Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Got it Maid

So like many people in Jakarta, my maid left to "pulang kampung" for the Idul Fitri holiday. She left on the 15th of September and didn't return until yesterday. I feared that she would not return and that I would have to once again jump through flaming hoops in order to find a new maid. This coupled with a story I read that proclaimed that 25% of all domestic workers (maids, nannies, drivers) don't return after the end of Ramadan made me start to worry. They are often unable to come back because of family issues or lack of funds. Could you imagine me, a grown man, doing my own dishes and laundry? I did do many of these domestic chores while my maid was away without thinking about it. Laundry (especially ironing) is high on my list of things I don't like to do so there was quite a lot of ironing to do when she did return. She didn't reply to any of our text messages or calls and then suddenly appeared at our house 2 days ago profusely apologizing and hoping that her job was still available. I didn't let on how happy I was to see her and told her that she could indeed continue to work for us.

Even with my upbringing and years of doing chores for myself, I actually took my maid for granted for a little while. It is not uncommon to hear people complaining about their maids or drivers in this town. It sounds extremely arrogant but really it isn't much different than complaining about a bus driver or a bad waitress. I would love for one of my friends from back home to eavesdrop on one of these conversations and be appalled by the complaints of improperly cooked food, missing socks, poorly mopped floors or how she never cleans the toilet without being asked. I'm sure that they would have great empathy while walking around with baby puke stains on their shirts because they haven't had time to do the laundry and need to get dinner cooked first.

Despite having somebody do your dirty work for you, there are still moments of frustration. My most memorable was years ago when I bought an electronic coffee grinder only to have my maid diligently wash the whole thing after I had used it once. This pretty much destroyed the grinder and ended up being the first and last time I used it. Luckily, she unplugged it before washing it. I tried very hard to hide my disappointment and told her it was OK. She begged me not to fire her and I explained that I would not fire her for something like that. She was shocked and confused I think. Over the years, many people have told me that maids like working for expats because they do outlandish things such as give them national holidays off, increase their salaries and let them do whatever they want at night. I used to get very confused when I first moved here and my maid would ask me if she could go outside and hang out with her friends in front of the house. When I told her she didn't have to ask, she told me I was a very nice man.

The events of the last couple of weeks have been a real wake up call for me. I'm going to give my maid a big hug when I get home tonight and tell her I appreciate her. On second thought, maybe I won't do that because it could come across the wrong way. Going against the advice given to me, I gave her a Ramadan bonus (which is customary) and paid her whole month's salary despite her being gone for almost 3 weeks. People have warned me that if I am too nice that she will stop doing a good job with cleaning because she'll think I'm a pushover. I'm willing to take that risk if it means that I don't ever have to do ironing as long as I live.

Sorry it took me so long to write on here but I've been busy doing chores. I promise to write more often in the future.

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