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Aida Speaks OutAida Speaks Out

It's My Life

Dina stepped out to the back porch of the huge house. Crystal clear water in the swimming pool rippled silently by the stream flowing from a round jug - held by a naked porcelain statue of a woman at the end of the pool. The neatly trimmed bamboo trees around the statue shifted against the wind - making the tiny lamps that were attached to the bamboo branches dance like a group of fireflies. A typical expatriate house with a six-figure package, she thought. The partygoers inside were still roaring with laughter. Dina was tired of being a social butterfly entertaining the usual chauvinist male guests with their Indonesian girlfriends whose conversations were limited to talking about the coolest night-clubs and the most effective slimming tea. She wanted some fresh air. Then a woman came to her asking for a light. Dina lit her cigarette and started talking with the stranger.

"So, what do you do?" asked Dina - that was always the safest way to start an innocent conversation.

"Gua - gua merek aje! (Me? I'm a prostitute!)," replied the other woman with a thick Jakarta accent, then she continued. "Usually I hang out at a club in Blok M, what about you? What do you do?"

"Can you believe it? She was dead serious! I actually had seen her a couple of times before that night - with different white guys at different parties, but how could you have guessed?" Dina told me a few days later.

How could I have guessed - well I suspect that she was one heck of a woman. At least she was honest. She admitted that she chose to be a prostitute and seemed to be proud of it - I might add.

And please - don't give me that crap about economic reasons. Or about possible circumstances which pushed her to become a working girl. Aren't you all tired of the cliché 'she had to do it because there was no other choice'?

Let me tell you a story about choices.

Once upon a time during the war for Indonesian independence - more than fifty years ago - there was a poor boy that lived in Kemayoran, Jakarta. He lived in a small house with his father. His father divorced his mother when he'd found out that one man wasn't enough for her.

One day, Japanese planes were hovering above the boy's house. Suddenly he heard a very loud sound - that's when he realised that the Japanese planes were dropping bombs. The father and the boy quickly left the house, just minutes before it was flattened to the ground. They lost their home and everything in it.

Then the boy and his father left for the smaller town of Yogyakarta where they had decided to live. The father found a job as a nurse for a small military hospital. His salary was barely enough to survive, still he sent the boy to school. The boy studied really hard. He didn't understand why but he knew that he wanted to be somebody different in the future. To be somebody who could make a contribution to the world he lived in - no matter how little.

The father couldn't afford to buy more than one notebook for the boy. The boy wrote down all the lessons he learned in school and memorised them. When the last page of his notebook was used, he grabbed a rubber eraser and started to clean the first page of the same book. He wrote on the dirty page again and again and again. He did it himself - nobody told him to. When the boy was in his twenties, he won a scholarship and he was sent to the States to study for his master's and doctorate degree. Now, the boy is a well-known expert employed by a dozen local and multinational companies because of his expertise.

I know the story in detail because the boy in the story is my father. He is what he is now because he chose to become what he is now. When he was small, instead of studying hard and winning a scholarship, he could've chosen to be a bum, a street kid or a drug addict - whatever. But he didn't.

My friends keep telling me what a silly melancholic gal I am sometimes. Different aspects of life touch me very easily. I can cry just by watching an old guy pulling a garbage cart. I shed tears when I witnessed somebody, inside a passing bus, snapping a piece of melon from the hand of an old rujak (fruit salad) seller on a street side. I cry because I think that those poor people could've been me. Those people could've been my father or uncles.

During a family dinner at home, as usual we were surrounded by 'decent' food. A bowl of sautéed scallops with mustard and cream sauce, which could cost an office boy a whole month's salary; potato salad and honeyed chicken fillet. Hey, at least it was still cheaper than going to a restaurant!

The TV in front of us showed a report about malnourished children and babies in Africa somewhere. Their faces were covered by buzzing flies, their tiny hands were holding wooden bowls filled with very thin white porridge distributed by a UN officer. Good gracious, bon appetite!

"We should be thankful that we were not born in the same situation as those babies. We could've been born into those poor kids' lives," I said to my husband.

"Well yes, but don't you think if we were born like those kids we'd still have ended up where we are right now?" his reply made me stop chewing the piece of scallop in my mouth.

Let me see - we all are born as babies. Naked. With no fancy Sergio Rossi shoes on our feet or a bundle of stinking money in our back pocket nor an automatic gun in our hand. And what waits ahead are just millions of choices, opportunities and options. But what matters most are our strengths, our conscious and our brain that help us to define what is right and what is wrong in order to take the right choices.

So who are the people who make the right choices? Are they superior people as opposed to the weak people who made the wrong choices and took the wrong turns?

Back to the prostitute Dina met at the party; did she make a wrong turn? But like the old saying - aren't we all prostituting ourselves?