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Maid Anxiety

I’m anxious today.

Well, actually, I’m anxious a lot of the time, in a kind of anticipatory free-floating sort of way–I like to have a sort of stockpile of anxiety on hand, ready to whip out at the slightest provocation, but this morning, my anxiety is pegged to a specific event.

The housekeeper is coming. And actually, even that word makes me anxious. Should I call her the housekeeper? Or the maid? Or the cleaner? Or should I go seriously third-world and call her “the girl,” despite the fact that she’s probably about 30.

I’ve never had a cleaning person before (there, that’s decided: she’s the “cleaning person”). Never in my adult life. My mom never had “help,” although she grew up with live-in help. My grandmother’s idea of “housekeeping” was calling the butcher in the morning to set aside veal cutlets for her, which may explain why when my mom first started living on her own, things like cooking an egg or boiling noodles were slightly unclear.  When we were growing up, we lived in a house with a laundry chute, and mom developed her own strategy for teaching us to pick up after ourselves.  Anything of ours that hadn’t been put away where it belonged she simply tossed into the chute. That meant that to find your algebra book, or tennis racquet, or wallet, or whatever it was, you had to go into the basement and pick through the dirty clothes pile to find your stuff.  Genius, right?

Out here in Arabia, though, labor is cheap. Really cheap. So cheap you practically can’t afford not to have help. Labor has been devalued to the point that sometimes the position of laborers borders on indentured servitude.  Many day laborers, mostly men, live in an enclave (we won’t call it a labor camp) outside the city–rows of dusty apartments inhabited by the South Asian and Pakistani immigrants who come here to work.  The women who come here to work–Filipinas, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis–often get positions as live-in housekeepers or nannies, and the apartments in our buildings are all designed, in fact, with maid’s rooms.

Here’s the room:

These spacious accommodations come with an “en suite” bathroom, which is so small that you could probably rinse your feet in the shower, brush your teeth, and take a pee all at the same time. We have friends in this building with live-in help, and while they wish they could offer more spacious accommodations, they all report that their “help” claims to be happy to have a private air-conditioned room with a private bathroom. Like I said. Labor is cheap here and accommodations in other places aren’t even as “nice” as these.

My person, however, is only coming once a week, on Sunday afternoons.  She’s from Sri Lanka and lives here with some number of relatives; the money she earns from housekeeping gets sent back home to support her 12 year old son. I know that she needs the work and yet I still have…I think it’s basic “white guilt.” I mean, who am I to hire someone to clean my bathrooms for me? Why the hell can’t I do it myself?

Well…well…because–okay, here it is, my assertion of first-world privilege: I just want someone else to do it, dammit, and for the first time in my life, I can afford that luxury. Plus I hate mopping the floor and our entire apartment is tiled in some kind of dreadful faux-marble surface that requires a great deal of mopping. And vacuuming.  There’s just a lot of general swabbing that needs to happen and I’m tired of it. Okay? Okay?

Yes. I’m a little anxious about it all. I’m worried that my cleaning products aren’t up to snuff. I’m worried about what I can ask her to do or not to do. Is it okay to ask her to wash the dishes in the sink from breakfast (we don’t have a dishwasher yet, or rather, I have been the dishwashwer and today, I guess she will be the dishwasher). What about laundry? Can I ask her to change the sheets on our bed? What if I ask her to do our bed but not the boys’ bunkbeds, does that seem fair? After all, changing the sheets on a bunkbed qualifies as an aerobic activity and I don’t want to inflict such an aggravation on this woman. Will that make up for the fact that our apartment is a mess? Now I understand that whole “cleaning up for the maid” syndrome because I’ve just suffered through it–although our apartment will have some clearly defined “no fly” zones:  Husband’s desk,  the mound of cords and cables in the TV room (yes, an apartment with a TV room that has a door that shuts when the wii gets too loud. Be still my beating heart), the lego projects/piles.

On second thought, I’m going to do the breakfast dishes.  Which means I don’t have any more time to write. She’s going to be here in an hour.

What’s the right outfit to wear for the first time you meet the help?

 

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Continue Reading · on October 2, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Politics, UAE

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