Sinta, The Indonesian Prisoner-Housemaid Part Two: Escape Plans

The story of Sinta, a remarkably strong and kind woman that had become a prisoner confined in a small hospital room somewhere in Saudi Arabia continues. For part one click here. Sinta’s story ends in the final part which can be read here. 


As time went by Sinta came to terms with her new environment in the hospital. She developed a very strict daily routine for her ‘Mama’, making sure all daily needs were properly taken care of. Occasionally some nurses would try changing some of her routines to save their time, but Sinta would adamantly refuse.

Before doctor’s rounds each morning, Sinta wanted to have everything ready and prepared with the patient. In reality the doctors could not have cared less about this particular patient, they wouldn’t even step inside the room most of the time. There were no plans for physical therapy or mobilizing the patient in any way. God only knows how much the mama’s condition would’ve improved if she were viewed by the doctors as a human being instead of a vegetable.

At the minimum there should have been daily physical therapy to prevent bed sores and stiffening of joints which is common in paralyzed patients. The only thing preventing the patient from getting a severe bed sore was Sinta’s tireless care. it was actually quite a miracle that the patient, even after years of laying in that bed, never got a bed sore. The patient did however develop stiffening in her joints which must have been painful.

There was of course no knowing if ‘mama Ameenah’ could actually see, hear, feel or understand. It was easier for the medical team to determine the patient to be without understanding or sensations. Sinta was convinced the patient heard everything and maybe even understood, but she couldn’t move or talk or express her needs. What an awful fate that was. The thought of that being true made it even more touching how Sinta kept trying and treating her like she were ‘awake’. Sometimes Sinta just sat next to her talking and stoking the mamas hand.

At times it was clear the mama was trying to move her eyes, she would know when Sinta left or came in the room by opening her eyes and trying to look to the door. Since the mama could open and close her eyes, Sinta would sometimes ask her to blink if she understood. This didn’t work most of the time, but she kept trying.

The nonchalant attitude was unfortunately widespread among the nursing staff when it came to this patient. I noticed how a lot of nurses didn’t seem to like Sinta at all, some even loathing having to be assigned to her room. A few of the Malaysian nurses kept her company because of common language and sometimes they shared meals. Sinta had a tiny space in the patient room’s separate foyer set up where she had a couch and small table.

As months went by and my Arabic skills improved I would chat with Sinta more and more. We laughed because we couldn’t always understand each other, having to resort to sign language when trying to communicate. We would talk about her family back home a lot and sometimes we would talk about the big life choice I was about to make: Marrying a Saudi. Despite her having mostly negative experiences with Saudis, she always supported me in my decision and encouraged me when times were rough. When 99% of the people around me were saying I was crazy to even think of marrying a Saudi guy because they’re all such ‘animals’ or whatever derogatory term they could think of, Sinta firmly believed in us. I remember how she would always say ‘halli-walli’  about such people. Sinta had faith that things were going to work out someday despite all the difficulties my then fiancee and I were facing.

Sinta soon began to tell me how she wanted to start working for me when I would be happily married and we had our first baby. We would find someone else to take care of the mama and she could move in with my family as housemaid. She insisted I would be needing help after having kids. At first I just smiled and thought it was a way for her to be nice to me. After some more thought it started to become more of a reality. That might be exactly how we could get her out of this situation!

But of course things were not as easy as it sounds like. There was the sponsorship system which at the time made no sense to me. The family would never let her change sponsors or give back her passport. I had decided in my mind that when that day came, were Sinta still held a ‘prisoner’ in the hospital, I would do everything I could to get her out of that room and take her in my home.

The times that I spent talking to Sinta soon made some of the nurses envious. It became even worse when I gave Sinta some healthy foods, beauty products, credit for her phone, clothes and other random things to cheer her up and show people cared about her. Even a pair of my old shoes would spark envy.

“Where did you get those shoes Sinta”? I once overheard a Filipino nurse asking in English, making sure everyone around heard. “From sister Layla” Sinta would reply. “Ohhh, they must be very expensive then! Give them to me!” the nurse would say jokingly, but with a certain bitterness in her voice. The more time I’d spend with Sinta, the more annoyed and envious these nurses would become.

I found the resentment to be really cruel and cold-hearted. It was hard to understand why some staff members couldn’t just give Sinta a break. I mean her life was pretty sad in so many ways. How would they handle a similar situation, I wondered? Would they even last a week in that room? Why was there no real sympathy for her? What was it away from them, if I became Sinta’s friend, I wondered. But I didn’t let these people get to me and our friendship continued.

Sinta and I could not have come from more different backgrounds but nonetheless we connected. I became truly fond of her and felt like I had known her for a very long time. In the end we are all the same, despite our backgrounds we feel the same joys and pains.

From time to time I gave Sinta cash which she saved to send home. Her mere 600 riyal salary was a shock to me. I could not believe how little she earned and how much work she did in return.  During Ramadan I gave her extra to send home to her family for Eid. Somehow the Head Nurse heard about this and called me into her office. I was dumbfounded when she scolded me for giving Sinta money and spending time with her.  I questioned how my relationship with Sinta and the charity I was giving to her had anything to do with my work performance. Naturally it didn’t because the complaints were generated by pure envy.

I noticed Sinta’s wardrobe consisted of two or three house dresses she kept rotating and washing by hand in the bathroom, so I got her a few dresses plus one really fancy jallabiya for Eid. The spinster daughter, who came once a week to visit her mother, sometimes rummaged through Sinta’s closet looking for God knows what.  On one occasion the daughter found Sinta’s new perfume and the dress I’d gotten her. Instead of being happy for Sinta, and saying “mashallah”, the daughter got angry and accused her of stealing. The spinster daughter then took the perfumes and dress away.

I was appalled by how the family treated Sinta. It made me furious to watch how they came for a short visit once a week and always had only complaints. Gratitude for what Sinta was doing was non-existent. There was no talk of giving her a break, some extra money, a holiday back home or even a day off. I tried talking to the daughter and son about easing Sinta’s situation.

Knowing they only cared for the well-being of their mother, I told them to consider finding another part-time sitter for mama Ameenah. This way Sinta could rest, and not get sick all the time. And if Sinta got very sick, who then would take care of their beloved mother? I suggested hiring just one more sitter or maid that Sinta could rotate shifts or days with. it was pointless, like talking to a wall. Money wasn’t their problem so I just assumed it was either laziness or purely being stingy because how could they not want to give just one day off a week or even a month! All of my suggestions were fruitless and met only with “inshallah’s“.

Sinta on the other hand was so succumbed to her fate that she had become very hesitant of coming out of the room during daytime. She was scared that the relatives would visit and see her out of the room and get angry at her. Venturing out on her own to the main hospital corridor outside for a short walk was out of the question. I encouraged her to start taking short walks during the night shifts while I would keep an eye on the patient and this seemed to cheer her up somewhat.

One day it occurred to me that Sinta had not been outside for over three years! I wanted her to breath the fresh air and feel the warm sunlight on her face. She refused at first but I was persistent and finally one day on my lunch break I grabbed Sinta with me to go outside to the hospital cafeteria. Sinta was literally clinging on to my arm as we walked in the busy hallways. Everyone was looking at us, we must’ve been quite a sight for sure. Sinta in her housedress hanging onto a nurse’s arm, frightened like a little child, her head spinning from all the new scenery.saudi hospital entrance riyadh

I will never forget that day and the smile on her face when we stepped out to the daylight. Squinting her eyes from the bright midday sun, Sinta started crying from joy, thanking God and thanking me over and over again. Her eyes became sore from looking up at the sun. I was so happy for her I couldn’t stop myself from crying with her. Next I took her to to the cafeteria, we sat outside having some ice cream, something she had never tasted in her life. People gave us weird looks but I don’t think she noticed. It was a great day and I wished she would’ve just walked away and never returned to the hospital.

But Sinta was loyal and dutifully went back to her dark room. As time went by her health began deteriorating. She gained weight because of her forced sedentary lifestyle and ‘imprisonment’. Some of the nurses and I tried to educate Sinta on healthy eating habits but it still wasn’t enough. Her blood pressure was dangerously high. In fact it was so high, that were a patient to have the same reading, as per protocol the nurse would have to call the Emergency Response team.

It wasn’t surprising that one night Sinta when her blood pressure was soaring high again, she suddenly lost consciousness for a moment. She was rushed to the ER and diagnosed to have  suffered a mild stroke. It left half of her face paralyzed. That radiant smile would never be the same again.

The health crisis of Sinta gave the family quite a scare. They insisted to have nothing but ‘the best tests’ done for her. The spinster daughter even took Sinta with the wheelchair to her CT scan. It seemed as if they actually cared about her health. In the end it was just concern over who would take care of their mother if something happened to Sinta.

So why didn’t Sinta just run away from this miserable life? She could have just walked out of the hospital one day and never looked back. Probably most people in her situation would do just that. Sinta was too selfless to do that. She also desperately needed money to send to her family in Indonesia. Perhaps most importantly, Sinta didn’t have the heart to leave the mama.

Stay tuned for Sinta’s Story Part Three.


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  • zara sFebruary 4, 2014 - 2:54 pm

    I read the first part months ago, and have bee waiting for this ever since. This is just so sad and I really can’t believe people treat other humans like this. I just can’t understand why some people have no heart or empathy. I hope Sinta got her happy ever after, and reunited with her family in Indonesia.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaFebruary 5, 2014 - 4:15 pm

      Sorry for taking so long to post the second part! I’ve been incredibly busy with a lot of things lately, but hope to have the third part out sooner than this one took :)ReplyCancel

  • LaylaFebruary 5, 2014 - 4:08 pm

    Thank you. It really is sad isn’t it, but I want to point out this is certainly NOT the norm here or even common! Just a heart-breaking story.ReplyCancel

  • LaylaFebruary 5, 2014 - 4:10 pm

    yes it is :(ReplyCancel

  • SaraFebruary 5, 2014 - 11:25 pm

    Hello! I have been reading your blog for some time but I have never commented.
    Sinta’s story is so heartbreaking that if it was on TV or in a film people would say that it’s too dramatic to be true. Like a soap opera. It’s horrifying that this (and worse) happens right now. Absolutely terrible.
    I’m looking forward to read the third part. I hope it will be a happy ending.ReplyCancel

  • Umm GamarFebruary 6, 2014 - 11:44 am

    What baffles me is, why on earth would the nurses be envious of Sinta? The fact that you forged such a wonderful friendship with her shouldn’t be a reason of envy, instead it should hv encouraged some empathy from those nurses. And I thought nurses were suppose to be caring and selfless when it comes to dealing with other people. It’s weird, Laylah!ReplyCancel

    • LaylaFebruary 7, 2014 - 1:50 am

      they are jealous/envious of the things and money I gave to her.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaFebruary 7, 2014 - 1:53 am

      Not all nurses are caring and selfless, nothing near that!! Unfortunate but true. Also, it was just some of the Asian nurse that were jealous, maybe something to do with income too.ReplyCancel

  • Maureen BurneyFebruary 8, 2014 - 6:44 pm

    Hi, my name is Maureen and I worked at RIyadh Military Hospital in the late 80’s early 90’s. I have an unusual request :) I am trying to find a source for fridge magnets which were made and sold by an expat in Riyadh, they were of a Saudi man and woman’s face constructed of fabric and complete with head coverings etc. Very cute. Sadly because I left during the Gulf war I did not take them with me! If anyone knows where I can get them please let me know on facebook. Thank you so much.ReplyCancel

  • KhadraFebruary 11, 2014 - 9:48 pm

    So sad.. The mistreatment of Asian workers here is just so depressing. Hats/Hijabs off to you for helping her out Layla.

    PS; Lovely blog you have here. It’s my families go-to place when we’re looking for things to do here in the Kingdom. Keep up the good work! xxReplyCancel

    • LaylaFebruary 11, 2014 - 9:55 pm

      Thank you Khadra for the comment! All the best to you and your family :)ReplyCancel

  • Sandra Al MeaarekApril 20, 2014 - 1:21 am

    May Allah the Merciful bless you for your kindness in this life and the next. May Allah the Merciful reward Sinta for her pain and suffering in this life and the hereafter. I am very sorry to hear such a heartbreaking story, God only knows why this is happening, Wishing you happiness :)ReplyCancel

  • Kristi LarsonMay 10, 2014 - 10:13 am

    I keep checking back weekly to see what happened to Sinta. Any idea when part three will be posted. Kind Regards, Kristi Abu DhabiReplyCancel

    • LaylaMay 12, 2014 - 11:19 am

      Hi Kristi, I’m so sorry for the delay, will absolutely try my best to get the last part finished soon! I just have a lot on my plate lately and time is limited.ReplyCancel

  • evefarSeptember 5, 2014 - 6:08 am

    :( part 3? i couldnt stop reading all your post. its well written & i hope you will not stop posting stories.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaSeptember 6, 2014 - 1:49 am

      thank you for the comment, I won’t stop positng stories, that’s for sure. My time is so so limited nowadays. I have two toddlers at home with me, and on top of all the normal mommy and wife work, managing the blog, social media, photography and design shop take up an enormous amount of my freetime, in fact , all of it! Inshallah soon part 3. I am really sorry for the delay :(ReplyCancel

  • Saad SaifOctober 2, 2014 - 11:23 pm

    Hello ma’am…waiting for the third part. I must compliment you that your writing is very much magnetic..ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJune 26, 2015 - 11:38 am

      Thank you so much for the kind words Saad!ReplyCancel

      • MUFNKAugust 13, 2015 - 10:13 am

        Can you please share with us the third part of this Real story….ReplyCancel

  • LisaOctober 14, 2014 - 2:10 pm

    Im Indonesian. I’ve been living here in Dammam Saudi Arabia. I must help Sinta. I will be in Riyadh this October the 20th. I will attend a Diplomatic Night in Riyadh at The ambassador house. I will tell this story to the Ambassador. I really hope I can help her. Thank you for sharing the storyReplyCancel

  • nanOctober 25, 2014 - 9:12 am

    Hi Layla,

    I have been following your blog for quite sometime now. You are doing a great job. I am very much interested in the Middle Eastern culture and read a lot of books. Your blog is very informative. I would like to know when the third part of Sinta’s story will be published. Keep up the good work. Cheers!ReplyCancel

  • Umm LeilaApril 13, 2015 - 1:31 pm

    Laylah, where is part 3? I have to know what happened to this poor woman..I hope she is ok..ReplyCancel

    • LaylaApril 18, 2015 - 10:15 pm

      So sorry UmmLeila for this unduly delay in publishing the last part. I just need to finalize the post, which i’ve had to unfortunately postpone due to other obligations. Inshallah I can finish it soon! Thank you for reminding me!ReplyCancel

  • Siski BivadliJune 18, 2015 - 5:49 am

    Hello Layla! I’m Bivadli from Indonesia. I dont know how I can get into this site since I found the link somewhere from a debate in Facebook about an hour ago! Now I loving and I can’t get rid of it. This is sad but but this is it. This is all shocked me on the way I perceive over Indonesian Houseworker (IH). I thought our govt was good at handle all the worker out there but actually and terribly not. If I were able to give you a money in return of your kindness to Sinta i would give it. But here’s comes a millions thanks for you from All Indonesian people. I will translate it into Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) and bring it up on local forum as soon as possible as the protest to our govt to stop sending worker to mid-eastern country such Saudi Arabia. I get tired of hearing of my fellow Indonesian being raped and home back in pregnancy, tortured, killed, home-imprisoned, and beheaded for no apparent and injustice reasons. I was also get shocked on how much Sinta get paid, it was only 600SAR or IDR 2.100.000. WOW! WOW! WOW! Please add my facebook because I cant find “add as my friend” button on you facebook profile. I need to ask you everything i need. Sorry if my English bad because Im still learning and I’m just 18m. It will be a great conversation!ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJune 26, 2015 - 11:44 am

      Salaam aleikum Siski,

      Sorry for my late response. I am not able to check in on the comments very often, please understand.

      The story of Sinta is exceptional in many ways, and does not represent how all or even the majority of Indonesian Houseworkers in Saudi Arabia or ME in general are treated. Please, do not assume the worst of your fellow Muslims. There are good and there are bad people everywhere in every country.In Saudi Arabia and also in Indonesia.

      So let’s take her story and try to change it into something positive instead of spreading negative generalizations..

      Thank you and Ramadan Kareem to you!ReplyCancel

  • Siski BivadliJune 22, 2015 - 10:00 pm

    Layla, I checked this website everyday just want to know if the part 3 released and my reply been replied. But that’s all no.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJune 26, 2015 - 11:31 am

      My sincerest apologies for the delay. The past few months of my life have been very rough on many levels and writing for the blog has been something that I have been forced to put on the side before more urgent family and work obligations, hope you understand.ReplyCancel

  • SabineNovember 25, 2015 - 9:36 pm

    Any updates on Sinta!?ReplyCancel

  • […] years. Read the first part of Sinta, the Indonesian Housemaid turned into a prisoner here. In the second part of her story there is a spark of hope for a better future. Unfortunately I cannot say the third part of the […]ReplyCancel

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