A few years back, my family and I went to Indonesia for the holidays. My dad saw to it that we experienced the rural villages, hills and farms of Indonesia rather than the polished up touristic sights. With the primitive beauty of the villages came the rubbing against people who previously worked or have relatives who work as maids and drivers in Saudi Arabia. Many of the villagers were not happy with us, to say the least. They gossiped about us while trying to sell us things. Whether we chose to buy or not, the unspoken curses chilled us at the spine; damn you and your riches!
In that environment my dread of having maids multiplied by the hundreds. The maids and drivers were no longer a minority, they were a majority. They became the owners of the land and my family became the visitor, vulnerable at any moment to receiving punishment for any Asian helper who was treated harshly in Saudi. Those who worked and were treated fairly are not expected to be grateful because they received money for services they provided. But what about the mistreated? Anger speaks with such an infectious energy that it becomes the only voice audible.
Three years married, most of it in pursuit of education abroad, I have not yet settled in my natural habitat, an owned villa in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In a couple of months, hubby and I will be returning home with a child. Going back, getting jobs and enrolling our child in school will naturally mean resuming our social role as a family that entertains relatives, in-laws and guests.
Beside the question of which job, preschool, furniture and car, there is the question about whether to hire a maid or not. With the amount of guests, dust, house size and the time spent at work, the answer is most probably yes; we will need help at home. If so, what type of a maid should we hire? A fulltime (live in) or a part time (local)? Which nationality, age, religion?
From years of getting to know myself, I know two things: I cannot order people around, and I don’t feel comfortable living in the same house with a person who does not have the same rights I do. Having a maid could possibly weigh me with too much guilt that I begin to help the maid instead of accepting her help.
Choosing not to hire a maid will be a personal choice. However, if it were adopted by a large percentage of Saudis such a choice (might) not work for the (economic) benefit of countries which continue to export helpers. But are economic interests on the level of governments be sufficient enough reason for Saudi families to continue importing “Asian” helpers with a sound heart and conscience?
In accordance with the May 14th Bloggers Unite for Human Rights, I would like to collaborate with you all in brain storming practical plans for improving the situation of maids and drivers in Saudi Arabia. Things that a common Saudi family can do to make the life of imported helpers better while they're in Saudi, and after they return home.