The annual exodus back to the kampong is in full swing and for some of us unfortunate souls it has been for a least a week before the official holiday period began on 12 October. For a first time expat in Jakarta a maid is a luxury to which one is never sure they will get used to. But by the first Idul Fitri and the mass exodus that follows the dependence is already obvious to all and sundry. The days of coming home to a clean house and your freshly ironed clothes already put away, a feed on the table, and most importantly the washing-up of the dishes all squared away, have all but disappeared overnight.
Having now spent many a year in Jakarta, having a maid is par for the course as is the fleeing home each Idul Fitri. Strangely enough I look forward to the maid being back in the kampong as I, for just one week (maybe 2 if I am lucky), get to organize my house the way I want it organized. It is liberating to be able to put stuff in places where you know where it is and there is no need to ask the maid to get it for you or find out where she has put it.
Nevertheless, once the 1 or 2 weeks pass and the maid has still to return, the panic sets in. The liberation of being in control evaporates and the terror of waiting or having to find a new maid dominates the mindset. I am more than happy for the maid to be doing her thing for 1 or 2 weeks provided that for the other 50 or so weeks she is providing domestic structure to my home in terms of washing, ironing, cleaning, and cooking.
One of the big issues with domestic servants is getting past the feeling or idea that it is exploitation of those less fortunate than yourself. However, when push comes to shove, the work is monotonous and probably as boring as all hell, but it is a job, it comes with food and board, and even with a minimal salary a conscientious maid can still send money home to her family. And, if you feel really guilty about it, you can always pay above the market rate to offset any guilt. For me, the maid picks up the slack, where the slack in this case is my laziness to wash and iron my own clothes, sweep and mop the floors, and do the dishes. Aside from that she has the run of the house during the day (and generally well into the evening too!) while I am not home...So, it is not the worst deal I could think of. I dread the day of having to head back home to my own kampong for good and being maid-less forever. May be this is the reverse culture shock that I have heard about :)
The Government has been talking about regulating the domestic servant industry for some time. The critical issue here is that any regulatory framework will make what is in essence an informal employment sector into a formal employment sector. The practical questions would be for the purposes of tax are the maids self-employed or will those that employ domestic servants have to set up a sole proprietorship that employs the maid in a domestic service capacity then withhold tax. It is likely to get very messy in a practical sense. Nevertheless, there needs to be some regulation with respect to treatment of maids and there needs to be legal recourse for maids to be able to get out of abusive situations. The issue with regards to regulation will be, degree. How much regulation is required to ensure the health and safety of domestic servants while not increasing the practical burden on families that employ domestic servants. But, I guess if it is the difference between washing and ironing my own clothes and generally looking after myself any burden, provided it is not cost prohibitive, would be worth the hassle free existence!
Well, another 6 days and the maid will be back, I hope...or it will be time to press the panic button!