Author: Rebekha Adriana, researcher, Leiden University alumnus
Fieldsite: Rebekha conducted research among the Indonesian diaspora in the Netherlands.
The size of the Indonesian diaspora in the Netherlands is significant. The Indonesian diaspora itself consists of different groups ranging from Indonesian students to Indonesian nationals who have been living in the Netherlands for several decades, to undocumented migrants.
Out of the people that I interviewed for this project, the group that suffered the most was the undocumented migrants. Undocumented migrants usually come from a low economic background and come to the Netherlands to work in informal sectors as housekeepers, offering cleaning services, or as waiters to provide for their family back in Indonesia. Since the implementation of measures to curb the spread of coronavirus, most of them have lost their source of income.
An undocumented migrant I interviewed work as a personal cleaner for several houses. Normally, he worked almost every day and he could clean up to three houses a day, which would give him enough money to survive and send back to his family in Indonesia. During the pandemic, many of the homeowners he provided services to told him not to come to their houses and so far, he has only been able to clean 2 houses a week on a regular basis, which does not provide him with enough money to survive. Some of the homeowners were kind enough to go out and let him clean their houses so he could earn some money. Fortunately, the Indonesian diaspora in The Netherlands was quick to collect donations and distribute food supplies to undocumented migrants in the Netherlands. He himself received some food supplies, which he was grateful for.
When I asked him about his personal reflections during this pandemic, he said that this pandemic makes him see the bigger picture: that he is not the only one who struggles, everyone in the world also faces the same uncertainties. Even some of the people he works for, the homeowners, experienced struggles and difficulties during COVID-19, as some of them were on a trip abroad and could not return to the Netherlands because the borders were closed.
He then mentioned another blessing that came out of this pandemic – the fact that countries are working together and cooperating to combat coronavirus and the fact that pollution is decreasing because people are at home most of the time. Most importantly, this experience taught him to be more patient in dealing with life.
Now that he had more free time, he spent his days at home watching Youtube videos and listening to music, while also visiting his sister in another part of the city. He tried to adopt a positive mindset and kept trying to contact his homeowner clients to ask when he could clean their houses again.
Another Indonesian diaspora member I interviewed reflected on her faith. Seeing how things drastically things changed due to the pandemic makes her realise that humans are powerless.
“I forgot that I am able to come this far in life thanks to God. I was too self-absorbed, thinking that I am able to make it this far in life because of my own strength but then coronavirus happened and everything changed, making me realized that God actually was the one who lets me come this far in life. Without the grace of God, I could not do anything.”
She attended a carnival in Limburg in late February together with her family, which was later revealed to be the first hotspots for the coronavirus in the Netherlands. Thankfully, none of her family members was ill and she was grateful to God for protecting her family.
When people are faced with uncertainty and struggles, especially with things that are beyond our control, they try to reflect on their life and experiences and find some meaning in these. A global pandemic like what we are experiencing now forces us to reflect on the way we live or think.