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Maid in Morocco

On September 6, 2009

This article, by Sarah Alaoui, was published today on Mideast Youth:

“Here you go, akhti Sarah,” she said, while carefully pouring the lukewarm water from the bronze kettle. I watched as it slowly dribbled over my outstretched hands, and splashed into the small plastic tub she carried in her other hand while waiting for the cue to hand me the hand towel draped over her shoulder.

“Safi, shoukran,” I thanked her and quickly removed my hands, not wanting to take up anymore of her time and wanting to be rid of my uneasy feeling of being catered to by a woman not much older than I. She came back a few minutes later carrying a straw tray of piping hot bread that she’d carried back from the neighborhood oven and set it down on the table next to the steaming herbed chicken and pickled lemon tagine. Behind her trailed her small daughter, Naima, carrying a bottle of Fanta—more like clutching it to her small body, so as not to drop it and be reprimanded by her mother.

Amongst my photographs of crowded souks and souvenirs of hand-woven, colorful baskets lugged back on the plane home, my memories of vacations spent in Morocco are littered with images of maids. In Bouznika, a beachside haven where the elite of the country spend les vacances, we spent several days relaxing with some family friends who had arrived with four maids in tow. Each time I’d visit my grandparents’ house, there’d be a different maid than the last time I’d come—all had either left voluntarily or been dismissed. I’d sit around during the hottest hours of the afternoon—Moroccan summers yield temperatures of around 110 degrees—trying to keep cool and catching trails of the adults’ conversations. The latest gossip would be recounted, tales of whose diabetes was worse and whose blood pressure was higher would be recounted as if the person with the more tragic medical history would be offered a prize later, and of course, woeful stories about “how hard it is to find a good maid nowadays”.

With their conversation drawing to a lulled buzz in the back of my mind, I spent hours contemplating the situation. These women and children are born into an unfortunate (to say the least) position in a country whose rich are separated from the realities of their country’s economy and developing status by elaborate walls and a language they insist on speaking—one that was left over from their history as subjects of imperialism. In addition to expensive villas and numerous trips overseas, the upper class of Morocco like to flaunt their wealth through their accumulation of maids.

These poverty-stricken, uneducated women come from villages on the outskirts of Moroccan cities and have no choice but to provide for their families and children by taking jobs as maids for the country’s most ostentatious citizens. The stigma of poverty they are branded with at birth is further emphasized by this symbolic occupation—maids are to be seen and not heard. They work behind-the-scenes—similar to the house elves in J.K. Rowling’s famous wizarding series.

There are many families in Morocco who attempt to provide a home and not just a workplace for their maids. My grandmother has always made sure her maids’ children received an education alongside her own children and grandchildren—during the time her mother worked in my grandmother’s house, Naima went to the same school as my cousin. Unfortunately, it is safe to say that most people in the country do not provide the same earnest care to their maids.

Eleven-year-old Zainab Shtet is currently experiencing the aftermath of possibly one of the worst ordeals any human can have to endure—bruised, burned, starved all under the hand of her “masters”. The daughter of a desperately impoverished father, Zainab had no other hopes for bettering her future but to offer herself as a maid. The sad irony here, is that her boss was none other than a judge and his family. She had to cater to the needs of the richest and most powerful citizens of Moroccan society including a so-called representative of the law. How can justice ever be brought to this little girl when her perpetrator and arbiter are one—especially in a country where the barriers of law topple down with the hands of money.

As an aficionado of African-American history, Zainab’s story not only shocked me, but it also provided me with a mirror of our own past. We cannot change the current economic structure of Morocco—we cannot widen the gap between the rich and the poor overnight. We can, however, promote the importance of education and make sure each and every child is provided with an education and not forced with the burden of work—especially not one where he or she has to serve an entire family hand and foot.

It will take time and effort, but as a Moroccan-American, I do not feel comfortable with myself knowing I have not made any attempts to better the situation of poor, young maids in Morocco. In an entrenched political system, change has to come slowly and over the course of many years. However, by spreading Zainab’s story and seeking solace in the power of awareness, I know that eventually, as it has in our own country, “A Change is Gonna Come”.