She was hesitant to go abroad for a job. Her family told her not to go. But Herawati wanted the capital to open a beauty salon in Jakarta. She decided to go when a visa for working in a salon in Saudi Arabia came through. A friend who had been successful working overseas and knew how much Herawati wanted to open a place of her own encouraged her to go. It seemed a high salary. She thought if she worked in Saudi Arabia a short while, she could pull the money together for what she dreamed. She was divorced but her daughter had turned 20, old enough to be left on her own. She would be going with friends. It couldn’t be that risky, she assured herself. She believes she had a stroke due to the excessive hours that included domestic work, the poor diet and lack of sleep. She was sent to the airport without her salary or her belongings, including her certificate of beautician skills.
Back in Indonesia, Herawati has spent the past year in physiotherapy, at her own expense, to improve her condition. The left side of her body still drags compared with the right side. She can move the right hand and arm enough to still cut hair and do facials, though she hasn’t returned to work yet. She can’t stand for long periods like she used to. Her blood pressure remains high, she gets dizzy easily and sometimes finds it difficult to move.
“I had a salon visa when I got to Mecca, but I was asked to work at the house of the salon owner, cleaning up and doing household chores. I started to complain, saying, ‘My visa is a salon visa. And they told me at the agency, they told me, ‘If you’re asked to do household chores, do not because you have a salon visa.’’ But the employer said, ‘If you don’t do that, I will hit you. You have to work here.’ It was a big house.
“In addition to the household chores, I was asked to cut hair. I was tested at the house. I was not allowed to take a rest. I was told, ‘If you want your salary, you have to work. Massage and blow-dry hair.’ I woke at 5 a.m. to help wash clothes and clean up the house. At 8–9 a.m. I do massage and do a facial for the employer, blow drying her hair every day. After two weeks I was taken to the salon.
I worked from 8 or 9 a.m. until 1 or 2 a.m. There was one day per week I was not to work. But instead of going out, I was asked to work in the house to massage the master and dye her hair. She did not live in the city, but in a village. If there was no maid, I had to help in cleaning the house. I stayed in a room at the salon for employees. We had a break for only one hour. Meals were provided twice a day, but only instant noodles. In the morning I had roti bread. Sometimes we had rice with the Arabic meals. Sometimes we had goat meat. Maybe it’s why I had high blood pressure. I had a stroke there. At first I got dizzy and then numb. But I had to force myself to work even though my hands were numb. Half of my body went numb.
After three months, the employer went to America. The boss’ mother is the one who was not nice. She’s not nice when she talks. When I’m out of breath, I say, ‘Can I rest, have something to eat? I am dizzy.’ She would say, ‘No, no, you have to work. We have to finish as much as we can as soon as we can.’ I was supposed to earn 1,500 riyal a month. But the mother said, ‘After you finish the contract and your boss comes back from America, you will get your money.’ In the first three months, I was paid only one month’s salary.”
One girl tried to run away
“I felt like I was a slave. My friend at the salon said, ‘It is like this. Our salary is only given once every six months.’ Salons in Indonesia are not like this. We don’t have to work at the house after we work at the salon. Other women in the salon got two or three days off every month. I was the newest so I had to work. One of the girls ran away and got caught by the police. The employer beat her up and said to me, ‘Look at your friend’s fate. This is what will happen to you if you try to run away.’
“At first when I’m putting on make-up, it was tiring. I felt numb in my arm. I told the employer that half of my body is hurting. I wanted to have a check-up. It was not allowed. When there were many customers, I was forced to work. I was dizzy and they forced me to work. When I complained or I held my head, I was hit. Then one day I fell down after being hit. I was taken to my bedroom and I couldn’t wake for six hours. They threw water on me. But my left hand wouldn’t move. I couldn’t feel anything. I said, ‘I’m having a stroke.’ I wanted to go to the hospital. It felt like almost a year all in the same day. The employer called a doctor. The doctor said I had high blood pressure and I had to be careful. The doctor said I shouldn’t have goat meat, coffee or instant noodle—things with a lot of salt. Instead, what the doctor said not to consume was given to me. The doctor said I should not work.
“After I got sick at the salon, I was taken to the employer’s mother’s house to work there. I worked at the mother’s salon on the third floor of her house. I woke at 7 a.m. and swept the floor. There were three workers there. At 8 a.m. people started to come. I would cut hair; if I didn’t have work upstairs I was asked to go downstairs and tidy up the clothes. It was a big house. The first floor was the house. The second floor was a boutique and the third floor was the salon. I had a hard time going down and up the stairs. I wanted just to stay upstairs. I fell down often. In the mother’s salon I worked until 1 a.m. After I fell again, after one year and one month at the daughter’s salon and seven months at the mother’s house, I asked to go home.
“I was expecting to go for treatment but they took me to the airport. What about my salary, I asked. ‘We will send it to you later. When you are back in Indonesia, you go to the hospital and we will take care of the bill.’ But it didn’t happen. I called the madam and I asked for my salary and my clothes. She said, ‘We already gave to the agency office, it’s there now.’ I contacted the agency and asked for my salary and things to be sent to Jakarta. The agency said, ‘No, nothing is with us.’ I tried to call the madam again and she wouldn’t pick up. They still haven’t paid me for 22 months of work.”