Saturday, December 3, 2011
One Pair of Hands by Monica Dickens
The premise of One Pair of Hands is interesting, to say the least. It's like a reverse-Cinderella story, only this time, Cinderella chooses to go and slave away. Monica Dickens, the great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens and a debutante, chooses to work as a domestic, simply because she is bored. Through the course of this memoir, she is mainly a cook-general, that is, she does everything + cook.
The writing is witty, and it's entertaining to see how she progresses from a thoroughly incompetent domestic help to a more competent domestic help. Through the course of the novel, she works for many houses (and she freely admits that she seems to attract the worst employers maybe because of her ineptness), and each distinctive house presents its own set of challenges.
The ending, which I will try not to give away, is satisfying, although I would wish for a slightly more disney-esque ending. But that would veer into fiction.
But it is interesting, how she managed to bear all the strains of being a domestic helper, and still continued in that job willingly (looking for other families). In Singapore today, most Singaporeans (including me) are spoilt and expect a maid (to be polite, I will say domestic help). Once the domain of the rich, now the every-man feels entitled for an indentured servant. And people wonder why I'm so cynical about our society.
But back to topic. Living with Josie Jie Jie and Emma Jie Jie (Josie Jie Jie having worked for my family far longer than I have lived) is basically a lesson in how to treat those who work for you. For one thing, she used to be able to discipline me. And another, now that it's not such a viable tool, talking to me works just as well. And basically, this is what I learnt:
THEY ARE HUMAN TOO. Get this into your head. Just because they live under your roof and eat your food doesn't mean you can be unfair. They are the ones who are slaving away, far from their families for your ungrateful brats (trust me, I've been there, done that, and I'm ashamed of it. And I'm definitely not the worse). While there are some truly evil/lazy maids around, I think the majority are good, if you treat them right. Of course, because this is live-in, things are complicated so much more, so clear boundaries/schedules are always welcome.
Before this becomes a discourse on how to treat your employee (which I am unsuited for), let me just end by recommending you a book from my Church library. It's called I Am a Filipino Maid by Geok Loo Bee and it's the best way (best book anyway) to walk a mile in their shoes.