As an American Pakistani there is this unique connection that I think many of us have with the country of Pakistan. This connection gives us an opportunity to experience Pakistan as a local when we visit. We are privy to observe the workings of the Pakistani society and are exposed to the subtleties of the culture which may not be as obvious to outsiders.
One of the most obvious and glaring society difference between America and Pakistan is the domestic workers that are in most houses. The Knaucker range from the household manager who controls the gate of the house to the drivers and the women who come to brush and wipe down the floors. Depending on the family and the households there can at times be more domestic help in the house than people of the family.
When we would visit our family in Karachi the cleaning lady would take care of making our beds and tidying up the room. It was a foreign concept and it felt really wrong having some lady clean up after us. That was about 13 years ago…fast forward to last year and I was the one asking my mom to help me find a little girl who could help me look after Hassan while I was in Karachi.
The girl who came to be my lifesaver was known as “Baji” she was the daughter of the cleaning lady that worked in our house. Her name was Shaista and she was an very well groomed 13 year old with a serious face and a beautiful smile. The first day she came I introduced her to the kids, set her schedule and decided her salary – She would work 6 days a week from 9-5:30 and would be paid RS 2,000 a month. This is approximately $20 a month.
It was the first time I had my own personal domestic help. It was confusing at first, I wasn’t sure what tasks to give her and how to tell her exactly what I wanted her to do without sounding bossy or mean. After a few days she became familiar with the kids schedule and she started asking me things lik : Should I feed the kids a snack now? And should I wash the kids bottles now? She was a smart girl and the kids loved her. Soon she was handling the kids responsibilities and I was the one asking her things like do you think their tired now? Should we put them to nap? It was a gradual process but we tag teamed and got the work done together. I would tell her to take naps when the kids napped and would get her treats when I got something for the kids. It was all going good until the day that I took “Baji” into the new Dolmen Mall that had opened a few months ago in Clifton.
It was a fancy mall with international brands and an crowd that was dressed to impress. Initially I really enjoyed visiting this mall with “Baji” in tow handling the stroller. She was wide-eyed and impressed with this mall. She experienced her very first escalator ride and soon mastered it with grace and poise. But I felt bad, here is an 13 year old who is experiencing parts of Karachi that she may have never seen before, worse she didn’t fit in, it was obvious to anyone that she was in fact the kids maid. Would this be damaging to her self-worth, her pride, would these joy trips to the mall be more detrimental to this teenagers life by making her feel inferior? Is it fair to take introduce a girl to a realiity that will most probabaly never be hers? Oh man the questions kept coming and I felt more and more confused.
I kept these thoughts to myself but I did consciously made an effort to not take her with me. I would leave Hassan to nap at home and would ask Baji to watch him while I had my fill of the Glamarous new mall. While I never really resolved this issue my dad who was working at an corporate office told me how he helped a young man get a job, the man’s job was to sit in the elevator and push buttons for people all day. Another man’s job he told me was to sit at the copier and make copies and deliver them to his seniors. Small and insignificant jobs such as these can mean the difference between starvation and eating for these mens families. Unfortunately if we don’t employ people than these people will resort to illegal or corrupt ways and so I justified employing a 13 year old girl so that I can ensure that she was safe, well-treated and well-fed at least for the duration of the time she was under my roof.
Is that right? Can their be a way of ending children working? I’m not sure, but I do know that having domestic help is a constant juggling act. At times I had to be firm with Baji, Other times I had to remeber that she was just a kid but above all I had to remember to be thankful to the young girl with the beautiful smile.
What do you think about the domestic help in Pakistan? Any experiences or comments? Please Share.