Of all the things we’ve done as part of our slow motion exit from Qatar, the one I’m happiest about was finding a new family for our maid T to work for. It provided a fitting end to a part of expat life here which I had been pretty sceptical about to begin with.
Helping T find a new job wasn’t something we had to do, but she played a critical part in keeping things ticking over for family Little City during our time in Qatar.
She provided support in so many different ways, filling in the gaps in services that exist here – after school clubs, emergency pick ups / drop offs, babysitting, cleaning and so on – that we either paid for, or relied on the help of family to provide, back in the UK.
So having T on hand to support with all that made a lot of sense; the main difference here being T’s formal sponsorship by Mrs LC as her employer, and us providing her with accommodation.
I was initially sceptical about taking on a live-in maid, but after a string of disappointing trials with ‘dailies’ – and their traffic-related inability to turn up at an agreed hour – we felt it was the best option for us. (Spoiler alert: it was.)
Home for the holidays
T is currently back home in the Philippines on vacation, and when she returns next month, it will be to work for her new family, just a few minutes’ drive away on the other side of Al Waab Street.
Standard labour contracts agreed between the Qatari and Filipino governments entitle domestic workers here to a flight home, paid for by their sponsors, every two years.
We booked her flights at the start of the year, long before our departure was on the radar. But the timing of our exit meant that we would have left Qatar permanently before she got back from her trip.
Of course there was never a question of us not honouring the arrangement, especially given the circumstances under which we took her on in the first place.
When we hired T, she was already one year into her then-current contract. But she was so unhappy in that job she was prepared to re-set the clock, and start another two-year contract with us, just so she could switch employers.
Last summer, after a year with us, we offered her the chance to take her flight early while we were away on vacation. She politely declined, saying that she hadn’t yet saved up enough money, on top of her monthly reimbursements, to provide for all of the additional requests that a visit home would require.
Now a year later, and three years since she last saw her family, she’s back with them for an extended summer break. Her initial month-long trip has even been extended to seven weeks, as her new employers won’t be back from their own travels until late August. (She has already spent a couple of getting-to-know-you days with her new family, so her return to Doha won’t be entirely unfamiliar.)
The part I still struggle to wrap my head round is how easy it is to come over like the employers of the year, just from doing things that would pass without comment elsewhere: like paying her on time, in full, in cash, every month.
Or letting her keep hold of her own passport; giving her evenings and weekends off, and letting her stay away with friends during her time off. Or just because she was never in danger from us of any kind of abuse. Some in her situation aren’t that lucky.
So it was with an understandable mix of emotions that Mrs LC and I took T to Hamad International a few weeks ago.
She formed a very special bond with Kid A and Amnesiac – she wasn’t Mary Poppins, but we were far more concerned with finding someone we could trust to leave the kids with – and was very upset to see them go.
For my part, I will miss her singing along to soft rock and 80s pop songs while she ironed. Towards the end of her time with us, she played Tarzan Boy on repeat – you’re already singing it, aren’t you? – a one-hit wonder from my childhood which I hadn’t heard for about 20 years, but will now always associate with her.
If we choose to go down the maid route once we’re up and running in the UAE – and I suspect we will – I hope we’re lucky enough to find someone like T again.