Heck, we never seem to stop creating a fuss on just about anything
pic by BLOOMBERG
A PACK of rice. That was all it took for Fatimah and Wak, two menial workers from Indonesia, to smile for days.
They were stationed at a studio where one of Malaysia’s hit series was shot, and their main task was to keep the place clean — especially the toilets — apart from other dirty work that others in the production team did not want to do.
The two also stayed at the premises full-time, along with the night watchmen who were on duty (and quite a number of vicious-looking stray dogs).
The studio was actually a warehouse located within an industrial area which was really secluded.
The nearest sundry shop or supermarket was a few miles away in a small kampung nearby.
For the two “unfortunate souls” (coincidentally both were from Malang, Indonesia), they would only be able to have decent meals according to the studio’s schedules. If the crew ate, they ate.
Fatimah was apparently a young widow who was a “child bride”. She was forced to marry when she was still in school to an older man who was three times her age. They had a child.
Her husband passed away just a year before, and Fatimah thought it would be wiser for her to find a job to support her family. She ended up with an agency that assigned her to the studio.
Similarly, Wak was a young father who decided to make as much money working in Malaysia, so that he could buy his family a piece of land and perhaps build them a bigger and more comfortable house.
At the studio, he was the general worker, cleaner and gardener who would keep everything in order.
Apparently, at night, he would read the Quran in the studio to ensure that the place was “clean and safe”.
Not many would really talk to them or take them seriously, it seemed. After all, the two were still grasping with the local lingo (they spoke in a very thick Javanese accent).
Since it was also their first time out of their country, they were rather naive about so many things and did not have much of that “pre-conceived” notions other seasoned and street smart foreign workers might have after spending some time in the country.
Wak and Fatimah were rather gullible too and could not really figure out if anyone was actually joking or being serious with them.
When the studio was not in use, Wak and Fatimah would have to figure out their meals on their own. So yes, you guessed it right. The two would “fast” as there’d be nothing for them to eat.
One crew member found out about their predicament and decided to do something nice. He lent them a small rice cooker, and bought them a pack of rice, some canned food, instant noodles and other simple condiments.
It was not much to most of us, but for the two, it was as if they were bestowed with a pot filled with gold! They could not seem to contain their emotions. In fact, they might have smiled so hard that they ended up crying.
The following day, Wak still could not stop thanking the person who gave them the pack of rice.
He said it was the best rice that he had ever tasted in a very long time. “Makan lauk apa (what did you eat with)?” the crew member asked. “Nasi saja (just the rice)!” Wak said happily.
Apparently, Fatimah also got very creative with the rice. To ensure that all the additional dry food could be kept longer for rainy days, Fatimah would sauté sliced onion and garlic in the pot and add instant noodle flavouring into the concoction!
“Kena jimat (we have to be frugal)!” Fatimah said proudly of her creation.
The two went on living that way on location for the entire season of the programme and they did not look unhappy at all.
They’d occasionally talk about their families back home and how much they missed them. Apart from that, they’d just go about their chores as they were ordered to.
Despite the hardship, Fatimah surprised quite a lot of the crew when she related her experience in Mekah, performing the umrah.
“Saya pingin ke sana lagi, kalau ada rejeki (I hope I can go there again, God willing).”
Along the way, there were others who got more familiar with the two and gave them used clothes and other stuff. Fatimah and Wak would wear them proudly to show how appreciative they were.
This took place quite a while ago. The show had since been cancelled, and by now, Fatimah and Wak might be back in Malang with their families, perhaps living in houses that they bought with the savings from their stint in Malaysia.
And here we are, still trying to figure out our so-called “complicated” lives, complaining about the number of channels we have on television yet with nothing to watch, and how slow the Internet network is and how it has affected our Netflix time.
We’d complain about how far we have to walk from the car to the supermarket and never fail to voice our grouses when anything “unpleasant” happens.
We’d never be happy if our smartphones are not as updated and that the steak we had was a little chewy or the salmon served at the Japanese restaurant is not as fresh as we’d like it to be.
Oh yes, the home theatre system needs to be upgraded, too, and the wardrobe is filled with too many clothes from last season.
Heck, we never seem to stop creating a fuss on just about anything — all this while Fatimah and Wak continue with their uncluttered simple life somewhere, rejoicing over just a pack of rice…
Zainal Alam Kadir is the executive editor at The Malaysian Reserve.