me in the ME

the semester of fun, sun, and Arabic

Sobering Facts- Domestic Workers in Jordan

I remember when we studied slavery in my U.S. history classes, everyone would always say that of course, they would have been abolitionists, don’t be silly! At the very least, they would never have owned slaves and would have looked down upon the practice. That’s a wonderful, idealistic view of humanity. It wasn’t until AP U.S. History that I remember anyone ever saying that, you know, if you were raised with slavery and it was a part of your everyday life, you might not have been against slavery. That your family might have owned slaves and since it was what you had always known, you would have been ok with the practice or even supported it. And heaven forbid someone should try to take away your right to own a slave!

That’s what I felt like here a lot of the time. My former host family has a servant. “Servant” is a polite word used to describe a practice that is more like slavery. Wayesh cleans the entire house every day, takes care of the children, does the laundry, straightens up, makes food, fetches things- really anything that is ordered. When I first met the family, she wasn’t introduced and I had to discover on my own what her role was in the family. Wayesh doesn’t have a room or even any place for herself. She sleeps on a mattress on the floor in the kids’ room or in the living room. This is an upgrade from the big cushion she had when we got here.

She’s not treated terribly well either. Literally my second day in the country, she broke down and started unloading her emotional baggage on my roommate and I. The kids are awful, the parents are awful, she doesn’t like it here, she’s only doing it so her younger sisters back in Sri Lanka can go to school, etc. To say I was taken aback is an understatement. Welcome to Jordan, orientation hasn’t even started yet. It was her birthday and no one wished her well or even noticed. She’s 21- not even 6 months older than I am. But she works from 5:30 in the morning and doesn’t get to sleep until midnight. I’ve worked that schedule before- it’s one of the worst things ever. But I never had to do it more than two or three days in a row, and after that I was beyond miserably exhausted. To live like that for three years? She already has some grey hair.

I’ve had the time now to witness what she was talking about when we first arrived. The kids are generally rowdy and semi-violent, but they jump on and hit her without a care in the world. The parents didn’t really say anything to stop them, never mind that this is another human being that is being treated as less than one. When parents are not around, the children are even worse, screaming at her for no reason as she tries to do her job.

This is all that the kids (ages 3, 6, and 8) know. Only the oldest would be able to remember a life without a servant catering to his every yell…and that’s if there wasn’t another servant before Wayesh arrived nearly three years ago. The phrase, “a’teeni” or in English, “Give me!” has forever been tainted for me. I hear it whined, screamed, snapped, cried…but never accompanied by “please” or “thank you”. I am astounded by the situations in which it is used, such as when my host mother wouldn’t get up from the couch to get her cell phone across the room but would instead call Wayesh from a different room to get it for her. Then she would get mad if she missed the call. Or one of the kids will tell Wayesh to go get something from their room, like paper or crayons, when it’s less than a minute walk away. I actually cannot imagine ever raising a child of mine like this. I know I was more on the spoiled side as a child. But I hope more than anything that I was never like this.

But then it occurs to me- well if I had been raised like this, would I care? Having a servant is apparently a status thing in Jordan and across the Middle East. I’ve heard that people will keep their servant even if they can’t really afford one. The apartment certainly was not small but eight is a crowd. It was a good size for five, max. Sound travels easily. So there’s no need to shout or scream for something. In my mind, there’s no need for a servant at all in an apartment of that size. Teach your kids to clean up after themselves. It’s a good skill that they will thank you for later in life. And then the apartment wouldn’t need to be cleaned top to bottom every day. If you want something, go get it yourself. There aren’t even stairs involved, not as if that would make it anymore acceptable.

It’s not just a practice that needs to change, but a lifestyle and state of mind. I’ll say it now and I’ll say it again- Don’t live outside of your means. That’s always been pretty clear to me, but then again I didn’t comprehend the idea of credit card debt until about a year ago. It never made sense to me to buy something that you couldn’t afford. Luckily, I’ve never been in a situation where I had to do that. Maybe my opinion will change in the future. Right now though, it’s just one of those unimaginable things.

I’m currently ecstatic with my new living situation, even though I’ve only been here a couple of days. Because really, thank you, but I was finished being uncomfortable. It was a learning experience, living with a servant. I’ve lived with it, I hated it, and I will never again choose to lead my life like that.


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