And so one day as my mother and I were talking, I opined that maids in our region were more like slaves than paid workers, that they were abused and considered “non-people.” “You are a communist!” My mother retorted. Well!
After delivering my second daughter, my sister-in-law insisted that I hire a fulltime maid. Up to then, and unlike most of my friends, I had a daily cleaning woman who came in for four hours, did the work and left. I did not feel the need for anything more. No, no, you can’t, the pressure-machine said, what would people say about your having to work so hard?! Don’t you just love that one? “What would people say,” was the mantra!
So in comes this tiny little girl – eleven years old, her mother swore. She begged my sister-in-law to employ her. “I know she will be well-treated here, and we need the money.” They had to bring her a little stool to stand on so that she came up to the kitchen sink! Every time I reached to get something from the cupboard near her, the girl would wince as if I was about to hit her. I took this for all of two days and then told my sister-in-law that either the child had to go or I was going to have a nervous breakdown! With two small children, a job, a demanding husband and a busy social life I didn’t have the energy to deal with the child’s situation. I cried buckets when she left and stuck to my daily cleaning women after that!
I heard stories of mistreatment almost daily. Young boys in some households were prodded by their fathers to become men by raping the maid. Most of these maids were rarely fed anything but old leftovers; they were worked ten and twelve hours a day, often more. These abuses are still happening today! Shocking! Even more shocking is a recent story that happened right here in the US when an Arab princess brought her maltreated Kenyan maid to her condo in California where the abuse of the poor maid continued. However, the maid escaped, the police were notified and Her Royal Highness was charged with felony and human trafficking! (See www.cnn.com dated 7/11/2013) Was I ecstatic! Whether it’s Her Royal Highness, Dominique Strauss Kahn or others like them, they should be damn ashamed of such appalling behavior towards the maids of the world!
During my first few years in the US, I had Anna from El Salvador house cleaning every fortnight. Anna also worked part-time as a hotel maid where she was soon thereafter elevated to a fulltime job as supervisor. Anna’s jeans, T-shirt and dust mop were retired and replaced with a trendy business suit, a desk and a computer. Her hard work allowed her daughter in Salvador to become a doctor. Anna is my friend to this day.
After her I had Margaret who had her own business and a few Latina women working for her. Well, one day I asked Margaret to wipe the mirrors that surrounded my fireplace. They were done last time, Margaret tells me. The woman obviously had a set schedule for my apartment. Nevertheless, she did what I politely requested. That afternoon, Margaret left a message on my answering machine. It said that she won’t be cleaning my house again. She was miffed at my request and had fired me! The cleaning woman fired me! I cannot tell you how delightfully amused I was.
Welcome to Fairfax County, USA! This is where an army of maids is working doing the drudge tasks that we either don’t want to do, or don’t have the time to do. And, unlike their counterparts serving all over the Middle Eastern and Arab lands, there are certain chores that they simply don’t do, especially when those compromise their safety. These women (there are a few men, too) are insured, they are taught the Can and Cannot Dos, they expect to be treated with dignity, humanity and respect. Many of them enjoy some of the same malls, grocery stores, parks and cafes that I do. Their children might go to the same schools as my grandchildren; they learn from the same books.
Living in a country where Anna and Margaret can do what they do, and having enough confidence to know that they can do it, is certainly incredible. Having laws on the books and organizations that protect them and their human rights is absolutely fantastic. It is not communism, mother!