semua perusahaan memakai requirement seperti diatas, bisa-bisa banyak sarjana Indonesia yang cuma jadi pengangguran atau kerja yang tidak sesuai gelarnya. Disini suami saya bisa mendapatkan gaji setara lulusan S1 walaupun dia cuma lulusan D3, dan ini untuk pekerjaan spesifik yang saya sebutkan tadi yang biasanya requirementnya lulusan jurusan kuliah tertentu dengan IPK tertentu. Di Indonesia hal ini mungkin sangat sulit dicapai. Tapi bukan berarti di Indonesia tidak memungkinkan untuk lolos dari jebakan betmen ini. Saya termasuk satu dari sedikit orang yang beruntung karena semua perusahaan tempat saya bekerja tidak memperdulikan gelar saya ataupun IPK saya; saya bisa mendapatkan pekerjaan di tempat mereka karena saya bisa Bahasa Inggris dengan lancar. Jangan salah, beberapa kali saya melamar di berbagai tempat dan jawabannya sama: "Aduh mbak, kita ingin sekali menghire mbak; tapi background pendidikan mbak ini tidak seperti requirement kita." Background saya Kedokteran, tapi saya sempat mengajar Bahasa Inggris selama 4 tahun, lalu lanjut menjadi sales fotografi selama 5 tahun, dan sekarang merintis karir sebagai penulis (yang karyanya sama sekali tidak ada bau-bau kedokteran); dan saya termasuk sukses dalam semua profesi ini. Semua karena ada perusahaan, yang seperti juri di kontes menulis saya, yang tidak melihat siapa saya namun melihat apa yang saya bisa lakukan.

Diskriminasi ini juga sering saya alami di kehidupan sehari-hari. Dicuekin oleh mbak-mbak SPG di Mal karena penampilan saya, misalnya. Atau perlakuan berbeda dari staf restoran di Bali karena saya bukan bule. Bahkan dilingkungan keluarga besar pun saya sering dilihat rendah karena "cuma sales tukang foto", walau harga paket foto perusahaan saya mulai dari 10 jutaan untuk 3 jam foto dan biasanya kita ambil job di hotel-hotel sekelas Bulgari atau Amanresort. Dengan segala diskriminasi yang saya alami di Indonesia (kurang menarik karena berkulit gelap, kurang modis dan kinclong, pekerjaan yang kurang wah, dompet/kekayaan yang kurang oke, pendidikan yang pas-pasan), saya yang di Indonesia tidak terpikir bisa tinggal di Amerika, atau bahkan bisa menikah dengan pria yang sangat menghargai dan menyayangi saya. Saya sudah siap menerima nasib untuk melajang seumur hidup tanpa pernah bekerja di sebuah perusahaan besar/nasional, dan cuma jadi bulan-bulanan PNS-PNS Indonesia. Lalu saya 'ditemukan' si Akang dan pindahlah saya ke Amerika. Disini kulit sawo matang saya dianggap indah dan berbeda bahkan dari orang yang berkulit gelap lainnya, begitupula kontur wajah saya. Disini saya saat saya bertanya dengan ramah saya tetap dilayani dengan sebaik-baiknya oleh staf supermarket/butik walaupun penampilan saya urakan/tidak modis dan saya jelas-jelas terlihat seperti seorang imigran (yang stereotipnya miskin dan tidak berpendidikan). Bahkan petugas pemerintahan yang terkenal galak dan tidak menyenangkan pun tidak pernah menyusahkan saya. Saat mengurus KTP dan NIK (nomor induk kependudukan) saya sempat bermasalah karena ada typo/salah ketik di nama di green card saya, sehingga berbeda dengan nama di paspor dan akte kelahiran; hebatnya petugas sini bisa mengakalinya tanpa dikenakan biaya. Sebaliknya, saat saya mengurus SIM di Indonesia saya sempat diketusi oleh petugas karena saat saya mengecek data sebelum SIM tersebut di cetak saya tidak menemukan revisi alamat yang saya minta, dibilang saya harusnya mengingatkan petugas yang menerima berkas saya dari awal proses bahwa akan ada revisi alamat. Saya jadi bingung dan jengkel, buat apa saya memasukkan berkas kalau begitu? Bukankan tujuan adanya berkas/formulir tersebut agar petugas bisa memasukkan data yang benar?

Sedih rasanya saat saya sadar di negeri orang saya lebih dianggap sebagai manusia/lebih dihormati daripada di negeri saya sendiri. Mungkin saya hanya beruntung, karena pastinya ada banyak orang lain yang tinggal di negeri orang dan mengalami diskriminasi yang lebih berat daripada waktu di Indonesia. Tapi memang itu kuncinya: diskriminasi. Saat kita bisa melihat seseorang dari siapa dia yang sebenarnya dan terlepas dari hal-hal duniawi dan label-label yang kita lekatkan sehingga bebas dari diskriminasi dan kecurigaan, maka saat itulah ia akan menjadi manusia yang sebenarnya. Kebebasan dari diskiminasi juga akan membuat lebih banyak orang memiliki kesempatan untuk mendapatkan hidup yang lebih baik, kesempatan untuk menggunakan potensi dirinya semaksimal mungkin. Diskriminasi adalah rantai yang mengekang kita, baik sebagai pelaku diskriminasi maupun korban diskriminasi. Bukankah sudah saatnya kita bebas dari kekangan ini? Slogan 'semua manusia itu sama' bukan hanya sekedar kecap dimulut, namun juga harus kita amalkan dalam kehidupan sehari-hari, apalagi Indonesia tidak memiliki hukum anti diskriminasi. Sudah saatnya kita menolak dan menghentikan diskriminasi. Sudah saatnya kita menjadi manusia yang sebenarnya.

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