Sunday, July 15, 2007

Maid in Riyadh

The first time I took sonny to the indoor play area, I was hoping to meet a few moms & get sonny introduced to a few kids his age. The sight that met my eyes left me baffled. Sure there were scores of kids running around, but no moms. There were scores of nannies. Nannies of all kinds. One group of South East Asians huddled in this corner, another group of sub-Saharan Africans chatting in the other, a few Indian sub-continent ones sprinkled for good measure. Where are all the moms, I wondered.

A couple of moms I did manage to see, were just dropping off kids to one practice or the other and rushing off to meet their ‘girl friends’ for coffee or at the gym. Super, I thought. This is life.

As a child of a working woman, my experience with nannies or ayahs or bais as we called them wasn’t pleasant. We’d seen our share of good nannies and bad ones, more bad ones than good. Ones that caned us kids, ones who ate up food meant for us, ones who couldn’t care less whether we lived or died. To my prejudiced eye, nannies could do nothing right.

I saw a nanny push relentlessly in the swing, the 11 month old in her care, till he cried nonstop. Or the time I saw a nanny escort a child out of the play area. She stopped to chat with another of her fellows. As I passed them, I saw the child was bleeding from his nose (a common occurrence in this part of the world, I’m told). Hey, I yelled, he’s bleeding. Yeah she replied nonchalantly, I have to take him home and get some ice. I better go. As I watched agape, she hugged and kissed her fellow mate and slowly sauntered off with the child in tow. I was even more pissed when I saw the mother of the child sitting with her younger child, at one of the birthday parties organized there. Obviously, while I was getting all hyped off, the 2 care takers had other important things on their plates.

Was it my imagination or were the kids generally more badly behaved when the nanny was around? Maybe their mothers wouldn’t take their shitty behavior and poor nanny had no option. Then again, wouldn’t a mother want to supervise her child at play? I believe sonny and I have the best of times when we saunter around in the compound picking up stones and dried leaves and pointing out at flowers or birds. If the mommy was working, I could still understand, but hey, most women here don’t work.

Why would you leave your child with the hired help? Especially since there is no effort required on your part, but to stand and supervise your child running around or playing on the swing or the slide. This is what I would call ‘quality time’. Why pay someone else to do it for you? I guess I would never understand their mind-set.

Meanwhile, as I saw these women every day, I began to see the persons behind the uniforms. Like B, our first household help. Charming, forever smiling and full of energy. In her mid 40s she works for atleast 10 hours each day, sometimes 12. She has 3 kids between the ages of 21 and 16 and right now, she’s willing to move heaven and earth to get her eldest son a visa to come and work here. As a driver. She works 4 hours each in 2 houses, then cooks for another lady and sometimes baby sits for another lady. And then goes home and cooks and cleans for her husband. I don’t know, when she has last seen her children, for she hasn’t gone back home for at least 2 years.

Or K, our current help. She already has one full day job, but free lances for me – just to earn the additional few riyals. In her mid 20s she hasn’t seen her 5 year old since a year. She was married for 2 weeks when she got her visa to Kuwait. To work as a household help. She worked for 2 years, went back to Sri Lanka and had a baby. When her son was 2 she got her next visa. So she left her son with husband and mother in law and winged it to KSA. When I asked her, if she would like to be paid monthly or weekly, she laughingly replied, “o monthly mam. If you pay me daily, I’ll just go and buy phone cards to call my son in Sri Lanka”. Her answer just tore my heart.

Its no wonder that she just showers so much love on sonny, hugging him and kissing him, whenever she can. Hard hearted boy that he is, he just brushes her off. I often wonder if she sees he son – when she sees sonny.

And these aren’t stray cases. Every maid, nanny here has a similar story. Of children left behind, in families’ care while they strive to earn a few bucks. To get their kids a better life. Of husbands and wives being apart for years on end. Working, chasing a dream.

And if you thought, these women have a tough life, consider this. One of the drivers here, was returning home, late at night, when he got a flat tire. So he put on his flashers and stopped to change the tire. A trailer coming that way, didn’t see him and ran him over. He didn’t even make it to the hospital. He hadn’t been home in 4 years. This summer, which is vacation time here, he’d gotten permission to go home. There were 2 weeks to his vacation. His ticket was ready, he’d bought gifts for his 4 young ones and was getting set to head home. Destiny willed otherwise.

And then I thank God for his blessings. For making sure my family is together. For making sure we don’t undergo such hardships. Minor irritants, like abaya, female segregation, etc somehow doesn’t seem all that bad after all.



At 11:31 PM, Blogger Moppet's Mom said...

Oh my. Some heartbreaking stories. You're right, it makes our own cribs seem so trivial.

At 1:33 AM, Blogger Poppins said...

Oh my..This is such an interesting blog ! I've just been catching up on all of your posts..

At 2:20 AM, Blogger Just Like That said...

oh! Life is sad indeed.

And your post makes me count my blessings..

At 2:27 AM, Blogger ~nm said...

We should raelly thank god for giving us whatever we have. Its god enough for us! Atleast our chilren are in front of our eyes. Every evening and morning we can hug them and cuddle them when be go/come for/from work.

Thank you God!

The last story almost got tears in my eyes!

At 12:32 PM, Blogger Tharini said...

Oh my God. Its very hard for me to read thru all this and digest it. Makes me feel like we know nothing of life at all. I do remember stories like this....when I lived in Bahrain. The situation of the hired labour is so bad....but I guess thay are in many ways luckier than the counterparts who don't get the visas.

Yes, we are lucky beyond reasonable measure..

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Kodi's Mom said...

linked you from a similar discussion at DMC.

At 12:23 AM, Blogger Usha said...

When I see these people who leave everything behind for a hard life ina foreign place just so that their family can eat good food or have a better future - it really tears me up. Very touching post.

At 5:32 AM, Blogger artnavy said...

gave me the goose bumps

At 4:00 PM, Blogger mommyof2 said...

very sad and heartbreaking.. Can't she pay someone to get visa for her husband and son?

At 2:05 AM, Blogger the mad momma said...

makes you ever so much more grateful for what you have....


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