Today, I'm sharing a post written by Mohana Rajakurmar in conjunction with the release of her book, The Dohmestics. You can learn more about her and her books at http://www.mohadoha.com/
ANATOMY OF A DEPORTATION
PublishedJuly 7, 2014
Photo by FitOut
Nothing ranks as high on an expat’s list of fears as being deported. Maybe death of a loved one while you’re abroad. Not your own death, because like the average teenager, you think your charmed expat life is immortal. Those who have lived overseas know all too well both death and deportation are likely scenarios. Neither is polite to discuss in public.
I wrote about both in The Dohmestics, my most recent paperback release, based on observations as an expat for nearly a decade. The novel explores the lives of six women: three employers and three housemaids who live in the same compound, or walled neighborhood. I found out how difficult the employer-housemaid relationship was to describe in the process of trying to get interviews as background research. Even friends were reluctant to let me speak to their helpers.
Then fact and fiction collided when we were told that a nanny in the neighborhood’s sister was in the detention facility.
That’s how we learned there’s something worse than being deported. Detention.
The sister, also a nanny had runaway from her employer who had her working at several homes in the extended family with little sleep or food. Yes, for some reason, we use the word “runaway” to describe a grown woman who has no other recourse to end her employment. Runaway: a word that has been to describe willful teenagers and slaves, those beings treated as human chattel.
She left her employer one day, walking out while the family was upstairs. She worked for a series of other families in various conditions: sometimes sleeping on the floor on the kitchen because the maid’s room was used a storage. Waking up at 4:30 a.m. to iron and cook for her landlord who also charged her rent. Bouncing from family to family, a few years went by. An ailing mother, a maturing daughter: she wanted to go home.
She got an airline ticket – hard to come by at the tune of thousands of riyals – and went with her luggage to the embassy. They turned her over to CID or the criminal investigation department. She called, hysterical, because she was being held in a facility with hundreds of other women, some of whom had been there for a month, others for three.
The line was scratchy: they were default fasting because no one was being given food during Ramadan.
Despite being a women’s area, there were no sanitary supplies.
Anything you received, you had to get from someone on the outside.
We assembled a care package, the contents what you might take your daughter’s dorm room: peanut butter, bread, jam, Kotex, chocolate, laundry detergent.
More calls, from random numbers, from borrowed phones (hers had been confiscated) of other long timers. Rushed conversations to exchange file numbers and any updates.
She has a good chance of eventually going home. She has a ticket, no debt, no pending charges. Someone has to take interest in her to distinguish her case from the hundreds of others who are much, much worse. They are waiting on sponsors to pay fines for having a runaway (that word again), waiting for family to raise money to bring them home, waiting for a miracle to clear their debts.
“That’s the place people take their maids when they want to punish them,” a friend told me. “If they don’t want them any more, they leave them there.”
As you may recall, my first book was banned for being about Qatar and Qataris. I had no idea that love was a sensitive subject.
Maids, though, housemaids, I knew were controversial. They are the invisible army without the glamour (or indignation) of the 2022 World Cup stadiums to galvanize the international media to their cause. There is no country named in The Dohmestics because I hope it makes it into the hands of readers in Doha. But also because the treatment of these women, who sacrifice their lives for their children, fund unfaithful husbands, and prop up their home economies (personal and national), is commonly archaic across the Middle East – whether Lebanon, the GCC, or Egypt – and extends into Asia where high rise suicide jumpers in Singapore are so commonplace, they only make the news if they take a young child with them.
“I am not a housemaid,” I said enunciating the vowels for the embassy official who had missed my American dress, accent and husband. “I am here for a friend.”
Is the deportation facility in the novel? You’ll have to read it to find out. This is one instance when real life is worse than fiction.
Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a South Asian American who has
lived in Qatar since 2005. Moving to the Arabian Desert was fortuitous in many
ways since this is where she met her husband, had two sons, and became a writer.
She has since published eight eBooks, including a momoir for first time
mothers, Mommy But Still Me; a guide for aspiring writers, So You
Want to Sell a Million Copies; a short story collection, Coloured and
Other Stories; and a novel about women’s friendships, Saving Peace.
Her coming of age novel, An
Unlikely Goddess, won the SheWrites New Novelist competition in 2011.
Her recent books have focused on various aspects of life in
Qatar. From Dunes to Dior, named
as a Best Indie book in 2013, is a collection of essays related to her
experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf. Love Comes Later was the winner of the
Best Indie Book Award for Romance in 2013 and is a literary romance set in
Qatar and London. The Dohmestics is
an inside look into compound life as well as the secrets kept between
housemaids and their employers.
After she joined the e-book revolution, Mohana dreams in
plotlines. Learn more about her work on her website at www.mohadoha.com or follow her latest
on Twitter: @moha_doha. Mohana is currently working on her first historical
novel, set in the East Asian country of Laos.
Dust laid a film of grit
on the boxes in the entryway of the sand-colored duplex. Emma pulled straying
pieces of elbow-length hair back into the bun, held together by a pencil spiked
through the center. Dust, heat, desert. Their new life, waiting for Adam to
become full captain. Four years. Maybe longer. The wilted plants in ceramic
pots on doorsteps up and down the street were evidence the desert sun was
winning. Emma tasted particulate on her tongue; the sandstorms would play havoc
with Adam’s sinuses. Everywhere she looked, there were buildings similar to
hers; whether villas, apartments, or duplexes, the exteriors were the same
beige cinderblock front. Wider entryways for duplexes and three steps for the
approach to villas distinguished the bigger units from the smaller ones. No
driveways for the neighborhood existed inside the compound boundary wall.Four years was fast tracking in the
airline industry, but Emma felt each of these early days pass like a month.
the parking spaces were empty; the beige canvas awnings melded into the
adobe-colored walls of the buildings. Across the street were the wider front
entrances of the villas; there was a bit more variety in these that more
resembled houses back home. These were two story affairs, with wide fronts to
the street, beige again with beveled glass, three actual steps for an entrance,
rather than the flat approach to the rest of the buildings, like the one Emma
swiped at the sweat on the back of her neck. Her footsteps echoed on the tile,
determined to unpack the next set of boxes.Adam was away. Alice was at school. The silence was
get a job?” Adam had asked. “We could save that money too, for the house?”
tell them I have to leave halfway through the day to go pick up our daughter,
now, can I?”
maid,” Adam replied with a shrug, as if it were the most natural thing in the
that would cost money,” she protested. “We’re trying to save money.” Their love
of entertaining had built up quite a pile of bills.
pays them that much,” he said. “A few hundred riyals.”
someone in the house with us, when we’re tight on space as it is.” She shook
her head. “Plus, is that legal, a few hundred riyals?” She didn’t get a reply
before he left for the gym, a workout an essential for the days he was home to
balance so much time in the air.
the routine schedule as co-pilot of a cargo plane, as regular as the post,
bringing Adam home every night for dinner. The company had folded in the
financial crisis. Commercial airlines were hiring—foreign companies anyway. Now
they were in the Middle East with Adam flying anywhere from Hong Kong to New
York, while she stayed at home.
thumbnail broke as she ripped the tape off the next lid. She chewed off the
rest of the nail, glad Alice wasn’t there to see the forbidden act. Emma’s eyes
drifted to the pile of adverts left in the door overnight; a glossy one
featured women with blow-dried hair sipping tea. Yes, maybe that’s exactly what
she needed. She snatched up the house keys and made her way down the street
towards the clubhouse.
weekly neighborhood coffee morning was one of those all-female, expat
gatherings Emma had read about on forums before making the move to the Arabian
Peninsula. She hadn’t planned on attending one, but the stifling silence drove
her out of the house, looking for adult conversation that didn’t involve flight
schedules or school pick-up routes.
are you from?” asked a woman with wire-framed glasses that made her brown eyes
Emma said. She answered a string of familiar questions in every group she came
to, the most common being, “How long have you been here?” Those who answered in
the longest number of years to this question seemed to be mostly Indian,
clustered together away from the other women. Everyone white wanted to know
whether or not she worked. When Emma said she didn’t and confessed her school
pick-up dilemma, the women had the solution: a full-time housemaid.
have so much more time to spend together, with your husband,” said a petite
brunette with a waist the size of a teenager’s.
won’t spend it doing those tasks that you have to do again and again, like
cooking or laundry. You can spend it with your child,” a blonde with perky
breasts chimed in.
blonde and brunette shook their heads as one, sharing a glance.
do, they’ll be jailed,” the brunette said, the dimples disappearing from her heart
worse,” the blonde intoned.
another person,” Emma fretted, another worry with the new concern about flight
attendants. There had been none for airfreight. “Do I have to be with her all
your employee,” the blonde emphasized. “She works for you. She isn’t your
have to watch the younger ones,” the brunette insisted. “Especially Filipinas.”
them? They steal?”
not the worst.”
husband is a pilot?”
nodded the affirmation.
“Stop scaring her, ladies.” A statuesque
woman interrupted the onslaught, waving her immaculate nails hello. “Amira.” Her
manicured hand reached out for hers.
she said stuttering at the sound of her own name. “I meant, would she need
entertaining? Would the two of us watch television together?”
laughed, as if Emma had told her a funny joke. “You’re new. You’ll see. They
make it so you can entertain yourself.”
“Myself?” The word sounded lonelier than
she had intended.
led her away from the group, motioning over to the tray of cookies.
“Your maid is the least
glamorous and last person to worry about. My husband is a pilot as well.
They’re around gorgeous, young girls all the time. You know the airline. Men,
women, everyone is impeccable.”She wiggled her eyebrows with a wink.
noticed,” Emma said with a laugh. “But is there someone else I should worry
about?” She looked around the room of immaculately groomed women. “Should I
lock up my husband?”