Ira, a BMI Who Has a Second Job as a Jamu Seller


Ira Risnawati, born in Surabaya in 1979. She first came to Hong Kong becoming an Indonesian Migrant Worker (BMI) in 2007 and she had not returned to Indonesia until now. Her master had changed for four times. For BMIs working in Hong Kong, Ira was famous enough. Although many of them who might not recognize her name, hearing dangdut music (a music genre from Indonesia) through a tape recorder along with the dancers; people, at once, had to know that she was the jamu (dried herbs) seller offering her products around the area of Victoria Park every holiday with her assistants who was loyal to her bringing the products which were bottled jamu.

Ira was not different from other BMIs. She also had a master and worked in the household sector. But, she utilized her holiday time to earn additional income by selling jamu. Jamu that she made herself among of them were kunyit asem, beras kencur, kunci sirih, and manjaan. She charged her jamu HK$ 22 or Rp 25,000 each bottle.

On Saturday night, left from her master’s house and came home on Sunday night. On this Saturday night per se she made jamu that would be sold on the following Sunday in a house rented by her in the area of Sam Sui Po which charged as much as HK$ 1500 per month. Ira was not alone. She had employed 5 employees which all of them were also a BMI working in Hong Kong.

Ira started her business in August 2007 after she finished paying for her 7-month salary reduction to her agent. Each Sunday, she would be able to sell 250 items of bottled-jamu in summer whereas in winter, she would reduce her production to180 bottled-jamu. When asked why she chose jamu instead of other food? She answered that her mother and ancestors were once a jamu seller. She would like to continue her knowledge to make jamu to be sold to the BMIs in Hong Kong. The result, however, was not disappointing.

Ira earned as much additional income as Rp 2.5 billion each Sunday. After reduced to pay for her 5 employees’ salary (each employee did not have the same salary, ranged from HK$ 150, 200, and 300, depended on the work they did), she would gain as much net profit as RP 7,000,000 each month, excluding her own HK$ 3740-salary from her master.

She got the materials to compose such jamu from her husband in Indonesia by pos which was usually sent each two weeks. Selling the jamu, she could afford to register her parents for hajj pilgrimage, buy a new house because their former house was destroyed by the Lapindo mud disaster, send her little brothers and sisters to school, buy a new car for the travel business run by her husband and open a shop offering household goods run by her parents.

Ira wanted to build a boarding house and a travelling agency as well as send her two-children to universities. “I want my children to be a doctor.” She said enthusiastically. Ira planned to continue working in Hong Kong for the following 4 years and after that, she would come home to Indonesia to make her dreams real.

Actually, migrant workers are not allowed to sell outside their master’s house because this violates laws in Hong Kong and if the police find out this, they must be jailed. Ira, however, employed some strategies to avoid catching the police’s attention that always patrolled each Sunday by singing and dancing in which these were also aimed to attract her customers.

Ira was one of other BMIs utilizing their holiday to earn additional income by selling something. What made it different was that Ira had successfully became the “boss” and provided a job for her BMI friends to gain additional income, as what Lastri, one of her assistants, said.

Keep spirit, Ira. Hopefully, God blesses your noble dreams and they will inspire other BMIs.

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