Tips on how to succeed while in Arab countries
Stories coming from Ugandans who’ve left to do (Kyeyo) unskilled jobs in Arab countries such as the UAE (Dubai), Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have often created the impression of a hostile society that abuses and exploits workers especially from Africa.
Most of the slave-like accounts of mistreatment, denied pay and physical attacks have mostly come from young Ugandan girls who work as housemaids in the homes of Arab bosses.
There is evidence to show however that not everyone is suffering abuse and that many Arab employers actually enjoy cordial relationships with their Ugandan workers.
In fact Ugandans who’ve worked in Dubai point out that a number of Arab employees prefer Ugandans to other nationals not because they are submissive but mostly because they are hard-working and adapt to the cultural setting fairly easily.
In an interview with The Sunrise, Jameo Nakitende, recounts how she overcame fear, language and cultural barriers to survive in a big family of seven people for close to 2 years.
Start of journey
Nakitende went to Dubai in 2013 to work as a maid and returned this year. Her contact in Uganda charged her Ushs3million just for putting her in touch with a Kenyan company that linked her to another UAE labour company.
From Nairobi where she boarded the plane to Dubai, she knew the kind of job that awaited her as well as the amount of money and conditions she faced in Dubai. Not long after she landed in Dubai than she was hired by a family.
She explains: “There are more people looking for maids than the available workers themselves. So at the company which hired us, people used to frequent it to get maids.” She adds: “And many prefer Ugandans to other nationalities because many are hard-working.”
Nakitende reveals that in order to be protected, one has to work through an employment company which helps to safeguard the interests of the worker by preparing a contract, communication channels as well as enabling the worker to get help whenever they disagree with the employer.
In her case, she got the job as a maid in a family of eight people. She describes her stay as a relatively peaceful and cordial relationship between her and her bosses.
“We agreed that they would pay me Ushs600,000 per month. They promised to cater for everything else from food, to accommodation, to clothing and personal hygiene products.” indeed they respected their word. “They also gave me a separate room,” she adds.
Nakitende describes her routine as not being different from other domestic chores in Uganda. “Everyday, except during the holy month of Ramathan, I would wake up at 5:30Am to prepare breakfast for children before they would go to school. The children where I worked were grown up. But there were older ones who had started their own families and regularly visited us.”
After clearing seeing off the children, she would then prepare breakfast for the adults, before she would plunge into the daily routine of cleaning the house, washing clothes [with machines], cooking and others chores.
“Most women in Dubai are housewives and stay home. They do nothing except eat and direct the maid to do this and that. Being overworked was my main complaint where I worked.”
Still, Nakitende says she had the choice of raising the complaint with the company in which case the employer would have been summoned to negotiate new terms or ask that an additional maid get employed to back her up.
But rather than mourn and grumbsle on a daily basis, Nakitende chose to bear with the situation. She perhaps knew the alternative of being jobeless back home was worse. After all she was living in comfort, eating and drinking whatever she wanted.
“I knew my background and that I had voluntarily chosen to work as a maid. So I had to bear with the situation,” In fact it is this determination and will of steel in Nakitende that endeared her to her bosses. “There are many workers who would get employed to support me but they would not stay around for long,” adds Nakitende.
In appreciation of her hard work, Nakitende says her boss took her to perform Hajj in Mecca.
Nakitende does not deny hearing tales of girls who ran away to police with complaints about being raped or being denied their pay. But these cases were in the minority.
“I heard of a case of a girl who left Uganda well aware she was going to work as a maid. But when she got to Dubai, she abandoned the job and said she wanted to become a teacher. Such people gat frustrated and they are some of those who complain too much,”
Nakitende adds that there are also some girls that primarily go to Dubai to become prostitutes.
“Generally, most Ugandans I knew of lived fairly well. Of course one had to adapt to things like not sharing meals with the family but that even happens here in many homes.
“At first, not being able to share the dining table shocked me but later I got used to it and appreciated it.”
Nakitende warns though that Arabs are not saints. “If you’re not smart, they can try to exploit you or confuse you about receiving payment. You have to make sure you sign for the money you get otherwise, some may want to pay without any record and later claim they paid you for more months than they actually did.”
She further advises that for one to be successful, one has got to be assertive. She narrated situations where her bosses would try to push blame for destruction of electrical appliances when in actual fact it is the children who were responsible.
“Whenever older children came visiting, they would come with their maids. Now the visiting maids could spoil something but put it back. The bosses tried to make me pay for the damaged appliances but I put my foot on the ground and told them I would not accept to pay for other people’s mistakes,” adds Nakitende.
“If you are assertive, they respect you,” adds Nakitende.
Nakitende returned to Uganda a few months ago. But she says the experience and some Arabic language skills she got, is good ground to allow her get a better paying job.
“In the coming few months, I want to go back to Dubai with the aim of doing a better job,” what comforts her more is that employers usually give better remuneration for those who have lived in Dubai for longer. From Ushs600,000, Nakitende is targeting Ushs2m. But she keeps her heart open to opportunities. “If I fail to get another job, I am prepared to work as a maid provided I get a better pay.”
Better things to come
More encouraging for those who wish to seek employment in Dubai is that the country is planning to amend labor laws that will improve the fortunes of foreign workers.
According to reliable sources, the new amendments will ensure higher pay for people like Nakitende, but also introduce new flexibilities in the issuance of visas for workers.