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Massaging the Urban Sore


Nurjanah, who often goes by Nur, never thought she would have the skills to be a masseuse. As a teenager, Nur had dreamed to become an Islamic religious teacher, ustazah. But her mother asked Nur to attend a nursing school instead. "At the nursing school, I learned anatomy and blood circulation," she said. After graduation, Nur worked at an acupuncture practice. She also sold deep fried snacks (gorengan) to increase family income, especially after having children in mid 2000s. It was around 2013 when the people around her began to recognise Nur's talent for massage.

"Initially, there was one woman who often bought gorengan which asked me to help with her sprained ankle. I didn’t know any massage at all at that time, but she insisted as she was in pain so I gave it a try. Afterward the woman thanked me as she felt much better. Since then there would be several people to come and ask me for a massage," recalls Nur.


One of her neighbors, who knew massage techniques, had seen the way Nur massaged. She gave her some examples for improvement. "She said; Nur, you have a talented hand, but you must learn the right way. She was great, quite willing to share her knowledge." In addition to learning from the neighbor, Nur reads many books about reflexology until this day. All this learning has enabled Nur to continue practice and to identify illness-prone points in the feet.


Nur always believes that her blessings come from above. She has never set any fee for massaging. From her humble beginning five years ago she continues to accept whatever fee her customers pay. " Whether the customer gives large amount or small, they all experience the same soreness," said Nur. Especially if they are long time customers, Nur would never turn down their request based on payment. The customers are usually local families or anak kost. Through word of mouth many recommend her to their friends, and after one try some will turn as loyal customers.

Her other business principle is ‘first come, first serve.’ "As long as they request in advance, I will definitely try to come, however I would never cancel the request of those who have made appointment earlier, "said Nur. She has also been reluctant to join online massage services because she feels more comfortable managing her own work.


Massage appointment times are also flexible; everything depends on the condition of each customer, with some requiring up to three hours. "I certainly know if there are still aches or pains,'' Nur said, ''My fingers will sense them.'' She also does not use special oils or rituals for massaging, unlike many in her profession. The important thing for her is to start the massage with a prayer so that negative auras do not prevent the healing process.


Nur is happy with her profession; "Especially if my customer is healed, the body that had been feverish or sore has become much better. I am also happy because through massaging, I can meet and chat with many people. Otherwise I might just stay at home and become bored!"


However she has also experienced her own share of disappointment, for example when an appointment is postponed or canceled without notice. "A customer might not bother to make a call, for example. Next thing I know when I text them that I’m one my way, the person cancels on the spot. "


When the orders get busy, Nur will go around to different locations and do massage from 9 am to 11 pm. Saturday and Sunday are usually the busiest time. "Most office workers will order for the weekend; all of them experience aches, especially in the neck, back, and waist," she said. Everyday, Nur rides on her bicycle to the customers’ home or kost around Karet. For those living outside Karet, she asks for their willingness to support transportation cost so she can take a bus or online motorbike taxi, particularly for those in Serpong and BSD area. She might earn up to three million rupiah in a busy month.

Nur is grateful that her husband is willing to help take care of the house and their youngest child, even though she often only sees them both in the morning and evening before sunset. Her husband opened a business, a pre-paid mobile phone shop near the house.


Twice a month, Nur visits her mother who lives in Cikarang. Part of her income goes to help mother's households’ needs; the rest to pay the rental house in Karet (about 1.2 million rupiah per month), school tuition, and snacks for her three children. ''My youngest child can spend fifty thousand rupiah a day just for snacks! Fortunately her siblings are outside Jakarta; one in an Islamic boarding school (pesantren), the other with their relatives in the village. They don’t spend too much on snacks" explained Nur. She and her husband hope they could send their three children to university.

The challenge for Nur now is to have her own house. Along with her husband she has tried to apply for a loan for property near her mother's house but their application was not accepted. "They surveyed our prepaid mobile phone stall, but my earning from massage services was not included in their assessment. I do not have a physical location for my massage business because I’m mobile. Even though financially my husband and I are confident that we will be able to repay the loan, if this is how it works, when people like me can have our own house?''


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