Finding Strength in Solitude, Relationships, Love & Community

Guest post by Kaylin Arason

Kaylin Arason is a UVic Gender Studies and Political Science student currently working in Bangkok, Thailand, with the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW). Her internship is organized through UVic’s Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives (CAPI) and funded by the The Canadian Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship Program. Read more of Kaylin’s CAPI intern blog posts.

Hello people,

It’s almost been four months! Wowza. My days are now steeped in routine: waking up to the sounds of the security guards at my building blowing their whistles, hearing the motorcycles passing by; sitting in my office and listening to roosters crowing; and sometimes going for a run at my favourite park, waiting for the anthem to blare from speakers at 6pm sharp—these are all new sources of comfort and familiarity.

Journaling at the park!

My experience here has been quite solitary, navigating the challenges of living and working in a new environment all by myself. These moments are so valuable, teaching me the importance of self-reflection, and giving me opportunities to find new sources of self-expression through journaling, snapping pics, and creating art that I didn’t know I was capable of creating.

Despite this time spent in my own company, my daily rituals, routines, and habits are relational, embedded in relationships with the labour of others. As I walk to work every morning, I pass by the woman who sells me rambutan to feed my addiction; she has the biggest and most infectious smile.

Before I turn the corner to my office, I pick up a Thai milk tea from the sweetest man for 15 baht; as I wait, I watch his koi swim and listen as they swish through the h20 (they’re so na-lak/cute!). When I break for lunch, I am blessed with the mouthwatering creations of P’ning (“P” is used to signify respect to people that are older than oneself), the angel that keeps all the neighbourhood bellies full and happy. On my way home, I hop on a bus, thankful for the drivers and attendants who transport me back to my home! I have eternal gratitude to these souls whose labour (and love) has carried me on this journey so far.

My workspace.

As I reflect on these relationships with the people that I share smiles with on my daily routine, I am also positioning myself within these relationships.

Every day I work from 9-5 (ish), reading and writing about the plight faced by women migrant workers (WMWs) in domestic and garment industries, as well as the resistance that they embody.

I ask myself, “what does it mean to be present here?” and to help work towards policy change that aims to benefit the lives and working conditions of WMWs. To be granted access to this space, and to learn here, is a privilege—an opportunity granted to me as a result of my class and country privilege.

Spotted in Yogyakarta, Indonesia during a stroll through a market: the hands of a woman washing some morning glory (pad pak boong in Thai and kangkung in Bahasa Indonesia), reminding me of the labour that allows us to thrive.

Me and some new pals made in Kendari, Indonesia!

The time I spend trekking to work and munching on my lunch is composed of interactions with the people who are truly the source of my sustenance. I exist amidst various kinds of labour processes. Not only do I thrive off of the labour of informal economy workers, I am also occupied each work day by the realities of WMWs, reading and writing about the systems in place that dictate their lives and employment.

I am constantly reminded of the connections between us and informal economy workers—the people who sew our garments, cook our meals, sell our fruit, and the list goes on. But these relationships are not neutral; they are marked by hierarchies in power and privilege, dictating who does what, where they do it, and who benefits. The labour of those who sustain us is severely undervalued. Within this global economic system that breeds inequalities and hierarchies, my own privilege is palpable.

For the latter part of the month of July, I was in Indonesia to: attend a national congress with Solidaritas Perempuan (a women’s rights organization with branches in provinces all over Indonesia), get a new visa, and visit some CAPI pals interning in Jakarta with the Centre for Indonesian Policy Studies, or CIPS for short!

Flying to Indonesia and obtaining my visa were smooth processes thanks to my golden ticket (Canadian passport) that grants me access to almost any country in the world and also grants me an identity of innocence in the eyes of a border patrol officer. The mobility to move freely across and within national borders is a privilege. This privilege is not granted to WMWs trying to earn their livelihoods, rather they are exploited, criminalized, and deported as a result of a system that marginalizes them.

A traditional Kendari meal ft. kangkung (greens), fish stew, and sinnonggi (an alternative to rice made from sago)!

My first stop in Indonesia was in Kendari for Solidaritas Perempuan’s (SP) national congress, one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I was immersed in hospitality and love, a beautiful new culture and language, and the passion and strength of hundreds of women dedicated to women’s rights, land and food sovereignty, and climate justice.

One of my favourite parts of the congress was meeting so many lovely souls and munching on some mouthwatering nomz! Indonesian food is bomb! In addition to eating, so much time was spent community-building, dancing, singing, and laughing.

 

My new pal Sri. Palu enjoying some fresh bananas!

Dinda, from SP in Jakarta, speaking to SP members and other congress attendees.

My time at GAATW has focused on background research and report writing on WMWs’ migration journeys, including their interactions with the various stakeholders involved in their migration and employment processes.

In contrast, SP is working directly with impacted communities on the ground to achieve land and food sovereignty in Indonesian communities. Learning about SP’s work allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between the issues of migration and land sovereignty.

In some cases, the effects of the climate crisis have jeopardized the ability for Indonesian communities to farm and sustain themselves. Land grabs, where land is appropriated by corporate interests for mass farming (often for palm oil in Indonesia), strip communities of their livelihoods, violating their rights to land and food sovereignty. Due to this loss of livelihood, people turn to migration to secure employment.

In many cases, women enter the domestic industry and are subject to various labour rights and human rights violations. It is evident that the neoliberal forces causing the climate crisis, fueling corporate takeover, and marginalizing WMWs are intertwined. Issues of urbanization and migration cannot be separated from issues of land.

Legs UP! at Prambanan Temple, featuring some photo bombs in the back.

To combat this loss of livelihood and pressures to migrate, SP works to facilitate community driven economic initiatives to help communities empower themselves. For example, in Sumbawa, women are engaging in a traditional textiles initiative as a source of income to prevent re-migration. Similarly, in Lampung, collective banana gardening and prospects to build an ethical tourism village serve as economic alternatives. There is hope, my peeps!

It was a privilege to learn about SP’s work, connecting the dots with their work on the ground and the research and advocacy that GAATW is engaged in.

During my Indonesia trip, I also spent some time in Yogyakarta (jogja!) with fellow CAPI interns Jemma and Maeve! On the train ride back from Yogyakarta to Jakarta, I made some friends on the train who were commuting to Jakarta for work. Once again, I was reminded of the real life impacts of neoliberalism, resulting in urbanization and creating pressure for people to leave home in order to support themselves and their families.

With Jemma, snapped on a pee break in Yogyakarta!

As I think about our relationality and connectivity through various labour processes, I am also reflecting on the hierarchies and unfair advantages within these processes. It’s very unclear to me how to remedy the injustices that are endemic to our current system without dismantling the system itself. As we await the revolution, I’ll be here: nourishing moments spent with community, still snapping mirror selfies, and eating copious amounts of rambutan.

To learn more about SP’s work, you can visit:
http://www.solidaritasperempuan.org/
To learn more about GAATW’s work, you can visit:
https://www.gaatw.org/
To receive more updates from me, you can follow my insta @klnsnaps (shameless promo hehe)

Sending hugs,
Kaylin

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