...and then

Thursday, 4 March 2010

A sad story

My driving instructor is crazy.

He tells me stories that will probably get me into trouble one day if I don't firmly tell him that I don't want to know. He yells at Asian women through his window who, for a fraction of a second, veer to our side of the road. ("Eh, ni hao, wrong side!") He claims to have downed a full bottle of vodka (which, he says, has "no smell") and then about 6 pints of beer before he drove off to drop friends home. He also claims he fought with a police man and beat him up ("I took hat off an throw it on tree. Yaaa. Very angry. He told you go to jail you.") He hasn't drunk in seven years because his wife hasn't been out of the country for that long.

But perhaps the most disturbing thing about him is what came through in one of our conversations during one lesson. We were just heading out of my apartment building and he asks me if "that really fat woman" was my housemaid. I tell him no, she's not, offended that he found fat funny. He says, "Good otherwise she box you and do no work. You will be scared to tell her what to do." I was alarmed enough to not look at the side mirrors when I changed lanes.

He asked me what my help was like and I told him she was small and pretty quiet. So he says, "Ah, that's good. Then you can beat her and make her do work." I thought he was joking but he went on for a bit after that and I realised he was dead serious.

I went home that day and asked my  help if it was true that Omanis beat their domestic help up to get work done. She said a lot of them do. And a lot of them don't. But it isn't unheard of.

It was sad day for me that day. A few days later, I asked a woman at my office if she had had an experience like that because before she found work here, she used to be a housemaid. She said she had been beaten, starved, refused phone calls and sometimes even water and treatment when the family believed they needed to punish a  misdemeanour.

When she saw I was distressed, she said, "Don't worry. We got our own back. We spat in the food, we beat the children when their parents weren't watching, we stole money because they never know how much money they keep. We even brought in men to the house every once in a while. Local calls were not documented so we made lots of calls to friends." While I liked their spirit, I was appalled at some things like beating the children and bringing men into the house when their employer was out. Imagine the kind of trouble she would get into if he decided to have his fun, tie her up and make away with things in the house. And the children, I have no idea how to react to that.

But I remember now that it's not just the Omanis or Arabs who beat their domestic help up. Nagu, my deceased help in India, bless her soul, had a Punjabi employer who used to beat her up. My various colleagues back in India used to tell me stories of neighbours, friends (yes), acquaintances all beating their help up to punish or get their work done.

What is it that you achieve with a beating that you can't by words? A scolding almost always works.
It breaks my heart to imagine what these women go through after having left loved ones back home to come here and work for as little as USD115 or thereabouts which is minimum wage that the Indian government has set for domestic workers in the Middle East.

Apparently, Sri Lankans, Filipinas and Indonesians come for even less.

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Blogger Judy Balan said...

Gosh, that really is disturbing. I think I'm even more upset about what the maid said about beating up kids. Obviously these kids grow up hating the lot and beat them up in turn, when they finally have the power to. Sigh. Vicious circle.

7:17 pm  
Blogger Sumira Khan said...

It is really really sad. I know this wonderful Bangladeshi girl who lives with her employers in the Gulf. She got there when she was barely 16 and has not been allowed to go back home since. It has been 8 years. She is finaly going home but minus half her salary... they say they will give it to her only when she gets back after a month... :( makes me want to weep...

6:18 pm  
Blogger scarlet pimpernel said...

He tells me stories that will probably get me into trouble

How ?

8:22 am  
Blogger Saltwater Blues said...

You know S, one of the reasons I never wanted to go back to live/work in the Gulf is because it was always such a fake, artificial life. Somehow the disparity between the haves and the have nots seems so much starker there than back home in India. At the malls in Dubai recently it made me very say to see some Indians driving up in Jaguars and BMW's while others were cleaning the crumbs from the tables.

As for beating up Arab children, no problem at all. We used to beat them up all the time ... we've had fights with bottles and sticks and you know what - nothng used to happen to the sonsofbiches! They'd be back on the streets the next day looking to pick another fight with us. The maids know that too ... I doubt they'd cause the kids any grevious harm.

And let me tell you maids are a lot better off. I once saw 6 Saudi men having sex with a Filipino girl in a SUV. The image is still fresh in my head ... the face of the girl - desperate, helpless, ashamed.

9:01 am  
Blogger Suburban said...

My God, I love how you write. That's such a sad post, but so real.

9:16 am  
Blogger The Restless Quill said...

Judy: I know. It's exactly that - a really vicious cycle.
Sumira: Oh my god. It just crushes my heart when I hear stories like this. Is there anything we can do?
Scarlet: He actually just narrates them verbally :P But no, you really think I'd say what he tells me. I really have no intention of being booted back home and/or doing jail time.
SWB: You beating the kids up is alright. I am guilty of that myself when I was growing up here because more often than not they ask for it. But the reason they're so violent is because they get so much violence when they are growing up. And beating up kids who cant defend themselves or complain is sad no?
Suburban:Thanks so much :) You just made my day. And it's so very sad. I constantly hear how people are trying to pay their maids as less as possible. And then crib when they themselves get paid less at work!

9:43 am  
Blogger CognitiveLocomotive a.k.a Thought Engine said...

SWB: I clean crumbs from tables for a living. Is that sad?

11:27 pm  
Blogger deepa ravi said...

Yup I've heard several of such horror stories in Muscat in fact - i once spotted a Sri Lankan maid weeping in a park and I decided to ask why - she told me such horrors - she was beaten and tied up ... i can't even repeat all that! But the shocking thing is she continues to work there despite it all. Why? Because they pay her money every month and she sends that money home to her kids. She told me there are Omanis who do all this and never pay! So she is better off! Sad...huh.

In India at least you are in your own country and have an outlet. In countries abroad they take your passport and you're their slave in the true sense of the word. Sigh...:(

8:18 am  
Blogger the mad momma said...

unrelated, but i still cant drive :(

5:00 pm  

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