Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Housemaid Drama: are the clean floors worth the heartache?

The problem with me and housemaids is...I tend to become friends with them.

This has often led to intense feelings of betrayal or sadness...because the best of them are bound to want to go home eventually to their families, and you'll miss their friendship. They aren't your friend or your family at the end of the day, despite how much you'd like that to be. They work for you or are the employee of someone that you know, and will one day leave, even after years.

And the worst of them, well...they take you for a ride on the drama-train, and if you were friends with them, you're often on-board when the runaway drama train crashes. You're feelings of trust get hurt, or worse, you lose money or friendships or personal safety over a person you simply invested too much of yourself in: your time, your trust, your generosity, and friendship.

Now don't get me wrong. I despise nothing more than a group of expat or GCC women sitting around ranting about housemaids.

I'm usually mentally like, "check yourself girl, you so privileged that you can sit around and complain about your housemaid, then you don't have real problems in your life, ya know?!"

Usually such women say such things that make me red in the face. Like housemaids aren't people, they belong to their contracts until they've paid back the office-fee etc., kind of like slaves. Like people hold them to standards of being from their own family, but in the end, treat them like they are just an employee.

So this post isn't about them. It's about maids and me.

My father always said, "when you're the boss you have to keep your distance or people stop listening to you", but I always find it is hard to keep my distance with live-in housemaids, my own, or friends' that I visit frequently.
I don't know if this is just me (and I grew up with maids in and out of the home) but I literally have to pretend I am Mary Crawley from Downtown Abbey or something, and tell myself, this is normal. I can do this. This is natural. And then I try to remain coolly confident and bossy in that self-possessed way that people can do in Great Houses.

Let's face it though, my house, isn't one of those places, nor is almost 90% of the peoples homes I know in the GCC who have maids.

Maintaining the Mary Crawley character is hard to do when you have to teach someone who grew up with mud floors how to scrub tiles and care for carpets, or to light a gas stove and not wash your toaster and kettle along with the rest of the dishes. Or when you try to tell her what the incense in the tea canister is, but then you fail to stop her in time from making-and-drinking bukhoor tea, because you realize she didn't understand you.

These incidents always result in laughter and friendship. At least for me.

Or like, everyone is speaking Arabic but that one Philipino or Indonesian housemaid in the house, and you feel like a loser, so you wind up in the kitchen with your tea or coffee, talking to the housemaid, who makes you feel welcome, and is so kind! And even if the maids don't speak English, like the Ethiopian maids in mountain villages. They've all felt like that left-out alien, and I always find myself liking them, and being included by them, although they do, probably think I am an absolute weirdo.

I remember the Mexican housekeepers, and the "Molly Maids" part-time cleaning service girls from North America, and I either avoided them totally by purposefully going out the time they were at the house or friends' houses, or winded up talking with them about their lives while they cleaned, and pre-cleaning before they arrived, even if the house wasn't my own, because it just felt wrong not to.

Friends and family say I am "too nice" in that, I always say "please" before a request, and "thank you" for its completion, and often add "sorry" to the request, if the request is a lot of work, or late at night, or inconvenient from the usual standard of my own requests. But would I be me still if I didn't? I think one can still be a Mary Crawley character and have decent manners.
I am probably the wrong person to have a maid. Like, I feel awkward telling someone to go eat by themselves, but I also feel wrong telling them to pull up a chair and join a party that will not make them feel welcome. I also like my privacy. I feel strange having another woman collect my laundry and wash it, or see my room when it isn't already neat and tidy. Also, I cannot, for the life of me, pass a closed door when I hear someone crying inside all alone. Even I don't have time for the friendship or confidence or drama.

And a lot of maids come with drama. You generally don't become a maid without being driven to it by drama. Poverty. Family trouble, like kids to support or a sick relative, or helping others go to school.

One maid I became friends with had been raped as a teen and got pregnant and had a baby who she loved despite and struggled to support, and was thus an outcast in her hometown. She had one marriage offer from an older man but she didn't trust men really anymore and she basically turned him down, but to prove his good faith, he paid for her to go to University and study and for someone to watch her son while she studied. She is one of the few very educated maids I have ever met. Unfortunately, she chose to study music, and it is hard to find work with an undergraduate degree in music. And, the older man who wanted to marry her? To her regret, she did not marry him, because he died. He was old, she said, but he was kind, and she should have said yes to his proposal.

She always remembered exactly how I take my tea, and how much coffee I drink, and when all the Omani ladies got bored of talking English to me, I could disappear and hang out with her in the kitchen or in the nursery, playing with the kids. I wish I could find her again, but the family sent her back to the office, because on her day off, she met with an Omani "boyfriend". To myself, since they were seen in a public place, I still go, why didn't she have a right on her day off to try and find someone to marry? I mean, Omani man, probably a bad choice, and he'd definitely need a background check, but it does happen. But Omanis usually go "she came here to work, not to get married".

She came here for money, is my answer, and marriage sometimes pays better for the lucky girls who decide to chance that route. I'm not one for chance, but when you have nothing, you don't have much to lose, do you?

At the office she was slapped in the face by the office owner before she was sent home. It made me so angry, how the rules were, she had to act part of the family, but then, in the end, she was just an employee. The hypocrisy still drives me bonkers.

Then I had an Ethiopian nanny for my kids. She saved my daughter's life, but then stole and lied, and said I hit her. It was depressing. And way too much drama. I swore, never again.

So my son was hospitalized recently, and my husband was left in care of the house and kids (and he was on his work holiday;p) and he realized how much work that all is for me I guess. That is, without the full-time job, and working washing machine, because I was hand-washing while working full-time and only just got a new machine. [We're suing our contractor so finances are tight and still have to pay-out-of-pocket for things on the house that should have been done on the meantime, so finances are tight].

So a new maid arrives, and this in itself cause drama, because training a new maid is always confusion and mishaps and misunderstandings. Plus my co-wife's maid was doing the training, and another relative's Ethiopian housemaid was staying over the month with her family, and a bunch of fighting was happening over what housemaid is lazy and which isn't, and if my co-wife wanted to take the new maid or keep her old one.

Drama. Enter me, standing in the kitchen, with maids arguing over who has the right to be my maid, who is lazy, and another Ethiopian housemaid translating for everyone (she's our favourite---she's superwoman and I don't know how she does everything that she does). Plus me, not trying to hurt anyone's feelings, my co-wife's, or the maids. Aforementioned super-woman Ethiopian housemaid finds it to be hilarious. She is a drama-free person, except when she wants a raise;). She's a business-woman, and she handles the negotiations smoothly in the end.

So new maid moves in, we say we want to keep her and her previous family who didn't want her, go to change the papers.

Of course, it couldn't be that easy.

Apparently, she filed a case against the family with the police of abuse. She says she was hit, and was taken by a relative to the Embassy of her country.

Her sponsor, calls us then, for him to take her to cancel the complaint. We ask her, does she want to cancel it? She says she doesn't. She also says she doesn't want to go with the man.

Drama ensues.

Apparently maids cannot actually sue their sponsors unless they have 600 rials for the court and lawyer fees upfront.

Which, really, what housemaid who hasn't been paid their salary and is beaten has that? Like, unless they are a thief or something. We ask all the lawyers we know. No one wants to take her case pro bono and we don't have 600 rials spare to lend her.

So old-sponsor dude starts threatening my husband if we don't return her to him (which I am not about to, if they already hit her---and my husband and her relative seemed to think the abuse was sexual in nature not just beatings but beatings is all she'd confide to me). Like the relative said he thought she was being lent out to Bangladeshi workers as a prostitute {said relative of our new maid worked for the sponsor}.

So sponsor dude says we kidnapped her and are keeping her against her will. (Besides, she was staying in a house with only women in it. My husband has two houses and she slept in my co-wife's maids' room when it was my days so ROP can't claim nothing against my husband). But alas, we still had the texts where sponsor dude says he was lending her to us for a trial period and he wanted x-amount of rials for her to change the papers to our name.

We agreed to his rials, even though he kept raising the price. It went from 300 to 550, and then when we raised that, it went to 600. Even from an office, the girl doesn't cost that much to bring. Sponsor guy paid 230 total to bring her. We know how he did it, and who he did it with. So enter the police, who just ask us to bring her to the Embassy again.

Her Embassy totally sucks because they do nothing and send her back to us again. Which is the wrong thing to do.

By this point Sponsor dude is threatening the relative. He tells him he'll have him kicked out of Oman if he doesn't get the girl back and cancel the "chickwaa" (the complaint).

Sponsor dude and my husband both meet with the ROP, and Sponsor dude agrees to send the girl home, because she wants this if she can't work for us.  She said she doesn't trust him to find her another family and she won't go with him to cancel the complaint. So they agree, the relative will get a ticket from the sponsor, and the ROP will drive her to the airport.

Of course, that doesn't happen.

Relative lies to the poor girl, doesn't tell her any of this, and he also gives Sponsor dude our house address. Coward roles up while my husband is at work and tries to kidnap the girl from the front of my co-wife's house. When that doesn't work because she runs into our yard, he lies and says she has to come because he has the ticket. Which, he doesn't.

Her maid and mine were taking the garbage out, and me and my kids were inside.

Other maid comes hollering, and I come out, and tell the dude to get his car out my carpark. I tell him to call my husband or the ROP but to move his car.

He tells me, "This is none of your business. It isn't your right to keep her. She is under contract to me."

And I am like, "her contract became void the moment you or your family laid a hand upon her. Now move your car."

He's like, "I have the right to take what's mine."

I am like, "Not while it's in my house. Which only has only women inside, so call my husband but move your car. I'm calling the ROP." I've already texted my husband who is on his way.

When he doesn't, I go back in my house and reappear to yell at him from the door-frame: "If you come in my yard or try to hurt any person in my house, I will hurt you, as is my legal right. Do you hear me, I will hurt you. Fair warning. Now. Move. Your. Car."

Exact words.

Coward peals out of there super fast.

Maids' stories that I was holding a rifle at the time are vastly exaggerated.

I wasn't. Empty canvas bag slung casually over the shoulder, yes.

Rifle no.

Also, standing inside my private home. Nothing pointed at anyone. Everything legal.

To my husband: yes, I am hot-blooded, but not always hot-headed. A little dumber when angry, but not totally clueless. Besides, ROP take a long time to show up, don't speak English unless I give the situation 2-4 hours, and I want to be able to walk between my co-wife's house and my own without some creepy kidnapper/stalker parked out front until "the men can solve it the right way".

In the end, sponsor has to buy her a ticket. She doesn't have the money to fight him in court, so she is banned from coming to work in the GCC for two years. She leaves Oman.

I hope she is okay.

Husband asks me why I got attached to her,

I tried not to. I even looked for faults. Like, I think she does quat, that Yemeni drug.

But I've been that girl without money or a passport looking for a decent start in Oman, thrown to the ROP, who seem clueless or useless what to do in such situations. I related.

She tried to teach me to dance and tie a sari. She drank bukhoor tea. She tried to do Irish step-dancing with me when I was bored. My kids wanted to sleep with her in her room. We watched TV together, bad Bollywood soaps and English Action movies. She asked to sleep on the floor in my room because she wasn't used to having a room of her own (that was weird but I get it). The maid next door will definitely miss her. My daughter keeps asking for her.

Try live in a country where you don't properly speak the language, and share a house with another woman, and not get attached, even a little.

I don't know how to, not without turning my heart off.

A worker (electrician) of my husband's friend doing repairs for us during the drama of the near-kidnapping incident decided to ask my husband if we would sponsor his new wife as our new maid, and let her go to his house on her days off. This way is wayyyyyy more affordable than an office, as one pays just tickets, health checks, and visas. Also, it helps other Muslims out.

My co-wife did this before. And it was drama. Poor maid and her husband got arrested on their holiday while in Sumail and my husband had to bring a copy of their marriage contract to the police station there to get them out of trouble. It was late at night. It was a hassle.

I'm glad of my passport and skin sometimes. Privilege.

I remember being in the ROP station after I was assaulted with  a knife by a woman who kept my passport and money and all my belongings, and a friend being molested by an ROP officer while we were there, and us issuing our complaint, and the English-speaking ROP Captain being delighted we two girls were from the country we are from, so our complaint would be taken seriously. He wanted a chance to get this guy but the other complaints he'd received had all been from Philipino housemaids. Yeahhhhhh.

The creepy ROP guys only bug housemaids or Bangladeshi girls. The two times I have experienced attempted kidnappings in Oman both times were by Omani men with ROP identification when I was dressed in crappy house dresses or bad abayas and flip-flops, like housemaids wear, walking by myself.

So I relate to their troubles, especially. I can fight back. I don't need money to sue in court. It just gets done. I don't know if I can NOT FIGHT for them, if the occasion arises. It seems too wrong to sit and do nothing.

So my husband asks me if it is worth it. The trouble of training a person, the lack of privacy, the drama and eventual heartache, for clean floors and a sink without dishes, and some free time, and the ability to go out without kids occasionally.

Privileged people always say it is.

They look at my hands, tell me they're not soft, and that there are toys on the floor, and tell me I need a maid.
But my father had another saying: "People with soft hands have cold hearts". So, up to this point, I don't know if clean floors are worth the stress, the lack of privacy, and the probable drama.

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