I have read horror stories and, like Rose, I find them incredible, until
recently. I used to think that the narrators of horror stories were
employers who were overly demanding, those let down by their own unrealistic
expectations, for how else could anyone believe that their foreign maids
could behave so outrageously!
My former maid Ma Lhudie should like Vivi Anna be in great demand. She and Vivi Anna or just
Anna belong to the same dialect group, from the northern part of the main
island Luzon. My agent is convinced that members of this dialect group are
generally hardworking and tough. So at least Ma Lhudie being from that group
starts off with some inherent advantage. Furthermore, she is an educated
woman, highly motivated or should be; and she had good experience acquired
in her home country before coming to Singapore.
Ma Lhudie is a university graduate, with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. She had taught elementary school for 6 months, nothing remarkable about this, except that where she comes from, there are usually a lot more candidates than positions available. She had also taught for two years in a childcare centre because, well, half a loaf is better than no bread. Ma Lhudie's husband (although I did not know that she was married when I hired her) is also a teacher, suggesting that she and he are both probably a little more genteel (in the best sense) than many Filipino maids who come to work in Singapore. And she should be highly motivated - being unable to get a good job at home and having to provide for four children. (She claimed that she was single and had no children.)
I have been warned by my fellow expats to avoid hiring those who have stayed on too long in Singapore, like not a few Filipino maids. Even if they have the potential to be ideal maids (who not only clean, but also cook, wash and iron and also take care of the young ones) like Anna. It seems that after some time they become street smart and so adept at manipulating us new arrivals from the west.
Also, I have been advised not to hire one who had previously worked for another expat because the latter tends to spoil her maid and give her a lot of of freedom which often leads her into trouble. It sounds harsh to put it this way, but giving freedom to those who lack self-discipline is just like giving them a long rope.
So I hired Ma Lhudie who had worked barely two years here in Singapore. She had been used to what westerners might consider overly strict control of her local employer. Don't we all know that when working for locals, foreign maids have to be home by seven (sometimes five) and are given days off only twice (sometimes once) a month! No longer true. Since 01/01/2013 all foreign maids are entitled to a weekly rest day when the free as they like.
And they are required not only to take care of perhaps as many as three children but also to cook and clean, wash and iron the clothes and even wash the car at 6 in the morning. And sometimes they have to attend to an elderly person in poor health, too. So Ma Ludhie seemed like an ideal maid and I hired her without hesitation - after interviewing 5 other foreign maids. I was not "strict" with her and have given her no cause to be unhappy to work for me. I was always quite considerate of her feelings, being careful not to talk down to her as her previous employer did, but to treat her as I would like my boss to treat me. I paid her more than she got in her previous situation. She did not have to wash my car and when I was home from work, I did the cooking as often as she did. My family comprises three, myself, my husband and my three-year old daughter. Her previous employer had three children. So I expected that Ma Lhudie would be grateful to have a job like this.
I was really pleased with her during the first three months. She was quite good in performing her duties. She kept the place neat and tidy. She always got my food ready on time (even though Filipinos and other Asians are not known for punctuality). Her ironing was certainly up to par. And she was really fond of my three-year old daughter Elaine. Elaine likes to play in the common playground or even the public park close by and meet other children in the neighbourhood and Ma Lhudie would always oblige her. And she spoke fluent English, as only a Filipino maid can.
But I began to have doubts. On one occasion, I called home to remind her to take some meat out of the freezer, so that by the time I got home it would have thawed sufficiently to cook. As it turned out, Ma Lhudie had taken Elaine out for a stroll. And as it turned out, my husband had not left the house. So he went to look for her in the playground and not, finding her there, went to look for her in the public park nearby. Ma Lhudie and Elaine were nowhere in sight.
Later Ma Lhudie explained that she had gone to visit with one of the maids in the same condominium. Which one she would not say. Her "friend" would kill her because if I should complain to her boss, she would lose her job. So I let the matter rest. When I had some private moments with my daughter I quizzed her but though she does not normally keep any secrets from me, this time she seemed to be rather coy. I did not want to upset her, so I said no more.
On another occasion, when I had to go to Elaine's play group I had occasion to exchange greetings with the teacher and I casually asked how things were. She volunteered that Ma Lhudie was not good for my daughter, that she was spending too much time on her mobile, paying scant attention to my Elaine, for whose sake I employed her. But she explained to my satisfaction: air time costs plenty and she merely used her mobile for short messages. On her salary, she had to be careful, especially since her husband's income was not enough to support their 4 children. You cannot quarrel with such logic.
I could have fired her when I found out that this supposed spinster was actually a married woman with 4 children, but she had a perfectly good explanation or so my husband conceded. I have nothing against a married woman working as a maid, even though it true a relationship starting off with a lie can be ideal. Anyway, it would have been extremely mean to fire her and deprive her 4 children of much needed financial support. So I decided to forget the whole matter.
Ma Lhudie's disappearing act was getting more frequent and my husband, always more suspecting and more perceptive than I, thought that perhaps Ma Lhudie was involved with a local Romeo.
I think my daughter and I drew closer during that short time in Phuket, Elaine became her old self again, telling me everything about her play group, about the strolls in the condo playground, about "Uncle Solimon". I really have nothing against Ma Lhudie finding comfort in the company of this "Uncle Soliman." But I been told about Filipino maids (and probably other foreign maids too) entertaining their boyfriends at home when their employers are away.
My husband and I conjured up scenes of debauchery, of orgies in our condo during our absence. Perhaps Ma Lhudie was entertaining Solimon in our apartment even as we thought about it. The very thought churned up stomach. So we could not wait a second longer but promptly packed up and checked out. When we arrived home in the early afternoon, we were relieved. There was no orgy. But there was no Ma Lhudie to be seen either.
Was it too much to expect my maid to be at home to greet when we come home
from a trip abroad?