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Nonfiction in response to Decent Work and Economic Growth
August 2018

The Story of Mak Sul

By Grace Muresan

Every time I visit my grandfather’s house in Indonesia, there is always one servant there. I call her Mak Sul. As other servants came and went, she stayed. I asked my mother why, and she told me the following story.


Mak Sul was the third child out of 5 kids. Her family was very poor, and her parents were the helpers of servants. When she was around 15, she was sold off to be married to a cruel husband. She was beaten by him. Almost every day, she went to her parent’s house and begged to come home, but she was beaten more still by her father.

She did her best not to get pregnant with her husband, but soon she had her firstborn, a girl. She was beaten for having a girl because boys were supposed to be better at helping the family work. She also got a mild infection because she wasn’t even taken to the hospital to give birth. Her second child was also a girl, and she was beaten again.

Both luckily and unluckily for her, Mak Sul’s third child was a boy. She had been given a series of medicines and chemicals to have a boy, and the baby was born facing the wrong way. It took several hours to deliver the baby and although the baby was healthy and living, the midwife dislocated Mak Sul’s hip from inside her body and left an infection untreated, which gave Mak Sul chronic pain, a lifelong limp and a putrid smell.

Later in her life, her daughters both left to get married without asking permission. Because her son was very spoiled due to his gender, he stayed around at home.


After a few years, Mak Sul’s husband, who was much older than her, became sick. Not long after her son left, her husband died.

Finally, as he laid on his deathbed, according to my mother, he was finally kind to her. He explained that she was the only person who took care of him and that he hoped she lived a good life. He said that he prayed that in the future some special person would take care of her and give her a good life.

However, Mak Sul still had the worst luck. Almost as soon as Mak Sul’s husband died, his parents, who had done nothing this whole time, came and took claim on the house and everything in it, leaving Mak Sul homeless, penniless and jobless with nothing more than a plastic bag carrying 2 days’ worth of clothes.

She walked to a large city called Mojokerto and began looking for a job as a housekeeper. She found a job, but there, she was only given one meal a day, a meal of scraps, and was forced to sleep in the bathroom. Mak Sul lasted only one week in that job. She was reduced to begging as a homeless person in a train station.


Now, we come to the part that made my mother cry, as it is a great reminder of the moral power of my late great-grandmother, Marlena.

Great-grandma Marlena found Mak Sul begging. Immediately, she asked Mak Sul why she was begging. This young woman looked robust and smart, why wasn’t she working? Mak Sul told my great-grandma the entire story.

After a little thought, my great-grandma offered Mak Sul a job as a housekeeper in my grandfather’s house. This was a new chapter in Mak Sul’s life. Finally she had enough food every day. Finally she had a proper bed to sleep in. Finally she wasn’t overworked or beaten. Finally she had a salary she could live on.

Mak Sul worked very well, but my grandmother began to notice her limp and an awful smell. Her medical mind immediately knew that she probably had an infection, so both my grandparents brought her to the doctor. There was an infection in her womb, and it was so developed that it was eating away at her bone already. They could leave it in and let her die or remove it.

However, removing the infection cost more than Mak Sul could make in her lifetime. Without much hesitation, my grandparents paid for the operation to be done. Mak Sul felt pain no more, although she really could not walk straight up because of her dislocated hip bones.

After a short time, all of Mak Sul’s family, distant and close, including her husband’s parents, began asking her for money. They asked her, begged her with fake tears and told her to pity them. Mak Sul, being the kind but gullible person she was, gave them money until she had no savings.

At some point in time, when she was literally working to support others who didn’t deserve her, her son came and asked for a large sum of money. When she declined, her son hit her. Immediately my grandfather, who hardly got angry at anyone, came and defended Mak Sul. My grandfather told him to leave, because he was unworthy of his mother.

My grandmother came as well and told Mak Sul that she had had enough of Mak Sul being too generous and being manipulated. She told Mak Sul that from then on, she would hold her salary and that she had to tell my grandmother what she wanted to use the money for. Afterwards, Mak Sul told everybody who asked her for money that her employer was holding back her salary. My grandmother was willing to play the bad cop.

Because of this, Mak Sul soon saved up enough money to buy a land and build a house. She gave the house to her children and grandchildren, so that they would have a proper house to live in.

Mak Sul continued working in my grandfather’s house, and now, after my grandmother passed away, she is devoted to working for my grandfather. My mother says that she said that she plans to die working for him.

Mak Sul began with an awful start in life, but she persevered and never stopped trying to work hard and help her family, even if they had never helped her.


A lot of people look down on the jobs of a servant to be unworthy of the title “Decent Work.” But employers like my grandfather give decent work. Human treatment standard laws need to be put in place all around the world to ensure that nobody will work all day only to have an inadequate salary, one meal a day and sleeping quarters in the bathroom.

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