Sun, 19 Jan 2003


By Chairil Gibran Ramadhan

No! My wife and two children must never know about this. I must keep it a secret from them, my family, my wife's family and my neighbors. What will they say about me if they know that I -- who for six years made millions of rupiah each month, worked in an air-conditioned room, ate good meals, bought nice shirts, shoes and expensive perfume and provided my wife and children with delicious food and expensive clothes -- am now only an ojek driver.

I don't mean to look down on the job. It is in fact a noble job, much nobler than resorting to begging in the streets, stealing or cheating. The point is I just have not been able to accept the fact that I, who used to be waited on, now have it the other way round.

It would be different if, from the very beginning, I had started working as a porter, an office boy or an ojek driver. I would, of course, have treated the profession with disdain but I would not have resented my current fate now.

I come from a wealthy family and I when I got married I had a life as decent as my parents'. The problem is that now I have plunged into a position which my wife, children, family, my wife's family and neighbors might regard as drastic, totally changing my daily life: From a life of comfort to mere survival, a life fraught with struggles to make both ends meet.

Every morning I start my motorbike, excuse myself and leave the house, advising my wife to be alert and mindful of burglars who might break into the house any time not only during the night but also in the daytime. I kiss my wife on the forehead then Rizky, my one-year-old son. His sister, Imas, has left for kindergarten, taken by a neighbor's child.

After I moved to this village to live in a house given by my father six years ago, I have passed the same street and greeted people by nodding my head, blowing the horn or responding to their greetings.

I have never told them about my job because I do not think it necessary to tell them. And besides what could they do if they found out that now I'm only an ojek driver? I'm sure there is not much they could do to relieve my burden.

To give advice, extend sympathy and to tell me to be patient in facing my ordeal are what they would be able to do at best. In fact, I do not need their comforting words, because I know they are financially no better off than I am.

Basically speaking, they have lived a harder life much longer than I have. (I do not wish to look down upon or insult them). But deep at heart, I am proud of the way they live: Slow and easy. Never have I seen a frown on their forehead and this is probably due to the fact that they are used to a hard life.

Poverty has been part of their lives for ages, from one generation to the next. Had they never experienced any hardship before, I am sure they would have felt what I now feel.

I have to thank my wife, my children, my family and my neighbors for preventing me from ending my life in a foolish manner. They have gradually made me realize that this is all just a trial from God. They, particularly my neighbors, have given me a mirror with which I can see all of their experiences in life, that life is beautiful if you know how to cope with it.

Without them, without a role model, without their happy faces, I am certain that I would be lying in a tomb today. And perhaps right after receiving the letter informing me that I was being laid off three months ago, that very morning, I would have jumped to my death through the window of my office on the 16th floor.

That morning, I thought that I had to be strong and prevented myself from feeling sorry for losing what I had enjoyed for years: A good job with a substantial salary.

What makes me strong is that even my economically weak neighbors, who have never enjoyed life, have never expressed regret or complaints. It is they who have encouraged me to move on.

And here I am now -- an ojek driver.


I enter the back of the foodstall where I always have my meals, far from my house and away from my former office or the area where people would recognize me. The food stall, sandwiched between office buildings along the city's main road, stands near a street leading to a luxury housing complex.

I take off my long-sleeved white shirt, black pants, my tie and shoes. Then I put my helmet on the table. Afterwards I put on my sandals and a different helmet to cover my face because I don't want my wife, my children, my relatives, my neighbors or other people who know me to see my face. I change into a T-shirt and a pair of jeans that I have had the foodstall owner keep for me since I started my job here. Then I leave the dirty clothes to be washed. I put them on alternately. When a piece of clothing begins to make me itch then I wear the other one. Of course I need their help as it is impossible for me to ask my wife to wash my clothes.

Only the food stall owner's family know about my previous job. They, helpful and understanding, only charge me Rp 35,000 a month to use their back room to rest and store my belongings plus the laundry.

I have promised to myself and God, because I believe He is the only One who can help me, that if one day I get everything back, a nice job and good life, I will give them money to renovate their food stall.

Yes, only the foodstall owner's family know about my previous job. They can understand me because their parents were once rich but became destitute and impoverished after being cheated by a business partner. Their late father had to pay all the losses to the bank, otherwise he would have been failed for eight years, while his good-looking, sweet-talking business partner vanished without a trace.

However, they never regret their fate as they are sure that God is responsible for everything.

"Everything we have in this world belongs to God. If He wants to take it back from us, we have to be prepared for it. There is no need to regret. Perhaps we had some ill-gotten wealth with us before."

I listened attentively.

"You see now we practically have nothing but we can live more peacefully. We used to have everything we wanted: A beautiful house, several cars, a lot of money and holidays at dad's villa or other famous recreational resorts, but we were restless. God knew we were restless and He relieved us by taking all the joys that He had temporarily lent us, which according to a cleric, means that God still loves us."

I kept on listening.

"So Mas Ari, you don't have to feel ashamed about working like this, as a laborer, an office boy or an ojek driver. You only need to be ashamed if you are a beggar, a thief or a swindler. We ourselves are not ashamed of being a food sellers. We should only be ashamed if we possess ill-gotten wealth."

I was quiet, but his words kept ringing in my ears.

"When we first became poor, we were temporarily ashamed in front of our neighbors and relatives but gradually we got used to it. People keep on reminding us that all we have in this world belongs to God and if the Owner wants to take it back, we have to be prepared. No need for regrets, much less resentment".

But to me, it seems hard and it will take me a few months before * Oto tell my wife and children about my present job. I am not used to being poor and still feel ashamed about living in poverty, although I am fully aware that everything we have in this world belongs to God. I am just not ready to live in poverty.

For the time being, within these days, these weeks, these months, my beloved Daike, my sweethearts Imas and Rizky must not know about my job. I will continue to keep it a secret from them.

Translated by Faldy Rasyidie

Note: - ojek : motorcycle taxi - Mas : big brother