Each time I come across stories about abused maids, I get very worked up. I am outraged that some employers see it fit to ill-treat their househelpers, either physically or emotionally, sometimes both.
Just days ago, one beast of an employer (who runs his own business) was sentenced to 32 years of prison and some 18 strokes of the rotan for mercilessly raping his teenage maid over a period of many months, aided by his wife who held her down. Just what kind of animals are we dealing with?
While not to the extreme as mentioned, I do have personal experiences of people I know (highly-educated ones too) calling their maids bodoh (stupid), bangang (dumb) and lembab (dimwit) to their faces. I cringe at such rudeness. What has happened to our sense of propriety and decency?
If they were so rich, clever and well-educated, they wouldn't have left their country for a faraway land just to earn a pittance by washing the bottom of someone's else's child, would they?
I don't know the statistics relating to maid abuse in this country, but I would like to think that Malaysians are generally kind-hearted and treat their maids well. I believe those who abuse their househelp are in the minority.
There is another breed of employers - the modern-day Scrooge; they keep an eagle eye on what the maid eats. They even keep track on what's in the fridge. Heaven helps the maid if a particular food item - a fruit or a piece of cake, for example - goes missing.
What irks me so is that the maid is good enough to clean, cook, wash and manage the nitty-gritty of the household, not to mention catering to the whims and fancies of the little masters and misses, but not good enough to share the family meal.
True, there are abusive maids at the other end of the scale. Almost everyone with maids have horror stories to tell. However, I am the absolute optimist; I always think if employers treat their maids kindly and with respect, the likelihood of such maids screwing them up is minimal (unless you really have the misfortune of hiring a witch).
My late grandmother, bless her soul, raised me to value and respect househelp. To her, our maid was family and accordingly, was treated as such. We had the same daily help for almost two decades; I grew up under her wings, shadowed by her kindness.
She actually started as a washerwoman and eventually 'progressed' to doing general housework including cooking and cleaning. Her husband was a fisherman who did odd jobs during the monsoon season.
The maid had a daughter my age named Hamidah and when I entered secondary school, my grandparents adopted Midah so she could live with us to keep me company. She was my best friend; we were like sisters, even sharing the same bed.
We were joined at the hips like the proverbial Siamese twins until we both finished secondary school. Midah went on to a teacher's college while I joined NST. Today she is nearing retirement; happily married and lives and teaches in Perlis.
Her eldest child, a daughter, recently graduated in medicine and has begun working in Kota Baru Hospital. I saw my friend last at my mom's funeral in May this year. She looked good. Her own mom passed on some time back. We hugged and shed a few tears.
My (former) sister-in-law Sofwanah, an angel of a woman if ever there is one, too has been having the same Indonesian maid for the last 18 years. While 'bibik' does all the housework, her husband takes care of the garden, the pool and whatever else that needs to be done outside the house.
Their only child, a daughter named Sahanaya, was born in Malaysia. She attends Bukit Bandaraya school and excels in her studies. She's raised like Kak Nah's own and is treated just like a kid sister by Kak Nah's grown children.
A brainy girl, that Naya. Her English is flawless. She loves reading and tops her class consistently. Imagine, the daughter of a barely literate Indonesian maidservant besting the brains of the uppercrust's offsprings!
Three years ago Kak Nah and her husband Abang Kamal legally adopted Naya, then 12, to ensure all her needs are properly and adequately taken care of. We are all proud of her and are rooting for her to succeed.
I believe in giving people a chance. Kindness usually begets kindness. There is no greater 'amal' than flourishing our own ummah.