Sunday, July 05, 2009

Undercover as a Saudi Maid


A Saudi journalist went for an undercover assignment as a 'Saudi' maid.

Note from a blogger: Ministry of Labor made a proposal allowing Saudi women to work under very specific arrangements and guidelines as “home arranger”. The term ‘maid’ was abandoned in this case because it wasn’t ‘dignified’ enough when applied to the domestic activities of a Saudi woman.

I will not dare to imagine to have a local Emirati woman as a maid or "home arranger".


Saudi housemaids: Putting concept to test


JEDDAH – Resolved to go through with it, I had a last minute meeting with my editor-in-chief to discuss what would happen should anything untoward befall me, and he kindly responded by saying he would gladly publish my obituary on the first inside page of the next issue of Roaa magazine!
I had already approached an employment agency who found me a position, and having equipped myself with a tiny hidden camera and audio recorders mascarading as music devices I contacted the agency to obtain the address of my new workplace. They refused to give it to me, however, saying that instead the agency would take me there by car. The nervous refusal to go into any details disturbed me slightly. I went to the agency’s office and waited, and eventually a Saudi driver was arranged to take me to the unknown destination. As I set off with my photographer colleague Hayat secretly in tow I tried to get as much information from the driver as possible concerning the experiences of girls who had previously worked for the agency. His responses came with a sardonic smile.

Body search
We arrived at the house, with Hayat slyly managing to take photographs from behind a tree as I left the car and made my way in, and then I was taken into the house.
I was greeted by the wife of the household with a quick body search which she said was necessary in case I was carrying a mobile telephone with a camera, and I thanked the fact that I had hidden my mobile in one of the trainers I was wearing. The audio recorder was hidden in the other. My camera, which was smaller than my little finger, was hidden in my hair.
My sense of apprehension rocketed as she conducted the search, so much so that I thought my racing heartbeats might even give me away! Fortunately, however, she didn’t notice and continued her police-style investigation with a series of questions.
When that finally came to an end she proceeded to inform me of the dress-code and other instructions, such as it being forbidden for me to talk to her husband or her sons, and that any request from them would come through her on their behalf or written on paper.

Saudi suspicion
I was told I would have to clean the kitchen and its utensils three times a day, and that I shouldn’t expect any leniency on account of my being a Saudi, but quite the contrary, that being a Saudi meant I should be more aware of the customs and traditions of our society.
I entered the kitchen to inspect my new world, and with a force I didn’t know I had in me I did the washing up in no time. A few minutes later I received the order to start making lunch and a cake, as the man of the house by all accounts had a sweet tooth.
At that moment my memory deserted me, and couldn’t recall how to make even the simplest of things, so I started chopping vegetables instead, whereupon the wife warned me to wash my hands and chop them carefully and in accordance with her instructions I managed to use up three-thirds of the vegetables in the chopping process, as the top bits alone were deemed enough by the wife.
The wife was ceaseless in her chidings whenever I put something where it did not belong, but I put up with it in silence. Then the wife started to try and soften me up: “If you come across anything that might be of embarrassment while I’m out of the house,” she said, winking in the direction of her husband, “tell me straightaway and I’ll reward you for it.”
I suddenly felt a bit scared, but I pretended I had no idea of what she might be talking about. Once she left the house I took some photographs.
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.
When their mother returned she saw the work I had done and we got to chatting until she became more relaxed, so I started trying to find out about previous housemaids that had worked for her. She described that some of them as “completely without morals”, and said she knew her husband had had relationships with most of them. She also told me how she would get her revenge by being cruel to them until they either fled or she kicked them out.

Extra services
When I asked her the reason for husband’s behavior her mood changed and she frowned, saying sharply: “Get back to your work! I don’t have time to talk to you!”
The wife went out of the house again and left me with her child and her 20-year-old daughter, who was always busy with nothing, forever talking on her mobile telephone. She went back to her room continuing her conversation.
As I went about my business in the house I came across the husband coming in the door, and as soon as he saw me heading back to the kitchen he called me, so I turned back to him in silence. My silence seemed to perturb him, and he started talking to me.
The husband asked me what my real name was and if I was really a Saudi, saying he wanted to hear my life story. He said he could find me someone to take care of me in exchange for certain services not part of my remit as a housemaid, and when I asked him what those services might entail he said things like working as a masseuse, which he said could earn me a lot of extra money. He assured me he would only do such a thing especially for me, and asked it be kept between us. He then asked me to first take off my veil so he could see me, but I refused and ran off to the kitchen.

Escape
At this point I really needed to escape for a bit, so I went to the bathroom and got out my mobile telephone and saw I had had a call from my editor-in-chief. I called him back and he gave me some pointers for the article.
As I went about the cleaning, I pondered on previous articles I had written on the subject of housemaids and the new light through which I was seeing the subject following my own first hand experience.
I continued with my work by making the cake and preparing to receive guests, but when the wife returned and found her husband home she started having a go at me for being in the kitchen in front of him.
When I replied that I was only acting under her orders to get everything ready for her friends she calmed down a bit, but she was still not completely convinced when she left.
After a couple of more hours in the kitchen and a further hour of cleaning in the bathroom I saw my recorder had run out of battery, and I decided I had done enough. I left the house and ran to Hayat who had been waiting for me in her car, and I was overcome with a sense of relief just to be out of the house.
And as we drove away I 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?
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 and learning to feel for them and appreciate them as people. – Roaa/SG

HOUSEMAIDS’ EXPERIENCES
While at the employment agency that found Rozana work as a housemaid, her colleague Hayat took the opportunity to talk to some of the girls seeking work there.
One girl, “Samiya”, said she had previously found unofficial work at a school as a cleaner after the death of her father put her family in dire straits. “But they didn’t pay me my money,” Samiya said, “so when it was suggested to me that I come to the agency which would guarantee me payment at twice the amount I brought my certificates and found work which lasted four months. I personally feel no shame as it’s honorable work, but some of the treatment I get tears me up inside.”
“Alya” completed secondary school and was employed by a foreign man who she had met through her former job as a hospital worker.
“I stayed with him and his family for two years and eight months,” Alya said.
“They gave me twice my previous pay and was happy working for him and his family the whole time. When he left the country he told me about this agency so I came here, but there’s a difference in the way that family treated me and the way many Saudi families make me feel ashamed and humiliated.”

SCHOLARS’ VIEWS

Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al-Obeikan says it is permissible for a Saudi woman to work as a housemaid given that women in the time of the Prophet worked in houses. There must, however, 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.
Sheikh Hassan Al-Shamrani dislikes the word “housemaid” and prefers the use of “home arranger” to respect a woman’s dignity. “I support Saudi women working as housemaids,” Al-Shamrani says, “but only if she is in desperate need of the work and can find no other… She must not mix with male members of the household and must spend the night in her own house, but most importantly she must not abandon her hijab and her modesty. If any of those conditions fail to be fulfilled, then it would be better for her to not work.”
The Grand Mufti of the Kingdom has warned Saudi women against working as housemaids.

VIEW OF A HOUSEWIFE

Housewife Areej Ali is forthright in her views: “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.”

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