Saturday, 9 June 2012

People we trust

I witnessed a scene at the pool the other day. A bunch of small children were playing, jumping in and splashing about, with no parents to supervise them. I glanced around and noticed a few maids chatting in the shade. They were so engrossed in their conversation that none of them looked at the kids, not even once.

One of my neighbours, a woman who'd raised her own kids a while ago, but still remembers what it is like to have small children, was getting concerned. 'Look at the little one!' She pointed out. 'She stands on the edge, and keeps grabbing the tail of that inflatable dolphin her older sister is jumping on. If she falls in and bangs her head on the wall, she will drawn! Before any of those maids even get a chance to look up and check what is going on'.

Planning our trip to Doha from the UK, we kept imagining what it would be like, and one of the most popular jokes between me and Husband was the future live-in help. Everyone gets a maid there, we got told. Because it is so cheap and easy.

We imagined what it would be like. We even gave our imaginary future maid a name- Manuela. Every time i would do a chore i hated, like unloading the dishwasher, Husband would say: 'Just think! In a few months you will not have to do this! You will just say Manuela! Can you unload the dishwasher please!'

Manuela! Kids are hungry! Manuela, wash the car! The Manuela jokes became increasingly popular in our household. And, since we have arrived, I have had no doubt that, at some point, when we settle and find out more about it, we would definitely get help. But, the more i watch the maids in our compound, the more unsure I actually get. And i am not taking about problems and scary stories expat ladies like to share on local forums. And there are a lot of those! Every time I log on to one of the most popular discussion boards, i read more postings about maids. Maid is stealing from me! Maid ran away! Maid is lying! There was even one about a maid who had abused a two year old boy.

Maids are discussed like pedigree horses. They get broken down by age, price but most importantly-nationality. Phillipinas- the most popular ones in Qatar- are most expensive. Their English is better, they are more civilised, they have better personal hygiene... "Ethiopians run away, Indians constantly lie, and Phillipinas are sex mad and will end up bringing a boyfriend into your house".

You learn and read about every possible problem you might face, stories you will get fed, and things that might get stolen. But none of that turns us off. We still get help, either live in or visiting...and then, having prepared ourselves for a million and one things that could potentially go wrong with a maid in our home, we entrust them entirely with the one thing that is most precious to us all- our children.

The recent tragedy in Villagio was of course, simply sickening. 13 small children died, and 4 teachers. And, amongst all the endless questions-Why? How could this ever happen? Whose fault was it?? Was it the building design? Was it the authorities, the owners, the firemen...?... One other question kept ringing in my head. Were those teachers prepared for something like this? Were they properly trained? Having read an article in Peninsula, I felt so disturbed I needed to vent out. Things that we take for granted back home are not just the H&S standards or the fire regulations. It is also the staff we trust our children to.

They are accredited, they are checked and they are trained. What if, i thought to myself, my baby goes to a nursery and chocks on a piece of apple? No need for a big fire or an earthquake. Lets just look at something trivial. A chocking hazard. Will one of those smiley, kind Phillipino nursery teachers know how to help my baby? Will they know what to do if a child suddenly goes in an allergic shock or has an epileptic fit? Will they have the right number to dial? Will they use an initiative? Do they have the appropriate training and experience for so many things that can potentially go terribly wrong when they are left in charge of a bunch of small children all day? So, I asked on Doha mums forum. I assumed every one of us was thinking the same thing, but of course, i got told off. How dare i slam the deceased teacher.

But i was not trying to accuse anyone. I was just thinking of those maids in the compound. Smiley. Kind. Soft.

Yes, maam. Everything and anything at all- 'yes, maam'. Never arguing back, never disobeying the authority. Never daring to make their own decision whether to run from the smoke pouring out of the AC units or stay put. The soft, gentle nursery teachers, school assistants and maids...the people we put in charge of our children, every day of our expat life.

 My friend's maid was at the pool this morning. She was sent there to watch the little girl. 'It is hot maam' she told me, smiling when i said hello. She was sitting away from the pool, in the shade, earphones in her ears, listening to the music.

What if...??? I thought.


  1. I guess, as in anything else in life, it's a question of luck. Good luck, of course.
    In Peru it's very common to have live-in help. Or help that comes to your house every day but doesn't sleep over. So, I've heard lots of stories of maids stealing, hiding things... but I've heard so many others about wonderful women who carry out very hard tasks without complaining.
    A friend of mine told me once that his father used to say: if you want to know if you are welcomed in someone's house, watch how the maid treats you. If she greets you with a warm and sincere smile, this means the family likes you. Good maids can become part of a family.
    As for the maids, it's a matter of luck too, to be with a family that respects her. But that's a whole different matter I don't want to bore you with now.

  2. All staff have to be managed. Hire people with inititative, don't be afraid of their intelligence, set expectations, hold people to them. And send domestic helpers on first aid and safety courses!!! I sacked one after 1 month returning to S'pore as she didn't meet these, and I couldn't expect her to meet them. Now found 2 who are pretty streetwise, and I hope trustworthy. We have written rules with consequences if the rules are broken, and now both first aid trained. Also impt to lead by example so they know where you're coming from. All people need guidance and management.

  3. It takes a brave soul to question the actions of the recently departed, but in a sea of people supposedly trying to get to the bottom of the Vilagio tragedy, you are the only person I have heard brave enough to voice this. Knee jerk law changes about ground floor rooms etc will not save any lives in the future. Training, attentiveness and initiative are all that will. Sadly, the voice of authority said "stay put" and so they did... :(

  4. Just read on doha mums that an 8 year girl drowned at their pool, unsupervised. Terrible, and exactly what i was talking about.