My parents just bid goodbye to their 24 year-old Indonesian maid recently. I suspect it might have been a sombre and gloomy affair at the airport since my parents adored her. They probably treated her as if she was the daughter who was never around.
I, for one, was happy to see how the relationship worked out between them and perhaps even more relieved knowing that they had someone as reliable as Yumi to look after them in my absence (See photo above. Yumi with my parents, nephew and niece).
Yumi was their first domestic help and I have a strong feeling that she has created rather large shoes for the next one to fill. In a way, I think both Yumi and my parents were lucky. The same kind of luck when your blind date turns out unexpectedly to be your loving husband for the rest of your life. You know, the kind of match that is made in heaven.
Fortunately, their relationship doesn’t have to last that long. As much as they adore Yumi, I am sure they hope she will only have to look after her own family one day. Like daughters, maids should be allowed to leave home one day.
Needless to say, not everyone sees their domestic help the same way as my parents did. Or let’s just say, not everyone or every maid is as lucky when it comes to maintaining a friendly and respectful relationship. I’ve seen some dysfunctional relationships and heard of even uglier ones.
I’ve known some friends who never really approve of the idea of having domestic help. For them, most people who hire one are either lazy or they’re simply running away from their domestic responsibilities. I can agree with that to a certain extent.
Having domestic help used to be a status symbol. Only the rich could afford it and one’s wealth could almost be measured by the number of help one had. These days, anyone from the middle working class can afford to hire a maid and it has become so common that even those who don’t really need them will have one.
It would seem as if it’s trendy to have a maid these days. They’re a bit like the iPhone; too many applications which you don’t really need but it’s still good to have it around. If only people treat their maids with as much respect as they treat their iPhones as I bet most people are more willing to lend their maids to others than their RM2k++ phone.
I was guilty of having a maid when I was living in Ethiopia and Cambodia. I was unemployed then but my husband and I would have a local maid come in every weekday to help with the domestic chores. I could have easily done the housework myself but it was so cheap to hire a maid that it made more sense to be lazy. Plus, every expat living there had a maid. Some two. So, it seemed like a normal thing to do.
We were however lucky to have Atzedu, a slim middle-aged Ethiopian woman, who had a quiet dignified demeanour in her. Atzedu had remained loyal to my husband’s organisation for many years and hence, had served many families who were posted to Ethiopia under the same organisation.
My husband was rather terrified of her in the beginning because she appeared to be a stern woman who took her job too seriously. She would often remind him to lock the balcony door before leaving for work in a firm tone. It did hurt our pride to be told off by a maid but we were eventually thankful for her genuine concern for the safety of our house and properties.
Since I was not working, Atzedu became sort of a friend cum mother. Sometimes, she would attempt to bake fresh bread for us and although they were never any good, we appreciated it nevertheless. By the end of our stay in Ethiopia, we were convinced that Atzedu had taken care of and treated our properties as if they were hers. She could have easily been Cinderella incarnate.
In Cambodia, we had a younger Cambodian maid who brought her 6 year old brat to our house every time she came to work. While I appreciated how efficient and thorough Kimny was, I disliked how spoiled little Chantini was. She loved to provoke our cat. In retaliation, our cat would jump on her and she would scream in fear. This went on almost every single time she was in the house and it became an annoying game for me and I am sure for our cat as well.
Kimny did at some stage committed a faux pas which disappointed us but once we tried to deal with the situation as best as we could, I began to learn to understand how easy it was for us to judge another person without fully understanding the other person’s condition or circumstance. I was more willing and ready to forgive once I was humbled by the knowledge that my life has been more blessed than many of those who have had to serve me and yet I would be forever indebted to them.
When we finally had to leave Cambodia, Kimny persistently asked me to bring her over to Malaysia. I would love to because my husband and I miss her every single time we think about the pile of laundry we have to do or the reeking cat litter that needs to be changed. Unfortunately, we only have room for the cat in our small apartment in Kuala Lumpur.
I no longer feel guilty having a maid around, if I can afford to. Whether it’s because of pure laziness or not, I see it as a symbiotic relationship. The maid gets paid for doing an honest job and I get to spend more time doing something I like, instead of cleaning. What’s not to like about this?
The only time when it becomes wrong to have a maid is when the relationship becomes one that is based on abuse, deception, lust and greed. But if both the employer and employee manage to maintain a relationship based on mutual respect and trust, a maid can easily become part of a family; like Yumi.
If anything, we all should learn from one another and accept that we do rely on each other to make our lives better.
This was first posted here at The Malaysian Insider.