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21/05 Tuesday 06:14PM

Saloma in My Car

I would not define myself as a 'Feminist', I cannot say that I am ardently passionate about burning brassieres or hosiery but I do believe that I am a humanitarian and I therefore embrace my fellow sex who work hard in order to make the planet a more positive place.

I have recently embarked on a small business – cleaning houses and offices. My reasoning behind this enterprise was that there are many local Bruneian women who need extra income, who are possibly single mothers or who are struggling in order to accommodate a large family.

And as I discovered there are many of them.

I decided to focus on my “neighborhood” (as they say in the States) and hired a few local ladies from around the Perpindahan area where there seems to be quite a large unemployment problem. However, that is another story.

I was more interested to see how these women would react to be offered work cleaning other people’s houses. No, I explained they were not amah’s or servants, they were cleaners with a specific roster and a maximum working time of three hours per house. Some were keen, others were not... of course they were not, it is still seen as a menial job and naturally they had their pride.

But pride does not make money.

Which brings me to one lady in particular. I will call her 'Saloma' as she is a huge P.Ramlee fan and I can personally attest that she has memorized all his songs and even the dialogue from his films.

I met her when she was working in a local runcit shop. Every time I popped in to buy something she would say “Hello, how are you?” and smile, she was always happy! Always. I had never once seen her morose or sulky. This woman was just positive energy.

And she was a Bruneian working from 8am to 10pm every day except Sundays, and taking home a salary of BND300 a month.

She walked home, about a 15 minutes walk each day. Across the road, and up a hill she would diligently set off each morning and get home late at night.

'Saloma' has 4 sons. So she hardly had a chance to see them. Plus being a divorcee she had to be both Mother and Father to her little tribe of merry men.

She walked to my house the day I interviewed her, dressed up in a smart blouse and jeans. Her Dad had passed away the day before she said, after a long illness so it was now up to her to make more money as there would no longer be her Father’s pension. Her Dad had been a good man and she had nursed him in hospital. Going to visit him using the bus, she would pay a dollar there and a dollar back.

I told her my plans to do this small cleaning company, explaining that she would have a bit more income and also, more importantly time with her children. The youngest being four years old.

I explained it included cleaning bedrooms, bathrooms and toilets and we would have a multi-cultural clientele base – some would have pet dogs, others would be of different religions, there would be messy houses and big houses, new houses, dusty houses for rent and it would be strenuous work.

She said yes.

We started working together a few days later, and that is how I got to know 'Saloma' in my car. Her childhood, her first love, her ambitions, how she coped being an abused wife as well as having a husband with a drug addiction. How she would sell cakes around her kampong and sometimes, if there was no money for food she would make fritters using ubi kayu from the garden.

She sold second hand Tupperware tubs at Muara beach for a while and she would also supply runcit shops with her cakes. She had no wish to apply for 'welfare benefits' she said as she had hands and legs and did not need charity.

Everyday in the car she would sing Engkau Laksana Bulan, Getaran Jiwa, Bujang Lapuk, Di-mana kan Ku Cari Ganti… as well as tell me the whole script and and what a great singer and director and how fantastic P. Ramlee was, and how when she feels low she watches the old black and white films of that magical era. One time my car broke down on the side of the road and we had to walk to find a shop, so we started singing Bujang Lapok, well, I kind of hummed as she marched along next to me.

Her catchphrase is Semangat! And she never fails to surprise me. Never.  In fact, after a hard days cleaning, and listening to her singing in the car, when we say goodnight, I feel somewhat uplifted to know that there are Women out there who still manage to smile, work hard and sing P.Ramlee songs no matter how hard times have been. That’s how I have 'Saloma' in my car everyday…  how lucky I am to have a friend like her. And how lucky we are to have Women like this in the world. Hope she keeps singing from Kuala Belait to Bandar…

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R
  |  Racheal Ann Malai Ali
Racheal lives in Brunei, where she writes music, television scripts, and plays. She has four sons and one particular cat named Mr. Kipling. Racheal loves to dream and is a big fan of Einstein, and her believes is that all arts can be use to break boundaries.

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