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.

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Be Selfish. Very Selfish. That’s The Safe Thing To Do

If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors*, not his equals.”
~Sirius Black

I don’t get this. A recent incident, has me seething.

What motivation would one have to not treat their help with the utmost respect, maybe a little kindness and even a bit of gratitude?

Forget the whole humanitarian business. Let’s assume, we don’t give a rat’s sh*t for other people’s feelings . Let’s accept that we are all rather self-centred.

But:

if you are leaving your child in someone’s care;

if you are going to eat the food made by them;

if you are going to depend on them to keep your house clean…

Shouldn’t we be a little more careful about how we treat our paid help?

If I were working for someone who didn’t treat me well, and I can’t really afford to quit, I would do everything in my capacity to screw them over.

Doesn’t it make absolute ‘selfish’ sense to treat our help properly?

Just to ensure the children are well-taken care of, the food is cooked to meet health standards, and that the home is not a breeding place for mites and pests.

But look around. You realise that some of the meanest people are the stupidest.

You also realise that for some, treating their ‘servants’ or help badly is so ingrained in their nature and upbringing, they do not even realise how awful they sound.

Like this acquaintance (an otherwise intelligent and nice person) who proudly proclaimed that she disconnects the TV receiver when she is not at home, to make sure the ‘maid’ doesn’t sit glued to the idiot box. She also believed that with this master stroke, she has ensured that the ‘maid’ does nothing but take care of her kids!

As if that weren’t enough, she is indignant that the maid was listening to religious music (of a different faith). So the tape player has been banned too. Just to negate any remote chance of the religious music converting her infant and kindergartener.

Now that all kinds of entertainment or relaxation has been curtailed, the only issue left to tackle is the incessant telephone calls. Once the sim card is flushed down the toilet and the landline is kept under lock&key, I am sure the well-being of the children is assured.

Am I the only one who sees the irony in this?

My eldest sister has a retort whenever people talk to her of ‘putting the maid in place’ – someone who has been with her for nearly 20 years. My sis says, just like the rest of us, her help is a working woman too. And just like the rest of us, the maids/servants/helps have every right to expect and demand respect and equality at the workplace.

So simple.

We are not so much doing a favour to them by giving employment, as we are setting right our own shortcomings. We cannot take good enough care of our home, so we seek help; We need their help to take care of our children so that we can go out and earn; We probably really suck at cooking, so having them around is a better alternative to takeaways; We just cannot be bothered to scrub the crap out of our loos, so…

Be smart and be selfish, even if you can’t be nice. It’s your home and family at stake.

* I don’t even like that word in this context, but couldn’t find a more apt quote.

PS: For all the victimised cry of racism, the Asians are the worst when it comes to class-ism.