Getting to know my maid

My new maid is 22 on paper but she looks younger. I am told she probably lied about her age to make herself more “marketable”. She looked 22 in the photo that I saw on the biodata. Her hair was all swept up neatly making her look older perhaps. When I saw her for the first time, I was very surprised to see a young girl with an afro hairstyle. So different from the photo I saw.

I’ve been chatting with her to get to know her and understand her better. This is what she’s told me so far.

My father is a farmer. We live somewhere near the jungle where there is not a car in sight. We only have the occassional lorry. We do not have electricity. We use candlelight and it is very dark at night. (When I first came here, I was scared to switch on the lights. I was afraid of the lights and I was afraid to see so many cars on the road.) We don’t have proper roads in our kampung, only a dirt road. We do not have toilet facilities. We place sticks above the ground then we dig holes below them to use as toilets.

I decided to come here to work because life is hard there. I did it to escape from my stepmother. My mother died when I was 7. I attended primary school but later on my stepmother persuaded my father to take me out of school because she said we didn’t have enough money. She then made me help out in the farm. Its hard work. I have two sisters. My younger sister and the youngest is my stepsister. My stepmother loves my stepsister but not us. The love is not the same when its not your real mother. So I came here because I couldn’t get along with my stepmother.

We had to attend camp first. I had to travel one day by lorry to the camp. The lorry was very crowded and there was no place to sit. I had to stand for the whole day. There were so many people at the camp, probably 300 at one time. Sometimes about 5 or 6 would leave for the new jobs only to be replaced by another 5 or more new ones.

We slept in longhouses. Everyone slept together. There were people on my left and right and bottom and top. We lay beside each other in rows. We had to bathe together, about 60 of us at the same time. There were so many of us they couldn’t afford to let us bathe one at a time. So there was a big bathroom where we had to all bathe at the same time. We would wash our clothes after our bath and hang them out to dry. They gave us uniforms from the maid agencies. There would be 3-4 different types of uniforms depending on which agency you were sent to. We had to label our clothes but even then sometimes its hard to distinguish them because there would be people with the same names around. They call out our names for baths and mealtimes and if your name was called out last or you were accidentally missed out somehow, you would get very little bathwater and only get to eat around 9pm.

Some of the girls cried everyday, especially those who were there for 6 to 8 months and still hadn’t secured any jobs. I was there for 3 months. It was so noisy all the time. There was always a buzzz of people talking. Sometimes other girls from the upstairs or different parts of the longhouse would throw stones at the windows of the girls who cried to shut them up because it was difficult to sleep with all that noise.

We had 4 teachers. They treated  us like children. Its difficult to control 300 over people. They would shout at us to stop making noise but then another group would start. We had to wake up at 5am to attend class and they would make us sing everyday. Those who were late were made to put on ridiculous looking big dark glasses and asked to sing in front of everybody with accompanying dancers (joget) by the others who were late. Sometimes we played silly games. This cheered up those who were sad.

Most of the girls there were heading for housekeeping jobs  but some for factories to be factory workers. Those who wanted to be factory workers had to pay money upfront. I made some friends but I don’t know where they are now because we all left for different places.

Of course I do not know if this story is entirely accurate or true but it helps me to understand my maid and her motivations better. It also gives me a picture of how things are at the camp overseas and why the system is such that some of them pass the medical tests conducted overseas but fail the ones conducted here. (Our different maid agencies here get some of the maids through some of the overseas camps or agencies like these or they would source them directly at times.) It also explains why some of those who have no experience still have much to learn when they come here after receiving “training” at the agencies.

And I would ask anyone to think twice before labelling their maid as “stupid”, “brainless”, “good for nothing” or “really can make you vomit blood” etc when they squat on top instead of sit on the toilet bowl, or is not careful enough with the kids near car doors etc. How to you expect someone who has not been in a car to be careful with car doors? How do you expect someone who is frightened when the light comes on with a switch to be able to use the kettle, the rice cooker, the iron the washing machine etc in just a week or two? How do you expect someone who probably leaves their door open all the time to remember to close doors and turn off taps? How do you expect someone who has not seen so many cooking equipment and pots in her life to be able to remember not to use the hard brush for your non-stick cooking pan initially? Or to remember to be gentle when wiping your priced breakable little decorations?

There are some maid are not “careless” or “forgetful” but I think they need to be given time to adjust to a new way of living. Of course some of the maids may not come from such a rural area as my maid and may really be stubborn and forgetful but there are those who are having a culture shock so I think we should be patient and help them to adjust.

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  1. Elaine says:

    I was told that those Christian maid with afro hairstyle are from more remote area. I had one like that that has to travel 3 days by road from her kampung to the camp. Unfortunately she didn’t quite work out with us. Now we get Java maid who has more exposure

    Fortunately, my new maid has had 2 years previous experience so she’s quite used to the lifestyle here by now.

  2. Syn says:

    wow, u got all of that out of your maid?! i tried asking my maid during the first day but she doesn’t seem to say much so i let her be. and i got bits from here and there after that from her – i knew she also went for “training” before she came here but not so detailed like your maid. anyway, i’m not sure how she uses our toilet bowl but she didn’t initially know how to flush it as mine as the centre button at the top instead of the side-flush.

    i’m still learning about my maid all the time and i’m glad she adjust well for someone who’s no experience at all before this. i’m guessing it’s coz she’s 36 yrs old with 2 kids so she’s kinda experienced in the homefront. but of course, she has her imperfections too which has been bearable so far. 😉

    I didn’t get that on the first day. On the first day, it was mostly “Yes, ma’am” to everything I said but she opened up later on when we are chatting while preparing dinner together.

  3. wen says:

    the afro ones are really kampung girl. my previous maid was from kupang and has no experience in anything at all.
    now i just selected one from flores too, also catholic but wit straight. thks for sharing

    Thats what the agent told us too ie that they recruit them from really remote places these days.

  4. mommy to chumsy says:

    the maids are really pitiful eh? I can tell that you are going to be one good employer 🙂 your maid is real lucky 😀

    I’m not sure whether the maid will think that. Some maids may prefer to have an employer who is not in all the time so that they are left to their own devices, more freedom that way. Some of them are given keys and petty cash and they can move in and out of the house freely. Thats where the problem starts, I think. My friend tells me that in her area, she sees some of the maids congregate at one house in the mornings when all the employers are out at work.

  5. Vien says:

    Somehow a lot of us forget to be in the maid’s shoes. This is quite a refreshing post, MG. 🙂

    I think we need to have lots of empathy when dealing with maids.

  6. henny says:

    Thanks for sharing, MG. Nice post!
    Like Vien said, we have for always trying to ‘put’ someones shoes before make a comment to them. I often sad and sorry to hear something bad happenned to young women from my country that have to work at another country for being a maid. I think the people at government should work extra hard to the people like them, not only make statements at papers.

    I think that most of the young women come here with a genuine desire to work to earn some money but some of them are led astray when they actually arrive here with the promise of more money etc. Then there are the rougue agents who recycle them to earn double/triple or more from unsuspecting employers giving the maids a bad name. I think at the start they view us employers just as suspiciously as we view them. They probably heard as many horror stories about us as we have about them. And we all have to learn to establish a relationship based on trust and good communication with all these undercurrents. Not easy at all.

  7. says:

    That is a really well written post
    It is really hard to get such story out of our maid

    6 months after our maid left, only we learn (from the maid opposite our house) that her son she always talk about, was not conceived with her current husband

    Thus the husband bear a grudge and always beat her

    I guess, its easier for them to share with each other, maid with maid. Only thing sometimes they also swap employer stories too. 😉

  8. Rachel C says:

    Thanks for sharing. The maid story very those we watch in TVB series, in real life it does exist…

    Probably not all of them come from such a remote place but I think they still have to undergo the “training” at the camp.

  9. Angeline says:

    Though I have doubts, I still choose to believe your maid. It’s all these little but serious conditions and emotions that drives a person away from her comfort zone or her hometown, though it may not be that comfortable since she doesn’t like her stepmom….

    maid and owner stories are plentiful and many are scary but I have some friends who are so close to their maids or vice versa that their maids refuse to go home because they miss my friends too much because my friends treat them better than their own family members…

    it has ALWAYS be an upbringing difference, a cultural miss-match that makes all the owners say all those ugly words…the sad part is the owners refused to accept the fact and thinks that the maid is against them…*sigh*

    I feel that some people work their maid too hard too because they are worried that the maid will get lazy if they don’t do so. For example, I wouldn’t be able to get up at 5am to wash two cars, the porch, clean two toilets, mop the whole house, cook, iron the clothes and look after 2 young kids day after day so I won’t expect the maid to be able to do so even if she’s paid to do housework.

  10. says:

    She could be telling the truth and who to be blamed? i should say that the agent is to be blamed, they should have trained the maid better and the agent here should have picked the maid with proper training before charging sky high and cause so much trouble here changing maids la, negligence la, run away maid is the worst!!

    I can’t comment about the agents overseas but I think the system in ours protects the agents more than the employers. Its a very one sided arrangement.

  11. Baby Darren says:

    I thought most maids are like that but mine was DIFFERENT. She came here to work not for money but for “experience”. Her house got VCD player and also hi-fi set. Her kampung also lots to she is a bit fussy with the food here.

    I hope yours will appreciate her lifestyle here and the way you treat her. Just tell her don’t simply trust other people coz they can be very naive since they come from very ulu place.

    Well, its ok for them to come for the experience as long as they do their work. I guess from your tone that your maid is not only different but a bit difficult as well?

  12. allthingspurple says:

    I think the stories must be true, cos i have heard the same things you wrote from my numerous maids, except for paragraph no. 2, which differs, some have stepfathers like my previous maid of 3 years, Atin. She was made to work to support her own familyand the stepfamily.

    I think you are also right that they first come here with honest intention to work. Sometimes though, temptation will lead them to run away and influence of big talks from neighbouring maids will lead them to be rude and dishonest. My ex-maid Atin once told me that the neighbour told her no need to be afraid, no need to work and majikan cannot do anything wan. But my old maid, being the honest naive girl she is, just avoid the neighbouring maid after that. Not easy to do so though, with 3 other maids yelling at each other in conversation but Atin hanging clothes in silence.

    The influence comes from not just more “experienced” maids but also, workers (if you have houses near your being renovated), guards who ronda past your house, dishonest agents etc. They are naive and easily influenced by talks about making more and easier money working elsewhere as a restaurant helper etc instead of being maids, and as in your case, how to get away with doing less etc.

  13. Irene says:

    thanks for sharing, really an eye-opener o.O

    It was for me too. She also told me the first time her previous employer took her to a Pesta, she was so impressed by all the people. She thought that everyone looked beautiful and were dressed so well.

  14. Annie Tan says:

    Your maid can really talk and express herself very well. I like maids who are chatty, but of course not going overboard. That way, we are able to understand what’s in their mind. Moreover, chatty maid are usually more cheerful. I’m sure you are a good employer.

    She’s rather quiet actually. Usually I just get a soft “Yes ma’am.” but when you chat with her than she opens up and gets chatty and talks and laughs more. 🙂

  15. Moomykin says:

    Thanks for sharing. An eye-opener indeed.

    I’m glad you know your maid better now. Knowing what to expect from her, or what is needed to help her help you will certainly reduce a whole lot of stress.

    Yes it helps. 🙂

  16. chinnee says:

    my maid almost puked on my hubby’s new love (new car) yesterday due to cannot tahan air con, haha….will post the whole story soon…

    Perhaps it was the long journey, not the aircon.

  17. shirl says:

    I have just recently managed to get my maid to open up a little bit more. My maid is a muslim, as a catholic family we are fine with her taking time to pray. She has similar background as your maid. It was very comforting for me to hear from her that she finds a family in us.I think if we treat them well, it is for them to show their appreciation by doing well in their work. Good luck with the new maid!

    Thank you Shirl.

  18. mott says:

    Thanks for sharing. I never hired a maid..and I guess I will never get a chance, it’s interesting to hear their perspective.

    I hope she won’t get scared if you get any seizures. My granma’s new maid got a fright when my granma spoke in her sleep. She frantically called my dad up and when they arrived, my granma was sound asleep..but with two bibles side-by-side at her pillow. Apparently the maid put it there to ‘scare’ the hantu away.


    Hahaha. Well, if your maid got scared when someone talks in their sleep, she’d probably run away if she saw a seizure.

  19. Martini says:

    yes, actually they (those maids who really want to work to support their family) are very brave and strong. Just imagine they came here to work from far without knowing who will be their employer and for two years they can’t see their family.

    I definitely agree with your points of view. I was lucky, two of my previous maids were not bad eventhough sometimes they did upset me too. Wish you have a good maid!

    I believe that they are brave and strong. I had a part time helper who is a grandmother by now and she is still working very hard to support her family back home. However, there are also some who come here not out of own accord but due to parental or spousal pressure. Its tough for them.

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