Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is a half sorrow.Swedish proverb
What does it mean to pursue a well-lived life? There are a thousand ways to answer this question but some especially good hints come from an unassuming pair of elderly ladies in eastern Indonesia. Here are a few lessons gleaned over a cup of tea and a plate of coconut cakes.
Hadyana and Samsye
Sweden is a long way from the steamy island of Sulawesi, a volcano-studded landmass in the heart of the Indonesian archipelago. But some things transcend geography – kindness, wisdom and friendship among them. So, it seems fitting to begin a story set in the clove-scented air of Indonesia with a proverb forged in icy fjords a world away. Truth is true no matter where it begins, and it’s true everywhere that friendship doubles the joy and divides the sorrow.
Hadyana and Samsye have been friends since they were children. They’re both over sixty now, and can barely remember how or when they met. But they agree it’s been a long time, and just the announcement of this sets them off in school-girl giggles, as they laugh at a joke whose punch line they long ago forgot.
Their houses are just around the corner from each other, both built in the typical style of this southern region of the island – one-room tin and wood shacks set high on stilts for the floods that come each year. Colourful curtains flutter in the doorways and windows. For now, the land is dry underneath and covered in crumbling pots of overgrown tropical flowers.
They have much in common. Both women married very young – Hadyana at 15 and Samsye at 10 – at the arrangement of their parents. Neither couple could have children. Hadyana and Samsye are widows now, having lost their husbands several years ago. They’re both entrepreneurs, and used small loans from Opportunity International Australia’s partner KOMIDA to grow successful businesses that have kept them afloat and provided jobs for other locals.
Each woman has faced many hardships, but these are the moments that have brought them together. For Hadyana and Samsye, their sixty-something-year-old friendship is one of the greatest accomplishments of their lives – it has persisted even when their plans have not.
Two years ago, Hadyana was featured in the local newspaper. The photo and accompanying story are taped to a wall in her home, yellow paper crinkling in the humidity. It’s the last photo she has of her husband – the couple peer up at the camera, holding bamboo poles and wooden bowls, surrounded by piles of coconut cakes known as putu tongka. They were interviewed by a local journalist about their role as the last chefs still making the regional specialty in the traditional, handmade manner.
For the past twenty-five years, Hadyana has started her days at 3am to prepare the putu tongka. She learned the recipe from her mother when she was a little girl. Once cooked, she goes from house to house selling her cakes to waking neighbours.
Most people in Hadyana and Samsye’s village work in the nearby cement mines or as fishermen in the Makassar Strait, so breakfast is a humble affair. A warm, sweet cake from Hadyana will make their first few hours of lifting, climbing and pulling a little easier.
Hadyana and Samsye with Tamara Svirskis and Jessica Carter
Over the years, Hadyana watched as cake sellers like herself turned to new equipment that would make the cooking process faster. For a long time, she looked on with little choice because she couldn’t afford special utensils.
Then she discovered her handmade touch was what her customers loved most. So Hadyana persisted with her method, embracing the extra hours and early mornings needed to make her cakes in the traditional way. She still outsells her competitors most days.
Looking back on a quarter-century of running her own business, she isn’t fussed about profits or efficiency or customer growth. Hadyana is just grateful. When pressed what for, she breaks into her school-girl laugh again and responds: “Grateful for what has come.”
Hadyana has never been wealthy – neither has Samsye – but their roofs don’t leak, they eat three meals a day, and they have some savings set aside in case they get sick. They’ve worked extremely hard to achieve this, and in the bigger scheme of things, they surely deserve more for their efforts.
But they’re not keeping score. They’re grateful.
Neither Hadyana nor Samsye completed primary school. Hadyana was the oldest of seven children and never attended a single class – she was busy working with her parents in the rice fields and helping to raise her younger siblings. Samsye’s parents sent her to school until she was seven, and then she was pulled out of class to help in her family’s tailoring shop. It wasn’t long after that she was married.
Neither woman has travelled far and the boundaries of their physical world are essentially the boundary of their village.
But there’s a steady stream of visitors to both ladies’ homes – locals seeking wisdom and advice that surpasses school and sightseeing.
At first the guests come for practicalities. Samsye sews clothes and her colourful designs are in high demand; she also sells jackfruit. When Hadyana has sold out of putu tongka, she doesn’t mind mending clothes or sharing other delicious treats.
But it’s the constant laughter that makes these two women magnetic. Barely an hour goes by where they don’t break into giggles, clutching at each other and pausing only to adjust their hijabs before returning to peals of deep-bellied, soul-filled laughter.
They speak their own language and it’s contagious. The crowd lingers close, chuckling softly in an attempt to understand what cannot be understood.
The joke is joy itself, buried in the dimples of two life-long friends who have each other and therefore everything.
There is a shared glimmer in the corner of each of Hadyana and Samsye’s eyes that is not unlike the sparkle in a child’s eye, or the twinkle of the Evening Star. That glimmer is the mark of joy; a set of constellations pointing the way to a life well-lived.
To give women like Hadyana or Samsye the opportunity to free themselves from poverty you can donate online here.