Aguk Irawan, Mekkah: Memoar Luka Seorang TKW (‘Mecca: A Painful Memoir of an Indonesian Domestic Worker’) (Jogjakarta: Glosaria Media, 2014) 293 pages.

Mekkah coverMekkah is an interesting 2014 novel inspirasi (inspirational novel) from Aguk Irawan, the bestselling author of Hajji Backpacker series, along with a string of other published novels, poetry and essays. The book centers on two characters, Firdaus and Midah. Firdaus is an Indonesian student studying religion in Cairo while Midah is an Indonesian domestic worker who was hired to work in Hujjun, a few miles away from Mecca. Both a religious and romantic novel, the book is interspersed with chapters alternating with the two protagonists’ perspectives, until they encounter each other at the middle of the novel: Firdaus working as a seasonal spiritual teacher/tour guide for richer Indonesian pilgrims while Midah has just ran away from her employer, seeking refuge in the Holy Land. Firdaus, however, is just warming up to a rich Indonesian woman whose father, a bureaucrat back in Indonesia, has just decided to pair him for marriage. Of course, the male protagonist is torn, seeing how wealth has compromised the moral foundation of the woman and the family that he is marrying into, it became a personal crusade to save her and her family. Then comes Midah, poor but pure, she may be a mere helper but her morality and spirituality has been fortified through years of growing up to the teachings of her imam father. Firdaus in the end chooses the rich man’s daughter, leaving Midah to the care of her friend who runs a halfway house for runaway Indonesian maids in Saudi. A few months into his marriage, Firdaus realizes that he made a bad decision. His religious guidance does not seem to work on his wife and her corrupt family and he becomes more and more disillusioned about his personal quest to redeem them. He suddenly starts to think of Midah, whom he rescued but has not heard of any news since he went back to Indonesia. He later on learns from Marwan that Midah’s employer looked for her and has filed a case for running away from them. She was found to be guilty of the charges and is set to receive some lashing as punishment, from which she might die. Firdaus hurriedly flew back to Saudi to save the woman she should have chosen in the first place.

Below is an excerpt of their meeting in the prison and my rough translation of the passages:

Sehari menjelang hukuman cambuk dijatuhkan pada Midah, aku, Marwan Lubis dan pak Efendi kembali mengunjungi penata di Juhfah. Aku temui lagi Midah. Sorot matanya benar-benar sudah sayu. Badannya yang dulu kelihatan padat dan bugar kini jadi kurus. Midah tampaknya sudah tidak bersemangat dengan kedatangan kami.

A day before Midah’s flogging, I, Marwan Lopez and Mr. Efendi returned to visit her at Juhfah. I saw Midah again. Her eyes had actually been glazed. Her once solid and fit body now seemed so thin. Midah was apparently not excited by our visit.

“Midah, bagaimana kabarmu?”

“Midah, how are you?”

Ia tidak menjawab.

She did not answer.

“Midah, bagaimana kabarmu”.

“Midah, how are you?”

Sampai aku mengulang tanya itu untuk ketiga kalinya, barulah ia menjawab dengan nada suara yang sangat pelan.

It was only until I repeated my question the third time that she responded in a very soft voice.

“Firdaus, derita tidak bisa dipisahkan dengan cinta. Sebab keduanya syarat untuk melayani keindahan?” (Dikutip dari ungkapan sufi terkenal, Suhrawardi. Lihat Wafayat al-A’yan, Ibnu Khallikan (Beirut, 1965; hal 268, tentang filsafat iluminasi.)

“Firdaus, suffering could not be separated from love. Because both serve the terms of beauty?” (Quoted from a Sufi expression, Suhrawardi. See Wafayat al-a’yan, Ibn Khallikan (Beirut, 1965; page 268, about the philosophy of illumination.)

Aku gemetar mendengar kata-kata Midah. Sungguh di luar jangkauanku.

I trembled at Midah’s words. It’s out of my league.

“Kuatkan dirimu, Midah! Jangan anggap semua ini derita. Aku sangat mecintaimu. Aku tak mau kehilangan dirimu?”

“Be strong, Midah! Do not take all this suffering. I love you very much. I do not want to lose you.”

“Aku sudah rela menerima semua derita ini. Aku sudah menduga, nasibku memang akan berjalan seperti ini. Sebab, saat aku menjadi saksi di persidanganmu, aku adalah TKW ilegal. Aku tidak menyesal. Karena aku melakukannya demi cinta. Aku ingin menjadi pelayan cintaku. Aku rela menderita demi cinta. Kini, aku sudah menemukan keindahan itu dan menerima takdir-Nya.”

“I’ve been willing to accept all of this suffering. I already guessed that my fate was going to be like this. Because, after I had been a witness to your trial, I was already an illegal migrant worker. Sorry I did it. ‘Cause I did it for love. I wanted to be a servant of my love. I’m willing to suffer for love. Now, I’ve discovered the beauty of it and accepts this fate. “

Kalimat yang keluar dari mulut Midah langsung menembus rongga dadaku. Langit-langit penjara ini terasa bergetar hebat. Aku tak bisa membahasakan gemuruh dalam dadaku.

The sentence that came out of Midah’s lips directly penetrated my chest cavity. The ceiling of the prison shook noticeably. I have no words for the rumbling in my chest.

“Besok aku akan diseret ke pengadilan dunia. Tidak apa-apa Firdaus! Meski ragaku disiksa, jangan risau Firdaus! Batinku tidak akan merasakan sakitnya cambukan itu sedikitpun. Keduanya akan berangkat ke arah yang berbeda dan berjalan dengan cara yang berbeda pula”.

“Tomorrow I will be dragged outside. Firdaus, it’s okay! Although my body would be tortured, do not worry Firdaus! My mind will not feel the pain from all those lashes. These two will set off in different directions and walk in different ways”.

(273-275)

 

After she was executed, Midah would live briefly with Firdaus. Moments before her death, Firdaus brings her to a nearby beach on a sunset where he confesses her guilt and love for Midah. Midah would also profess her love and grants him the forgiveness to move on and have a peaceful life with his wife. She would die holding Firdaus hands.

 

The book provokes me because it presents something that calls for a rigorous gendered moral reading on how the struggles of Indonesian migrant women are portrayed. It depicts virtuous suffering and a sense of justice that shapes the issue of abuse and exploitation and how it politicizes how and why some migrant women’s lives and deaths matter in mass media and popular literature. I wanted to analyze this novel as part of my chapter on the affect of mourning and politics of labor migration in Southeast Asia. But because I decided to limit the scope of my research within narratives on Filipina and Indonesian domestic workers  set in Hong Kong and Singapore, I had to let go of this novel, and bookmark it for probably a larger project later on.