Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

At a time when the news is dominated by the fast-spreading Coronavirus Covid-19, and just about everything related to this pandemic, there are still moments and events going on around us that are somewhat far removed from this new threat.

One such instance came to my attention when an Egyptian friend Fauzi came over to my office for a visit the other day. Accompanying him was Barakat, a diminutive Saudi with an impressive moustache reminiscent of Pancho Villa, the famous Mexican revolutionary general who rose to fame in the early part of the last century. Barakat had a problem they needed to air out.

It so happened that a couple of days before 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.

Barakat brought to my mind tales of tyranny against hired help, untold tales of terror and persecution against some of the gentler denizens on this planet.

- Tariq A. Al Maeena, Saudi commentator

After checking out their place for any missing items of value, Barakat sought to question some of the neighbours 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.

“Are you sure she took off voluntarily? Is there any chance she may have been in [something like] an accident or 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 mannerism was beginning to make me realise why his maid may have run away.

Fauzi, at this point, interjected that they both had spent the previous day going from one government agency to the other including the Philippine consulate to get all this information taken care of. They believed that they had covered all bases.

Litany of chores

“Does your wife work, … And what can I do to help?” I cautiously asked with mixed feelings. “No, my wife is not employed,” Barakat replied. “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 go to school and the third is not yet ready. And what irritated me the most was that she could never cook an appealing Kabsa [rice dish] or fix my Sheesha [water pipe] right.”

In most evenings, when Barakat’s relatives came for a visit, the Filipina was expected to prepare tea and other delicacies for the guests, he added. When all the family members had retired for the night, she was expected 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 a dozen people!

Barakat brought to my mind tales 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.

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As Barakat sat there spewing forth his wrath and contempt on the maid and her whole civilisation, I could not help but think that here was an individual who for some twist of economic superiority, has assumed that he has purchased a human being and her freedom. It was then that his companion who upon noticing the perplexed frown on my face interrupted to ask me if I could be of any help.

With a shrug of my shoulders and a shake of my head I silently ended up this encounter and asked them both to leave, but not before admonishing Barakat for his callous treatment of another human being. I told him flatly that he was a disgrace to all Saudis.

Incredulous as it may be, from the Americas to the land of the rising sun and everywhere else in between, there still exist a breed of individuals who by virtue of being able to afford it seek to enslave those they employ. Perhaps they are unaware that tables do turn within the passage of time.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena