Friday, July 03, 2009

Washing Dishes [The post Blogger ate.]

Note: Because half most of this post got eaten by Blogger yesterday, I'll never be able to duplicate the snark I had put into it. But I'm going to give it my best effort anyway, and try to recreate it.

A warm and fuzzy, fluffy, feel-good story [which by the way, does not even begin to tackle the genuine issues of the domestic workers that come to The Sandbox] about a Saudi woman washing dishes while she went undercover as a housemaid for a couple of hours, here, and semi-worthy of taking the time to read. It is not long; it is very simply written [no big words to stumble over]. That it highlights the plight of maids in The Sandbox, albeit minimally, is a good thing, though. The author of the article is not immediately identified [she was, after all, undercover! so I'm going to refer to her as "FM" for "fake maid"]. FM starts off by stating that she "resolved to go through with it" [oooh - you are so brave, FM!] and enter into the world of the housemaid but she was wanted to know "what would happen should anything untoward befall" her and her editor-in-chief said "he would gladly publish [her] obituary." Oh, that is just too funny, isn't it? No. It is not. Hardly a joking matter, if you ask me.

FM says she went to a recruiting agency and the agency found her a position. [Calling BS on this. I find it highly unlikely that any agency here would endeavor to put a Saudi woman in such a position - that of a household maid - for at least a couple of reasons. First the culture just does not allow it. Second, because a Saudi woman would never work for the measly amount of money that such a position pays.] But, since this is a newspaper story [keyword: story], we'll go with FM's version. That is how this is done. Recruiting agencies fill these positions with hundreds of thousands of women from poor third-world cesspools countries to move to other, mostly rich countries, such as The Sandbox, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and others, to become housemaids. It is no secret that being a recruiting agent is a lucrative profession. The recruiting agents and agencies are the only ones getting rich off of these women from such poor countries where their chances of being employed in any other capacity are nil.

So, FM contacts her recruiter, the agency, and asks for the address of what is to be her new workplace. The agency - or agent - refused to give it to her, and said that they would take her there. Imagine how scary this must be for a foreigner, coming to The Sandbox. You leave the country you are from and move to another. You have virtually no information to give to your family as to your whereabouts once you get on that plane where you, basically, vanish into thin air. Your family may know the name of the recruiting agency you have dealt with to find you the position you are going to work at, but they have absolutely no idea of the name of the family or the address of the house where you will ultimately end up. Just keep that in mind. FM says that the agency's "nervous refusal to go into any details disturbed [her] slightly." How do you think those foreign maids feel? Slightly disturbed or scared to death?

FM equips herself with "a tiny hidden camera and audio recorders mascarading [sic] as music devices." How many foreign housemaids equip themselves with this kind of equipment, I wonder. Probably Absolutely none. Off she goes, FM, to the agency [although she has a colleague, Hayat, "secretly in tow"], where a "Saudi driver was arranged to take [her] to the unknown destination." FM arrived at her new work place, "with Hayat slyly managing to take photographs from behind a tree" [oooh, it all sounds so James Bondish!] and she goes to the house where she is met by the wife, the woman of the household. The wife - woman of the household [from hereon "WOTH"] greeted FM "with a quick body search which she said was necessary in case [she] was carrying a mobile telephone with a camera." I am going to go out on a limb, here, and say that I would be willing to bet that most foreign maids are not subject to such a cursory search. Very telling, though, that the WOTH is worried about a mobile telephone with a camera, if you ask me. [And, just try to find a phone now-a-days that does not come with a camera in it.] FM says that her "sense of apprehension rocketed as she conducted the search." Wonder how all the foreign maids feel...

The WOTH goes on with a "police-style investigation with a series of questions" and then advised FM what the dress-code would be and gave her "other instructions, such as it being forbidden for [her] to talk to [WOTH's] husband or her sons." Okay. Fairly simple, right? Provided you speak the same language. What if you don't speak the same language? How are these things - the dress-code and the instructions - communicated? Some of the instructions that WOTH gave to FM were that she would "have to clean the kitchen and its utensils three times a day" and that she "shouldn't expect any leniency on account of [her] being a Saudi, but quite the contrary, that being a Saudi meant [she] should be more aware of the customs and traditions of [their] society." What the heck does that mean? Does that imply that in other customs, or traditions, that the kitchen and its utensils are not cleaned three times a day? I can't speak for all Americans, and I certainly cannot speak for other customs or traditions, but I typically wash dishes three times a day - you know, once after every meal. Yeah, okay. That isn't necessarily true. Sometimes, if we eat late at night, and the dishwasher is already full, then I just rinse the dishes and utensils and leave them in the sink until the next morning when I empty the dishwasher of the clean dishes and utensils [I turn it on before we go to bed] and then fill it with the ones I left in the sink the night before. Does this imply that other customs, or traditions, use unclean utensils?

FM says that she "entered the kitchen to inspect [her] new world, and with a force [she] didn't know [she] had in [her] [she] did the washing up in no time." I still don't get it. How long does it take to do dishes? I can have the kitchen cleaned up after a meal in about fifteen minutes, tops. And I wash all of our pots and pans by hand, load the dishwasher, and wipe down the counters and the table. What kind of force is she [FM] talking about? How many pots and pans and dishes and utensils were there in her "new world" waiting for her? Had no one done dishes for weeks? To be fair to FM, though, the kitchen probably was a whole "new world" for her. What Saudi family does not have a maid? If you are not taught to do dishes as you are growing up - I can imagine that you would have to have some sort of "force" be with you to do so at some point much later on in life.

Carrying on... FM was then instructed to "start making lunch and a cake." Go back to being a foreign maid. Imagine the quandary you would be in if you were instructed to make lunch and a cake. Say you arrived in The Sandbox from America [just as an example] and were told to make lunch and a cake. What would you make? How would you know what to make in keeping with Saudi customs and traditions? If you were from America, you might make a typical lunch - say - a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or maybe grilled cheese. And, as far as the cake was concerned, you'd be looking in the cupboards for a red or blue box [Betty Crocker or Pillsbury], right? But, what if that is not the typical custom and tradition for a Saudi lunch. Then what do you make? I have no idea what the typical custom and tradition for a Saudi lunch is - rice and lamb? I do know that Saudi's tend to like their desserts, though. You should see the bakery's here - oh my gosh - yummies galore. [Which explains how it is that I've put on so much weight over the past few years!] And I can tell you that most of those desserts are not made from a red or blue box. Back to lunch... FM started chopping vegetables and WOTH had to instruct her to "wash her hands." So, then, part of Saudi traditions and customs is that you don't wash your hands before handling food? Perhaps that is just an American tradition and custom. [Do they still teach that in home economics? Do they even still teach home economics in American schools?] Note that FM says that she managed to "use up three-thirds of the vegetables in the chopping process." Apparently it really was her first time in a kitchen, ever, and her editor-in-chief let it slide that in the chopping process ALL of the vegetables were used up - not much left over for lunch, I guess.

WOTH "was ceaseless in her chidings whenever [FM] put something where it did not belong." I am guilty of this, as well. But, it takes some time for a complete and utter stranger to come into someone's house and figure out where everything goes. I've quit being so nit-picky about this though. It takes less effort for me to put something where it does belong than for me to constantly harp on Inom about it. Unless it is something like putting the waste-basket on the dining room table, or sweeping the kitchen while the Kids' tables are still there. Those types of things - I think we finally have it down, now, so that Inom knows better. But, if he puts my brown shoes in one of their containers and then puts that in the section where the blue shoes go - I can fix it in less time and with less hassle than ceaselessly chiding him. Instead, I realize that I should be grateful that he takes care of my shoes for me. FM says she put up with this in silence. How many foreign housemaids do you think are guilty of putting things where they don't belong? And, what choice do they have but to put up with someone constantly and ceaselessly chiding them but in silence?

This speaks volumes: WOTH says to FM, "If you come across anything that might be of embarrassment while I'm out of the house... winking in the direction of her husband, tell me straightaway and I'll reward you for it." Um-hmm. I think we all know how that works. A whole lot of trustworthiness on the part of WOTH insofar as her husband is concerned. Interesting. Very interesting. WOTH left and FM took some photographs [with the little camera she had hidden in her hair - remember, WOTH had already searched FM to make sure she didn't have a mobile camera phone]. Any other housemaid, from some foreign country, would likely not have the opportunity to take photographs, though. FM says, "With the mother out of the house, I felt her sons looking at me like some sort of prey, and they spoke to me and tried to get me to take off my veil, 'for my own comfort,' as they put it. One of them suggested we have dinner together, but I refused." You refused because you could. Do you think a foreign maid could refuse? Oh, sure, she could. But it would be entirely pointless. Later, when WOTH returned, she and FM chatted. [Wonder how often this kind of thing takes place. WOTH chatting with a foreign maid. After which they brush each others hair and discuss the season's latest nail color... Um-hmm.] WOTH told FM about some of her previous housemaids and said that some of them were "completely without morals," and went on to say that "she knew her husband had had relationships with most of them." And, this is the maid's fault, how?!? Does the husband get absolved of any and all responsibility in this kind of situation? Apparently, yes. He does. As the housemaids are the only ones who can be "without morals." Never the husband. WOTH says, "she would get her revenge by being cruel to them until they either fled or she kicked them out." Well. There you go. That solves that little problem, doesn't it!

FM's story gets better. WOTH left, again [leaving FM with a child and the 20-year-old daughter "who was always busy with nothing, forever talking on her mobile phone"], and the husband returned. How convenient. The husband tried to engage FM in conversation - FM says she was silent. I suspect most of the foreign housemaids in this same situation are silent, as well, but of course, I have no way of knowing that for a fact. Just a guess on my part. The husband asked FM her real name and blah, blah, blah but the gist of it is that he said "he could find [FM] someone to take care of [her] in exchange for certain services." What a guy! When FM inquired as to "what those services might entail" she was told "things like working as a masseuse." Yeah, right. Masseuse. What could that possibly be a "code" word for? The husband then asked FM to remove her veil so that he could see her, and FM refused "and ran off to the kitchen." Are we supposed to believe that foreign maids can so easily refuse? Sure, they probably can. But again, it would likely be entirely pointless.

FM goes on where her story until she realizes that her "recorder had run out of battery," whereon she left the house "and ran to Hayat [her photographer, co-worker] who had been waiting" for her. Sounds like FM made it all of a half a day, maybe just a bit longer, working as a housemaid. Not as easy as you thought it would be, is it, FM? As she was driving away, she wondered: "Should not the authorities carry out similar secret inspections to uncover and eradicate some of the behavior of families in their treatment of housemaids?" Gee. 'Ya think? How many articles have been published in both of the English newspapers, here, that report on the abuse that foreign housemaids suffer at the hands of their employers? How many have tried to escape - without the back-up of a co-worker/photographer in a waiting vehicle - and how many have tried to escape by other means - much more permanent and final?

FM says, "Without wishing in any way to detract from the value of the profession and those who pursue it, I find it difficult to see how Saudi women can be encouraged to take it up at this point in time without society at large being made aware of how to treat others..." How many articles and reports does it take, FM? And, do you feel that it is okay for foreigner's to be treated in a different way than Saudi women should be treated? I don't think that is what you are actually saying, because you were able to see, first-hand, what it is these foreign women - the housemaids- must deal with. But that you "find it difficult to see how Saudi women" could take up the profession seems to say just that - that it is okay for foreign women, but not for Saudi women.

Oh, by the way, we learn toward the end of the article that FM's name is Rozana. There are also details of other girl's experiences who have worked as housemaids. One says that she didn't get paid - big surprise! I mean, because, how often do we read about maids that do not get paid? Another says that many Saudi families make her "feel ashamed and humiliated."

A couple of scholars weigh in on the issue: Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al-Obeikan says that "it is permissible for a Saudi woman to work as a housemaid." But, he says that "There must... be conditions and regulations in place, such as that the woman has no contact with the master of the house, that she does not spend the night, and that her working hours are fixed." So, then, as long as the woman is not a Saudi, those conditions and regulations do not apply. Does this mean that is is permissible for a foreigner to have contact with "the master of the house," and that it is permissible for a foreigner to "spend the night," and it is permissible that no "working hours are fixed" for a foreign housemaid? Another scholar, Sheikh Hassan Al-Shamrani says that Saudi women should only work as housemaids if they are "in desperate need of work and can find no other." He agrees with Sheikh Al-Obeikan as far as the "rules," but goes a step further and says that "most importantly she must not abandon her hijab and her modesty." [Good thing Princess Amira Al-Taweel will never have to worry about being a Saudi woman in a position of becoming a housemaid. It looks like she has given up both her abaya and her hijab, here

Finally, a housewife weighs in on the matter. She says, "I'm against it. If you look at the problems that have occurred with foreign housemaids then the problem with Saudi ones will be twice as bad. I would never trust a Saudi girl, especially given that our husbands end up marrying them after letting themselves be won over and dominated by them." Once again - it is never, ever the fault of the husband - but only the housemaid - the foreigner. But, of course.

And, speaking of washing dishes...

How is this fair? For smuggling some drugs, brazenly taking them to a police station where a "friend" had been detained, two men are getting off pretty light. The article says, "Drug smuggling, including hashish, inside the Kingdom can carry the death penalty." Or not. Depending on who you are, or who you know, I guess. One of the two men - the one who provided the hashish - has been "ordered to wash the plates of fellow inmates after each meal for one hour everyday during his prison term." Oooh. Now that is harsh. He will not be able to leave The Sandbox for two years after his prison term [however long that is - it is not specified] ends. The other man, the one who put the hashish in the food, will be in prison for two years and receive 70 lashes "across different parts of his body," publicly, "on two separate periods after Friday prayer." That man will not be able to leave The Sandbox for two years after his sentence, either. Neither sentence is quite what we are used to reading about when there are drugs involved, and especially if there are drugs involved with someone who is of some other nationality.

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