If you Google ''Qatar Maids'', you're likely to find a link to something like this report, by Amnesty International. A sad story of passport confiscation, no days off, sleep deprivation, non-payment, violence and abuse.
And because there are so many sad and horrific tales told, often people like me are afraid to tell their own ''sometimes frustrating'', ''sometimes hilarious'', ''sometimes sad-but-for-the-right reasons'', ''sometimes uplifting'', ''sometimes unbelievable'' tales of what it's like to live as a Westerner in the Middle East with a full-time maid/household help/nanny.
But tonight I've decided to stop feeling guilty for the wrongs committed by others, and to tell it like it is for ''ME'' as a Canadian expat with full-time help in the ''ME''. For the record (because no matter what, I feel like I have to justify the levity of my post) our maid gets paid more than Canadian minimum wage, plus room and board. Plus satellite Filipino channels, the occasional flat-screen TV, entertainment system, PlayStation, 6-month salary advance, unworn jeans, children's hand-me-down's, etc.
When I realised daycare here wasn't designed for full-time working moms, I agreed to live-in help, with Smilin' Vic and me promising ourselves that we would make life good for ''whoever'' it was who came into our life. And we've done our very best to hold firm to that promise. Because that ''whoever'' is a huge part of our and our Kiddo's life. Respecting her and making her feel valued is a double-edged blessing.
Which doesn't mean we don't want to lose it completely on her once in a while. As I'm sure she does with us. I imagine it's a bit like living with your in-laws.
So it is that Tita L. cleans for about 4 hours a day and stays with Kiddo for 2 hours after school. She gets weekends off. Her time off is hers. Her space is hers. Her money's hers. Her passport's hers. What's hers is hers, to do with as she pleases. She lives as normal a life as is possible when your family and your life is half a world away.
So at the risk of offending many in my re-telling of our life with hired help, here is my tale when it comes to life with a maid.
First of all, let me tell a few ways we're different:
- She's from the Philippines - I'm from Canada.
- Her native language is Tagalog - mine is French.
- She comes from a hot country - I come from a cold one.
- She's had to deal with typhoons in her homeland - I've had to deal with blizzards in mine.
- She prefers rice to pasta - I prefer pasta to rice.
- She's big into selfies - I'm extremely camera-shy.
- She gets to greet Kiddo as she gets off the bus after school - I get to kiss Kiddo goodbye as she gets on the bus in the morning.
- She says ''suffer'' - I say ''supper''.
- She sings while she irons - I curse while I iron (honestly, I simply DON'T iron).
- She's got a flat bum - My booty's about to get its own postal code.
- Her favorite snack foods are dried, salted squid and dehydrated mango - Mine are Gruyere cheese and baguette.
- Her favorite song is ''My Heart Will Go On'' by Celine Dion - Mine is ''Gravedigger'' by Dave Matthews Band.
- She's a morning person - DON'T look at, think of or talk to me before I've had my morning cuppa.
- She doesn't mind walking in on me when I'm wearing nothing but my underclothes drinking my cuppa - I'm like ''get the f&$k out, I'm in my skivvies!''
- She has black hair - I have blond hair.
- She snacks on pig ears - I prefer Pringles.
- She's really good at cleaning - I'm really good at organising.
- She's really crap at organising - I'm really crap at cleaning.
- She moved away from her family to work in the Middle East - I moved to the Middle East so our family could stay together.
And here's a few ways we're the same:
- She's 45 - I'm 44.
- She's a mom and a wife - So am I.
- She loves her family - So do I.
- She puts them first - I do too.
- She likes fashion - As do I.
- We're both carrying a few extra kilos.
- We're both peri-menopausal.
- We both laugh at really stupid stuff.
- We both cry for really stupid shit.
- We both love Kiddo to bits.
- Neither of us really understand the other.
- We both really try to ''get'' each other.
- We're both trying to build a house back home.
- We both like potato chips ... and pork products ... and spring rolls.
- She speaks English to me ... I speak English to her.
- We both actually have frizzy grey hair.
- When we DO get our period every three months or so, it comes at EXACTLY the same time ... (poor Smilin' Vic ... he'll be extremely squeamish even reading this, much less living it).
So where am I going with this post? Nowhere really. It's just that even after 8 years, I have a really hard time getting used to having another person I'm not related or married to living in my house.
No Matter How Nice, Kind, Deserving, Awesome, or Effective they are.
My friends in Canada will poopoo me for crying over a good thing ...
Here's the great side of having a live-in maid:
- My sheets get ironed (I swear, I'd be happy with a once-a-week wash).
- My Kiddo has a loving soul to welcome her home from school when I'm still at work.
- My panties get ironed.
- My plants get watered.
- My curtains get ironed.
- ''Someone'' (that someone being NOT ME) always wakes up in a good mood.
- My dishtowels get ironed.
- I have someone to help me prepare for a big dinner party.
- Kitchen sponges get ironed.
- I have someone to help me mop up the morning after a big party.
- The mop gets ironed.
- I don't have to do any real housework during the week.
- My dirty clothing magically reappears in my drawers/closet, ironed, folded, etc.
Now here's the not-so-great side of having a live-in maid:
- My scrunchies get ironed.
- She has no compunction about walking in without knocking.
- She always seems to walk in on me downing coffee, disheveled and grumpy in my underwear.
- She started a house fire when she tried to iron the toilet paper.
- She's always in a great flipping mood ... makes me look all the grumpier.
- She calls me ''Madame'' ... makes me feel so OLD.
- She only gets grumpy during TOTM; which ALWAYS corresponds with mine ...
- I can't tell you how many times I've had to explain to her that the plants and the cat DON'T NEED IRONING.
- She comes from a culture where it's perfectly ok for her to tell me I've gotten very fat.
- She comes from a culture where it's perfectly ok for her to tell me I look so ''sexy'' in that dress.
- She stores stuff in places I'd never imagine ... I once found a 3-year-old gingerbread man tucked in the filing cabinet, under ''2007 tax returns'' (I've since realised I have to clear out the paperwork more often).
- She knows the contents of my ''secret'' drawer.
- She ironed the contents of my ''secret'' drawer.
In all honesty, it's a daily struggle for me to have live-in help. I miss the intimacy of our home the way it was back home. As much as I appreciate the perks of not having to wash windows and clean bathrooms, I hate having to lock my back door to make sure no one 'pops' their head in on the weekend when I'm sitting at the kitchen island.
It's definitely a love-hate relationship. There's nothing to hate about the person, but I sometimes hate the situation. I feel like I'm spiralling out of control, like I don't know where to find my own stuff, like my house isn't really mine. I'm jealous that I'm not the one there to greet Kiddo after school. I get frustrated when Tita L. gets to see the teacher's note before I do, when I have to call her to make sure that Kiddo is doing her homework, when I have to explain to her AGAIN that Kiddo should have yogurt/fruit/vegetables as a snack after school, NOT waffles with maple syrup or chocolate.
Having a maid/nanny in the Middle East is a blessing and a curse. Tita L. allows me to pursue my career, but as I step into my car every morning, leaving her in charge of my chores, of my Kiddo, of my home life, I can't help but occasionally wish it were me back at the house ...
To be continued ...