Blogs by Ann Massey
And the Winner is …
1/25/2011 12:58:15 AM
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An ex-pat who lived for 5 years in Miri recalls her adventures and misadventures. In today’s episode, she concludes a recount of life with a teenage amah
I’m not a big believer in fate. I lean toward: ‘I am the captain of my ship and the master of my destiny’ philosophy but sometimes, it seems like fate is determined to wreck your dreams. Take the day of the beauty pageant - everything that could go wrong went wrong, starting with a burst water pipe in the upstairs bathroom.
I had intended driving Jelimah to the beauty parlour – she was having the works, hair, make-up and nails. Later the plan was to collect her after she’d morphed into a beauty queen but I had a flood on my hands, soon to be followed by another, because Jelimah turned on the waterworks too.
Sending Jelimah still weeping off in a cab, I spent a frustrating hour trying to find a plumber who understood English. By now water, was dripping through the ceiling into the living room below. Fortunately, the floor was tiled. Alas, that wasn’t the case upstairs. The bathroom was fitted with a thick Wilton carpet, mulberry, and the exact shade of the commercial-size spa and wall tiles.
It was dusk and I was still mopping up after the plumber and hoping the landlord wouldn’t blame me when Jelimah, exquisite in heavy Asian makeup her long glossy hair piled on top of her head, secured by jewelled clips, returned. She was accompanied by a stranger, a cousin skilled in the art of folding the traditional kebaya, the intricate blouse, dress worn by Dayak women. The girls disappeared into the bedroom. Their tinkling laughter came to an abrupt halt when ten minutes later the power went off.
Power black outs were a part of life in Miri and I was prepared. I found the candles and gave two to Jelimah. Deep channels in her inch thick make-up wouldn’t do and she bravely held back tears that sparkled in her brilliant eyes, I must admit I’d have cried too if I’d have had to get ready a big night in the dark.
I never have been keen on driving at night and Mary-Grace, an ex-pat like me was just as eager to cheer on Jelimah. She picked us up about seven in her car. The power was still off. ‘But that doesn’t mean it will be off in Krokop too,’ I reassured Jelimah, with a confidence I was far from feeling, considering the way our luck was running.
As expected, the building was in darkness. We parted company, Mary- Grace and I to a gloomy, stifling hall, Jelimah to hot and airless cramped upstairs room, where the humidity played havoc with the entrants’ makeup and hair dos. It was 2 hours before the lights came back on.
Surprise! The beauty pageant wasn’t the only entertainment provided. The main event was preceded by a Malaysian song contest. It went on interminably. Possibly I would have enjoyed it more if there’d been a selection of songs; instead I sat through at least twenty presentations of the same song … in Bahasa.
It was midnight before the pageant began. All the girls were utterly gorgeous, none more so than Jelimah. She didn’t win though and yes, there were tears. Jelimah insisted the contest was fixed. Maybe she was right, the winner was no prettier than the other girls but she did have the advantage of being the judge’s niece.
To crown off a catastrophic night - when Mary-Grace and I got back to the car, (Jelimah had gone to a night club with a party of friends and was spared this final calamity), the lights had been left on and the battery was as flat as a pancake.
Two blondes 3.00 am in the wildest part of the wild, wild East and not another ex-pat to be found. We walked back to the hall. Luckily, the manager was still packing up and he generously drove us back to Pujat.
Next morning Jelimah told me she was quitting and she was in a hurry; her friends were waiting in the car. ‘Have you got another job,’ I asked, hovering as she packed? Although I felt slighted, after all I’d treated her more like a daughter than a servant, I didn’t begrudge her bettering herself
‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘I’ve got my old job back at the dry cleaners.’
How sharper it is than a serpent’s tooth to have a thankless child!
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