Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A grandmother, a baby and Sabah’s poverty:A Sabah Story

FEB 15 — Waiting at the check-in lounge for my flight home to Kota Kinabalu, I saw a woman in her senior years looking rather forlorn. She looked to be at least in her 60s; far too old to be the mother of the newborn in her arms. Besides the baby, she was also clutching what looked like one of those carriers that would hold baby bottles and nappies.

When it was time for the plane to depart, she rose, awkwardly trying to juggle the baby and the bag.

I looked around for someone accompanying her, some relative or friend, but she seemed to be alone.

“Makcik seorang ka? (Are you alone, auntie?)” I asked.

She nodded. I asked to carry her bag and she thanked me, her eyes full of relief and the tenseness about her easing a little.

We chatted for awhile and she told me the baby was her daughter’s. The baby’s parents were both working in the Peninsula because it was the only place to find work. But neither earned enough for them to be able to afford childcare so it was left to her to look after the infant.

A steward, noticing that I’d helped the old woman with her bag, smiled and thanked me. At least I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Sadly the rest of my fellow passengers were a little too preoccupied to lend a hand to the old woman. I am sure the steward would likely have taken her bag for her on the plane; he took it from me when she reached her seat, placing it in the overhead compartment for her.

She had another relative waiting for her when she arrived at the airport, fortunately. Otherwise, she, the baby and the bag would be on a rickety bus home and I’m not sure if someone would have been kind enough to take her bag.

I look at the old woman and think of my middle- and upper-middle class friends in the Klang Valley with helpers. They fuss about their “stupid”, “untrustworthy” help and few things are as discussed by these “tai-tais” than how hard it is to find good help.

But maids are a luxury; they don’t see that. The working class can’t afford maids and rely on relatives to look after the children while they work. But what if there is no doting grandparent or widowed aunt? Affordable childcare facilities aren’t easy to find and are out of reach for families that take home less than RM2,500 a month.Read more.

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