Wednesday, April 19, 2006

They steal your underwear, too

Back here in Amman, it's difficult to escape the West Ammani soap opera of life with the help. Just yesterday, Samer told me he's already getting tired of hearing about how hard women have it here managing their maids and what misery they put them through.

Perhaps he forgot what a drama it is and how whenever there are a handful of middle-aged Jordanian women its usually the centerpiece topic. Nevermind that their maids are likely hanging out in the room next to them watching their children, cleaning up their crap, cooking and serving food--and probably hearing every word their "Madames" say.

And Samer did happen to be along with us the other day when we went to visit a good friend of mine who was having an Easter party for her son. Her son's pre-school classmates and moms were there and Samer (and I, for that matter) stuck out like a sore thumb. The visitors were all decked out in their finest stilettos and made up to the nines. Hairsprayed to bouffant refinement. Everyone sat rapt as one woman spoke about how she is "60% certain that my maid accepted money for sex" and how her maid is "sick--she pulls her hair out." To that, I said, "Haram, she's probably depressed." And miserable, no doubt, to be living with such a jewel of a boss.

One more typical conversation among the fabled elites which, I have to say, are part of the world I was happy to escape when we bailed for Seattle.

Samer's mom and dad have recently employed a lovely Filipino couple in their house. On the first day I met them, their eyes lit up as they told me about their daughter who is turning 8 in a few weeks. They're planning to call her for her birthday and, listening to them tell me, their expressions and excitement made it obvious she's the joy of their life.

Even thinking about being far from Issy for more than a week brings tears to my eyes (even though he is a twerp), and I had a similar reaction hearing them talk about their daughter and attempting to imagine what it must be like for them to think about being away for two years. So last night when Samer and I came home from dinner, waking Issy up with a crash of the door, and I ran into John carrying my crying baby--and not his--my heart nearly broke.


At 2:09 PM, Anonymous Talasim said...


At 2:12 PM, Blogger Joe Kalis said...

Great blog and I totally agree with your post about the snobbishness of "elite" Jordanians and their maltreatment towards housekeepers which is quite common in Amman.

At 3:23 PM, Blogger Natalia said...

The maid culture in Jordan really boggles my mind.

I had a hilarious episode happen to me in Amman last summer. I was chilling at my boyfriend's parents' house, by myself. Everyone was out, the boyfriend was at the barber's, the dad was ona business, trip, the mom at work.

The phone rang, and I picked it up and said hello, at which point, the lady started speaking Arabic. So I said, in my American South/Eastern European mixed accent that I'm sorry, I don't speak Arabic, could she repeat it in English, please?

The lady launched into a tirade about how I should really just put "Madame" on the phone and stop wasting her time. She thought I was a maid. She was incredibly rude. I saw her a few weeks later, she stopped by the house, and she was all smiles, such a nice person, couldn't wait to meet the famed American/Ukrainian girlfriend. She had NO IDEA that it was me whom she chewed out on the phone a while back.

A rich, bored hypocrite if I ever saw one. Maids are basically sub-human to a person like that.

At 5:18 PM, Blogger Linda said...

you know its very ineteresting because i constntly hear about this from my relatives who visit jordan and tell us what they see.

its sad because if you think about it, the same goes for hispanics who recently immigrate here illegally and are hired by many well to do families to raise their children or keep their house. and the treatment is just as bad. makes me sick actually. i dont know if i can sit around and have someone clean my house for a dirt cheap amount of money. i mean if its a service or company where this is apersonas career and they get paid what they are deserved than i understand. but its just so sad how we exploit peoples labor just because they are in desperate need of work.

At 11:06 PM, Anonymous kinzi said...

Oh yes, this is why I hang out with the youth at JP instead of with my peers. Can't stand the stiletto, boufant, Dune's Club mindset.

A couple of ambassador wives I know make a point of visiting wealthy women who mistreated their helpers. They find out from their own employees who is being beaten, etc. then and let the 'madames' know that they are aware of the problem. Mistreatment stops.

Natalia, I have also been mistaken for a maid on the phone and treated badly.

I had a British/Indian friend, married to an American, who was always mistaken for a Sri Lankiyya. When we went out, I dressed down and she dressed up, then I carried all her bags just to blow people away. She had been slapped by a taxi driver, pushed down the stars by a bunch of teenage boys, and even yelled at by an 'elite' at Mac Donalds for 'stealing her madames husband'.

At 12:35 AM, Blogger salam said...

I am dying to get a maid because It is very difficult for me to handle the house,the two kids and the job al at once.Esecially since next year my daughtr will be bringing home homeworks and will need help studying so thta's an extra chore.However,i am putting it off as much as I can.I fear I might turn into one of these ladies we are talking about.I fear my kids would turn into the brats I see around Amman.There was a ten year old girl(or so)in jungle bungle last summer who wanted to go play on the jumping castle,when she was asked to take her shoes off she stretched her leg to the filipina girl and without a word the maid starting taking the girls shoes off.What!!!if this was my kid..too lazy to kneel down and undo her shoes and take them off herself,I don't know what would I have done.Where were her parents when they aw her turn into the brat she was?probably out partying..
but please Amanda and Kinzi,don't bash stilettos ,,they're my favorite,and they don't necessarily reflect a misfunctioning character!

At 3:45 AM, Anonymous kinzi said...

Salam!! So sorry! do you wear stilettos? You just don't exude the 'stiletto attitude'...It they didn't make me 6'2", I might wear them - maybe I have stiletto envy? No, I actually finished with them in my 20s after back problems...and I can't chase my kids in them.

Hey, and you will do fine with a house helper! The very fact you fear rather than embrace, the attitude therein is the key. You need help, you work too hard, and you are so devoted to your kids it just would never be what you fear. In fact, it will free you to spend the time WITH them, rather then AROUND them. Love ya!

At 8:00 AM, Anonymous Luai said...

I really really hope the maids use their toothbrushes to clean the toliets. :-)

I have to admit that one of my aunts has a maid. That is something I could never do myself though....maybe because they are cheap it is widespread in Jordan. The girl is treated just like one of the family members...and I suspect my cousins are jealous of her. The cleaning ladies that come to clean the houses have it so easy at my aunts. They clean before and after the maid comes as well as alongside her. You really have to respect how hard they work. I mean for a few dollars getting on your hands and knees scrubbing the carpet. It makes me sore thinking about it.

Does anyone know what happened in the case regarding the maid being supposedly pushed out a second story window/balcony? Last I heard there were witnesses that confirmed that "madam' pushed her? the poor maid was paralyzed.

At 3:49 AM, Blogger Lina said...

Hmmmm... great post and comments! I don't know how I missed it when you first posted it! I shared my thoughts on the issue of domestic workers earlier today..

It's a whole culture.. not just in West Amman, and I don't know what it would take for people to start looking at it differently.

Read Bassem's post too, it's great!

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