Turning a blind eye
Tariq A. Al-Maeena
Much has been written about the virtues of the month of Ramadan and I do not think that I could add anything more. However one thing is for sure: This is a month of worship, virtue and piety. This applies to every act we do or every thought we think.
It is in Ramadan that huge market demands for domestic help materialize, more so than at any other time of the year. This demand has encouraged the phenomenon of domestic workers leaving their sponsors in the lurch by leaving their place of employment unauthorized and without notice. Many run off to Makkah where demands for domestic workers are seasonally high, but others choose to remain in the same city as their sponsors, seeking refuge in the residence of their new employers.
Market demand for domestic help has encouraged many housemaids to abandon their current legal employer and through the help of a broker, find employment at much higher rates and on better terms in other homes. This has created a profiteering racket run by some Asian nationals who entice housemaids in public places to abandon their employers with the promise of higher earnings. In return, these illegal brokers demand a percentage of the new earnings. Police reports also suggest that some of these runaway domestics often become involved in criminal activities, or are even pawned off as “weekend marriage partners.” For the most part though, the runaways seek the refuge of domestic labor as it does not pose much risk with the authorities.
This brings to mind two households which were involved with such runaways. Fatima, a married woman with three children, convinced her husband to recruit domestic help from overseas as her children were all of school age and she had just started a job which required her to work a split shift. The extra income would help cover the children’s school fees. Although the family’s earnings are modest, they managed to save the SR2,000 for the labor visa and paid an additional SR9,000 as recruitment charges for a domestic helper from Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan maid arrived and Fatima set about explaining to her the household routine in between her work shifts.
After the first month of employment, Fatima and her husband informed the housemaid that they were impressed with her honesty and dedication and were raising her monthly salary by SR200. They also presented her with a new mobile phone with a chargeable chip to enable her to stay in touch with her family in Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese maid accepted their gestures with gratitude.
Two months later, Fatima returned home one day from her day shift to find the maid missing. The children had not yet returned from school and there was no food prepared. A quick look through the maid’s quarters confirmed Fatima’s worst suspicions. The maid had vanished taking with her all her belongings.
Fatima and her husband were left in a quandary. They had no way to recoup the money they had spent in bringing the maid from Sri Lanka, nor did they have the extra funds to start new recruitment procedures. Fatima had to give up her job to take care of their home, and this drastically reduced their income.
Meanwhile in another household, Abeer, a housewife, was ecstatic. She had just enlarged her staff of two housemaids by adding another from the local market a few days before Ramadan. Abeer was planning large parties and feasts and would need the extra help. She had asked her Sri Lankan driver to find a housemaid locally and he did so.
When the spiritual month of Ramadan began, one family worked around their loss of help and income, while another benefited from their dilemma. The fact that her family was breaking their spiritual fast with food prepared and served by someone who was legally contracted elsewhere did not seem to dawn on Abeer or bother her conscience. To her friends and family, Abeer explained that the maid was an Umrah overstayer, notwithstanding the fact that the Sri Lankan was a Sinhalese Buddhist!
I wonder then where indeed the holiness of Ramadan stops and human avarice begins. Shouldn’t our every action reflect our true spirituality?