May 29, 2006

The Ugly Side; Maid in Lebanon

The new maid has arrived! It cost me an arm and a leg, but that was my own fault; I did not have time to ‘order’ one from the Philippines, I needed her instantly.

And instantly, you can get, but the price goes up. Where do this ‘instant’ maids come from, you may wonder? Well, those are the ‘rejects’, i.e. maids that were employed in houses, but were then rejected by the ‘Madam’, as the owner of a maid is called here, for whatever reasons. I don’t mind a ‘reject’, because the ‘reject’ label tells you about the employer, rather than the employee.
This country has many positives, but if you want to see some of its uglier sides, go ask the maids. The way these ladies get treated is incredibly demeaning. There's even a documentary that highlights this. More on their situation here. It's modern-day slavery.

The new lady that I have now, came to Lebanon three months ago. She’s in her early thirties, has three children, and came here on a three year contract. The fact that she is willing to leave her children for three years (!) should tell you that this lady is serious about working.
So she got to work for a couple that owns a hotel (won’t name any names) in town. They ate in the hotel, but forgot to feed the maid. So she went hungry. She was not allowed out of the house, did not have days off, so worked 7 days a week, and in the end was called a ‘whore’, by the ‘madam’. She was finally dumped back in the office, and rejected. This is good for me, because now she got to work for me, and she is fine.

Now how anyone would dare call a grown-up woman, a mother of three, who comes all the way from the Philippines to work here, a whore, is totally beyond my comprehension. I would have gone after the bitch with a knife. The Pilipino before her was deported after being accused of stealing $700; charges that I doubt. Very often, when the contract of a maid is about to end, they deport the maid, so they do not have to pay her final salary. 10 floors down is a Phillipino who has not been paid for 3 months, and three buildings down the street there is an employer who owes his Phillipino $3000 in salary.
The situation for maids in this country is sad. Just google ‘maid in Lebanon’, and you won’t believe what you read. They get treated like slaves, beaten, raped, mistreated, abused, thrown of balconies, verbally insulted and otherwise treated incorrectly.

The Phillipinoes have a sweet revenge though; they talk. The maids know what goes on in each household. They do the laundry, so they know who’s been sleeping with whom. They overhear the conversations, so they know when there are money problems. They hear the fights at night, because they sleep in the house. They pay attention to the telephone conversations of ‘Madam’, and catch up on all the local gossip. They know when the bank calls for their money. They clean up, and know what is in every drawer and closet of the house, so whatever sex toys ‘Mister’ may be hiding, or medications ‘Madam’ is taking for fungus infections, they know it.

And this is how I know what goes on in this neighborhood. Because the maids come over in the afternoon (well, the ones that are allowed out of the house, that is), and have tea with my maid, and then the stories flow. They tell me, because I am considered a ‘foreigner’, i.e. non-Lebanese. I know rather painful stuff of about 75% of the households in my building. I have heard stories about people in the neighborhood that would want to make them crawl under a stone of shame.

On the surface, I live in a very nice and decent neighborhood. Upper middle class, mixed religions, all very respectable people with good jobs, and successful children.
But under all that, are other stories. I know who cannot pay the school fees anymore. I know who’s got a mistress, and I know who’s screwing (or trying to) around on her husband. I know who’s $20,000 in debts, and is about to be evicted. I know of the fights between two sisters in-law, and the problem with the inheritance (or rather, the absence of one). I know why one of their daughters married this guy (she was ‘damaged goods’ as they call a non-virgin in Lebanon), and why the son had to ‘go' to the US (Lebanese justice department is on his heels for massive fraud), and that he is currently ‘down and out’ in Miami. I take a perverse pleasure, every time I see her, to ask; “So how’s your son doing in Miami?” “Oh, he’s doing so well. They adore him there. He’s never coming back, he says,” is the reply. Yeah, I bet. He’d be arrested at the border, and end up in jail. Besides, he can't afford the plane ticket from what I hear.

And that is their sweet revenge. So for anyone out there in Beirut with a maid that they mistreat; be careful, somewhere in your neighborhoods there is someone who knows every ugly detail in your household.

13 comments:

Rasheed's World said...

Very interesting but not surprising that the maids know all of the gossip.
Maids are treated worse here in Saudi Arabia. Often sexually molested by the men in the homes they work in. One Filipina maid recently cut the penis off of her sleazy sponsor when he tried to force himself on her. Serves him right!
It's just so frustrating to see so many maids treated like slaves and the Saudi government doesn't do anything to help them. I just wish all ofthe maids went on strike for a week, and you would see a desperate nation come screeching to a halt!

Sharida Mohamedjoesoef said...

Hi Sietske,

Quite right you are. I have been visiting Lebanon ever since 1993, staying with friends, alternatively in Baabda en Haret Hreik. Being of Indian descent myself, it almost becomes a personal matter. Did you ever talk to Father Vlught? He is running a centre for maids who need to catch the breath, maids who need a break from it all.
Please contact me at s.mohamedjoesoef@planet.nl or at my work press agency novum nieuws in Amsterdam: s.mohamedjoesoef@zoomin.tv

Anonymous said...

Very stupid article. Get a life! Please write something more interesting and more beneficial....

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous,
I do believe your comment is unnecessary; Sietske is basically laying down the facts.
Its true that the MAJORITY of maids are treated wrongfully and its sad that there isnt much going on to stop this. Hopefully the new generation has something to say about it. I already see some improvements.

Sietske,
I love your blogs. I am of lebanese descent and live abroad, in canada.
Many stories hit home. They are very enjoyable to read!
keep them coming :D

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M. f.V. said...

Dear Sietske,

I am a blogger too in Lebanon, I can only agree with your words. I was very happy to find your writings as they convinced me that I see "well" what's going on here, in Beirut.

I love the part when the son "is doing fine" in Miami :D

Take care and it was a pleasure meeting you!

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Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting blog..Hope all Lebanese employer would read this.I am a filipina maid here in lebanon too and I experienced some horrible things here because of my past emp[lyer!tThanks God I was able to change them!!

Sally said...

I don't know why people treat others like animals, i am Kenyan working as a maid. i knew it would not be easy but i didn't expect this. i am not allowed to speak with anyone even guests or shake their hands, i call home once per month am not allowed to have a phone. one time my madam told me tha is very sure there are so many cockroaches in my home.'
i eat after everybody some times 5.00pm.i work till my body is no more. but my madam is always complaining. i do gardening and cut the fence wash cars n everything else in the house cleaning, cooking, ironing n there is always come here do this, stand here. i was given this PC by the son of my boss n his wife,they were very good with me and his wife gave me so many cooking lessons, but they left to the states. they treated me like a friend. the life of a maid is not easy. even for food my madam tells me, 'dont eat this its for us' i have my own plastic cup that i use for tea/coffee or water. but i endure it all i have a son my dream is to be an accountant. i qualify for ACCA n i study accounting on internet free notes n tests by night. everyday i pray God for the safety of other maids n i Pray for my employer to. some people gain strength by picking on others i guess it makes them feel superior. but you and I know that only God is Mighty. i have 14 months left to go back home. and am happy to share my story on this blog.

Sally said...

I don't know why people treat others like animals, i am Kenyan working as a maid. i knew it would not be easy but i didn't expect this. i am not allowed to speak with anyone even guests or shake their hands, i call home once per month am not allowed to have a phone. one time my madam told me that she sure there are so many cockroaches in my home.'
i eat after everybody some times 5.00pm.i work till my body is no more. but my madam is always complaining. i do gardening and cut the fence wash cars n everything else in the house cleaning, cooking, ironing n there is always come here do this, stand here.
i was given this PC by the son of my boss n his wife,they were very good with me and his wife gave me so many cooking lessons, they left to the states.they treated me like a friend. life of a maid is not easy one. even for food my madam tells me, 'dont eat this its for us' i have my own plastic cup that i use for tea/coffee or water. but i endure it all i have a son my dream is to be an accountant. i qualify for ACCA n i study accounting on internet free notes n tests by night. everyday i pray God for the safety of other maids n i Pray for my employer to. some people gain strength by picking on others i guess it makes them feel superior. but you and I know that only God is Mighty. i have 14 months left to go back home. and am happy to share my story on this blog.

Fatin said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I am listening.

Fatin said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I am listening.

Fatin said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I am listening.