Sister Intisar Shah: QAAMS

QAAMS

Intisar Shah is one of the most recognisable and respected members of the Philadelphia Muslim community. Born and raised in North Philadelphia, she accepted Islam in 1973. Some people have described Intisar Shah as a rock of the community, but she is more than that; she’s a gemstone who has been polished through perseverance, faith, and dedication to her community.

While small in stature, sister Intisar has a calm and commanding presence that is respected by everyone. Qasim Rashad highlights Intisar’s positive attitude, explaining, “She has an ability to make you feel the world cares about you while at the same time she is as candid and truthful as they come.” Perhaps it’s her mid-Atlantic dialect, with traces of Southern warmth, or that Philly swagger, which transcends age, that makes it so easy for people of all ages to relate to her. She acknowledges, “I work with both ends, the youth and elders, and the adults in between.”

 

For over 40 years, sister Intisar has worked with inner city youth. Keziah Ridgeway, educator, writer, and Philly fashionista, relates, “I still remember her work with the youth back when I was in high school and it doesn’t seem that she’s slowed down one bit as she grows older.” Intisar lives just one block from United Muslim Masjid in South Philadelphia, one of the city’s most active Muslim communities. Qasim Rashad, Amir of United Muslim Masjid, notes, “Everyone that knows sister Intisar knows she loves her community, her people and the youth.” She considers the Muslim community her family and the masajid across Philadelphia home. Intisar recounted her youth, “I came from a family of very motivated leaders. My mother fought for community rights and a clean neighbourhood. She always had an extra plate at the table for a stranger, for anyone that may drop by.” Intisar’s most meaningful work is linked to turning personal tragedy into blessings for the youth and Philadelphia Muslim community as a whole.

 

One of the great testaments to her faith and dedication to Islamic education is the life of her son, Qa’id Ameer Abdul-Majeed Staten. Like his mother and father, Sam Staten Sr., Qa’id devoted much of his time to volunteering in the community. Despite his youth, Qa’id inspired others around him and even began his own organisation. When I asked her what the key was to raising such a devout, thoughtful, and inspirational young man, Intisar stated that every child needs discipline and order. She said, “I am a believer in being firm, but first and foremost, I always tried to put Allah I in the front of our life.” Intisar, like her mother, opened her home to others and almost every night three to a half dozen of her son’s friends spent the night. She said, “Everything I did with our son and his friends was to always let them know the role that they played as men in our community. They should be God-fearing, make prayer, and call their families to prayer.” She also stressed the importance of her son’s Islamic education in shaping his character. Intisar highlighted how Clara Muhammad School was a safe haven compared to many public schools in Philadelphia, which are plagued by drugs and violence.

Qa’id had plans to attend Howard University on scholarship but on April 27, 2003, just a few weeks short of his graduation, he was fatally shot by a robber. During Qa’id’s funeral, a group of young adults who knew him decided to create an organisation that honoured his generosity and service to the community by also giving back to the community through a hajj fund. Intisar said, “My son and two of his friends made intention to make hajj the same year that he graduated. I went to perform the rites for my son and those two young men were the first recipients to hajj scholarship.” The youth formed The Qa’id Ameer Abdul- Majeed Staten (QAAMS) Hajj Foundation.

 

Sister Intisar Shah has been an integral part of QAAMS since its inception. This year, QAAMS celebrated its 10th anniversary and now has a youth council and senior council. The organisation seeks to preserve our youth through spirituality, education and recreation. Qasim Rashad says that there are over a dozen youth actively involved in the QAAMS youth council, which provides a healthy alternative to children who have outgrown the Jawaala (for boys 7 to 17) and Muslimah Scouts (for girls 6 to 16). QAAMS organises ski trips, hosts iftars during Ramadan and feeds the hungry with organisations, such as Feeding Philly. QAAMS also organises and sponsors Family Night at United Muslim Masjid and collaborates with the Muslim Students Associations in Philadelphia through events aimed at the youth, such as open mic poetry. QAAMS continues to sponsor hajj tours. About 11 members have performed hajj to this date. Many of the youth council members are currently starting college and are looking forward to performing hajj.

 

Most of the original members of QAAMS are now in their late 20s and have been involved with the organisation for about a decade. Intisar said that many are active in the community and restructuring the organisation. The youth who started QAAMS, she says, “ Are now married, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, Bachelors, Masters, entrepreneurs, working in a variety of fields from health to social services.”

 

Organisations like QAAMS are so important for our community because they nurture and empower our youth, creating safe environments for them to flourish spiritually. Both Keziah Ridgeway and Qasim Rashad highlight how many of QAAMS’ members continue to give back to the community. At the QAAMS 10th anniversary gala, they didn’t need big name speakers. Instead, members inspired attendees by speaking about how their lives have been impacted by QAAMS and hajj. Intisar related that QAAMS is working on obtaining a building. She said, with a physical location “we can create safe quarters for the Muslim youth. So people can come and be educated about Islam, have social programs and be safe.” By working through QAAMS, Intisar is committed to building the Islamic community and creating opportunities for the youth, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

 

This past May, Intisar received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 15th Annual Sister’s Recognition Luncheon and Fashion Show, which is sponsored by United Muslim Masjid. Intisar was acknowledged for her work; she has given over 40 years of service to the private and public sectors. She is the Executive Director of QAAMS Hajj Foundation, active in Jewels of Islam (a comprehensive program and support network for women 50 years and older), a Board Member of Islamic Heritage Foundation, and Committee Member for the City-Wide Eid. In addition to her work with QAAMS, she has also coordinated countless youth and adult activities for the Philadelphia Muslim community. Keziah Ridgeway highlights Intisar’s involvement and abilities as a facilitator, explaining, “When I participated in the Islamic Heritage Foundation Youth Committee and attended related events I always remember how involved Sis. Intisar was with participating and being the glue to hold it all together.”

 

Sister Intisar’s community building is not limited to the Muslim community; she also works in the broader public sector as an active member of Mothers In Charge (for women who lost family and loved ones due to violence), Support Community Outreach Program, and the Equal Partners in Charge, Department of Human Services Community Prevention Services. She also researches and writes with a joint effort for the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program in the Department of Health and Human Services promoting abstinence programs.

 

Women like Intisar are the backbone of our community. It is clear that she does her work out of love and to please her Lord. Qasim Rashad notes, “I think the most important lesson that any person can learn from Intisar is consistency. Her undying love and commitment to our community has not permitted her to waiver one bit. “Through her dedication, she has become an effective and influential leader. Keziah Ridgeway explains, “As a result of seeing her hard work and dedication, it inspired me to continue to give back to my community in whatever way that I can whether that be through the students that I teach, the girls I mentor through Alimah Scouts or online through my website and social media!”

 

Intisar’s community work following her son’s tragic death is a perfect example of how we can find strength through hardship. We often go to lectures and hear about how we should be steadfast and not despair. In the past, I have often asked myself ‘how?’ We have so many inspiring reminders in the Qur’an, such as the following verse where Allah I tells us: “Oh you who have believed, persevere and endure and remain stationed and fear Allah that you may be successful” (Al Imraan: 200)

 

Looking to Intisar’s life and hearing accounts of how she remained steadfast, I am reminded of the follow verse: “But give glad tidings to the patient. Who, when afflicted with calamity, say: “Truly, to Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return.” (Al-Baqarah: 155-156)

Some recounted the strength Intisar demonstrated during her son’s funeral, and she continues to have so much patience and grace when faced with hardship or struggle. Intisar says, “I am thankful to Allah I to be His servant. I am thankful that my son accepted Islam as a way of life. And I pray that Allah I is pleased with him. I really want to please Allah I. So I pray that I can meet him in Jannat al Firdous.” Sister Intisar has shown me how I can better embody the Qur’an and Sunnah in my life; how I can turn whatever hardship I face into a lifetime of meaningful work.

 

You can find more information about Intisar Shah’s work by visiting QAAMS’ Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/QAAMS2003, or their website, http://www.qaamshajjfoundation.blogspot.com.

 

Margari Aziza Hill is an adjunct professor, blogger, and writer who lives just outside of Philadelphia.

 

You can read the full article at SISTERS magazine, along with many other fabulous and thoughtful contributions from Muslim women across the globe.

Nana Asma’u: A Spark Who Continues to Illuminate

Nana Asma'u-1

Living as a Muslim minority in the West, I have often felt frustrated by religious intolerance, but also from a community  that does not fully honor the rights that are accorded to women in Islam or provide many outlets for women to become scholars. This was the case in late 18th century West Africa, in what is now modern day Northern Nigeria, when  Uthman Dan Fodio criticized oppressive customs and encouraged female education. Nana Asma’u bint Uthman Dan Fodio was a product of her father’s commitment to quality Islamic education for women. She became a legend in her own right and through her writings and education movement, ‘Yan Taru, she has inspired countless women for generations.

 

As a Nigerian with dual American and British citizenship, researcher Rukayat Modupe Yakub is aware of the legacy of Nana Asma’u. Rukayat points outs, “For so many Muslims Nana Asma’u is still unknown, but for those who are familiar with her she was an educator, writer and poet who was passionate about education, For this reason you find schools in places like Nigeria named after her.” In addition to her poetry and education movement, Nana Asm’au is also considered an Islamic leader who was known for her ability to mediate political disagreements. She was fluent in Arabic, Hausa, and the Tamasheq language of the Tuareg. Like her father  and brothers Muhammad Bello and Abdullahi, Nana Asma’u was a prolific writer who left a tremendous literary legacy. She wrote to keep her father’s memory alive in the minds of the people and in support of her brother Muhammad Bello’s  Caliphate. At 27, she was given the task of organizing her father’s corpus of works, all while overseeing a household of several hundred people and ensuring that they were provided for.

 

Jean Boyd gained access to her works in 1975 and later wrote The Caliph’s Sister, which provides a detailed biography of Nana Asma’u’s life and legacy. Jean Boyd collaborated with Beverly Mack to compile her poetry and religious treatises in Collected Works of Nana Asma’u, Daughter of Usman dan Fodio (1793-1864). The book compiles her impressive body of poems and treatises in Arabic, the Fula language, and Hausa. Beverly Mack and Jean Boyd also co-wrote a book which analyzes the social and political function of many of her poems titled One Woman’s Jihad: Nana Asma’u, Scholar and Scribe. 

 

Rukayat says that Nana Asma’u continues to serve as an important inspiration because “She was involved in social work and had political clout, she was a mother and wife, sister of the head of state, daughter of a legendary a political and spiritual leader, she could have had any life she wanted but she choose to be of service.” Around 1830, Nana Asma’u trained a group of women to travel around the Sokoto Caliphate to educate women. Each woman in this cadre held the title jaji  (leader of the caravan) to designate their role as female leaders.

 

One hundred and eighty years later, Dylia bin Hamadi Camara is one such Jaji who explains, “We have the name of all the jajis before me so mine comes after a long line of the unbroken chain of scholarship and service to women, children and the Ummah at large.” Jaji Dylia explains that the methodology of learning that Nana Asma’u develop still educates men, women, and children. In the United States, the ‘Yan Taru Education Foundation and Charitable trust has chapters in Pennsylvania, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and California with 33 women in intensive training and intensive seminars and classes which are open to the public.* Teachers like Jaji Dylia travel internationally and use email, teleconferencing, and text messaging to educate their students on classical Islam. Preparing for a trip to Guinea, Dylia stated her next goal is to translate Nana Asma’u’s teachings into French because the Francophone world has largely been unaware of this rich legacy. My hope is that we begin to learn more and more about the named and unnamed women who have been responsible for educating our ummah. They have passed on a rich legacy, one that reminds me that even when faced with the greatest challenges, we  as women can be brilliant and provide guiding lights for others.  

You can read find other stories of inspirational Muslim women, along with this one,  in   the February edition SISTERS magazine 
*Jaji Dylia updated us and told us that Yan Taru trust has chapters in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Oakland , Florida and Massachusetts. She also has some students in Toronto who are not Yan Taru. She is currently in Benin, where she also has students.
To date, Dylia translated Tanbeeh l Ghafileen  and prays that Allah grants her the himma to translate even more in the future, insha’Allah.

 

Eid Mubarak and Why I still Get Excited about Turkey Day and Christmas

In some ways Ramadan passed by quickly and in other ways it seemed like it would never end (or at least I would not be able to make it to the end). I guess I try to be festive, but I have to make a painful confession as a proud Muslim. My Eids have sucked in comparison to Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family. Don’t get me wrong. My family does not celebrate it for nationalistic reasons or religious. But it is a time when my mom cooks special foods and a time when we eat and catch up. There are lots of Muslims who are against celebrating the Pilgrims getting saved by Native Americans and then turning around decimating Native American populations. But even more than that, many Muslims are against celebrating a holiday that has pagan roots. But believe me, it is not like I’m going around praying to a Christmas tree. I’m just happy to be home and see my family and eat some soul food.

Last year, in my blog entry, Ramadan Around the Corner, I wrote this:

The Muslim festival marking the end of Ramadan is by no doubt a relief. But I hate the anti-climatic end to my month long process of food and sleep deprivation. Usually I have to go back to work. Everything goes to normal, nothing changes, no visiting friends and family. It is about as much fanfare as, secretary’s day sometimes. I know, no one in my family celebrates Eid. I think I received an Eid gift maybe once in like 13 years. It is a struggle to feel part of a community during that time. In the large crowds I’m usually grateful to find a familiar face and give quick salaams. My Muslim friends are off doing their family thing. If I go hang out with them, I’m sort of like a fifth wheel. So, I just go home and dream of a time when I could have my own Muslim family and we can make up some traditions of our own.

l think either Eid al-Adha or Eid al-Fitr for single converts can have the same effect as Christmas and Thanksgiving on single people who live far from their family. I remember having a conversation about the loneliness converts experiences with someone who was born into a Muslim family. She stated she doesn’t fit in and has felt lonely sometimes, especially when she went to grad school. But the simple fact is that she now lives near her parents, siblings, and in-laws, has a growing family of her own, and everybody seems pretty close-knit. She has people she can visit during Eid, and they’d be happy to see her, or visiting is an obligation, a duty. I remember a few years ago I asked a Desi friend what did they do after the Eid prayers. They got a little uncomfortable. I wasn’t supposed to know this. Like I didn’t have the secret handshake or password. After some prying they said their families had a function, normally with other Desi families. I don’t recall being invited to one of the Eid parties, or even the hajj welcome back parties. However, I’m invited to weddings and the parties where everyone from the entire Muslim universe is invited. But often I feel awkward as that one weird Black chick that people see around occassionally.

This Eid was better than my previous Eids. I’m not going to go into detail about why my Eids on the East Coast, with my now ex and now former in-laws. But they those three Eids sucked just as much as my miskeena Eids in California.
For years Eid traditions were a mystery. I mean, I know what you’re supposed to do before Eid prayers eat some sweets, (wear perfume if you’re a guy, but not if you’re a woman cause the pleasant odor of a woman will cause disorder and disruption), drive different routes there and back. But every culture has something different that they do in celebration of Eid. They have special sweets, traditions to delight children, clothing, and customs of visiting grandparents and family members. One of my friend noted that even though she would like to experience a Kuwaiti Eid, she has never been invited to a Kuwaiti Eid gathering. Normally they say, “See you after Eid!” So, we still don’t know what Arab, South Asian, or what ther Muslims really do for Eid, outside of what we hear on radio specials. Perhaps the imprenetable nature of the eid private family gathering over the past 14 years represented my outsider status. Many of the international students experience this when they study in the states. So, organizaitons like the ISSU at Stanford organize specially events to bring people to together. They are nice, but I’m like wow after 14 years I am still transient. Every year I feel like that poor undergrad who doesn’t have any money to buy a plane ticket home for Thanksgiving break. You know those undergrads who don’t have anywhere to go off campus, there’s nothing like cafeteria turkey to warm the heart.

I just gave up going to Eid prayer. But I still go to Eid functions with the other long-way-from-home Muslims. I still felt a bit dissapointed one Eid because I signed up for the secret Sheikh/a (kinda like secret Santa). So I was all excited that I’d get an Eid gift for the first time in like 9 years. But my secret Sheikha forgot me. It wasn’t about the gift, but just about the thought. Then, another Eid, I missed a funny presentation because of a 20 minute long argument that I had with an international student who insisted that Black people didn’t give a damn about Darfur and how that was so hypocritical considering what African Americans been through. I mean, Eid Mubarak! Nothing like other Africans in the Diaspora making you feel like crap during Eid. Maybe some of us grad students are so analytical and outraged by injustices we see, that we can’t find a way to be festive. I dunno. I’m trying to not let the festive holidays depress me or let crowded gatherings make me for lonely. I think that’s why I became excited when I found out that I didn’t have to attend Eid prayers as long as there were enough people to fulfill the obligation. But this time in Kuwait, I did want to go to Eid prayer. But I fell asleep late and didn’t wake up in time. I guess I have to catch the sea of black abayas and chadors next during the next Eid (that’s the big Eid al-Adha). There were several kid centric things going on for Eid. But I have always wondered if there were special bazaars, performances, and street food that people eat during Eid. And not all the time is Eid about children. Eids were also the big mixed gatherings that medieval Muslim scholars in Andalusia condemned because the young single people of opposite sexes could see each other. Gosh, the threat of social collapse due to young men and women intermixing and possibly flirting. Watch out now!

Seeing how scandal follows a single Muslim woman like doo doo draws flies, I decided to pass on the kid-centric picnick on an Island on Friday. After the kids came back from picnicking and spending money at an amusement park, they returned home. I sat with them to exchange gifts and unwrap Eid presents. I realized that this was the first time I ever really saw kids excited about Eid and doing Eid-like things. It was one of the more pleasurable moments. Since Thursday morning, several members of the family I’m staying with have come down with some stomach bug. So, no big celebratory feasts. Who has the energy for all that? But in order to alleviate my cabin fever, I I went to an Eid open house at the AWARE Center (Advocacy for Western Arab Relations). I was nice getting out, I ran into some students from Kuwait University. But still, more of an open house than the warm feeling of a holiday. Don’t get me wrong some people have fun during Eid. I think especially when you part of a family or have strong bonds with people who share the day with you, it can be really nice. Eid is less materialistic than Christmas, there is all the stress similar to Christians–the crowds, the rush to buy presents, clothes, and food. It is not the material things about Christmas or the feast of Thanksgiving that draws me to it. But it is the sense that I am sharing precious time with loved one. It is a sense that belong somewhere, as opposed to being a lost person in the crowds of communalism, that makes me want to make my Eids like Christmas.

You Don’t Know Me From Adam–Maids in Kuwait Part 2

This is a continuation of the discussion on maid. In my previous post, I compared live-in maids with other servile positions–specifically slavery. This post is about the motivations that drive the institution and the types of maids.

There are many motivating factors to getting domestic help in Kuwait. One, it is relatively easy and inexpensive to get unskilled labor in Kuwait. Kuwait to get help legally than it is in the states. There are Kuwaiti citizens on top, then Westerners, then Arabs from other countries, and then South Asians on the bottom of the social ladder. Located in the Persian Gulf, Kuwait is relatively close to Africa and South Asia. There are dozens of undeveloped nations in close proximity, making flights relatively cheap in comparison to travel to America or Canada. Cheap labor, and especially cheap domestic labor is predicated upon the economic inequality between oil rich nations and undeveloped nations. With foreigners consisting of 80% of the workforce, Kuwait is a highly stratified society. Kuwait also has a large population of immigrant male workers in skilled and unskilled positions. Maids, janitorial staff, retail clerks, hostesses, and waitresses are some of the few job opportunities that women from poor nations have in Kuwait. Kuwaitis and westerners, on the other hand enjoy a high standard of living. Part of the standard of living includes maids and domestic help.

So what motivates someone to get a live-in maid? Several factors drive the demand for maids. There is a higher premium on the home as a center of socialization in Kuwait. In addition to the burden of housework and child-rearing on women, women play a large part organizing family gatherings and diwaniyyas (gatherings of men who sit in large room and drink tea, coffee, and other manly stuff). Women’s time is often spread thin between child rearing, house-hold errands, social obligations outside the home, religious duties, and receiving guests displaying elaborate hospitality. A social visit can take hours and socializing is not just limited to week-ends. In addition, Ramadan is a month long. For the non-Muslims out there, Ramadan is like 30 days of Thanksgiving (including the hours you don’t eat so you can stuff yourself). A family may not be able to make excuses for not allowing company over or visiting friends during special holidays and special events. The husband may have impromptu guests. In addition, hospitality is very elaborate. While catering can be an option, preparing meals for guests can be overwhelming for a female head of household. This includes various time-consuming dishes, and elaborate deserts and intricate coffee and tea ceremonies. Add room set up, cooking, serving, clean up, to the normal household work and child rearing equals means that one 4 hour event can equal more than two days of preparation.

In addition, childcare for young children is often inside the home under the supervision of the mother. Women are expected to have many children and breast-feeding is encouraged. They often do not have family members living with them to help out. In addition, from what I have seen, children spend less time in front of tv or playing video or computer games. I don’t see too many walkers, playpins, or blockaded areas where infants and toddlers can sit unattended for periods of time. This means children are less zoned out and require more attention. Who watches the children while you cook? This is an especially important question in places where gas stoves explode or there are carbon monoxide leaks.

While there are many hardworking mothers who really need extra support to fulfill all the household work, there is also the laziness factor. Some children are closer to the maids than they are their own mothers. Some women may need maids to clean and babysit while they shop to they drop at one of the high end malls. Maids may take over the messy work of child rearing, feeding the baby, burping the baby, getting the baby throw up all over their maid uniform. That way, the mother can keep her nice rhinestone embellished black abaya looking really sharp. Some people want to be served hand and foot. I have heard of a family that has three children and three maids, one for each child. For some women, live-in maids free them from mundane domestic work, the kind that makes your hands hard or ruins your manicure. There is also a prestige to being able to afford maids, while the servile position is looked down upon.

For the maids not only is there a stigma to being in a servile position, but also domestic work does not offer upward mobility or career growth. What would motivate someone to come to a Kuwait without speaking a lick of Arabic and put themselves at the mercy of an agency and some random family? Women in developing countries have limited opportunities to join the work force in their own communities. This limitation is especially for women without education backgrounds. For numerous women, work in places like Kuwait is an opportunity to send money to support their families and children. There are some maids who are well educated and join a maid placement agency but are really looking for other opportunities. They figure that by getting to Kuwait, they can pursue better opportunities. Rarer cases seem to involve single women hoping that they can find a well-to-do husband in Kuwait. There are cases where maids do get married and become heads of households themselves. I personally don’t have the statistics.

There are live-in maids and part time maids. Part time maids are actually more expensive. Some households require maids to work long hours. The longest I’ve heard shift for a live in maid was from 5 am to 3 am the next day. Others allow their maids the evening off. Some households don’t give their maids a day off. But many give their maids Friday off. Some maids are given separate sleeping quarters or their own rooms outside the home. Other maids are given only a mat to roll out and roll up (later in this article I will talk about why do families not allow separate sleeping quarters or give their maids a day off). From what I know, starting salaries for live-in maids is around 45 Kuwaiti Dinars (KD = 3.5 dollars). But a part time maid is 120 KD. Part time maids come to your home for set shifts and leave by evening. Most of these maids have husbands who are working in Kuwait. One of my friends noted that part time maids are efficient and have professional attitudes and demeanors. Part time maids often have ambitions and demand a certain amount of respect. She pointed out that many of the live-in maids on the other hand, are often not trained and often act slavishly. They often have emotional baggage (suffering from fits, fainting spells, endless crying, weeping when told how to do a job correctly). Part of the baggage comes from the culture shock arriving in Kuwait, or from a negative experience with a former boss. Part time maids may take the job because they can use the extra cash.

Maids can fulfill a range of jobs, from cook, servant, housekeeper, launderer, to babysitter. The jobs can range from labor intensive to relatively light. Some families can have several maids, each with set duties. There may be a maid assigned to cook, a maid who focuses on laundry, and a maid whose only job is to care for children. Some families travel with their maids because they need extra help with children. Despite the multiple duties they fulfill, maids are given little training such as language training, customer service, kitchen safety, janitorial and housekeeping skills, child development, or CPR. I have also heard that some agencies train maids in rudimentary Kuwaiti Arabic and housekeeping skills. These agencies charge a lot more than the ones I have visited so far Maids can range in various levels of efficiency in performing household duties.

People often talk about maids like their countries are brand names. It is not uncommon to go to an agency and say, “I’m looking for an Indian maid.”Formerly, Filipino maids were popular until their country demanded salaries that reached close to a teachers salary. Now Kuwait is boycotting the Philipines. But there are still many Filipino maids whose visa have not expired and want to continue to work in Kuwait. In addition to Filipino maids, there are Indonesian, Indian, Nepalese, and Ethiopian maids. Filipino maids often speak English, so that is a benefit for American families. Often people will argue the merits of the maids from a particular country. Sometimes there are different fads. I have heard that right now, Ethiopian maids are in. Some countries have reputations, for example an Ethiopian maid said that Indonesian maids eat wiiiiiiiiiide (Kuwaiti for a lot). Other countries have reputations for being promiscuous. Filipino maids get that honor. I heard that after getting a few accounts of Filipino maids sneaking men into the house or running off with the KFC delivery guy from Egypt. Basically, maids are essentialized in their ethnic categories.

One of the things that makes it difficult to understand a live-in maid’s human experience is that there is a language barrier. As I stated earlier, there are many maids who cannot speak Arabic or English. Even if they do, few speak it well enough. But some Kuwaiti families prefer their maids to not speak an Arabic. I have heard accounts that say it is best to get a maid who had no previous experience, or worse, a returned maid. One Lebanese family living in Kuwait had an Ethiopian maid who didn’t speak Arabic when she started but within a year she was fluent, plus she learned to cook and clean just like, “madam.” But this is rarely the case. If a multi-lingual woman who has a smidgen of education comes to Kuwait as a maid, it is likely she has higher aspirations.

In the next section I will talk about the ways in which maids are in vulnerable positions and how people have abused maids. I will draw from stories I have heard and from news reports.

You Don’t Know Me from Adam–Maids in Kuwait Pt. 1

Americans are largely unconcerned with problems surrounding domestic workers (maids, nannies, and cooks), outside of scandals involving officials using undocumented workers (illegal immigrants) and sex scandals with the babysitter or nanny. Yet in Western news reports on Middle Eastern countries there are sensational stories about human trafficking, physical abuse, labor without compensation, and forced captivity. Many of us Westerners were horrified to hear of cases where maids were beaten, given little food, or held captive without pay. Some maids are subject to cruel treatment, long grueling hours, and hard labor. Despite the downsides of maid service, thousands of maids come to places like Kuwait for opportunities to work in middle class and affluent Kuwaiti homes. Many American and Western expats in Kuwait rely upon domestic help. From my conversations with American expats and my own personal experiences with maids, I have seen how the intertwined working and living arrangements between well-off families and poor women gives rise to numerous ethical and social problems in kuwait.

Before I begin talking about live-in maids, I wanted to discuss some of the underlying assumptions and cultural attitudes that many of us share about domestic workers. Americans often have a negative view opinion of people who use domestic help. In the States, only affluent families or well off families can afford live-in domestic help. The general public see the women who rely upon nannies as lazy, indulgent mothers. Conservatives who believe that women should be in the home look down upon career women who rely upon nannies and maids to do domestic work. Stay-at-home mothers who hire nannies to help out with children are also viewed negatively. People see them as lazy indulgent mothers who don’t want to spend time with their children. A common view is that they are not caring for their children. While there are less negative views about housekeeping services, the general public generally looks down upon families that rely upon live-in maids. The most common view of domestic workers is that they are vulnerable and exploited by bosses who are too lazy to do things that normal people do for themselves.

As a servile position, the abuse of maid service has been compared to slavery by media and labor activists. While this essay makes no attempt of a thorough analysis of slavery and servile institutions, however it is clear that live-in domestic workers’ toils and tribulations pale in comparison to the historical experiences of chattel slavery in the Atlantic slave system or plantation slavery in Africa (West African [crop] and clove planations in Zanzibar). Maids have a much greater degree of choice and agency. A maid also maintains links with their family and in time can return back home. Slave systems worked because slaves could not go back home. There is no social death from free person to non-free person and their position is temporary (although some contracts can render a maid in greater debt when they leave). Maids have rights over their own children and lineage. A slave had no rights over their own production and biological reproduction.
Maids migrate to developing nations out of their own free will in order to seek better opportunities. The measure of free will depends upon if we can argue that desperate economic conditions still leaves an individual to choose freely. What happens once the maids arrive in a family’s home can differ greatly, depending on laws that protect immigrant workers and domestic help, contract, and temperaments of the family and the worker.

I intend to explore various issues surrounding maids, from the motivations that drive live-in maid service as an institution and the types of maids that live in Kuwait. After looking at some underlying assumptions we might have in the West, I will then consider the ways employers have exploited maids. I will then look at stories about unethical maids. Through anecdotal evidence, I hope to explore complicated issues that move us beyond a simple black and white picture of the difficult relationships between maids and the families that hire them.

Part 2 Motivations and types of Maids
Part 3 Maids as victims
Part 4 Scandals and the Maids who abuse the system
Part 5 Personal experiences, Reflection on the institution, and Conclusion

Housewives should go on strike

I found this interesting article today:
Stay-at-home mother’s work worth $138,095 a year
Although women’s work is often undervalued. This article drives home the point how vital women’s contributions are.

The typical mother puts in a 92-hour work week, it said, working 40 hours at base pay and 52 hours overtime.

One of the struggles that many housewives face is the perception that their husbands have of their work. For instance, there are many cases where women experience berating husbands who believe they do nothing all day while the husbands go out toil in the dog eat dog world. I guess they need to consider the many jobs that housewives juggle:

The 10 jobs listed as comprising a mother’s work were housekeeper, cook, day care center teacher, laundry machine operator, van driver, facilities manager, janitor, computer operator, chief executive officer and psychologist…

I am not saying that men don’t perform jobs at home. They do: investor, yardwork, handymen, car repair, sometimes babysitter, driver, financial and business consultant (always giving out advice on finances and how to run a better house), psychologist (listening to his wife complain), taste tester (somebody’s got to eat the food). There should be a study to show how much both sides contribute to a household. What about immeasurable things? Maybe couples would better appreciate each other.

Dark Heritage

Yesterday was surprisingly gloomy for a June. I woke up in this introspective, my mind whirling full of thoughts that wouldnt go away. There were so many issues unresolved and unexplored. These were things that have come up in random conversations, as me and my girls ramble in long conversations that meander on random tangents:

My faith,my race, my skin tone, my relationships, my family, my privilege, my oppression, all that I achieved, every failed endeavor, lost opportunities, my conditioning process in academia, my personal connections, my isolation, my memories, all that I have forgotten, holding on, letting go, everything that I have disclosed, all that I cant say…

My mood shifted into a deep melancholy as I prepared myself for my errands, my heart beat extra hard against my constricted chest. A memory, I let out two sobs, pulled myself together and I went about my day.

Sometimes I feel as if my chest is pulling away from my heart. I become slightly light headed and feel as if my mind disconnect from my body. It is hard to keep balanced. This is when I want to sit something out. Or my longing for a particular state is becoming unbearable. Other times, I feel as if my chest is constricting my heart. And each beat is painful and exhausting. I try to ride this out, breathmeditatework through my thoughts. Sometimes I just sleep it off, drift off into a world of dreams with the hope that my subconscious will work it out. With every difficulty comes ease.

A lot of it comes from stress. But often it is rage against the injustice of a global caste-structure, a pervasive world view that has seeped insidiously into so many mindsets.

Sometimes I feel a primordial ache. I know I inherited some of these feelings while I was in my mothers womb. When I met my father 18 years after my parents divorce, he told me that he knew when I was conceived. He said, Were going to make a baby. I was a love child. My parents fell in love at first sight. They were married for several years and divorced after a series of tragedies and violent conflicts. My father always loved my mother, but was unable to truly love my mother, till the day he died. My mother told me she was very sad when she carried me. She also spent a lot of time reading and thinking. Her sadness and fear was a product of a so many forces, a society that circumscribed her, a community that rendered her without a voice, her love for a broken and wounded man who self-medicated and inflicted his rage on her, her constant striving despite all the obstacles to take care of her son and daughter while making way for her third child. With my brother, she hustled and was always on the move to make a living as a teenage expectant mother; my sister who passed, she was deeply spiritual; with my youngest sister she was emotional. We all carried my mothers imprint.

I think this sadness passed on generation after generation in our mothers womb, our grandmother, her mother, on back These women in my family tell me stories of the rapes and murder at the hands of officials; kidnapped child; death and violations by neighbors, strangers, and friends; the exploitation of professionals and civil servants; the beatings and abandonment by the men they love; the betrayal of their sisters and neighbors; the loss of children to the prison industrial complex or drugs; then all the secrets that have been left unspoken….