Hello. David and I were out of the UAE for a while which explains why there have been no witty missives from me in your inboxes detailing the zaniness of life over here. I was in Australia for six weeks to visit family and attend a couple of weddings. It was lovely to see everyone but to be honest, towards the end I was itching to get back here, back to what David and I have made our ‘home’.
Today, I’d like to talk to you about two very different ‘types’ of people that exist in Dubai. In fact they co-exist in a very symbiotic way. Allow me, first, to introduce you to Jumeirah Jane. This creature is married, usually with a couple of young children and a husband who works in business and earns a boatload of money. Of course Jane’s husband works very long hours and is often away on business, leaving Jane to her own devices. He also leaves her a Platinum American Express card. Or two. I’m sure every major city in the world has their own version of this magnificent specimen. In Melbourne, she’d be found in Toorak. In Dubai she lives in the beachside area known as Jumeirah (hence the name).
Jane lives in an emormous villa with a swimming pool and perhaps a tennis court. She drives a Range Rover (because it’s safer) to drop the kids off at school, and a two door Jaguar coupe (because it’s sexier) to get to her yoga classes, tennis lessons and hair appointments. When Jane wants to socialise (with others of her kind) during the day, she heads down to the Lime Tree Cafe in, of course, Jumeirah, where she and the other Janes congregate and partake in carrot & beetroot juices (to keep the skin glowing, naturally). Should Jane occasionally (god forbid) indulge in a piece of (organic) lemon slice she’ll immediately call Rob, her personal trainer to see if he can squeeze her in for a session that afternoon before the kids get home from school. Because looking good is a full time occupation for Jane and she needs to be able to fit into that new Givenchy dress her husband bought her for the business dinner they’re hosting tonight at the villa.
Sounds like a fun life, doesn’t it? Jane’s got it all. She has to be happy, right? Or maybe not. Maybe she’d give it all up for a husband who not only paid the credit card bills, but who paid her attention. Because statistics show that a number of Janes are actually looking for affection outside of the institution of marriage. In fact, a number of personal trainers (remember Rob?) are claiming that they are involved in affairs with the women of Jumeirah. A recent newspaper article uncovered several trainers who are either having affairs (sometimes multiple), or who claim to have been seduced and propositioned by their clients. And it makes sense. If Jane isn’t getting enough loving from her husband, who better to develop a relationship with than the man who sees her at her most stripped down – vulnerable, semi-naked and sweaty. Some of the women in the article even said that their husbands were aware of it and turned a blind eye. But you would think that if Jane was content, if she was really happy, she wouldn’t be looking for love (or lust) outside of the marriage.
By the same token, if she felt good about herself she probably wouldn’t spend as much time and money as she does on botox, fake tans, teeth whitening, chemical peels, waxes, liposuction, massages, manicures, pedicures, hair extensions, Pilates, facials and accupuncture. To within an inch of her life. On a regular basis. And THAT is what makes up Jane’s day to day schedule. I get the distinct impression actually that Jane’s life is soulless and empty. But gee, she looks good!! The only time Jane spends with her kids is driving them to school in the morning, and that’s more for show than anything else. Why else would she do it with a full face of (Shiseido) make up, blow dried hair and wearing freshly pressed, white Dolce & Gabbana capri pants and Louis Vuitton wedges. Not that she’d admit it, but a lot of effort and pressure goes into being Jane. Even so, she wouldn’t dream of venturing out to pick up the kids at home time – the traffic is unbearable at that time of day. No, she’ll have someone else do it for her.
Which, quite nicely segues into the next type of person I’d like to introduce you to. Please make the acquaintance of Mary the Maid (this moniker, unlike Jumeirah Jane, doesn’t actually exist – I made it up for the purposes of this story). Almost invariably from the Phillipines. In fact I think the actual job description on their visas is “Lowly Fillipino Maid”, which goes some way towards explaining the vacant stares and sad faces of the women occupying these positions. And there is no shortage of them. It seems to be rather fashionable (the ‘done thing’ if you will) for every family here (expat and Emirati alike) to own a maid. And yes, I know I said ‘own’ instead of ‘have’ or ‘hire’. Because they really are, generally, treated like slave labour. Sadly, as with the construction workers, no matter how bad things are here, it is still better than back home so they stay.
To give you an idea of the kind of treatment they are subjected to, a new law was recently passed in Dubai decreeing that only households with two or more bedrooms could employ a live-in maid. Just think about that for a second. Prior to the law being passed, and obviously to the extent that the governement saw the need to implement it, families living in one bedroom and studio homes were employing live-in maids. I don’t know where they were sleeping, I don’t know where they were changing in and out of clothes, and I don’t know where they had their ‘personal space’ but I for one am very happy with the new law. Actually, it’s considered so normal here to have a live-in maid that people actually have asked us if we planned on getting one. I, personally, couldn’t think of anything worse than being the ‘boss’ of a stranger living in my house. And please don’t get me wrong, I am not against having a maid per se (in fact, in my mid-twenties, the share household I was in often procured the services of a maid on a weekly basis). I’m just not planning on getting one to live with me simply because ‘everyone else is doing it’ or because it’s so dirt cheap.
There are actually two types of Mary the Maid. There are the Marys that are abused and taken advantage of, and there are the Marys that are not. I honestly believe that Jumeirah Jane doesn’t treat Mary badly. In fact, she probably thinks she treats her better than is required. She gives Mary a room of her own (perhaps even her own bathroom), she gives her a day off once a week and only asks her to work 12 hour days. And of course, she even gives her a few extra dirhams in her paypacket when Mary’s picked up the kids from school that week, and when she has to look after them for a couple of days while Mr. and Mrs. Jane go to Morocco for the weekend. And yes, this actually is a well treated maid. She has windows in her bedroom. Lucky girl.
I have heard of instances of maids having their salary withheld, of not being allowed to own a mobile phone, of not being allowed to socialise with other Fillipino’s (even on their days off – which sometimes do not exist), working 15-18 hour days every day, and yes, being given rooms with no windows. As a matter of fact, our apartment has maid’s quarters, which incidentally does not include a view of anything except four walls, a floor and a ceiling. We call it a ‘study’ – we use the ‘study’ for storage and it’s barely big enough for that. There are families in our building though that have live-in maids and I can only imagine that this is where they are being kept. On the more extreme side of the abuse spectrum, I have heard of Mary the Maid being raped by the husband and by teenage sons living at home, regularly beaten by the wife, denied food and water, and being locked in their rooms. I’ve heard that their passports are hidden so they can’t go home and they can’t run away. There really are some horror stories out there – and for all this, an average maid’s salary would be about 1200dhs a month (about AUD$120 a week). It’s not a lot to live on.
Many of these maids have husbands and children of their own back in the Phillipines and desperately need to hold onto their jobs to send money back, so they put up with a lot of crap. There is absolutely no way they could afford to bring Mr. Mary and the children here to live here as a family. I often spot Mary the Maid in the malls, trailing behind her Jane. Mary’s carrying six shopping bags (Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermès) and pushing the double pram, children screaming and throwing their toys to the floor. Jane, in the meantime, struts ahead, chatting on her Blackberry. The only bag she’s holding is the latest 8000dhs Dior “It” bag. For me, it really is as upsetting as the plight of the construction workers, if not worse because of the personal abuse they must endure.
I hope I’m not being too cynical of my view of Jane and Mary. I really am just telling it as I see it. They say that this city hardens you but I do try to keep my fresh (and yes, sometimes naive) perspective in place. Sometimes that is a little difficult. Next time, I promise you something more lighthearted.
Til then Chryss (aka Burj Betty)