My driving instructor is crazy.
He tells me stories that will probably get me into trouble one day if I don’t firmly tell him that I don’t want to know. He yells at Asian women through his window who, for a fraction of a second, veer to our side of the road. (“Eh, ni hao, wrong side!”) He claims to have downed a full bottle of vodka (which, he says, has “no smell”) and then about 6 pints of beer before he drove off to drop friends home. He also claims he fought with a police man and beat him up (“I took hat off an throw it on tree. Yaaa. Very angry. He told you go to jail you.”) He hasn’t drunk in seven years because his wife hasn’t been out of the country for that long.
But perhaps the most disturbing thing about him is what came through in one of our conversations during one lesson. We were just heading out of my apartment building and he asks me if “that really fat woman” was my housemaid. I tell him no, she’s not, offended that he found fat funny. He says, “Good otherwise she box you and do no work. You will be scared to tell her what to do.” I was alarmed enough to not look at the side mirrors when I changed lanes.
He asked me what my help was like and I told him she was small and pretty quiet. So he says, “Ah, that’s good. Then you can beat her and make her do work.” I thought he was joking but he went on for a bit after that and I realised he was dead serious.
I went home that day and asked my help if it was true that Omanis beat their domestic help up to get work done. She said a lot of them do. And a lot of them don’t. But it isn’t unheard of.
It was sad day for me that day. A few days later, I asked a woman at my office if she had had an experience like that because before she found work here, she used to be a housemaid. She said she had been beaten, starved, refused phone calls and sometimes even water and treatment when the family believed they needed to punish a misdemeanour.
When she saw I was distressed, she said, “Don’t worry. We got our own back. We spat in the food, we beat the children when their parents weren’t watching, we stole money because they never know how much money they keep. We even brought in men to the house every once in a while. Local calls were not documented so we made lots of calls to friends.” While I liked their spirit, I was appalled at some things like beating the children and bringing men into the house when their employer was out. Imagine the kind of trouble she would get into if he decided to have his fun, tie her up and make away with things in the house. And the children, I have no idea how to react to that.
But I remember now that it’s not just the Omanis or Arabs who beat their domestic help up. Nagu, my deceased help in India, bless her soul, had a Punjabi employer who used to beat her up. My various colleagues back in India used to tell me stories of neighbours, friends (yes), acquaintances all beating their help up to punish or get their work done.
What is it that you achieve with a beating that you can’t by words? A scolding almost always works.
It breaks my heart to imagine what these women go through after having left loved ones back home to come here and work for as little as USD115 or thereabouts which is minimum wage that the Indian government has set for domestic workers in the Middle East.
Apparently, Sri Lankans, Filipinas and Indonesians come for even less.