By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS
Her hands show the wear and tear of 30 years of labor. Her feet are severely swollen and cracked. Her eyes twinkle with the seasonings of a long life. Her name is Hala and she is a 70-year-old housemaid from India.
I had never heard a good story about a housemaidâ€™s life in Kuwait until I met Hala. Prior to that, all I had ever heard was about the abuse, neglect, and sometimes torture that maids in Kuwait are sometimes subject to at the hands of their evil sponsors. So, to finally hear one positive story was not only a breathe of fresh air but restored my faith in people.
Hala arrived in Kuwait in 1976. She had signed up to be a maid at a recruiting office in India. Her husband, who was in the army, had just died as the result of a training accident. Hala was left to fend for herself and her young daughter. There were not many options open to Hala other than to seek employment in a foreign country. She was from a poor village and belonged to a lower caste, which in India means you are basically a â€˜nobodyâ€™. She left her daughter in the care of relatives and set off to a foreign landâ€¦Kuwait.
Her very first job was as a janitor for a privately run school. It was very difficult for her because she did not speak Arabic at all. â€œ I was lucky that a few of the other janitors there befriended me,â€ says Hala. Through them she was able to quickly pick up conversational Arabic. Hala worked for the school for about 5 years. It was hard work. She was required to help clean all the classrooms and bathrooms, move furniture, and help small kids do things like go to the bathroom. The work was backbreaking and Hala had enough. She was tired of the grueling schedule and the endlessly long day. A friend suggested that she go to the recruitment agency and ask to be transferred to a residential home. This sounded like a dream to Hala. She was tired of the cramped living space she shared with about 20 other women. â€œLife in the hostel was hard because the women got into arguments over food and the like,â€ explains Hala, â€œsome also stole from others and it was hard to keep your belongings safe,â€ she adds.
It took about 4 months for the transfer to go through. She was sent to live and work for a Kuwaiti family and their 2 children. Hala was required to cook, clean, and be a nanny to the children. She was given her own private room, â€œMy room was small but for the first time since landing in Kuwait I had some privacy, â€œshe says. Hala was fortunate in that she was placed with a kind and loving family. The work was not that difficult. And she usually had the evenings free. She also has accompanied the family on many a vacation. â€œI have been to London several times with my sponsors,â€ relates Hala. On one trip, Hala happily recounted a visit to a food exhibition near their hotel. â€œI saw a giant pizza and a wedding cake taller than me!â€ she chortles.
Hala has spent about 25 years of her life with this family and shared both joys and sorrows with them. Her daughter is now grown, married, and has her own children. And every month, as usual, Hala sends her wages to India for her daughter. â€œMy life is over now,â€ says Hala, â€œI give my wages to my daughter so that she will not have to work like me.â€ Which is also why Hala has been â€˜moonlightingâ€™ for the past several years. In addition to working for her sponsors, she also works part-time in the evenings for two families in Kuwait.
Hala does plan to return to India some day but she is torn between her own wishes and the wishes of the Kuwaiti family she works for. You see, the family now considers her to be one of their own and does not want her to leave them under any circumstance. They have bent over backwards to convince her to stay. They brought 2 of her relatives over from India and gave them jobs. And they have annihilated all of her household duties. All she has to do is some light cooking now and then.
While her life has not been filled with much, except serving others, Hala is thankful for the opportunities she has had to support her family. â€œIf I had not chosen to come to Kuwait, I do not know what could have happened to me,â€ she says. So from that perspective, she does have it made in Kuwait.