Sriwatin’s day starts at around 6am, when she gets up to help the 80-year-old mother of her laobanniang, or female boss. She helps “A-ma” get dressed and prepares her breakfast.
Before the rest of the family wakes up and gets ready for school or work, Sriwatin has started her daily cleaning routine, beginning with sweeping the floor.
The rest of the day she spends helping her boss in the kitchen and caring for A-ma. Sriwatin helps A-ma take her meals, go out for walks and shower. Before going to bed she does the family’s laundry and hangs it out to dry.
Sriwatin is one of around 128,000 Indonesian workers in Taiwan. At age 31, she is married and has one child, who is back home in Indonesia with her husband. Sriwatin came to Taiwan alone four months ago to work as a caregiver. Like many others from Southeast Asian countries, she came in the hope of building a better life for her family.
Figures from the Council of Labor Affairs indicate that 111,000 of Indonesian workers in Taiwan are employed as caregivers and housekeepers, around 13,000 work on assembly lines and the rest work in agriculture, on fishing boats, or as construction workers.
“Sometimes I get very tired and I take short naps here and there. I’ve cried a couple of times, too, when I missed my family a lot or when I felt insulted when A-ma yelled at me for something I didn’t do,” Sriwatin said in an interview earlier this month. “But it’s okay, it’s no big deal.”
One reason Sriwatin can deal with harsh words from A-ma is because her boss knows she isn’t at fault and often comforts her, she said. Sriwatin is also determined to make money for her family and says she knows there are many challenges involved.
This isn’t Sriwatin’s first time working abroad. Before coming to Taiwan, she spent six years in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait working as a housekeeper and caregiver.
“I made some money there and with that money I bought a small plot of land back home and my husband is growing coffee on it now,” Sriwatin said with a smile.
She hopes to spend three years in Taiwan and then go home.
“Hopefully I’ll have saved up enough money to do business at home,” she said.
Twenty-four-year-old Annie, another Indonesian worker employed as a caregiver, has dreams too.
Her parents make little as farmers and her three siblings are still in school. Her job in Taiwan is helping her support the family.
“I’m from a small farming village not far from Jakarta,” Annie said as she waited for a friend outside an Indonesian grocery store near Taipei Railway Station. “I couldn’t find a job in Indonesia, so I came to Taiwan.”
“This is actually my second time in Taiwan. I worked in Taiwan for two-and-a-half years taking care of an A-ma and went home after she passed away,” Annie said. “After staying home for a while I chose to come back to Taiwan about four months ago and I’m taking care of an A-kong [grandfather] this time.”
The man in Annie’s care is hospitalized and Annie stays in the hospital with him.
“My friends and I hang out about once every month, we go shopping or just have fun with other Indonesians,” she said. “I like Taiwan a lot because everything is so exciting here.”
But there’s a downside too, Annie said.
“Things are too expensive in Taiwan,” she said. “And for us Muslims, who don’t eat pork, it can be hard to find food.”