Today I welcome a new housemaid into our home. She will live with us, eat with us, and be with us; for the next year we are the family she gets.
I received her at the airport on behalf of the rest of the extended family. She comes out of the arrival terminal, eyes looking here and there. I hold a sheet with her name, but knew very well that she cannot read the English letters. I did not have a photo of her, but had seen a black & white fuzzy image of her passport photo over a month ago; the one she faxed over for the visa processes.
I waited and watched, looking at all the faces to try to zero on the one I wanted. Some come out and pause, looking around the faces; some looks at the name cards first and then only at the faces. It was fascinating standing there watching all the stories unfold. Some of them got a handshake, some got a kiss on the cheek, some just a silent acknowledgement, and yet some were engulfed in cheerful hugs. So many stories that thirty minutes can tell.
Back to my story.
She came out, paused … a confused look I can see, and I knew in my gut it was her. I held the name card a bit out, and also said her name out loud. It was her. She was still a bit flushed. A man, another foreigner, showed her the name card I held. I guessed she must have asked him for help. At that point, they parted ways as strangers.
I checked her passport for the name, to be sure. and we headed homeward. Me in my locally approved shirt top, jeans and headscarf. She in her sari. We embark the ferry heading to Male’ City.
The ferry was a bit full but with ample space if people just nudged. Nobody moves an inch and I had to ask “could you please give me some space!” The same, I had to do for her. Maldivians, most of them [most of us] are just so indifferent!
Back to my story…
I am sitting on the bench behind her, that’s the only space I got. And I can see and sense her fidgeting, with nerves. All around her there were no “saris“. Most had themselves covered from head to toe the rest had covered themselves from neck to at least mid-calf In no time she adjusted her choli to cover her midriff.
And it hit me hard. This will be the last time she wears her sari for the next whole year. We ask them to come to help us out; to look after our kids, our homes. They come leaving everything behind - their kids, their families, their way of life.
That’s not all! we deprive them of their choice of dress; we dictate everything and they humbly oblige.
They need the money; What they make here as a domestic worker, as a maid is ‘rich’ enough for them back home. They earn and send it directly to family.
And what do we do? - “You can’t wear sari in this house.” We give them a half a dozen dresses that will cover them shoulder to foot and at least a quarter of the arm. - “You can’t praise your God, you can’t pray in the open. you can’t display your God.” We at some point also go as far as mocking their idols, their Gods! - We say to them, “no friends can visit you here. No going out on your whim.” We allow them only about 6 hours of outing time a week. - We deprive them of their Diwali, Christmas, Raksha-Bandan, Holi, and any other days and festivals special to their hearts. “Do whatever you want with your time that you get once a week each Friday.”
But you see, when we go overseas, when we go to another land, we demand! We demand to be able to mark our special days. We demand to have freedom in how we dress. We demand to be respected for our faith.
What is this? Is this not hypocrisy? Human rights, human values, human dignity – are these concepts applicable only to a certain group or groups?
I can only be thankful that there is no serious abuse cases. But that is not enough. Human dignity need to be assured. Human freedom of their thought also need to be assured.
I treated one of our earlier maids on Christmas; that was her faith; she, just a teenager of seventeen. I sensed how alone and forlorn she must be, to be away from her loved ones and her festive atmosphere back home, no matter how poor they must be! I was ostracized for my act. I was ridiculed… by my brood!
Originally posted on my blog @ http://mindblur.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/arent-we-hypocrites/