And imagine if I didn't have any help. Such was my thought as I escaped from mothering for a quick shower. My two year old is sick with a fever, and the baby also has a cold. But at least I have help with cooking, cleaning, and the laundry.
I love it here in Kuala Lumpur because the idea of a middle-class woman having help managing her household is not a radical one.
And yes, this topic brings out the Islamic feminist in me. Western women think that we are more liberated than women in Muslim societies. But when it comes to women's work, I do not consider it liberating that women have similar work responsibilities as men but also assume the larger part of parenting, cooking, and cleaning. This sentiment relates to a common complaint I've heard from African and Asian immigrant women in the U.S., that is, that "back home we had lots of help."
In KL, the full-time maid functions as a nanny, cook, and cleaner. I won't pretend that this arrangement is perfect. I've heard that sometimes maids are too busy with their nanny duties to complete other tasks. Or they are too busy with cooking that they don't mind the children as they should. Hmm....makes me wonder if expectations for the maid are unrealistic.
My musings have led me to the surprising conclusion that I prefer the term "helper," another way to refer to the maids in KL, because it is this aspect that I find empowering and worth blogging about. I celebrate the awareness that women cannot do it alone. It is the widespread cultural understanding that women need help that I find liberating.
On my first day in KL, I was offered part-time help. Mama Sarina, originally from the Philippines, helps twice a week. My husband's agreeing to pay for this service has partly to do with the fact that it is more affordable here than in the U.S. But affordability isn't the only issue. It's also an issue of mindset. Many American men imagine that the wife should be able to handle all of the household duties, especially if she stays at home.
Luckily I have a husband who, even before life in KL, was coming to understand that I needed help even when I was not going outside to work. He would occasionally pay for housekeeping services, or for a part-time nanny 2-4 days out of the month.
Mama Sarina is more than a helper. She has become family away from home. She calls me Mama so I call her Mama. She spoils Yahya like any grandma would. Yesterday we drove around in our host's SUV with Mama Sarina and her two Filipino friends helping us find a condo to rent. When we stopped by a mosque to pray, my husband and I went in while Mama and the others watched the children.
Before leaving for KL, my mother's dear friend Sister Khayriyyah made a prayerful comment that Allah would bless me with the support I was accustomed to from my mother and aunt in Atlanta. I never imagined that it would come from these kind Filipino women.