Saturday, 17 August 2013

My love-hate relationship with domestic help

I have recently moved back to Pakistan and am actually running a household of my own for the first time in the Pakistani set up; previously lived in London, Dubai and Canada and the home setups were pretty similar in all three places where you have a dishwasher, you do your laundry in the washer and dryer yourself and you vacuum and broom alternate days and its enough for that tiny apartment you live in. Coming back to Pakistan, especially as a mom of a 1 year old I was pretty excited and looking forward to the domestic help readily available at fairly affordable wages. I imagined that I would run my home like I managed my work in the office; I'd have a timetable for the maid, and have responsibilities divided into days and a certain level of expectations set from day one. I had it all sorted out in my head; I wont shout at them like I'd seen my elders do, I'd be polite , treat them nicely, yet firmly - make sure they are clear of my instructions and expectations and that should do the trick to managing the perfect home in Pakistan. I even decided that instead of having 3 or 4 different maids for different tasks, I'd just keep 1 (for a household of 2 people and an infant that should be good), and make sure she's always at my disposal and well trained. Also having only 1 maid means, no politics between servants which is quite prevalent as I hear from my close friends and family. But like they say, 'easier said than done'. I started looking for help; they came, they went within a day or two. Some lasted a week. Reasons for leaving were unknown; weird stories reached me through our chowkidar who gave me a rather masala version of why the particular lady had decided to abandon me. I was shocked to hear the kind of excuses for leaving and accusations against me, including 'baji doesn't give us food!' (not true), 'baji keeps a lock on the fridge (which I hadn't done yet, but yes I used to keep an eye on my fridge very closely), 'baji doesn't give eidee (despite having given them eid clothes)..and so on. In my head it was straight - I pay you wages, you work for me. No extra gifts, or extra pocket money. Whatever I give you for emergency reasons, comes out of your pay. Yes in extreme circumstances there could be a case for additional add on charitable pay or bonus but at least work for me for more than a month or two to deserve even that kind of help. Also, in my head, if you're a christian maid, I don't give you eidee on Eid, I give you gift money or clothes on your Christmas (makes sense No? )
On one hand the help does feel amazing when I don't have to dehydrate my eczemic fingers in hand dish washing; I no longer need to wash bathrooms like I did earlier. I don't have to do all the boring pre-work , chopping for cooking. I get it all done for me and I can just work on the taste and final touches of the food. Sounds amazing...yet since I'm new to this domestic help system, almost any day that my maid decided to take a day off without telling me, I felt a bit of relief (along with the obvious frustration at first); a relief that today I was on my own, my kitchen was mine, a sense of privacy and ability to delay some tasks if I wished to, there's  no one I need to train or mind today, nothing to worry about those rings I left in the bathroom, or about my purse lying in the lounge while I went to the bathroom, no one creeping behind my back and watching tv with me, no one eves dropping conveniently into my skype sessions or phone calls and then at times also referring to those conversations and giving free suggestions (which in my case are never welcome! In my world, you're domestic help, you do your work and stay out of my personal phone calls). I am especially irritated by my driver, who is slightly sluggish when it comes to his real job i.e directions, finding addresses, remembering important landmarks and a bit too over efficient in making small talk which is useless for example when I sit in the car he would go 'Baji I heard you on the phone talking about medicines, are you ok?', or 'Baji how is your daughter today', or 'Baji I hope you haven't forgotten your phone upstairs' - I mean, for Godsake, are you my driver or my personal assistant? Keep your eyes and ears on the road and not on my life! I try to give him the shortest possible 'yes/no' answers and sometimes I rudely stay quiet to give him the hint that his stupid questions are not welcome. Soooo, I do admit that I myself am part of the problem here; domestic help might just seem very normal acting like this to all my other locally based family and friends but to me it is new and its funny how I respond to some of their natural flairs and how I take offense from some the seemingly very much expected behaviour on their side. 
This evening I was told by my chowkidar that the baby sitter who used to come play with my toddler baby girl will probably not come (because she didn't think I gave her good enough eid clothes). To her it did not matter I suppose that she and I had already decided that she would be going to school starting this September and work for me only in afternoons and weekends on the full day wages . Perhaps it wasn't even the girl, perhaps it was her mother who got scared of the thought of school and decided to put her to work elsewhere where she could earn a 1000 a month more even if she didn't go to school. It's sad - I feel sad. I am unable to understand their psyche, and even if I do I'm not sure I can counsel them to think differently. It might be possible, but I'd probably have to become more well versed with the culture and dynamics of the domestic working class for that. God bless me and them! 

1 comment:

  1. Haha, I enjoyed reading this. And you make me NOT look forward to running a house in Pakistan!