Recently, one of the many Ugandan girls serving as househelps in Arab countries. Nakitende narrated that a number of her colleagues on kyeyo have qualms at the fact that they are not welcome to share the dining table with their Arab bosses.
In her account, she talked about the many surprises that she got when she had just arrived at her new job station; that she was surprised when she was told bluntly that she was not to sit at the same table with here bosses while having meals.
Nakitende’s account brought to the surface the treatment of maids in our homes as a touchy subject.
Indeed, not welcoming maids to the dining table is not restricted to Arabs. In most of our homes, maids have their meals from the kitchen as the father, mother and kids chat over at the dining table.
That this surprised her is surprising in itself for let us pause to think: Is it really befitting for you and your family to sit with your househelp at the table?
I can hear many dissenting voices saying that it is inhuman for someone to mistreat a person by refusing to sit with them at the dining table. When you think hard about it, you begin to understand why it is not a good idea to hold a discussion involving the maid after-all.
An intimate place
Dining tables are very intimate places. For many working class people, the dining table is the best and perhaps the only place where couples meet to talk about issues that affect the family.
Families have lots of problems; marital, financial, health as well as child raring problems. As families have meals, the dining table is usually the best place to chew over these very personal problems.
You cannot afford to be open about a problem in the presence of someone like a maid you consider an outsider. Additionally, it is at the dining table that as a family you talk about your secrets. Having a maid around deprives you of the freedom to talk freely about things in a private manner. Those who hold the rights of their maids above their own rights to guard against their privacy run a serious risk of having their secrets in the public arena, thanks to maids.
Whoever coined the word protocol or hierarchy probably had relations between maids and bosses in mind. Different cultures have different ways of according respect to their superiors. The Japanese bend while greeting superiors, while the Baganda kneel. These mannerisms extend over to other spheres such as where to sit in a house if you’re a worker or even how you dress.
By allowing the maid to sit at the same table with her boss, is to suggest that they are peers.
In Uganda, as indeed in many other cultures, sharing food sometimes involves rubbing shoulders which sometimes increases intimacy. For many of us women, having a maid too close to your husband such as at the dining table is a source of turmoil.
The househelp will begin to think that you are her equal and can therefore share the boss of the house. This is especially true in Uganda where many househelps come to work, with an ulterior motive of becoming wives or husbands of the ‘boss’.
As we all know, Ugandans are a people who always believe that they are of the same status as the people who employ them. I have known this because as a Muganda, I was taught from a very young age to believe that no body is above me, and if I come to work for you and I get too familiar with you I will begin to imagine that we are equal.
When you employ a househelp, many of them begin to believe that they are part of your family and any form of showing them their rightful places will always leave them flabbergasted. For example, if you employ a new househelp and you do not tell them before hand that they will not sit in the sitting room you will one day find them sitting in your sofas or putting the legs on the table.
Likewise if you warn them before hand that they should not sit there they will think that you are pompous. Others will take you for a braggart just because you have told them to sit elsewhere other than where they want to sit. Any attempt to correct them will fall on deaf ears because they are already used to you. You will find them telling newly recruited workers that “that one is like that just ignore her/him”.
My exposure to different cultures has taught me that drawing clear lines between bosses and maids is a necessary habit. I therefore advise our sisters who go to work as Househelps in those Arab countries to apply the saying “when in Rome do as Romans do” because in many other parts of the world its normal if you are not allowed to eat from the round family table, then take it that your position is below your employers and therefore you should not over assume.
While we go to Britain and clean toilets without assuming too much its surprising that when Ugandans go to work in the Arab world they complain about every bit of mistreatment yet in the western world we are never allowed to dine with the kings yet we do not complain.
Among my people, children are always warned not to meddle into old people’s conversations. Furtherstill children are never allowed to talk back to their elders when they are told something of which they do not know much.
Its bad manners to talk back rudely if you are spoken to, I believe that our employers though they might be younger than us are like our elders because they are the ones who pay us at the end of the month. So its just important that we accord them the respect they want.