The unbearable burden of privilege [MAID ON CALL]

Six months ago our menagerie grew to five. Our life got more comfortable. Waking up to a neat home, beds made, hot meals for the asking, children cared for… and yet, I feel burdened.

Y is an adult who chose to travel thousands of miles to a strange land. What I grapple with daily is that it wasn’t necessarily an educated choice. All she had to go by was one Skype conversation, and a contract that I printed off my home computer.

R & I would forever be haunted by the look on her face as we received her at the airport. He saw her first, as he had to go meet the immigration official at the Maha lounge to ‘claim’ his ward.

She walked five steps behind him, holding onto her black handbag, and approached the group of us waiting for her at Costa’s–me, the kids, friends who travelled to Doha on the same flight.

Wide-eyed after a long flight, transfers included, quite clearly afraid of what and who awaits her.

Over the next six weeks she was trained by our part-time help of seven years and honorary matron of the family, K. We were all getting used to each other. That seems a long time ago.

Now, we are used to having someone at home all the time. We are ever-conscious of how much smoother the functioning of our home is, and are grateful for it.

But it doesn’t escape me that we wield an unfair control over Y.

That’s the nature of her assignment as a migrant domestic worker.

In the absence of a law that protects them, it falls on the presumed goodness of her ‘sponsor’–in her case R & me–to treat her well, and the way we would wish to be treated.

How she lives, what she eats, how she is treated, whom she can speak to, her access to her family, access to help or care, what she can wear… all of this is probably easier to quantify.

What about not being in control of her mobility? Not being in control of with whom and how she socialises? How she chooses to spend her weekends? What about being 30, single and abstinent? What about the freedoms we have to consider deeply and often deny, because of where we live?

So, yes, her life (like the rest of her ilk) in Qatar being a good one hinges on the goodness of her employer. The goodness of people, however, is a fickle thing to depend on; personal motivations will likely trump humanitarian action.

My egalitarian attitude towards Y is at least in part motivated by my need to reduce the burden of guilt–for being a link in this chain of exploitation. To feel better about who I am.

I will continue to make gestures to ease my conscience; find justifications for my actions; and excuses for my inaction.

I We (all of you included) will pull out every logical argument in our heads to say we are not like them (them who exploit, those others)… we will grow used to the comfort, we will learn to set the burden aside, we will secretly hope the status quo remains as our life is easier for it, we will always have ‘those others’ whom we will judge harshly; consequently and conveniently we will judge ourselves kindly.

9 thoughts on “The unbearable burden of privilege [MAID ON CALL]

  1. Peter Draper says:

    as a working class Londoner, the idea of having a maid/servant was initially abhorrent to me, just as the practice of honking outside of a shop or cafe to get a “runner” to come take my order was. However I have spoken to several of these employees and came to realize that a whole sub-section of their national economy depends on these positions. In the absence of good national laws (and the willingness to abide by them) it is up to all of us to treat these people with respect and dignity. This is a brave and honest piece V, thanks for sharing it!

  2. littlecity says:

    I love an eloquent, introspective grapple and your whole post (especially the final paragraph) is a succession of honest bullseyes – and a far more articulate response than my own attempts to answer the same questions. Long may your thoughts be troubled!

  3. Mani says:

    Beautiful article! thanks for the honesty. Gestures that don’t just ease one’s conscience in the short-term but also might actually make a difference include teaching a useful skill (good English is an obvious and easy one) that the expat worker might then use when going back home. Just an idea…

  4. Charlene says:

    This is a great topic that is a huge part of culture shock here. I weigh what I know to be morally right every day. Thanks.

  5. Margie says:

    Thank you for writing this – the first and second part. I tried a live-in for one month when I first moved to Qatar, and the guilt overwhelmed me. The woman who was in my house helping me raise my toddler had a toddler (and another child) at home in her country. She was not with her family because she was with mine. So, we decided to send her home. I was criticized, friends saying that I was denying her a way to support her family. I still get this criticism now; I am always shy to say that no, I don’t have live in help – and its because I don’t believe in the system. My having a maid might help one woman earn money, but it perpetuates the whole exploitive system of domestic workers in the Gulf. I work full time outside the home, and have three kids. I have a crazy, stressfull life, and a really messy house, but I have an easy concience. Thanks for showing me I’m not the only one who feels this way.

    • UmmON says:

      I think several of us do, but sometimes it’s just impossible to manage, without having a nervous breakdown.
      We managed many years without, and we will now.

  6. Hammed says:

    If we truly care about others, then we should make an effort towardes showing that care, there should be a working economic system that helps everyone, and in order for that to exsiste we need to work towardes the perfection of our industries, to seek creativity and Knowledge where ever it is abundant. We cant solve the problems of the world by deneying they exsiste, the world well never change but we should change our selves.
    House maides are humans who should be treated as family members, that work in the family house, just like all of the members of the family, they all must work just as hard as the house maide. We must treat them as siters,mothers brothers, they must eat with us and socialize with us, we can provide them with the means to conect with there family members, also vacations for them to go visit there family members, or the chance for there family members to visit. the chance to be educated , and the chance to educate there children, we must learn from them and there culture, in all of them there is a deep hidden value proposition that is waiting to be discovered, they must return after this experience, new people, able people, people who can change themselves to betterment, and bless others in there home coutries with the blessings they are given.
    My wounder is to why GCC countries dont have an enlighted class of people, despite all of the wealth, we still dont see the value of human life. Even though, I believe that historically we weren’t this blunt, our past was a more dynamic human seance with a thriving cultural mechanism that absorbed differences as much as it breeds them.
    Lets aspire to reignite a lost tradition by criticaly aclaming it through means of the modern age, Knowledge people…… Its just Knowledge.

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