Arab Women and Domestic Cleaners
By Abdul Latif Hourani
Last month I was in the US on a short visit, I met some of my American friends, and some of my Arab friends who live in the US.
My friend Robert and his wife did not let me stay in a hotel and insisted that I stay with them in their 3 bedroom villa in a guarded luxurious compound in Los Angeles-Santa Monica. Robert and His wife have a 12 Year old son.
Their house was clean and tidy at all times. On my first day when I arrived to their house, they decided to do a BBQ in their garden. I offered to help his wife with making the salad or whatever while Robert was preparing the fire, I asked her, where is your maid? Surprisingly she said, “I never had one”. Through the discussion, I found out that his wife is a working lady, with a very busy daily schedule that starts early mornings. The family is considered to be a rich family and can easily afford a maid. My Arab friends living in the US as well have no domestic help, this made me think and compare.
Personally, and being one of four children myself, I was raised in a house where we always had a maid. My parents are a working couple, My mom was a teacher back then, I understood why my mom needed to have a maid and it is justified especially with her being allergic to chemicals and cleaning detergents, however now that I am a grown up I don’t totally support the Idea .
I can understand the need for a full time maid, for a large family who can afford to accommodate a living in maid, living in a Villa or a 4 bedroom apartment with working parents and at least 2 children. I can understand the need for a maid to assist an elderly couple, whose health and physical ability does not able them to look after house cleanliness. I also can understand getting a maid on a part time basis from time to time to assist organizing and doing a major cleaning activities; I do that myself.
But what I can’t understand, is why a young newlywed wife in her 20’s or early 30’s, with no children yet, who lives with her husband only, in a one or two bedroom apartment needs a full time maid? Couples who are just starting to build a family and their financials most probably are middle-class or less.
In-fact, funny enough, it happened to me in one occasion several years ago, some friends introduced me to a lady for the purpose of marriage, as we spoke, she shocked me with her preconditions and demands for her to accept me as a future husband; one of these preconditions was that she wanted a maid from day one, because she doesn’t like house work, and is not ready to cook or clean her own home. Of course, you can tell that that potential relationship ended on that same day. That lady was in her late 20’s and held a master’s degree and is supposedly well educated.
When you think about it, is the real reason and I am sorry to say is simply laziness, but it is true, and it is well entrenched or habituated in our culture. In general, many Arabs are becoming lazy in many aspects, and this is reflecting on our children’s attitude and behavior, copying us as grownups.
Laziness is obvious in our lifestyles in general, the ratio of obesity in the Arab World is considered high, the fact that many times we can’t even get a glass of water to drink and call out for someone else to get it for us is troubling. The fact that out of the few people you see in the morning jogging along the side of the roads while driving to work, Arabs make a very small percentage out of that. Why we need to drive to work instead of walk or cycle, of why we take the elevators or escalators instead of stairs, are all signs of laziness. The fact that most of us wake up late on the weekends, while mostly non Arabs are on the beach or doing some sort of sports or family activity from the early morning. We spend our free time in shisha coffee shops and playing cards rather than being active. The fact that in Europe women as old as 80 years ride bicycles to shops or as a means of transport and enjoy healthier bodies and abilities at such age, while many Arab women consider it a shameful to do so, or are physically not able to exercise since their bodies cannot cope with it.
Ironically, some women want a maid only out of Jealousy, because her husband’s sister or her best friend or whomever has a maid, it became a lifestyle and prestige issue rather than a need.
Roberts’ wife who is in her mid-forties, amazed me with the amount of energy she exhausts on her daily routine, she wakes up early even on the weekends, go for a Jog or a hike in a nearby forest or a quick swim at least 3 times a week, showers, prepare breakfast for all, prepare her son for whatever school, sports activities, music class etc. that he needs to attend, and follows up all his training and studies. To top it off she also attends to her husband’s needs, cooks, do the laundry; Robert & herself jointly share work on house hold chores, but in addition to all the above, she also has a full time job.
She did admit that sometimes, she gets help from a baby sitter if needed to go out with her husband at night and a part time cleaner per hour whenever they have a party at home or so. This makes sense to me. She is not a superwoman after all.
The majority of Western women have no maids; it’s just not in their culture. They teach their children to do it yourself, and be responsible, if you create a mess then you clean it up, it becomes the norm.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying maids are not needed, but I am saying not everyone needs a maid.
When we look at it from a different angle, we are spoiling our children and teaching them to be totally dependent on someone else to do things that they are well capable of doing themselves, eventually they learn to be lazy in the future . They should get dressed on their own, tidy their rooms on their own, bring their own drink from the fridge, organize their own wardrobe, etc.
I myself might decide to get a maid one day if found it necessary and affordable, but in my house her role will be limited to cleaning only. Cooking, my bedroom and my children’s personal needs are my business and my wife’s only.
Not to forget the emotional and social Impact, when it comes to the relationship of the children with the maid, and how much they get attached to her and bond with her, more than their own mother in some cases.
A colleague of mine recently had a case where his maid tried to kill his 2 children out of frustration. Another friend of mine found his maid sleeping with her boyfriend on his own bed, and was caught when he came home unexpectedly, she was then found pregnant. Several theft cases happen, family secrets disclosed to other maids in the play area and subsequently to other families or relatives, and the headache of runaway maids etc., not to forget the financial burden of having domestic help.
All this can be avoided if we firmly decide not to be lazy and insist on changing our life styles to the better. This will also reflect on our level of activeness and health as we grow older, don’t you agree?
Photo credit: theloushe via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND