Monday, October 03, 2011

Week Forty three. One day at a time.

This is the third time I have tried to start this post.
Let's see how many more attempts I need, to tell you that we now have a domestic helper.
A maid as they are commonly referred to. Or nanny by the mothers at my stepdaughters school although I don't find this term all that fitting.

Nalama, a woman in her late 20s, arrived 10 days ago from Sri Lanka to live with us for two years. She is a divorcee with her daughter living with her parents while she is thousands of miles away working for another family to earn money.
I was, to be honest, never opposed to having her. As a concept. The concept of having help around the house.
Now that she is here, I am still confused about the role I now have to fulfill as an employer, giving her tasks, making sure things are done right or the way I would prefer them to be done.
I still feel guilty doing my stuff while she cleans my dirty dishes, hangs laundry on the line or dusts the always dirty tables.

For my husband and his family, having a maid is a much more natural thing. He grew up having help around. He is used to it, professionally and personally.
And while I wanted to have help I am still struggling to give orders, tell directions and supervise.
Our maid is illiterate but eager to improve her English and speaks decent Arabic already (thanks to her previous employment in Saudi Arabia). Every day we get to know each other better. I am glad we get along well. Although I believe I am quite different to the average Jordanian or Arab women, also because half the time I just want to run away and leave the house to have her stop staring at me with the expectation to give her another task.

I struggle with filling her day. When I made a plan of tasks she would perform daily/weekly, I underestimated the time these tasks would take. She is doing more daily than I ever thought she would (and I didn't ask her to do that! She already reached a point where she naturally assumed responsibility and created her own schedule of tasks).

And while I was looking forward to not having to clean the endless amount of surfaces this house has, the responsibility for someone else other than our family of four and the infringement on our privacy still makes me struggle.
You have to order someone around to do work, you wouldn't want to do. How to justify this while you sit down with your morning coffee and the papers?

It is weird in a way that in a country like Jordan, so poor itself, domestic help is a no brainer. Women's participation in the workforce is, if my numbers are correct, still under 20 per cent. And yet all those housewives and SAHM have domestic help working for wages that might be a lot in their country but not enough in my point of view. I don't know anybody who would be willing to work 10 hour days, 7 days a week for 250$ (if at all) a month.
And yet, here we are. So dependent on help that even if the Philippine government raises the minimum income to 400$ Jordanians are willing to pay for it. In the longterm, workers from the Philippines could become a status symbol for wealth in the already exclusive circles of Amman's rich.
(Or that's how I think how they think about it.)

Last week over dinner with some friends the topic came up and with it the topic of modern day slavery. Are the borders clearly defined? What makes domestic help? What is already slavery? It's not as clear cut as it may seem from the outside but, in conclusion, it might all boil down to how these workers or all workers for that matter are treated.

{Forty three down, nine more to go.}

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