Tuesday, March 13, 2012


       Not many people want to see ghost, but ironically like to tell ghost stories over and over again. Terrible memories of the past are just like ghost stories, we do not want them to happen, but keep remembering and retell them throughout the present life. This irruption of past into the present is one common theme we can trace in Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. In these two works, the ghosts of the past entrap the characters’ present life and give them hard times before they can free themselves to enter the future.
            The Woman Warrior consists of stories full of ghosts throughout the entire work. The ghosts can be divided into two sets. The first set of ghosts belongs to Chinese legends, folktales and nostalgic events of family life. As early as the first part entitled “No Name Woman”, we have been introduced to the narrator’s aunt who belongs to the invisible world like the world of ghost. The narrator’s mother keeps reminding her, “Don’t tell anybody, what I am about to tell you” (3). As the title suggests, the aunt will not bear any name due to her suspected adultery. She drowns herself and takes the baby with her because she sees no better choice but to commit suicide because her adulterous affair and the baby girl will not be forgiven by her male-dominated society. The narrator recalls the memory about the aunt, who might have been aware of the cloudy future that her child will face. To her, there would be no hope for her child with a “no name” mother, as she would bear no name either. The narrator imagines what her aunt may have thought: “But how would this tiny child without family find her grave when there would be no marker for her anywhere, neither in the earth nor the family hall? …A child with no decent line would not soften her life but only trail after her, ghostlike, begging to give it purpose” (15). Thus, both the aunt and the baby remain as ghosts bearing no names. The narrator knows that “the Chinese are always very frightened of the drowned one, whose weeping ghost, wet hair hanging and skin bloated, waits silently by the water to pull down a substitute” (16). As the narrator is forever haunted by her aunt, so is her life which is entangled with the Chinese past, while trying very hard not to be a ghost to substitute her ghost aunt.
            The stories of the aunt, Fa Mu Lan, the Sitting Ghost, and other demons of Chinese legend are repeatedly told by the narrator’s mother, Brave Orchid. In the third section, “Shaman”, Brave Orchid bravely fights against the Sitting Ghost. Alone in the haunted room of her medical school, Brave Orchid speaks to the ghost, “I do not give in…There is no pain you can inflict that I cannot endure. You’re wrong if you think I’m afraid of you. You’re no mystery to me…You kill babies, you cowards. You have no power over a strong woman. You are no more dangerous than a nesting cat” (70). Later, with her medical friends, Brave Orchid conducts a ritual to get rid of the Sitting Ghosts. Brave Orchid chants, “We told you, Ghost, that we would come after you…and we are winning. Run, Ghost, run from this school. Only good medical people belong here. Go back, dark creature, to your native country” (75). This suggests that Brave Orchid understands that a woman should be strong to win the battle with ghosts. This belief in courage also lays the foundation of the way she brings us her children to be strong people as they live in America, the ghost country, as she calls it.
            Meanwhile, there is another set of ghosts which have to be encountered in their everyday American life. To the narrator, “America has been full of machines and ghosts-Taxi Ghost, Bust Ghosts, Police Ghosts, Fire Ghosts,…One upon a time the world was so thick with ghosts, I could hardly breathe; I could hardly walk, limping my way around the White Ghosts and their cars” (97). To them, the American people they meet everyday are as invisible and therefore mysterious as the ghosts in the Chinese past. While her mother succeeded in her battle against the Sitting ghost, the narrator is frustrated to fight against the present ghost. She has been fed by the invisible world of ghosts, repeatedly told by her mother not tell anybody, so that she grows accustomed with the ghost of silence. Trapped between the past and the present, Chinese tradition and American culture, the narrator has a hard time making herself visible and audible, as she is already a half-ghost to her mother.  Being an American-born Chinese, it is like crossing a bridge of two cultures she is not familiar with but cannot help but being a part of both. The narrator attributes an identity to herself through the modulation of voice: “Normal Chinese women’s voices are strong and bossy. We American-Chinese girls had to whisper to make ourselves American-feminine. Apparently we whispered even more softly than the Americans” (172). She even hates “the ghosts for not letting (them) talk” (183).
            Courage is what it takes to fight against the ghost. In contrast to her mother’s expectation of her becoming a slave or a wife, the narrator wants to be a woman warrior like Fa Mu Lan. In the last part of The Woman Warrior, “A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe”, the narrator dares to confront her mother for confusing her with Chinese ghost stories, myths, and legends. She screams as her throat bursts open:
             …I can do ghost things even better than ghosts can…Even if I am stupid and talk            funny and get sick, I won’t let you turn me into a slave or a wife. I’m getting out          of here. I can’t stand living here anymore. It’s your fault I talk weird…I’m going     to get scholarships, and I’m going away…And I don’t want to listen to any more    of your stories; they have no logic (201-2).
            Although this confrontation is painful to Brave Orchid, the narrator manages to move away from the family. Only at this point does the ghost of silence disappear. She tells herself, “I had to leave home in order to see the world logically, logic the new way of seeing. I learned to think that mysteries are for explanation…Shine floodlights into dark corners: no ghost” (204). Through painful mother/daughter relationship which somehow reflects that of love and hate, she eventually tells her mother that she has found “some places in this country that are ghost-free” and it’s where she belongs (108). The narrator grows to be a woman as strong as her mother and finally wins the ghost battle, and she admits now, “I am really a Dragon, as she is a Dragon, both us born in dragon years” (109). Starting as a girl struggling to speak out, now she has become an outspoken woman.
            While different sets of ghosts represent the past and the present in The Woman Warrior, the ghosts of past and present are united into one being in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. This is a story of an ex-slavewoman, Sethe, who succeeded in escaping from slavery but had to kill her baby girl. Sethe sees no other reason why she has to cut her baby’s throat. To her, this crime is justified to save her baby from a worse fate. In other words, only death can give freedom when someone like her has to face the institution of slavery. In addition, Sethe’s mother has done the same thing for the same reason to her children, leaving Sethe as the only one alive. Sethe’s grandmother tells her, “She threw them all away but you. The one from the crew she threw away on the island. The others from more whites she also threw away. Without names, she threw them (62). Yet, this brings Sethe to a never-ending haunted life. They have to live in a house which has been haunted for so many years, isolating them from the community, and making Denver suffer from it. As Paul D enters her mother’s life, Denver bursts out,” I can’t live here. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I can’t live here. Nobody speaks to us. Nobody comes by. Boys don’t like me. Girls don’t either” (14).
            The ghost that has haunted Sethe and Denver for years may symbolize the guilty feeling Sethe has. Yet, Sethe has no intention to move, as she says to Paul D, “No moving. No leaving. It’s all right the way it is” (15). Her reluctance to move may suggest that while she feels so much intruded, she cannot escape from the past. Meanwhile, Denver, who belongs to the present, is pulled to her mother’s past. When she was seven, Denver chose not to ask for an explanation why her mother killed the baby. This suggests that she cannot escape from the past’s dwelling in her mother. Trapped between her love for and fear of her mother, Denver is victimized for not being able to proceed to the future.
             Then there is a teenage girl, Beloved, who comes out of nowhere. Beloved may represent the incarnation of the ghost, which intrudes upon Sethe’s present life. She is the living presence of both Sethe’s love for her children that she could never wholly feel as a slave, and also the guilt she feels for the act of infanticide. Denver is the one who recognizes Beloved as the incarnation of the ghost that has haunted 124 when Beloved tells her, “She (Sethe) left me behind. By myself…She is the one I need. You can go but she is the one I have to have…I belong here” (75-6). Denver feels that Beloved “was (her) secret company until Paul D came” (205). Meanwhile, Sethe also sees in Beloved her reborn baby girl whom she killed and never wants to lose again. Sethe asks Beloved, “Do you forgive me? Will you stay? You safe here now” (215). Later on, Denver is also the one who recognizes the danger of Beloved’s presence to her mother. Denver accuses Beloved of choking her mother, and this scene reminds us of  Sethe’s infanticide. Denver says to Beloved, “You did it, I saw you…I saw you face. You made her choke” (101). Now Denver feels it is her responsibility to save her mother. “When (she) came back to 124, there she was, Beloved…Ready to be taken care of; ready for me to protect her. This time (she has) to keep (her) mother away from (Beloved)…(Denver) thought she was trying to kill (her mother) in the Clearing…” (206). Denver remembers that her grandmother has warned her of the danger of ghost to her mother, but that ghost is a part of her life too. Baby Suggs tells her “that (she) shouldn’t be afraid of the ghost. It wouldn’t harm (her) because (she) tasted its blood when Ma’am nursed (her). Baby Suggs says that “the ghost was after Ma’am…(She) just had to watch out for it because it was a greedy ghost and needed a lot of love…(209)”
            Here, we can say that Denver sees the danger of the past’s taking over the present. But to see how the past is successfully dealt with, readers have to follow the process of Denver’s maturity. As she grows more mature, she realizes that the only way to escape from the past is to leave the dwelling and to move to a larger community. This takes a lot of courage as Denver is imprisoned within Sethe’s time, and she steps out only when her grandmother speaks out, “You mean I never told you…nothing about how come I walk the way I do and about your mother’s feet, not to speak of her back? I never told you that? Is that why you can’t walk down the steps?” (244). However, this larger community also presents a wider history of suffering in slavery. This means that Denver must find the justification of her mother’s murder. By visiting her family history, Denver comes to acknowledge the forces of the institution of slavery that compelled her mother’s crime. It is only up to this point that Denver can free herself from the past and return to life. Her “outside life improved, her home life deteriorated” (250), and Denver knows she has to ask for help to save someone or there would be “no one to come home to” (252).   
            Eventually, as Denver has some sense to step out the door, Sethe manages to be washed clean of her sin and guilt of infanticide by the black community. One neighbor, Ella, sees the need to help Sethe get rid of the occupying ghost in 124. Ella thinks that “whatever Sethe had done, (she) didn’t like the idea of past errors taking possession of the present” (256). The scene of exorcising the ghost of Beloved by the neighboring women shows the supportive community, who share similar past themselves. Their commonly shared will of freedom from the past is represented by the disappearance of the ghost. Their singing “broke over Sethe and she trembled like the baptized in its wash” (261).  Eventually, Sethe also succeeds in handling her past and return to life, after she is able to reclaim and recover herself in Paul D’s life. They finally share a narrative and have hope for the future, when Paul says “Sethe, me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow” (273).
            The above analysis shows that the characters in The Woman Warrior and Beloved share similar experiences. Both stories employ ghosts to represent the past which irrupt to the present. The narrator of The Woman Warrior and Denver in Beloved live out the unspeakable for quite a long period of time before finally have the courage to enter a world of verbal exchange. Both recognize the danger of the ghost in intruding their present life, and also see the only way to proceed to the future is to get rid of the ghost, symbolizing their effort to forget the past. The narrator of The Woman Warrior takes her courage to confront her mother, leave the family so that there would be no ghost. In Beloved, Denver has to leave the village to find an explanation of her mother’s past so that she could free herself from it and enter future life. The efforts done by the narrator of The Woman Warrior and Denver entail painful mother/daughter confrontation more or less like a love/hate relationship, but at the end they manage to reconcile. It also takes cooperation of the community to get rid of the ghost. Brave Orchid and her medical friends chant to send the Sitting Ghosts away, while Ella and the neighboring women exorcise the ghost of Beloved to free Sethe from being possessed by her past.  
            The two novels (if The Woman Warrior can be called such) do not really ask us to judge the characters. What we do have is a development of sympathy which implies acceptance of complexities, contradictions and social influences. We are invited to participate emotionally in how to live in bicultural society, with origins entailing a dark side of the past, and how hard it is to find one’s place to conform into the present life and seek one’s own identity both as an individual and a member of the minorities. What we need to believe is, as the narrator of The Woman Warrior tells her mother, “we belong to the planet now…wherever we happen to be standing, that spot belongs to us as much as any other spot” (107).


Separating evil from good is something easier said than done. It is easy for us to make moral judgment on what others have done because we tend to see things from our perspective. Yet, Toni Morrison’s Sula makes it difficult for us to pass moral judgments on the characters. Just as The Bluest Eye confuses and even persuades us to sympathize with Cholly by suggesting that he rapes his daughter Pecola out of love, so Sula reminds us not to make easy judgments.
            The novel provides several examples of individual decision that bring about damages to others. Eva’s and Sula’s moral characters remain complex issues. For example, Eva’s reaction on Plum’s burning, “Is? My baby? Burning?” (48) suggests that she does it on purpose. Yet, she is also depicted as a self-sacrificing mother. She lets a passing train amputate her leg so as to get insurance money, although she denies it (93). Meanwhile, Sula sleeps with Nel’s husband, Jude not to betray her friendship with Nel, but only to experience pleasure. “…she was sitting on the bed not even bothering to put on her clothes…” (106). This is a troubling scene because it is just too difficult not to condemn Sula, but at least Toni Morrison makes it clear that moral judgment depends on one’s own perspective. Eva has her own motivation to burn Plum and Sula is comfortable being a pariah. If we cannot accept their “evil” action, we can at least try to see things from their points of view.
       A quick reading of Sula seems to give us an idea that Toni Morrison condemns the institution of marriage. But as we do a more detailed observation of the character development, especially Sula and Nel, we can see that Morrison criticizes the motivation women have to get married.
            Nel’s marriage, for instance, is depicted not as the sign of her maturity, but rather as a sign of her immature willingness to submerge herself in another person’s identity. Jude intends to get married for the sake of emotional security. Married, he would become the “head of a household pinned to an unsatisfactory job out of necessity. The two of them together would make one Jude” (83). 
            The loss of self as a result of marriage is seen as Jude leaves Nel, following the sexual incident between him and Sula. Jude’s departure leaves Nel with “thighs (that) were really empty” (110). Later, she admits to Sula that he needs Jude just to fill up some space (144), but blames Sula for not leaving him alone to love her (145).
            The difference between Sula and Nel in terms of dependence on a man’s figure shows that they do not share the same notion about sex and relationship. While Nel sees the sexual incident as a betrayal to both her friendship with Sula and the marriage, Sula is unable to identify the evil action she committed. “What do you mean take him away? I didn’t kill him, I just fucked him. If we were such good friends, how come you couldn’t get over it” (145). 


          Reading The Woman Warrior feels like going home to me. Although I have no Chinese blood, I find many things in common between Indonesian and Chinese cultures. One thing that stands out is the world of silence imposed on women.
            With an opening line, “You must not tell anyone…what I am about to tell you” in “No Name Woman”, the author introduces us that women’s lives are surrounded by silence and secrecy. A women getting pregnant without a husband certainly challenges the social and moral values in eastern culture, although the social punishment ranges from mild to severe one, as found in the first section of The Woman Warrior. Very often the society puts so many burdens to a woman committing such a “crime” that the “no name” aunt chose never to reveal the man’s name and decided to kill the baby and herself. In this society, silence can serve as a safety valve for women, because no better choice will be offered both to her and the baby, especially if it is a baby girl.
            Silence is also symbolized by the talk-stories of ghosts. It may be argued that talk-stories represent speech, but the topic of ghosts suggests the invisible world. Since the mother is always the one to tell stories, it is clear that women’s world is the one of invisible.  In the third section, “Shaman”, the mother’s name, Brave Orchid, can be revealed by her friends in the medical school only when she is in danger of losing the battle with the Sitting Ghost.
            A woman even needs to keep her pregnancy into her private side, as what happens to Fa Mu Lan, the woman warrior in the second section, “White Tigers”. Being a woman is her private life, and standing as the general is “her” public life. Nobody should ever find out about her being a woman and later getting pregnant, because women will be executed for “(disguising) themselves as soldiers or students, no matter how bravely they fought or how high they scored on examinations.” (39).
            The fourth section, “At the Western Palace” also suggests the idea of silence. Unfolded through humorous scenes about claiming Moon Orchid’s husband, this section shows how Moon Orchid tends to keep quiet, avoid conflict to save her face rather than walking bravely to see her husband, whom she has not seen for thirty years, and asks for her rights back. That Moon Orchid is not welcomed by her Americanized husband and eventually has to stay in an asylum suggests the burden she has to bear alone for not fitting into the new culture.
            The last section, “A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe”, continues the treatment of silence. The narrator recalls her memory when her mother cuts her tongue so that she “would not be tongue-tied”, so that she could speak languages (164). Her mother is certainly the central figure in the whole stories, one who has modern thoughts and has plans for her children’s future in the ghost country. She wants to leave behind the Chinese value which says “a ready tongue is an evil” (164).
            The world of silence may take several generations to evolve to the world of speech. At some extent, Brave Orchid’s children who have been raised in two cultures are trapped in the middle. They behave like other Americans, but have a hard time making themselves visible and audible at school. We may have to wait until the later generations, those of Brave Orchid’s grandchildren and greatgrandchildren could fit better into the world of speech without necessarily losing their origins.   


Much Ado about Nothing is a play about socialization and control of others. This means establishing relations with others, some of them peers, like Benedick and Claudio who have sworn brothers in Act 1.1.71-72. Some others are hierarchical superiors, like Don Pedro, Benedick, and Claudio. With this design, it is clear why Shakespeare puts Don John, the bastard to be alienated from the society. As early as the beginning of the play, when everybody welcomes Don Pedro and the companions, Don John remains sober, saying “I am not a man of many words, but I thank you” (1.1.127).    
            Don John may be the easiest character to describe, because he describes himself to the audience. He does not want to be controlled by anybody, even by his brother. He does not want to hide behind the masquerade, therefore he does not join the masked party. Don John tells his followers:
            I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, and it better fits my blood  to be 
            disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any…it must not be denied but I am a 
            plain-dealing villain. I am trusted with a muzzle, and enfranchised with a clog…If I had my mouth I 
            would bite. If I hade my liberty I would do my liking...let me be that I am, and seek not to alter me 
            Yet, Don John plays an important role in setting the plot of the play, and he is “the author of all” (5.2.83). With a figure of distrusted Don John in our mind, we can see the foolishness of Don Pedro and Claudio. Logically, they must have known Don John’s character for long. Still, they easily fall into a mouse trap set by Don John. Claudio may be in love and feels betrayed, but he can at least behave like a gentleman instead of disgracing Hero before the people on the wedding day. To hear him say, “If I see anything tonight why I should not marry her, tomorrow, in the congregation where I should wed, there will I shame her” (3.2.103-5), I see that his love to Hero is merely superficial. As a prince, Don Pedro could have been wise enough to act as a role model rather than emotionally tailing behind Claudio and saying, “And as I wooed for thee to obtain her, I will join thee to disgrace her” (3.2.106-7).
            Some other characters also fall into Don John’s trap. Leonato, who could have understood his daughter better than anybody, thinks that Hero is too shamed for redemption (4.1.120-142) and choose to believe the gentlemen. In short, the grand design of social bond is ruined, and everybody declares war. Leonato cut ties with both the prince and Claudio, Benedick pledges to kill Claudio and states his withdrawal of allegiance with the prince, “My lord, for your many courtesies I thank you. I must discontinue your company” (5.1.179-80). Among all the male characters, the Friar now stands up as the most sensible figure. Just as the Duke who disguises as a friar sets the bed trick in Measure for Measure, the Friar in Much Ado sets a death trick to save the stage from being torn down. Finally, Don John’s design of anti-socialization is doomed, and the social bond is resolved in the marriage of Claudio-Hero, the announced love of witty Benedick and Beatrice, and the friendship of Claudio and Benedick within closer ties of comrades and marriage. As for Don John, he has from the beginning chosen not to cooperate, and his punishment is yet to come. Shakespeare may have been conservative about social norms, therefore he chooses to alienate a bastard from social bond, because he does not belong to his time.      


          Shakespeare’s plays introduce us to the idea that tyranny is “a perpetual political and human problem rather than a historical curiosity” (McGrail 1). This suggests that the play is only a representation of the real political world around the globe, whether it is in England during Shakespeare’s time or in pre-Indonesian era. With this is mind, it is interesting to note the many similarities between Macbeth, which is just a play, and the legend of Ken Arok during Singosari kingdom in the twelfth century.
            To begin with, let us take a brief look at the legend of Ken Arok. The legend is found in Pararaton, a chronicle of kings, which was written in the 15th century. Ken Arok was the first king of Singosari in 1222, the founder of Rajasa dynasty, which represents the lineage of the kings of Singosari and Majapahit. Majapahit itself was the first powerful Javanese kingdom whose influence spread around what is nowadays Indonesia.  The story of Ken Arok is a mixture of fantasy and reality . This online source will be the reference used in the discussion of the legend, unless mentioned otherwise. To most Indonesian students, Ken Arok is a well-known tragedy of a usurper that remains to be told in history classes. In relation to political situation in Indonesia, he represents a real Machiavelist in Indonesian government. Commenting on the never-ending political instability in Indonesia, Christianto Wibisono, a well-known Indonesian political analyst even uses the term ‘Ken Arokism’ instead of Machiavelism in his criticism of wicked politicians whom he blames being responsible for high rate of corruption www.indomedia.com/bpost/9901/25/ekbis/ekbis7.htm>.
            The many similarities between Macbeth and Ken Arok start from the prophetic events that drive them to gain power. Both are told about the prophecy or vision of their future sovereignity. Both pursue their power in an illegitimate way, by killing the true ruler. Both stories involve the taking of several lives. Both also need scapegoats to hide their crime. Both have to see their power taken over by the true heir and meet their fate in death.
            In terms of their reaction to the events prophesying their future power, Macbeth and Ken Arok represent those people who choose to conduct evil deeds to fulfill their ambition. Macbeth is at first a noble fellow. It is not until he listens to evil suggestion that he changes into a brutish and selfish seeker of power and status.
            First witch : “All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis.
            Second witch : All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor.
            Third witch : All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter! (1.3. 46-48).
Meanwhile, Banquo gets a better prophecy. The third witch says, “Thou shalt get kings, though thou shall be none” (1.3. 65).
            Macbeth’s noble nature is shown as he has mixed feeling about the prophecy.
“This supernatural soliciting / Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill, / Why hath it given me earnest of success, … If good, why do I yield to that suggestion / Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair …Against the use of nature…If chance will make me king, why, chance may crown me / Without my stir” (1.3. 129-136, 143).
            While Macbeth is basically a noble man, Ken Arok is as notorious as he can be. Raised by a thief, Ken Arok is predestined to be a king and the father of kings. In other words, he is luckier than Macbeth in that he possesses both the prophecy of Macbeth and Banquo. It is told that three gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Syiva claim to be his father. Interestingly enough, Ken Arok identifies himself with Syiva, the god of destruction. There are various stories about the prophecy. One prevailing belief is that Ken Dedes, the wife of Tunggul Ametung, the king of Tumapel, a small kingdom where Ken Arok works as a guard, possesses an aura of wisdom and power, and whoever marries her will be a king and the father of kings.
            Can we mix prophecy and truth? Those who believe in the prophecy may have found some truth in it, and use the truth to justify their means. Banquo realizes the danger of believing in the prophecy. “And oftentimes to win us to our harm / The instruments of darkness tell us truths, / Win us with honest trifles to betray’s / In deepest consequence.” (1.3.121-24). However, Macbeth falls into the temptation. For Macbeth's promotion to occur, the current king, Duncan, would have to be kicked out. Macbeth also understands that his crime will not end with Duncan’s death. The matter now is whether one is willing to control his mind to resist the temptation or is ready to bear greater risk for the sake of his goal. Macbeth belongs to the latter category. “If th’assassination / Could trammel up the consequence, and catch / With his surcease success: that but this blow / Might be the be-all and the end-all, here, / But here upon this bank and shoal of time, / We’d jump the life to come” (1.7. 2-7).
            In terms of the illegitimate way Macbeth gains his power, he can be considered a tyrant, as Macduff defines it. “Bleed, bleed, poor country! /Great tyranny, lay thou thy basis sure, For goodness dare not check thee! wear thou thy wrongs; The title is affeer’d! Fare thee well, Lord: / I would not be the villain that thou think’st / For the whole space that’s in the tyrant’s grasp, And the rich East to boot” (4.3. 32-37). Malcolm’s definition of tyranny is clearer in that Macbeth’s virtues have given way to abusive power. “This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongue, / Was once thought honest…A good and virtuous name may recoil / In an imperial charge” (4.3. 12-13, 20).
            McGrail argues that Macbeth does not really fit in Malcom’s description of tyranny. His desire is only simple, he wants to be loved and be honored (37). It is not really correct. Although his desire may be as simple as that, the path he takes shows that he is willing to sacrifice everything to achieve his ambition. His demand to have his question answered by the three witches proves his determination.
            Though you untie the winds and let them fight
            Against the churches, though the yeasty waves
            Confound and swallow navigation up,
            Though bladed corn be lodged and trees blown down,
            Though castle topple on their warder’s heads,
            Though palaces and pyramids do slope
            Their heads to their foundations, though the treasure
            Of nature’s germens tumble all together
            Even till destruction sickens, answer me
            To what I ask you. (4.1. 68-76).
            Ken Arok shares Macbeth strong determination. To him, it is apparent that marrying Ken Dedes would open the possibility of gaining the power. As Macbeth does, he also needs to get rid of the true ruler. Here is the most famous part of the legend. First, he has to kill Tunggul Ametung. He then orders a keris, Javanese double-edged sword, to Mpu Gandring, a keris master. At the appointed time, the keris is not finished yet. Enraged, Ken Arok kills Mpu Gandring with the unfinished keris. Just before he dies, Mpu Gandring curses Ken Arok that the keris will take seven lives of kings, including Ken Arok himself. In Javanese history, the keris is known as Keris Mpu Gandring.
            Different from Macbeth who is controlled by Lady Macbeth, Ken Arok is an expert in political strategy. He has a fellow soldier, Kebo Ijo, as the scapegoat. He lends the keris to Kebo Ijo, who proudly shows the keris in public so that everybody thinks he is the owner. One night, Ken Arok steals the keris and kills Tunggul Ametung, leaving the keris in Tunggul Ametung’s body. The rest is clear; Kebo Ijo is prosecuted while Ken Arok picks the ripe fruit. He becomes the king of Tumapel and marries Ken Dedes.
            The existence of scapegoat seems to be significant in clearing the path to power. Here we find another difference between Ken Arok and Macbeth. It is never told whether Ken Arok actually suffers from guilt. He carefully plans to put Kebo Ijo as the scapegoat to clear his path without any suspicion. Meanwhile, Macbeth needs scapegoats not only to cover his crime of murdering Duncan, but also to be free from guilty feelings. He does not really plan on killing the guards, but Lady Macbeth warns him of his awkwardness that might reveal his crime. Because Macbeth worships his self-esteem and selfish rights and desires, he eventually forgets his virtue. Macbeth tells the others that he has killed the guards of Duncan’s chamber. “O, yet I do repent me of my fury / That I did kill them” (2.3. 103).
             That power is abusive is clear as Macbeth wants to prevent Banquo from having his prophecy put into reality. Macbeth wants his descendants, rather than Banquo’s, to be kings. The only way is to get rid of Banquo.
            Then, prophet-like, / They hailed him father to a line of kings. / Upon my head       they placed a fruitless crown,…No son of mine succeeding. If’t be so, / For           Banquo’s issue have I filed my mind…Given to the common enemy of man / To   make them kings, the seeds of Banquo kings. / Rather than so, come fate into the   list / And champion me to th’ utterance” (3.1. 60-73).
Banquo’s murder triggers Macbeth’s guilt, yet does not prevent him from taking more life to maintain his throne. The murder of innocent family of Macduff shows that Macbeth puts the security of his reign over honor. He is a Machiavellist, in that he fits to Machiavelli’s political strategy which states that security should be put first in cases in which security is in conflict with honor (Viroli 91).
            While the successive killing puts Banquo as the third victim with the motive of preventing his prophecy to happen, the successive murder in the legend of Ken Arok is the realization of Mpu Gandring’s curse. This is a story of never-ending revenge that accompanies Ken Arok’s story of success and imperialism. History mentions that he annexed the neighboring kingdom and established a new one, the kingdom of Singosari in 1222. This new kingdom would later produce kings of Majapahit, the most powerful Javanese kingdom in the 13th century. The legend tells that the keris takes Ken Arok’s life in the hands of Tunggul Ametung’s son, Anusapati. Then, Ken Arok’s son’s revenge follows, and so on. After taking so many lives, Ranggawuni, Anusapati’s son, who murdered Tohjaya, Ken Arok’s son, realizes that the keris has brought and will bring more chaos and death. So it is thrown away to Java sea, and becomes a dragon.
            Both Macbeth and Ken Arok are Machiavellists, and both are defeated by the legitimate power. Anusapati, the true heir of Tunggul Ametung, gains his sovereignity after taking revenge of his father’s death. Malcolm gains the throne he deserves as the true heir of Duncan with the help of Macduff. Macduff himself has his own motive of revenge as well as his intention to fight against a tyrant when he slains Macbeth. “Then yield thee, coward, / And live to be the show and gaze o’th’ time. / We’ll have thee as our rarer monster, Painted upon a pole, and underwrit / ‘Here may you see the tyrant” (5.11. 24-27).     
            Macduff’s speech suggests that Macbeth serves as an example of tyranny to the world. This works for Ken Arok too. While many interpretations state that the legend of Ken Arok and Ken Dedes is a mere fiction, it is actually a reflection of the mindsets and ideological contestations in Indonesia. The era of Singasari and Majapahit marks the end of Hinduism in East Java and witnesses the beginning of Islamic era in Javanese history.   These can be regarded as palimpsests of Indonesian history, which have continued to give shape and colour to Indonesian cultural and political life to date. Pramudya Ananta Toer, an internationally-recognized Indonesian author, yet the victim of severe political discrimination at home, has a troubling view of the first two presidents of Indonesia. In his writing “My Apologies, in the name of Experience”, translated by Alex G. Bardsley, he puts Ken Arok in the body of Suharto, the second president of Indonesia who ruled for thirty two years, and Mpu Gandring was incarnated in the body of Sukarno, the first president
            However, Barbara Reibling argues that Macbeth is not really a Machiavelli’s  ideal prince. His biggest flaw is his reluctance to have a total commitment to “the course of wrongdoings, besides his inability to dissimulate” (280). The problem with her interpretation is that she intends to say whether one is an ideal Machiavellist, whereas the concept of Machiavelli itself entails a room for wrongdoings. It is clear that that a Machiavelli should be willing to be a real evil, with no guilt at all. Maurizio Viroli points out that, for Machiavelli, a good citizen should be prepared to do evil, or what is considered to be evil, to save the country. Yet, his writings also imply “the willingness to grand deeds, and even to waste one’s life, one’s soul” (8). Riebling’s case is right in proving Macbeth as a normal human being with conscience, her strict use of Machiavellian standards is debatable. Judging from his strength, courage, and willingness to commit evil, I would argue that Macbeth is a Machiavellist. He understands that power is abusive, knows what is good and evil, but chooses evil anyway. That is why he deserves the destruction at the end of the play. I agree with Macduff and Christianto Wibisono that Macbeth and Ken Arok  are examples of dirty politicians, and that the world  should learn from their fate in order that we can play a clean government.                              

                                                           WORKS CITED
“Adu Domba demi Status Quo.” www.indomedia.com/bpost/9901/25/ekbis/ekbis7.htm. 18 April 2003.
Ananta Toer, Pramudya. “My Apologies, in the Name of Experience.” November 1991. 18 April 2003. .
 “Ken Arok.” 18 April 2003. www.jawapalace.org/kenarok.html>.
McGrail, Mary Ann. Tyranny in Shakespeare. Lanham: Lexington, 2001.
Riebling, Barbara. “Virtues’s Sacrifice: A Machiavellian Reading of Macbeth.” Studies in English Literature (Rice) 31 (1991): 273-87. 
Viroli, Maurizio. Machiavelli. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.


A mountain of longings in the last few hours
Like a parade of ants with no tails to be seen
The cold snow is burning this lonely soul
The tongue of fire is chilling this tiny chest

As I am struggling to resist the longing
I close my eyes to leave your shadow
Yet the spots on the paper are nothing but a smiling face
that transforms into a haunting ghost

Nothing is more hurting
But a helpless feeling as I try to slip into your tunnel
Nothing is evermore addicting
But a never-ending canal of hoping

Dear Rabb, Thou turn over this surrendering heart
My gratefulness for this love Thou give
Ya Rahman Ya Rahiim
Why is it that this longing never ceases paralyzing me

October 13, 2003
Les Chateaux in a cloudy morning


Entah apa makna kesabaran itu?
Ketika dirimu terengah merengkuh sebuah hati.
Dengan suara, lewat tulisan, atau tatapan mata.
Tak satupun usahamu membersitkan secercah sinar.
Bahkan hati itu menggenggam erat hati yang lain.

Kau tak tahu apakah hati lain itu paham perasaanmu.
Sedangkan kau tak ambil waktu untuk mengetuk pintunya.
Dan memang kau tak boleh mengusiknya.
Hati itu ada di lingkar luarmu.

Sayangnya hati yang kauharapkan malah menaruhmu di lingkar luarnya.
Dan hati yang lain itu ada di lingkar dalamnya.

Bersabarlah, bersabarlah, bersabarlah.
Mungkin dia adalah jalanmu menuju surga

Berdoalah, berdoalah, berdoalah.
Semoga Sang Pengatur mengingatkan dirinya

Janganlah pernah merasa sepi
Justru dunia yang ramai ini yang membawa sepi

Pisaunya tengah terhunus di dadamu
Usahlah berdarah-darah
Tetap tersenyumlah

Karena bila kau menangis menghibanya
Belum tentu dia akan menghapus air matamu

Bertahanlah, bertahanlah, bertahanlah
Kau tidak melakukan kesalahan apa-apa

Bersabar mungkin berarti satu hari, atau mungkin satu windu
Namun kau sudah mengulurkan tanganmu
Dan kau tak pernah memutus tali batin itu

Yakinlah seyakin-yakinnya
Yaa Bashiir akan mengatur segalanya


Babu juga Manusia, (Housemaids are humans, after all). This statement is often cited whenever a domestic helper intends to defend her position both as a housemaid and a writer. Mega Vristian, for instance, a housemaid working in Hong Kong for the past 15 years, makes her claim that housemaids are not to be underestimated only by their professions. Granted, housemaids are usually considered uneducated, but it does not mean that they are not potential. In an interview with The Jakarta Post, a leading English newspaper in Indonesia, Mega Vristian argues that housemaids should be seen as ordinary human beings who are dignified.  In defending Indonesian migrant literature as a newly existing genre, she speaks both for herself and her fellow migrant workers to be given more space to fulfill their potentials.
     The fact that activities in literature and arts that involve Indonesian migrant workers can be found mostly in Hong Kong and Taiwan is actually due to the relatively better working condition and regulations. As compared to their fellows who work in Malaysia, Singapore, or Middle Eastern countries, migrant workers in Hongkong usually have been previously trained Cantonese to ease the communication, are given a day-off in a week. Many workers admit that Hong Kong government is not discriminative to migrant workers. This is significant in providing an outlet for them not only to meet friends, but also to join courses or community activities. Victoria Park in Hong Kong is famous as a gathering place for migrant workers from various countries to meet each other and conduct various activities.
It is in this conducive atmosphere that Indonesian migrant literature flourishes in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Community activities that help migrant workers learn computer and internet eventually provide a media to share ideas, opinions, poems, and short stories. Some literary circles in Hong Kong worth mentioning are Forum Lingkar Pena and Cafe deCossta. These literary circles have produced writers such as Mega Vristian, Maria Bo Niok, Tarini Sorrita, Etik Juwita, Rini Widyawati, and many others. These names appear in the world of literature as a result of writing competitions and tutoring given by some acknowledged writers from Indonesia. Asma Nadia, an Indonesian productive female author, describes in the foreword of Hong Kong, Namaku Peri Cinta, how stunningly enthusiastic those domestic workers in learning to write creatively. Meeting them in a writing tutoring in Hong Kong, Nadia saw them no different from Indonesian college students who often attend her sessions in various seminars on creative writing.   
How do we position this genre of migrant literature written by migrant workers? For one thing, it is difficult to say whether migrant literature as a genre actually exists in the world of Indonesian literature. While Indonesian diasporic communities can be found in various countries around the globe, there seems to be no writings that can be categorized as such. Thus, the writings by migrant workers are usually considered the ones that fit the genre of migrant literature. When the works were introduced to Indonesian audience, the responses varied. Some warmly welcomed this new genre and considered it as a breakthrough, while others gave it their cold shoulders and assume that the quality of most writings by migrant workers was far from being literary. While the works by female migrant workers circulate around and are consumed mostly by their fellow workers, a wider recognition has been indicated by a number of literary events such as book reviews, university-based literary discussion forums, and literary conferences at a regional and national level, as well as an international festival as exemplified by the Ubud Writers Readers Fertival 2011, where two ex-migrant workers, Nessa Kartika and Jaladara, talked about their writings. 
Cultural texts produced by Indonesian domestic workers (IDWs) are rich in themes. I would like to provide an excerpt taken from Rini Widyawati’s novel, Catatan Harian Seorang Pramuwisma (The Diary of a Housemaid), as an example of a cultural product by an IDW. At the level of representation, the cultural text suggests the experience of Indonesian migrant workers, particularly regarding female subjectivity and negotiation of space.  Rini’s employer, a truck driver, never allows her to look idle, in spite of the fact that the apartment they live in is small. Rini can do all the house chores in just a few hours, leaving her a lot of time to write in her diary. Rini is smart enough to keep her diary in an unused pan, and she would sit on the kitchen floor, close to the front door, while staying aware of anybody’s footsteps.

Saya hafal betul suara dan irama langkah kaki majikan saya. Kalau saya mendengar    
langkah kaki itu, saya akan segera memasukkan buku harian ke dalam panci. 
Majikan saya tidak pernah membuka panci. Bisa saya bayangkan, kalau majikan 
saya tahu ada pulpen dan buku di dalam panci, mungkin akan memakannya 
mentah-mentah (p. 23).

“I know exactly the sound and rhythm of my boss’s footsteps. If  I hear that sound, I 
will quickly put my diary in the pan. My boss never opens it. I can imagine, if ever 
my boss finds out there is a pen and that book in the pan, he will eat them up.” 
(translation mine).

       The home of the narrator's employer may be considered private space to the owner, but it is public space to her. It is the place where she performs her job as a maid. However, within the home, different rooms function differently with regard to space. Kitchen is the narrator's stage at which she performs, but it may also be her territory. She owns it, so she can choose what role to play, so long as she follows her own scenario. As the above quotation suggests, the pen and the diary are symbols of literacy practice, which is not compatible with the pan, the symbol of the narrator’s main duty as a maid. A deliberate intent to put them together represents a brave attempt to cross the boundary of space. She knows the risk, but is sure enough it will not happen. Her employer will never cross the boundary of space.  Therefore, the narrator can playfully cross between her main role as a maid, when the audience (her employer) is present, or play her 'back stage' part, writing in her diary, at the absence of the audience. 

Monday, March 12, 2012


Pernah merasakan sepi sendirinya tinggal di kota kecil di Texas membuat saya tidak henti mensyukuri lika-liku hidup di kota metropolitan seperti Melbourne sekarang ini. San Marcos memang tidak bisa dibandingkan dengan Melbourne. Terlalu jauh bedanya. San Marcos hanyalah kota universitas yang berpenduduk sekitar 30.000 orang saat itu. Di luar jumlah itu, sebagian besar penghuninya adalah mahasiswa Texas State University. Jadi kota ini hanya ramai saat perkuliahan. Saat liburan tiba, San Marcos tak ubahnya kota mati. Suara saya pernah sangat serak karena tidak dipakai untuk bicara selama 3 hari. Dua roommate saya, Darlene dari Filipina dan Jun Mei dari Cina sedang pulang kampung. Saya baru membuka mulut saat tiba jadwal menelpon suami di tanah air.

Melbourne, sebaliknya, ditasbihkan sebagai kota budaya oleh UNESCO. The most livable city in the world. Sangat multikultural. Celotehan dalam bahasa Cina, India, Jepang, Arab, Turki, dan bahkan bahasa Indonesia tidak akan sulit didengar di seputar kota atau kampus. Saya malah tidak perlu menunggu lebih dari 1 hari untuk menemui wajah-wajah Indonesia di sekitar tempat tinggal, di atas tram, dan bahkan di seputar kampus. Jangankan mahasiswa, artis saja kemungkinan besar bisa anda temukan di tram. Personil Nidji pernah bersantai menyusuri kota dengan naik tram saat mereka manggung di Melbourne. Mungkin ingin merasakan enaknya menjadi orang biasa. Naik transportasi umum, tanpa kejaran fans.  Mungkin juga mereka sedang bernostalgia masa-masa belajar di luar negeri.

Memiliki begitu banyak sahabat dari Indonesia di sekitar saya tinggal memang menjanjikan lifeline yang berbeda. Sapaan, ‘eh, mau ke mana?,’ ‘belanja mbak?,’ ‘nanti ke pengajian bawa apa ya?’ menjadi sangat biasa bila kebetulan sedang berpapasan dengan teman. Enaknya,  kadang tidak terasa bahwa saya sedang berada di luar negeri. Tapi kalau terlalu nyaman, bisa-bisa malah lupa bahwa studi di luar negeri juga untuk belajar hidup dengan bahasa dan budaya yang berbeda. Tak heran pak Munir pernah bilang bahwa bahasa Inggris kita bisa stagnant meski hidup bertahun-tahun di negeri orang. Saat dia bilang begitu, saya tidak terlalu paham maksudnya. Pengalaman hidup di Texas mengatakan yang sebaliknya. Sekarang saya baru paham dan mengamini pendapatnya. Ketika di San Marcos dulu, praktis tiap hari bahasa Inggris saya terpakai. Mulai dari apartemen, saat kuliah di kelas, di supermarket, di mesjid, dan di manapun saya berada. Di Melbourne ini, saya tidak lagi perlu duduk di kelas. Tugas saya ‘hanya’ membaca dan menulis. Kesempatan untuk bertemu dengan supervisor hanya 2 minggu sekali. Maka secara akademis, bahasa Inggris saya hanya terpakai saat itu. Di luar itu, kalau kebetulan bertemu dengan teman dari negara lain, barulah kami ngobrol dalam bahasa Inggris. Kesempatan yang ada setiap hari adalah untuk keperluan going shopping saja, atau untuk urusan sekolah Ganta dan Adzra. Sekedar percakapan santai dengan kasir atau guru Adzra menjadi ‘keharusan’ agar lidah tetap terlatih.

Kadang saya berpikir, mungkin ini bukan lagi masa saya untuk mencari kesempatan belajar bahasa Inggris, setidaknya secara lisan. Yang harus lebih intensif saya lakukan adalah menulis, menulis, dan menulis dalam bahasa Inggris. Kali ini giliran masa emas bagi Ganta dan Adzra untuk belajar bahasa dan budaya yang berbeda. Bukankah memang ini salah satu tujuan mengajak serta anak-anak untuk tinggal di Melbourne? Maka saya perlu mulai membiasakan berbicara dalam bahasa Inggris dengan mereka. Untuk inipun, nampaknya saya tidak perlu terlalu khawatir. Kids pick up new words very quickly. Putra-putri teman-teman yang sudah lebih dahulu bersekolah di Melbourne bahkan sudah totally immersed in English. Dengan Australian-English pronunciation. Mengagumkan melihat bagaimana anak-anak usia 5-9 tahun sudah bisa sangat lancar ngobrol dengan satu sama lain.  Adzra sendiri dalam waktu 1 bulan sudah mulai bisa menggunakan kata-kata kunci saat bercerita tentang kegiatan di sekolah. Kalimat-kalimat pendek seperti toilet, please, I want water, I’m hungry, I’m sleepy, I’m happy, it’s beautiful, look at this, don’t do that, don’t hit me, I don't know, nothing sudah mulai spontan terdengar. Beberapa kata atau kalimat lain bahkan tidak pernah saya ajarkan sebelumnya. She must have picked them up at school. Tiap hari dia bersenandung lagu-lagu baru dengan celotehan yang belum jelas, kecuali kata-kata di akhir yang bisa ditangkap. Bagi seorang guru Bahasa Inggris seperti saya, adalah sebuah kenikmatan mengamati day-to-day progress pada Adzra. Betul-betul melihat bagaimana tahap silent period, one-word stage, two-word stage, dan simple sentence dalam Natural Approach dari Krashen and Terrel memang bisa dibuktikan.

Akan halnya Ganta, saya lebih melihat perlunya mendampingi dan mengawasi. Banyak hal yang membuat saya yakin dengan Ganta. Ngobrol dengan temannya di telpon, aktif di football club di sekolah, jalan-jalan ke kota dengan teman-temannya,  membaca novel yang dia pinjam di public library atas inisiatif sendiri. Semua membutuhkan komunikasi dalam bahasa Inggris. Saya kira Ganta sudah tahu bagaimana harus meningkatkan kemampuannya. Sebagai ibu, tugas saya adalah mengarahkan agar kegiatan yang dia lakukan tetap berada pada jalurnya.    

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Hidup tanpa teman satupun dari Indonesia membuat lidah saya hanya mengucapkan kata-kata dalam Bahasa Indonesia 2-3 hari sekali. Itu jadwal rutin telpon-telponan dengan suami di tanah air. Dalam waktu 3 bulan saja, beberapa kata mulai susah saya temukan padanannya dalam bahasa Indonesia. Mungkin terasa arogan, tapi begitulah adanya. Mau cerita baru masak terong ke suami, susah sekali mengingat padanan ‘eggplant’ dalam bahasa Indonesia. Mau bilang jendela, yang keluar adalah ‘window.’ Saya sempat resah, sedikit khawatir mulai tercerabut dari akar saya.

Akar lain yang membuat saya tetap bersemangat akhirnya saya temukan di dunia maya. Dari beberapa teman sesama Fulbrighters yang menyebar di berbagai negara bagian, saya mengenal komunitas mahasiswa Indonesia muslim di Amerika. Saya kemudian bergabung di milis IMSA (Indonesian Muslim Students’ Association in America) dan IMSA Sisters, untuk para muslimahnya. Lalu lintas IMSA yang amat ramai membuat saya tidak pernah melewatkan diskusi, mulai yang serius tentang ibadah, kondisi politik ekonomi di tanah air, sampai urusan resep masakan yang baru. Yang terakhir ini biasanya lebih ramai di milis IMSA Sisters.  Akhirnya urusan ibadah bersama bisa jalan secara aktual dengan komunitas muslim di masjid Ibrahim, dan secara virtual di milis IMSA.

Meski demikian, kesempatan bersemuka dengan sesama muslim Indonesia selalu saya rindukan. Tidak mudah memang. Kami terpisah jarak yang tidak main-main. Perlu ada alasan kuat untuk bertemu, yang tidak sekedar dolan dan menghamburkan dolar. Maka ketika datang berita akan diadakannya Muktamar IMSA di Columbia, negara bagian Missouri, langsung saja saya mendaftar. Muktamar IMSA selalu diadakan tiap akhir tahun, tepat pada hari Natal. Itu saat penginapan di hotel murah, karena mayoritas masyarakat Amerika ingin berkumpul dengan keluarganya. Maka akan mudah bagi panitia untuk menyewa banyak kamar untuk peserta muktamar, dan ruang pertemuan untuk sesi-sesi yang dilaksanakan. Selama 2 tahun di Amerika, saya sempatkan betul mengikuti Muktamar IMSA. Tahun 2002 di Columbia, Missouri, dan tahun 2003 di Atlanta, Georgia.

Everything happens for a reason. Itu yang selalu saya yakini, meski tidak selalu saya sadari. Saat saya hadir di Muktamar IMSA pada tahun 2002, saya terbang bersama Zahida ke Kansas. Zahida kebetulan juga ada rencana silaturahim ke teman-temannya di sana. Rencananya dari Kansas, saya akan naik bus Greyhound ke Columbia, Missouri. Kedua negara bagian ini memang bertetangga.. Kami menginap di apartemen brother Ahmad, mahasiswa PhD di dari Arab Saudi.  Dan siapa menduga bahwa istri mas Ahmad ini ternyata dari Ponorogo. Saat saya dikenalkan dengan mbak Nur, istri mas Ahmad, sontak kami berdua berpelukan, serasa bertemu dengan saudara yang lama hilang. Tanpa harus bertanya, wajah kami sudah nyata Jawa Timurnya. Kejutan yang lain adalah, ternyata mas Ahmad juga dosen bahasa Inggris di Arab Saudi. Jadilah kami berdua sering ngobrol tentang dunia pembelajaran Bahasa Inggris. Dengan mbak Nur, saya serasa menemukan outlet untuk ngobrol cara Jawa. Saat itu saya sempat berpikir. Mbak Nur dan mas Ahmad ketemu di mana ya? Saya hanya sempat menduga dari cerita-cerita mbak Nur. Kemungkinan besar dia dulu menjadi TKW di keluarga mas Ahmad. Akhirnya malah disunting oleh anak majikannya sendiri, dan diboyong ke Amerika bersama 2 anak mereka yang lucu-lucu. Wajah Indonesia banget, tapi ngomongnya campur-campur Inggris dan Arab.

Kembali ke urusan muktamar. Perjalanan naik bus selama 4 jam dari Lawrence, Kansas ke Columbia, Missouri saya nikmati betul. Di situlah pertama kali saya melihat salju yang menutupi bukit-bukit. Putih sepanjang jalan. Persis seperti gambar di postcards. Jujur, salah satu alasan saya datang ke Missouri adalah untuk melihat dan memegang salju dengan kepalan saya sendiri. Di Texas, musim dingin hanya akan menggigilkan raga, namun jangan bermimpi salju akan tiba.

Ketika saya sampai di hotel tempat muktamar berlangsung, saya merasa ‘kembali’ ke tanah air. Wajah-wajah yang sangat Indonesia saling menyapa dan memberi salam. Betul-betul menghangatkan suasana yang amat dingin di luar sana. Semua sesi yang dilaksanakan selama 2 haripun serasa oase di padang pasir. Meski kami jauh dari tanah air, kehausan akan siraman rohani betul-betul terpuaskan melalui ceramah-ceramah yang disampaikan oleh para dai. Di antaranya adalah Ustadz Syamsi Ali, imam masjid Al-Hikmah New York yang masih muda dan berasal dari Indonesia, juga ustadz Muhammad Joban, seorang muslim chaplain dari Indonesia, yang bertugas di Olympia, negara bagian Washington. Sudah lewat 9 tahun berlalu, namun saya masih ingat suara merdu menusuk kalbu ustadz Syamsi saat mengimami shalat malam berjamaah. Suara isak tangis terdengar di sekitar saya. Saya juga masih ingat ceramah Ustadz Joban (alm) tentang siksa kubur. Membuat saya ingin selalu menjaga langkah saya dalam hidup.

Dari komunitas IMSA yang saya kenal di muktamar inilah, akhirnya kehidupan saya di semester-semester berikutnya lebih berwarna. Saya mengikuti program tahsin Al-Qur’an secara teleconference. Gurunya di negara bagian A, dan murid-muridnya menyebar di negara bagian lain.  Saya juga jadi akrab dengan mbak Cynthia, teman dari LIPI yang menjadi postdoctoral fellow di University of Missouri, Rolla. Hampir tiap malam mbak Cynthia menelpon saya selama berjam-jam. Kami ngobrol dan curhat tentang banyak hal sampai kuping panas dan mata gak bisa melek lagi. Pertemanan ini membawa saya kembali bertemu mbak Cynthia saat muktamar IMSA 2003.

Saya memang niat banget kumpul-kumpul lagi, dan untuk itu giat menabung untuk biaya perjalanan yang tidak murah. Mbak Cynthia mengajak saya untuk melakukan road trip dari Missouri ke Georgia. Muktamar IMSA 2003 ini diselenggarakan di satu kota kecil dekat Atlanta, negara bagian Georgia. Jadi saya perlu terbang dulu dari Austin, Texas ke St. Louis, Missouri. Untuk kemudian melanjutkan perjalanan lewat darat, melewati 4 negara bagian. Tentu saja bukan saya yang menyetir. Cerita perjalanannya akan saya tulis kapan-kapan di lain waktu.

Seperti muktamar sebelumnya, peserta datang dari berbagai penjuru Amerika Serikat. Rata-rata memang diniati melakukan perjalanan darat. Sekalian liburan akhir tahun buat keluarga. Acara siraman rohani dari ustadz Syamsi Ali memang yang paling ditunggu. Namun ada beberapa hal yang membekas di benak saya. Saya ingat di muktamar ini saya pertama kali kenal Anies Baswedan. Saat itu dia masih berstatus mahasiswa PhD. Namun kharisma kepemimpinannya sudah terpancar dari wajahnya. Tak heran ketika selesai studi, karir dia langsung meroket di tanah air. Wajahnya sering muncul di layar TV, dan tidak lama kemudian menjadi Rektor Universitas Paramadina. Saya juga ingat ketika saya didapuk jadi sutradara dan narrator oleh teman-teman, saat kami tampil di panggung dan main drama komedi. Saya sudah lupa judulnya, tapi teman-teman kemudian mengingat saya sebagai tokoh di balik layar. Dan yang paling saya ingat sebenarnya adalah ketika cerpen saya diumumkan sebagai cerpen terfavorit dalam lomba menulis IMSA Sisters. Alhamdulillah, cerpen hasil menulis 3 jam menjelang deadline terpilih juga. Cek 150 dolar akhirnya saya kantongi. Lumayan untuk menambah uang saku selama perjalanan.

Hidup di luar negeri dengan status sendirian tanpa ditemani keluarga memang ada plus minusnya. Rasa kangen lebih sering menghimpit. Apalagi saat itu teknologi belum secanggih sekarang. Email dan chatting lebih banyak diandalkan. Hikmahnya, saya punya lebih banyak waktu untuk konsentrasi pada studi dan juga memanfaatkan waktu yang saya punya untuk betul-betul mencari pengalaman budaya. Saya kira, salah satu alasan kenapa saya bisa tetap waras sampai pulang ke tanah air adalah karena saya punya lifeline. Berada di komunitas muslim membuat saya tetap menginjak tanah. Saya yakin akan selalu ada yang menjadi sandaran ketika saya sedang mengalami masalah. Saya tidak perlu merasa sendiri.  Namun kalau diminta sekolah lagi di luar negeri tanpa keluarga, saya akan menjawab: Not again! Itulah sebabnya ketika pada tahun 2011 saya memperoleh kesempatan studi S3 di Australia, saya memutuskan untuk mengajak serta anak-anak saya tinggal dan belajar di Melbourne sekarang. Dengan segala konsekuensinya. Saya tahu pasti, kami akan membutuhkan lifeline yang berbeda dengan apa yang sudah pernah saya rasakan dulu di Amerika. 


Di manapun kita berada, menurut saya sangat penting menjaga agar kita tetap ‘hidup.’ Maksud saya adalah, kita selalu terhubung dengan akar kita. Ibaratnya pohon yang tetap bisa tegak berdiri bila akarnya tertancap kuat di dalam tanah.

Bagi orang-orang yang kebetulan tinggal jauh dari tanah air seperti saya sekarang ini, lifeline berarti bahwa saya perlu tahu dan kenal dengan orang-orang yang memiliki banyak kesamaan dengan saya. Apakah itu sesama orang Indonesia, sesama muslim, atau sesama mahasiswa Internasional. Setidak-tidaknya, mereka juga menjalani hidup yang hampir sama dengan saya. Dengan begitu, kita bisa saling membantu dan berbagi rasa.

Saat saya studi di San Marcos, Texas tahun 2002-2004 yang lalu, praktis tidak ada orang Indonesia yang saya temui di kampus saya di Texas State University-San Marcos. Dalam kurun waktu 2 tahun, hanya ada 2 mahasiswa undergraduate. Masing-masing hanya saya ketemu 1 kali saja. Mungkin lain ceritanya kalau saya tinggal di Austin, ibukota Texas. Anak PPIA lebih banyak yang sekolah di kota. Tapi Austin berjarak 30 mil atau 50 km dari San Marcos. San Marcos sendiri terletak di tengah antara Austin dan San Antonio. Transportasi ke kedua kota besar ini adalah pakai bus Greyhound atau nyetir mobil sendiri. Jadilah saya tidak pernah berniat bepergian sendiri kalau tidak betul-betul penting. Meski begitu, saya cukup sering ke Austin. Ada tiga teman muslimah yang menjadi teman dekat saya. Zeenat, teman sekamar saya di semester 1, dari Bangladesh. Kakaknya tinggal di Austin bersama keluarga, dan Zeenat pulang ke Austin tiap akhir pekan. Jadi sesekali saya ikut juga berakhir pekan ke sana. Ada lagi Shazia, teman dari Pakistan. Dia tinggal di Round Rock, kota kecil di pinggiran Austin, bersama keluarga kakaknya. Tiap hari dia nyetir mobil ke San Marcos. Bila kemalaman, dia suka menginap di apartemen saya atau tempat Zahida, teman dari India. Bila kami bertiga adalah mahasiswa master’s, Zahida bekerja di kampus kami sebagai research assistant. Bidang kami amat berbeda. Saya ambil Literature, Zeenat anak Engineering, Shazia di Biology, dan Zahida di Chemistry. Tapi kami disatukan oleh keyakinan, sehingga cukup banyak waktu yang kami habiskan bersama. Terutama saat Ramadhan tiba, kami bergantian berbuka puasa di tempatku dan Zeenat atau di Zahida. Kami juga tadarus bersama. Di akhir pekan, saya ikut salah satu dari mereka ke masjid Ibrahim di Austin untuk Iftar (buka puasa bersama) dan shalat tarawih. Saya hanya bisa lakukan ini di akhir pekan ketika tidak ada kuliah. Selain itu, jarak yang jauh membuat kami perlu berangkat pukul 3-4 sore, untuk kemudian shalat Maghrib pukul 6. Shalat Isya dan Tarawih sendiri baru akan dimulai pukul sekitar pukul 7. Dengan bacaan 1 juz tiap hari, saya biasanya baru akan sampai apartemen pukul 11-12 malam.
Meski begitu, kegiatan seperti ini saya nikmati betul. Kapan lagi saya bisa merasakan beribadah di negeri orang, dengan komunitas muslim dari berbagai negara. Masjid Ibrahim termasuk masjid salafi, sehingga banyak hal baru yang kemudian saya pelajari dari teman-teman muslimah di sana. Saya ingat bagaimana cara berpakaian saya sempat terpengaruh oleh gaya Pakistan/India selama beberapa lama. Di masjid ini saya mengetahui bagaimana tempat shalat laki-laki dan perempuan dipisah di ruang yang berbeda. Kami para muslimah mendengarkan ceramah atau bacaan shalat dari sound system. Di sini pula saya mengenal muslimah Amerika yang bercadar, para muslimah dari Arab yang subhanallah cantiknya, juga pernah menyaksikan seorang gadis Amerika menjadi mualaf. Di sini pula saya mengetahui cara bergaul laki-laki dan perempuan yang betul-betul menjaga pandangan mata antara satu sama lain. 

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Antara Studi, Keluarga, dan Pekerjaan

Dua minggu ini aku mulai merasa 'off-track.' Membagi waktu antara mengurus dua anak dengan urusan studi ternyata cukup menantang juga. Ganta yang sudah remaja sebenarnya sudah mampu mengurusi diri sendiri. Namun giliran ada tugas dari sekolah, mau tidak mau aku harus turun tangan saat dia butuh bantuan. Namanya juga yang dipelajari sementara ini ya Bahasa Inggris thok. Tantangannya adalah ketika  aku dan Ganta sedang membahas materi, Adzra serta merta akan mengambil kertas, pensil, atau buku, dan juga minta diajari sesuatu. Kalau aku tidak terlalu memperhatikan dia, maka ngambeknya akan muncul. Begitulah hampir setiap saat Ganta butuh bantuan ibunya. Di saat yang lain, ketika aku sedang dapat ide, sementara Adzra ada di rumah, maka dia akan ambil alih laptopnya, dan minta dicarikan video kesenangannya di youtube. Apa saja. Entah itu Barney, Dora, Barbie, atau Cherry Belle. Seringkali dia akan cari sendiri. Kalau aku pindah ke IPhone untuk cek email atau buat note, maka dia juga akan beralih ke IPhone, dan sibuk mengambil gambar atau video. Sampai-sampai phone memory penuh dengan foto dan video 2 detik hasil bidikan Adzra. Belum lagi kalau Ganta sudah di rumah. Maka laptop dan IPhone akan menjadi milik Ganta dan Adzra. Ibunya akan sibuk di dapur, mengikuti permintaan anak-anak mau makan apa. 

Tentu saja aku tidak boleh mengeluh. Sebenarnya ini juga sudah diantisipasi sejak lama. Yang masih aku utak-atik adalah pola yang tepat agar aku bisa konsentrasi baca dan nulis. Sementara ini waktu yang ideal adalah saat Adzra sekolah, antara pukul 9.30-15.00. Selama 3 hari, Senin, Selasa, dan Kamis, semestinya aku bisa fokus urusan studi. Aku memilih kerja di rumah agar hemat waktu juga. Ini yang kadang menimbulkan perasaan bahwa aku belum total dan profesional mempersiapkan proposalku. Jadi ada sedikit rasa bersalah. Sudah dapat beasiswa penuh, kok komitmennya belum maksimal. 

Baru saja aku menerima buletin Plane Tree dari the Graduate Student Association Unimelb. Salah satu artikelnya membuatku akhirnya merasa di 'jalan yang benar.'  Judulnya "Multi-crashing?: The Graduate Student's Guide to Balancing Work and Study." Ditulis oleh Clare Rhoden, lulusan PhD dari the School of Culture and Communication. Dalam biodata singkatnya, alih-alih dia menyebutkan profesinya setelah lulus. Di situ bahkan ditulis 'juggling part-time work and part-time writing with full time family commitments and a new puppy.'  Setelah selesai membaca, aku merasa dapat pencerahan. Rasa bersalahku berkurang, karena ternyata aku tidak sendiri, hehe. Ini dia hasil ringkasannya, yang kupoles sendiri di sana-sini, dan tips yang diberikan:

Studi lanjut ke jenjang S2/S3 memang menantang dalam banyak hal. Semua mahasiswa di tingkat ini sudah punya tujuan, namun juga punya kehidupan lain, yang kadang membutuhkan banyak waktu. Sebagian besar mahasiswa pascasarjana mengalami kendala antara kerja, studi, dan keluarga.  Sekedar tambahan, meski yang diulas adalah masalah umum mahasiswa studi lanjut, menurutku tips yang diberikan manjur juga untuk mahasiswa S1 yang sedang sibuk mengerjakan skripsi. Kuncinya adalah mengelola komitmen terhadap semua komitmen dengan sebaik-baiknya.

1. Tentukan prioritasmu
    Studi mungkin tidak selalu bisa menjadi prioritas utama di setiap waktu. Kadang anggota keluarga sakit, atau masalah pekerjaan bisa mengambil alih prioritas. MASALAH baru akan timbul bila urusan di luar studi ini SELALU menjadi prioritas utama, sehingga mengganggu waktu untuk studi. Solusinya: ubahlah (turunkan)    standar prioritas anda. 

2. Buatlah jadwal yang realistis
Carilah waktu yang paling tepat untuk urusan studi. Quality time lebih penting daripada quantity. Meski hanya 2-3 kali seminggu, tapi lakukan pada saat anda bisa mencapai peak performance. Dan lakukan ini secara rutin. "Nothing will change if you don't take charge of your time.". (Tips yang ini serasa maknyus. Waktu yang kusediakan 4-5 jam selama 3 hari/minggu akan cukup bila dimanfaatkan sebaik-baiknya. Saat aku sendirian di rumah dan anak-anak sedang sekolah. Tidak perlu khawatir dengan cucian yang menumpuk atau ruang tamu yang agak berantakan. Nanti bisa dikerjakan saat anak-anak sudah di rumah).

3. Belajarlah seolah-olah ini adalah pekerjaanmu
Sekolah bukanlah pekerjaan dalam hidup anda. Itu hanya batu loncatan yang harus dilalui. Jadi, anggaplah ini sebagai pengalaman kerja untuk memperoleh pekerjaan yang lebih baik di masa datang. Saat anda sedang 'belajar,' lakukan tugas-tugas yang kecil-kecil dan 'doable' agar timbul perasaan 'sudah menghasilkan sesuatu.' Sense of accomplishments, kira-kira begitu. Jauhilah semua gangguan, misalnya mengintip email, SMS, atau status update teman-teman FB. Tidak ada ruginya 'putus hubungan dengan dunia luar' selama 1-2 jam. Anda akan bisa merasakan progress yang signifikan dalam 1 jam. Ingatlah: tidak ada yang tidak penting dalam melakukan kegiatan positif, meski itu hanya sekedar membuat oret-oretan 'to-do list.' (Kupingku serasa dislenthik nih. Sudah tahu waktunya sedikit, eh masih suka sebentar-sebentar cek email dan FB.  Siapa tahu ada yang njawil. Sok penting kali!)

4. Beri batas waktu
Anda akan bisa bekerja lebih baik bila waktu dibatasi. Waktu yang banyak malah bisa menimbulkan progress yang lamban. Sekedar analogi: bila mau ada tamu 1 jam lagi, maka persiapannya ya 1 jam itu. Bila waktunya 1 hari, maka persiapan ya akan 1 hari penuh. Hasilnya bisa saja sama saja. (Yang ini ada benarnya juga. Saat masih sendirian di sini, aku bisa habiskan 4 hari penuh, sehari-semalam untuk baca dan nulis draft proposal. Sekarang dengan waktu yang jauh lebih sempit, masih bisa juga menghasilkan sedikit tulisan. Blog-nya malah lebih 'berisi' setelah ada anak-anak di sini). 

5. Sesuaikan harapan anda (dalam bahasa saya: turunkan standar kepuasan)
Mungkin saat kuliah S1, anda lulus dengan predikat terbaik atau cum laude. Bukannya tidak mungkin mencapai prestasi yang sama saat studi S2/S3, namun kondisi yang juga berubah membutuhkan penyesuaian dalam pengharapan yang lebih realistis. Ada keluarga yang perlu diurus, ada pekerjaan yang menanti. Studi lanjut hakikatnya adalah mengembangkan intelektualitas, meningkatkan kualifikasi, bukan sekedar memperoleh gelar atau predikat terbaik. (Setuju 100%. Tidak perlu terobsesi dengan 'being the best. Being with the kids while studying overseas is one of the best things you can have now

6. Lakukan apa yang anda lakukan
Sebisa mungkin, pisahkan antara waktu kerja dan waktu belajar. Saat belajar, belajarlah. Saat bersama keluarga atau bekerja, optimalkan perhatian anda. Mungkin ada merasa 'bagus' dalam hal multi-tasking. Namun hampir tidak ada pekerjaan yang bisa dilakukan dengan optimal hanya dengan 'separuh otak.' (Ok deh, akan kucoba. Selama ini agak terlalu bangga dengan my multi-tasking capacity. Ternyata nggak gitu-gitu amat manfaatnya.

7. Hati-hatilah dengan si kembar ini: procrastination and perfectionism. Jangan biasakan menunda pekerjaan, namun jangan memaksa diri mencapai hasil yang sempurna. Gelar tidak diraih hanya karena anda pintar, tapi karena anda juga produktif. Terapkan ilmu pragmatisme: do what you can in the time available-make the best you can in the time available. And do it NOW!

Ayo ayo yang sedang menulis skripsi, tesis, disertasi. Semangat, semangat. There's always time for everything. But you can't use your time to do many things at one time. MAKE THE BEST OF YOUR TIME.