Let me make a few enemies

Dear neighbor,

You said I pay my cook too much. Let me tell you what’s on my mind right now.

I don’t pay her “too much”. I pay her whatever I please. And I believe that a hard-working woman who holds 4 or 5 jobs has the right to pay her children’s school fees on her own.

Oh, but you tell me that our compound does fundraising to help the people working here pay for school, as well as unforeseen medical expenses. I commend you on that, and we have given rupees to those funds. Here’s an idea: what about paying them a bit more each month so they don’t have to beg for those monies?

But, you tell me, if we pay them more, they waste their money on non-essentials. That’s true sometimes. A friend loaned money to her driver, who a week later proudly told her he had bought gold earrings for his daughter. My friend wasn’t pleased at first, but was repaid on time, and the kid is in school. End of story.  I also know when I am being taken advantage of.  Sometimes.  Several maids were given the opportunity to work for us once, not twice (previous post).

Our cook is a woman. An inspiration of a woman, tall and dignified. With 3 darling kids. She has to raise them alone since her husband is missing in action. We give “too much” money mainly to women. As an educated person, you have probably heard about the concept of micro-credit, small loans given to the poor to help them get ahead. Mohammed Yunus won a Nobel Peace Prize for expanding the model, and he stressed the role of women in bringing poor regions of the world forward economically. Give a rupee to a woman, she feeds her kids and sends them to school. Give a rupee to a man and he’ll buy some hooch. So you say. I love micro-credit, and have been a donor on Kiva.org since 2007. On Kiva, I only give to women.  

By “overpaying” my cook, I bypass the middleman. A few weeks ago, after quitting her main job because of what can only be described as sexual harassment, she started her own business, selling dosas and idlis on a cart in the street. She’s officially a street vendor, and we are extremely proud of her. Whenever we ride by her spot, after 6pm, she’s always there, with her youngest daughter sitting on the ground doing her homework, surrounded by her cousin who sells flowers and her neighbor who sells herbs. The cart she is currently using belongs to her church, she rents it for 30 rupees a day. Tonight, she will be inaugurating her very own cart. Hers. Not rented. Not on loan. Not on credit. Her cart.

Then you tell me I am skewing the market, that nobody can afford maids anymore in the area because they only want to work for expats. Oh my, I am sorry that bringing maids out of poverty is an inconvenience to you. Let me enlighten you a bit about how the expat world works. We do not pay for our housing, the company does, through the nose. Although E. is a well paid attorney, one of the best IP strategists in the world, we could never afford this house. Yet, many of you criticizing me for the wages I distribute, own one, two, or more houses in gated communities. You’re not middle-class, you can afford to pay your maid a decent salary. And by the way, she’s entitled to a day off. And a raise once in a while. Even the compound handbook says so (yes, there is a handbook).

I had a long talk not long ago with a very wise man. I was discussing how I dislike bargaining, haggling. I find it exhausting. I recently saw a woman haggle over 20 rupees with a street vendor. I know this woman, she is married to the India-CEO of an American company you know of, but that will remain unnamed. I also know this woman works, or volunteers for a non-profit organization to help enroll children in schools. Why, why haggle over 20 rupees here, and then give 20 lakhs to an agency there? I was told by this very wise man that she gets her name in the paper for the donation, not for the measly rupees to the food vendor.


I am done with this rant.  I need to re-read “White Tiger”.


Kitty V.

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1 Response to Let me make a few enemies

  1. Pingback: Begging for school fees | KittiesVindaloo

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