We employ, but we do not own

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My Turkish friend Orhan came to see me the other day. Accompanying him was Barakat, a diminutive and shabbily dressed Saudi with an impressive mustache that extended from ear to ear. Barakat had a problem they needed to air out.

It so happened that a couple of days prior to their visit, Barakat’s Filipino maid had unexpectedly disappeared. His wife woke up one morning only to find the maid’s sleeping mat folded, and the front door unlocked. Her frantic calls to Barakat who was at work at the time brought him back rapidly to their apartment.

After checking out their place for any missing items of value, Barakat sought to question some of the neighbors in the adjoining apartments. No one had observed anything. The building watchman was next, but he was of no help. He was busy around the corner most of the morning washing and cleaning the landlord’s two cars.

Barakat was perplexed. How dare this woman do this to him, he muttered as he sat across from me. For some unexplained reasons, I could not help get Clint Eastwood and those spaghetti westerns with their array of villains out of my mind as I tried to focus my wandering thoughts.

“Are you sure she took off voluntarily? Is there any chance she may have been in some kind of an accident, or is simply out on an errand...?” I asked before he interrupted me. “We do not allow her to leave our apartment ever. She was brought here to work, and that’s all we ever let her do,” he replied emphatically.

“Have you informed the concerned authorities?” I continued less graciously, feeling slightly uncomfortable in the presence of this man whose mannerisms were beginning to make me realize why his maid might have run away. Orhan, at this point, interjected that they both had spent the previous day going from one government agency to the other to get all this information taken care of. After several perplexing detours from one bureaucracy to another, they believed that they had covered all of the bases.

“Does your wife work, ...And what can I do to help?” I cautiously asked with mixed feelings. “No, my wife is not employed anywhere. And she is not a housekeeper or a maid. That is why I went through all the trouble of applying for and recruiting a maid. This maid was never good from the start,” he continued. “All she did was clean the apartment, do the laundry and iron the clothes. And there are only five of us...my wife, our three children, and me. Two of the children went to school, and the third was not yet ready. And what irritated me the most was that she could never cook an appealing kabsa or fix my sheesha right.”

In the evenings, when his relatives came for a visit, she was expected to prepare tea and other delicacies for the guests, which was not such an unusual demand, he added. When all the family members had retired for the night, she was counted upon to mop up the mess before she went to sleep. On weekends, Barakat usually entertained his extended family, and his maid was required to prepare food and dessert for well over two dozen people!

Barakat evoked memories of tyranny against hired help, untold tales of terror and persecution against some of the gentler denizens on this planet. And Barakat did not appear to be a very gentle individual.

As Barakat sat there spewing forth his wrath and contempt on the maid and her whole civilization, I could not help but think that here was an ignorant man who for some twist of economic abundance had assumed that he had purchased a human being and her freedom. Orhan at this point noticing the stunned frown on my face and interrupted to ask me if I could be of any help.

I just shrugged my shoulders, shook my head and walked them to the door. Slavery was abolished centuries ago, and yet there are today individuals who by virtue of their place in life seek to make slaves of those they employ. And this in the 21st century! Who knows, tables may turn with the passage of time.

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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