Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Maid set in her ways

Important to lay down the rules from the start.

I AM dismayed reading stories in the papers about maids allegedly being beaten or raped by their employers and I simply cannot fathom how some folks can be so cruel. I grew up with domestic helpers almost all my life, and my family always treated them with respect.

Our first (and longest) live-in maid Rose, took care of us for many years and was so close to us, that even after leaving our em-ployment to remarry, we still treat her like our own relative and have kept in touch despite the years and distance between us. As for the rest, we never had squabbles or problems — and all of them left on good terms to return for good to their respective country.

I have heard horror stories on maids running away, stealing and doing the nasty to their employers children; but having such good experience with previous maids working for my family, I was not too worried about hiring my first stay-in maid. In fact, I was confident that things were going to go quite smoothly.

Sensing my aloofness in this matter, my manager persuaded me to be careful nonetheless. So off I went to Surabaya to personally handpick the woman who would not just help manage my household, but to look after the love of my life, Isobel. After screening the best based on their so-called experience and some gut instinct, I short-listed two and submitted my request to the Maids Agency. Two months later, I picked up bibik from the agency and took her home.

That was almost three years ago. A week ago, I had to let her go.

Things started out fine. The agency did not allow her to use her headscarf and took away her praying mat, so I bought her a blacktudung to wear when we went out, as well as a mat, a copy of the Quran and prayer beads.

I also allowed her to fast and to perform her daily prayers five times a day. Apparently, some employers don’t allow their maids to practise their religious beliefs but despite not sharing the same faith as her (then), I welcomed her spiritual obligations with an open heart thinking that her staunch beliefs were proof of a good personality and an honest heart.

To cut a long story short, we had some hiccups along the way but I ignored them because I was a single working mother and chose to close one eye to the little mistakes she made.

When I eventually did start probing and correcting her gently, she would answer back or show a grim face and worst of all, repeat the mistake. Her being older than me made it more difficult. I grew up learning to respect my elders, so I was not used to scolding her despite the fact that she was under my employment.

I blame myself because I made the mistake of not really training her. Nor did I lay down any rules for her from the beginning. I was pretty lenient with her because she arrived at a time when I was super busy with work and had some daunting personal matters to address. So after a few months when I did have time to assess her work and tried to undo what she was already accustomed to doing, it was difficult and her work performance as well as her attitude started changing.

Thank goodness she was kind with my little girl but quite often I would catch her feeding her instant noodles when I told her specifically to feed her vegetable soup or something healthier. And Isobel started learning bad habits like eating in front of the television instead of on her highchair table because the maid wanted to watch her Indonesian drama while feeding her. The last straw was when she used our petty cash to buy Isobel toys and candy for both of them when I gave clear instructions not to do it again.

Finally, one day after another row with the husband and her — she did her usual “I want to go home speech”. On normal occasions, I’d persuade her to change her mind.

This time around, I bought her a ticket for a flight out that night itself and paid what I owed her. She was taken aback. When we went through her baggage prior to her flying off, we were shocked to find some stuff that were missing — things that I would have given her anyway had she only asked!

She even took drain plugs from our home and old kettles and my undergarments. I was bewildered and had to tell her gently that she has a 30kg limit and there was no way she could take all (including an old Astro dish) back!

I’ve learnt my mistake.

Now that I am in the midst of applying for a new helper, I have already prepared a schedule and some notes for her to adhere to. I think if I’m firm with her from the beginning and explain why I want things done the way I want it to be, it will be easier for everyone. I plan to take at least two weeks to train her diligently and God-willing, it’ll be better this time.

I really do hope the authorities get their act together soon so I can get a maid before I start work again. I’m crossing my fingers.

Daphne believes that a firm approach and not a firm hand is the way to go in training your domestic helper. E-mail your thoughts to her at daphneiking6@gmail.com or tweet her @daphCLPT

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