It's hard to believe that after 4 years she suddenly wants privacy.

Dear Incredulous,

It may sound incredible that a young woman, formerly a teacher, would be prepared to sleep in the kitchen. Furthermore, if she was prepared to sleep in the kitchen for the last 4 years, why is privacy so important now? Perhaps she is being dismissed for some other reason and not that she wants out.

Yes, the maid might be lying. She might have something to hide. Perhaps she has changed over the years. She might have started off very well but is now beginning to slacken.

However, it is not totally implausible for a foreign maid to be asked to sleep in the kitchen or the living room if there are not enough rooms in the house. Not every house has a servant's room.

Let us consider the plight of a newcomer (Nida Ruma) confronted with this situation. The employer Mrs Noroom might have conveniently forgotten to say that the maid would not have a room of her own, or would share a room with granny or very young children, but would have to sleep in an open area such as the living room or the kitchen.

Nida would thus have good reason to refuse to work for Mrs Noroom. But what if Mrs Noroom offered her 10% more in pay? If Nida Ruma was Indonesian that little extra would mean quite a lot to her family. Four years ago (in pre-crisis days) twenty-three Singapore dollars would be equivalent to 36,800 Indonesian Rupiahs. At that time itinerant noodle sellers would charge only 1,000 Rupiahs for a bowl of noodle soup in Jakarta or Tanjung Pinang. So S$23 extra was nothing to sniff at, especially in a more remote place like Semarang where Nida Ruma probably came from. There S$23 would buy even more. Futhermore, Mrs Noroom might have hinted to her that she could cancel her work permit and send her packing. Nida had a child at home and her husband was unemployed so the prospect of being sent home was quite daunting. If Nida Ruma was Filipina, 10% of her salary would amount to $32 which was probably equivalent to about 700 Phil Pesos, no mean sum either, especially if she came from a rural area.

So Nida stayed on. At the end of two years she was offered a job but when she asked Mrs Noroom to give her consent, the latter told her she could transfer only back home, i.e. to Jakarta or Manila. So being practical, Nida continued working for Mrs Noroom for another two years. At the end of 4 years she had had a house built and bought a plot of farm land; the need for money was not so urgent and the need for privacy becomes stronger.

Of course, Mrs Noroom would certainly not be happy that Nida was planning to fly and any inquiry from a prospective employer would only let the cat of the bag, something Nida wanted to avoid. She remembered that after her first two years when she asked for consent to transfer Mrs Noroom threatened to send her home!

It would have been disastrous to have been sent home then, but now after 4 years, a trip home is long overdue. But she would only go home after she had been offered a job. If Mrs Noroom found out about her plans, might she have been sent home earlier, before she was offered a job?

Nida Ruma's story is based on what the maid herself related to us. The interviewer who spent time with her was quite convinced she spoke the truth. At rate, she did go home and now is working for an English couple, since late March, 2001. So far so good.

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