May 03, 2006

The man-made maid dilemma


Following the topic led by a number of entries about the maids (domestic workers, huh?) in Jordan, methinks that being sympathetic towards those we hire to work for us in our homes is rather a flawed approach to a circumstantially unique issue; what’s needed is a degree of empathy, beside the social aspect of the issue!

In my case, our house back home is rather large, and I must confess we had two maids at one point, all of my 2 married sisters & sister in-law have maids too, though their household is comprised of their non-working selves, their husbands & 1 to 2 loud & demanding kids living in a 200sqm apartment (at best)! A typical well-off family setup, my fiancée’s sister also has a similar situation!

Being sick-off & fundamentally opposed to the excessive dependency on maids, I started the discussion with my fiancée at an early stage to establish a provisional agreement upon which I can keep poking her with once we’re married! Perhaps not; but I’ll use it to negotiate my way out of it when I’m cornered with the possible demand of hiring a maid…

The thrust of my premise & opposition stems from the fact that the size of the household of my sisters does not require the hiring of a live-in maid, neither their age or their health condition, as a matter of fact, the maids they hire are either their age or older, probably has left behind kids of the age of my nephews & nieces… at best, a per-hour hiring of a maid ONCE needed seems more sensible!

The problem with such proposition is that you get instantaneously hit with the heavy brick of “If you think it’s THAT easy, why don’t you do it for yourself?”, and to my "feminist" naysayer readers; I plead for a hint of a benefit of doubt here…

The other premise I argue my case with is the fact that when a maid is available –typically- 16 hours a day increases our dependency upon her service, intriguing laziness, and lack of intuition in house-keeping and swarms of other deficiencies, not to mention the cultural, linguistic & general negative influence over the kids & the household in general!

No I’m not xenophobic-ally worried that my kids will be deluded & start carrying a cross or worshiping Jesus –peace & blessing upon him- or rub a deformed golden elephant statue every morning for luck! Rather, I’m worried that my kids would fall into the comfortable feelings of superiority over a consistent observation of maids coming from certain backgrounds, among other issues...

It took me a 4-year solo stretch living on my own & 6 month washing dishes at a restaurant while studying abroad to appreciate & understand the very household demanding necessities that I’ve took for granted the whole of my life! statements like “Leave the dishes, SHE will take care of them”, “Never mind the untidy living room, SHE went out to walk the dog & SHE’ll tide it up once SHE’s back” or “Oh, I’m late to work, never mind turning the bed, SHE’ll take care of it” creeps a fit into my knick.

And my closing paradigm is rather economical, as I don’t understand how a country with a per capita GDP as low as $4k is capable of paying (on average) $120 monthly for over 50 something thousand maids coming from a country –Philippines- with a higher per capita GDP (ok, slightly higher)! Probably the math works out the same way we ended up with 10 H2 Hummer vehicles for every 1000sqm of Amman costing JD14 to travel for 100km distance (the per litter cost for premium unleaded is JD0.6 & the H2 mileage is 22litters per 100km, fire-up Google & get your calc. out if you find me unworthy of your trust)

On a lighter note, I utterly demise the hierarchy of the hiring process which is based on prestige in essence (and hence the pay they get): Who decided that the Iraqi widowed maid is better than the dark-skinned young woman from Ghour? Who decided that an Indonesian maid is better than the Iraqi widow? Who decided that Chandra & her sisters are better than their Indonesian counterparts? Flippin heck… who decided that their Filipino counterparts are more hardworking & prestigious?

Oh, with the hurl of exceptions of Moslem Filipinos who are mostly dump & will probably churn at an early point, along with the niche Egyptian couple (a guard & his wife) being a spot-on preference of differentiation! That’s infuriating& out-righting pathetic…

Now, despite a (believe it or not understandingly) probable disposition with regard my humble self being not so feminine-friendly, yet I’m still a firm believer in the distribution of roles between the –equal in rights- men & women of society, where in the majority of typical families, the man is a provider while the woman is a sustainer, the man provides a living to the family, while the woman makes this living possible!

Why should a woman leave her home and kids to work in order to afford a maid that will fill in for her where she is mostly needed? I’d like to emphasize on the use of the term “needed” as opposed to being obliged or required to; for this distribution of roles stems from an intrinsic (and I sincerely believe: instinctual) understanding of the capacity of being a wife & a mother!

Why should the whole family suddenly become so dependent on the service offered by the maid or even the –mostly- helpless housewife or the dozen of sisters, while each and every member of the household should take care of his or her bit and contribute towards the general welfare of it!

Obviously, I understand the need of a maid for a larger households, like having a 400+ sqm home, with half dozen or more kids, I can understand the need for a maid with an elderly living alone, I understand the need of a helping hand with a young woman whose either pregnant or recently gave birth, so on & so forth…

FAST FORWARD >>

So you hired a maid, huh? Obviously you shouldn’t treat them as slaves, common sense one might think, yet a good chunk of our oblivious society take such things for granted & end up treating their maids as such!

All that’s needed is a principle understanding of the contractual obligation between both parties, you hire a woman regardless of the circumstances that led her to taking such job, you pay her fairly, give her the agreed upon leaves (be it the weekly, monthly or bi-annually) & don’t force her to work over hours.

Along with the essential good manners & no-brainers tactfulness of recognizing that she also may suffer from a crippling fatigue after a Jordanian family feast or gathering even if she was being paid to do the job she’s doing at such occassion(s).

On the other hand, the maid should understand that she’s not being done a favor or being subject to a charity pay camouflaged in a form being paid for a job! it might not be the best job in the world, but it’s her reality; a cumbersome job that provides the money needed to support the very family she left behind.

Now this was strictly business talk, and that’s too crude and does not address the uniqueness & intimacy (in the family sense of it) of the situation, therefore the family who decide to hire a maid should acknowledge the fact that the woman they hired did actually leave her house to serve in another thousand of miles away…

No, that doesn’t mean to be arrogantly be sympathetic or pampering her with insincerety, it means that the environment where she works at should be capacitating:

Ideally, it should feel like her second home, for her to feel considered as part of the family (for she is), as she wakes up wit them, live with them, eat with them (yes on the same table & at the same time while the food is hot) & essentially being allocated a decent & acceptable place to sleep (the washing machine room is not a sleeping quarter) while she carry out her due diligence!

All that is needed is a level of empathy (I can’t emphasize more on the essential difference between it & sympathy) and understanding! Rubbing a JD10 note in her face on Christmas or Krishna’s anniversary wouldn’t cut it as being nice! It’s the general attitude & overall good-mannered treatment that counts and should be widely recognized as important.

Finally, if you’re a non-working elitist mother who's out'n'about doing her nails at Perfect-nail (they should start paying me for over mentioning them) or the hair at TONY&GUY while the entourage of specialty maids are taking care of the dog, the kids & the house… (respectively) I'm inclined to speak of your likes viciously, yet the more articulate & well-spoken “foreigner” among us had it better...

6 comments:

madas said...

why dont you think about it differenctly, if you dont offer these women who left their kids a job, their kids might starve?

Creating employment is really not a bad thing at all.

Also, I noticed you never mentioned the man's role in helping in the house hold... interesting, no?

Basem said...

Madas, definitely, but why should we create employment opportunities for women halfway across the world while the ones at our backyard in dire need (and equally capable) for these jobs!

I wouldn’t blame you for missing out on the paragraph where I had explicitly mentioned how each member should do his/her part… Alas it was a long read (2nd paragraph before the FAST FORWARD >> placeholder)

hala said...

salam Basem, amazing as usual, I would like to add to what you said in the article, that anther reason for empathy and sympathy with the maids naturally should stem from them doing the jobs that we decline to do, hence we employ them, according we should pamper them to stay satisfied and we living comfortably.

Also would like to comment on your comment to madas about why should we create employment opportunities for them while the women in our backyard could do the job. Unfortunately our women who don't find it shameful to beg in the streets carrying around their newborns in hot and cold weathers, would find it shameful to work at maids. Wierd culture we have!

madas said...

Come on, you just his/her role and you feel justifed :) I am joking, I am sorry for missing that bit... but to agree with your comment, which is why create emplyment for those women and not the ones at home.. i think there is no reason at all... creating employment is good, I mean i work with refugee camps and women there just want a job to feed their children, so if someone can employ them as maids... i think it is more respectable for everyone...

ABOUD said...

Man the worst thing is when your relatives come over with the maid with them to look after their children or something like that and after you finish eating they say to you to leave the washing for her.

This is slavery man, she was hired to help you and work in your house, not to work in all of your realtives house.

I really do hate that.

Lina said...

hehe, so true Aboud, I agree with you, however if it is a huge family gathering, i,e; minimum30 persons, it would be good to bring the maid. Then, she can help, but also socialise and enjoy with the other maides, besides it won't be that tough, since she won't be doing any work that day when she gets home, or at least thisis how our family does.