When The Maid Is Family

Siti came to Singapore 7 years ago. She was only 20 years old when she left her hometown, her family, her husband, and her son. She would not be there to see her son grow up. She would be a distant daughter to her ailing mother. She would become the caregiver to my mother.

My mother didn’t trust her initially. The first two years were traumatic years. Now they are very close. She converses with her in Hainanese, a dialect I never thought she could learn.

On the first night in our household, I saw her looking out of the window. What was she thinking? What is it like to work in a foreign country with no guarantee of personal safety? There are horror stories about maids. There are horror stories about employers of maids. The latter would form the premise of the horror hit movie, The Maid. Siti had a cameo in this movie. There was a close up of her looking out of a bus. It was the same look I saw that night.

We see her as a member of the family. Recently she celebrated her 27th birthday with us. She is generally positive and happy. She is also inquisitive. She knows all the gossips of most households on Thomson Hill and beyond. She never forgets a face. In fact she becomes a known face to almost all my friends and business associates. She remembers a slight as much as a praise. I count on her sometimes to put some facts in context.

She can be forgetful. Lately she is distracted. Her mother is unwell. She has disagreements with her husband. There are strange gossips about her in her village. In 7 years she has gone home once. She sent money home to rebuild her house, to buy a piece of farmland and to buy two cows. She also loaned her brother money to buy a motorbike.

She is going home again next month for 12 days. This may not be a happy vacation. She may need to make some very difficult decisions. My mother will miss her. She knows all the details of her medication among other daily routines and essentials. We will have to manage without her while she manages some pressing issues at home in Indonesia. She will get to see her mother and her son.

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