Tuesday, 12 October 2010

M - Magic Maid

Our unit looks lovely today because M, our Magic Maid, was here yesterday. She comes once a fortnight and spends 3 hours making the place shine.  M is a housekeeper (a.k.a. maid) for one of the villas here on our compound. She has a bit of time on her hands during the day when her employer is out, so she provides her cleaning services to a number of other homes in the complex.

S, her employer, is perfectly happy with this arrangement because having a few other homes to clean keeps M busy, otherwise she’d just be hanging around his place. He certainly doesn’t mind her making a few extra Riyals to send home for the kids and she has never been negligent with her chores at his place, so he sees no reason to curb her little enterprise.

We like her because she does a wonderful job.

My own efforts at getting this place to shine have failed miserably.  I’m obviously using the wrong elbow grease.  As my father says, ‘I have the right idea, but the execution lets me down’. Dust gets onto everything in this desert city (no kidding!), especially if you leave the windows open, which we do because we’re country folk who like fresh air.

I tried living with the windows shut for a few weeks. Never again – it was a very claustrophobic, cloying feeling. Yuk! It made me tired and ill. Seriously! I wasn't just making excuses to lie around - I can do that with the windows open.  Regardless of the hint of dust that may be in it, I prefer the open air.

M came with good references (we know her employer) and she lives on site, so we know where to find her should there be ‘issues’. There never have been.  That's because M is not stupid. She knows she’s on a good wicket – much better than a lot of maids here. She’s not about to do anything that might jeopardize her employment and affect her kids and mum back home.

It’s a win-win situation for everybody.

When she comes to clean our apartment, I go out – literally. I organize to be someplace else for 3 hours.

Lots of other expats I know who employ part-time maids stay home to oversee the cleaning operation - that is, they keep an eye on the maid so she doesn't disappear with the silverware (they've obviously heard a few Bad Maid stories), and to make sure she, or he (there are a number of guys who do house cleaning), does the job properly. (What do you call a male maid?)

Our place is too small for me to be here while M’s cleaning, and besides, for reasons already mentioned, I see no need to stick around and hinder her cleaning magic (and ironing – she does The Husbands’s shirts, he loves it) .

My friend Mrs K has loads of stories about maids. She went through a few when in Singapore.  She’s had a maid that stole things – FIRED.  One maid used to smack her kids – definitely FIRED.  One lied about her age by using her cousins ID (she was only 16) – DILEMMA resulted in sorry we can’t keep you.  She’s had a maid who supposedly had training but obviously hadn't – BACK to the agency you go.  And she’s had a lazy maid – definitely NOT a keeper.

There are maids that try to take advantage of you with emotional stories of a hard life back home, stories that usually end in ‘Can I have an advance on my pay? Mrs K got sucked in felt sorry once and gave the advance.  She never saw the maid again.

Finding a good maid in this country is undoubtedly a trial and error process and when you get one, sing Hallelujah! (Quietly though, in case someone hears).

Of course the reverse applies too.
Maids finding good sponsor families is a hit and miss affair.

I spoke to a couple of live-in maids the other day who have been with their respective families for a few years. They say it’s hard work from dawn to dusk and beyond with few breaks, but their employers are good people who speak to them nicely, who pay on time, every time and always fulfill their contract obligations for holiday time off.

These ladies appreciate they could be some place worse – because just as there are ’Bad Maid’ stories, there are horrible, decidedly worse, ‘Bad Employer of Maids’ stories. Google the internet for treatment of maids in KSA and you’ll find:
Maids are being beaten – the standard attitude here is they obviously deserved it.   
Maids get raped – perpetrators if Saudi go free and the maids probably deserved it.
Maids get locked up – it’s for their own good and what an employer does with his/her property (maid) is no-one’s business.  
Maids can work for months and not get paid – And the problem with that is.....??
In Riyadh, Embassies are the point of contact where maids can take any grievances they may haveabout their conditions of employment (if they're brave enough and can escape) but, being government bodies, the Embassy’s play this delicate balancing act between holding the Saudi 's to account and being expelled from the country for pissing them off over something trivial, like maids.

These political games result in ‘turning a blind eye’ which only contributes to the fact that maid abuse in this country is fairly common.

We went looking at villas outside the compound recently with a view to moving out.  Every home had maid’s quarters up on the roof. I was shocked. I’d heard stories of employers locking their maids at home when they go out. I had visions of chillin’ out in the house – eat some food, read a mag, watch TV.... I hadn’t realized they lock them onto the roof!  These are 3 storey buildings.  Unless you're Rapunzel with the long hair to make a ladder or have a stash of sheets under your mattress to tie together, you're stuck.

The rooms up there are tiny, many were lockable, a couple were windowless and some had no air con.  As far as I’m concerned, anyone who expects a maid to live in those conditions is already guilty of abuse.  And stories of abuse are plenty.  Here's one just recently about a maid from Sri Lanka who had nails hammered into her body by her employers.  How can people treat another human like that?

A couple of things do concern me about this article
  • Saudi Arabian authorities could not be reached for immediate verification (that the perpetrators were apprehended)....
  • No further details were available (about said apprehension, investigation or possible punishment) and...
  • The two suspects have not been named.
It smells of deceit and cover up to me!

Editor's Note Update:

I’ve heard via the grapevine (The Husband and the Gulf News) that Saudi will no longer employ people from Sri Lanka and urge ‘all private recruitment offices in the country to refrain from signing further contracts for the employment of Sri Lankans’. Guess that particular balancing act went pear shaped!

The Husband heard this action was due to an inability of Saudi and Sri Lankan officials to reach agreement on some issue....Gee, I wonder what that could be?  The maimed, and not by magic, maid perhaps?

Ka Kite,

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