Friday, July 3, 2009

Kisa Binti Kasili and the illusion of sophistication

Indonesian maid, Kisa Binti Kasili was beaten by her 'mama', Madam Dalal. Kisa escaped through the window and stayed in hospital to recover from her injuries. She was then taken to jail as is always the case for runaways.

When her sponsor Madam Dalal heard that we were enquiring about Kisa to try and send her back home to Indonesia, she picked up Kisa from the jail. She explained to me on the phone that unless we paid the sum of 500 KD, they would make Kisa work for them again - and everything that came with that.

There was no way that I could personally meet this amount as well as the amount for her ticket. So I mentioned the story on an online facebook group concerned with maid abuse. I was hosting the group at the time. Some members on it were from very high-up Kuwaiti families. I had assumed they joined because they were concerned about the maid abuse situation in Kuwait.

I explained that we needed donations however small - for kisa and the 2 other cases we were working on at the time that needed tickets home. When the time came though, only one Kuwaiti male on the group was willing to donate, and the rest of the donations were from Asian expats. The Kuwaiti girls on the group did not even dignify me with a refusal. They just ignored my message entirely. In the end, we could only meet two people's ticket costs - Kisa and another lady. So we bought Kisa a ticket and pleaded with Madam Dalal to let Kisa fly.

Knowing she would not get the money, Madam Dalal and her husband then beat Kisa black and blue, leaving her bruised in the airport, a day earlier than her flight. Madam Dalal stole 50 KD Kisa had on her and left her with no food.

We believe Kisa eventually made her flight to Jakarta, although without any money or the luggage she came to Kuwait with. How does one look on a case like this and then truly say it was a success if the person goes home like this?

I have Madam Dalal's number and home address with me and in anger, sometimes I think about what I could do to this criminal, who speaks so politely and diplomatically on the phone but whose bottom line is the almighty Kuwaiti Dinar.

Someone who walks around with her Swarovski crystal studded hijab and her delightfully tacky handbag. And I think about how her sophistication and class is a barefaced lie - like so many others I have come across. Because although so many of us born and raised in Kuwait are so good at primping, preening and surrounding ourselves with everything luxurious, affluent, shiny, gaudy and gleaming, talking about and comparing our newly acquired assets - cellphones, cars, sneakers, electronics and beyond... I rarely ever meet a person with such class and character that I truly admire them.

Rarely, rarely have I encountered true sophistication - the kind of class and character that puts people above all else on earth. Instead, what many of us are seeing on a day to day basis -- in the malls, on the roads, at our schools and jobs, in our families and friends... is just a shiny, pretentious, very expensive illusion funded by the blood and sweat of others and hiding something dark and ugly underneath it all.

We live in the illusion of class and sophistication.


Anonymous said...

I find your story hard to believe. I know Kuwaiti law enforce the employer to pay for the ticket. there is no way this couple has access to the maid once she is under the police care. I know there is cases of abuse because there is some people who abuse their own children so why not a helpless maid. but your story does not reflect the Kuwaiti society, what you narrated if it is true is the exception.go public with the names of abusers this will put them to shame.

Anonymous said...

Interesting take; after pondering a bit about this I think that true class & sophistication must include servants, otherwise it's just hypocrisy.

I've seen families who appear to treat their servants well but then again, you don't know what goes on behind closed doors; I was certainly shocked at many (if not all) of the stories you posted on here.

It has to do with how we're raised and parental influence. We know not to cheat and steal because our parents tell us not to, same goes for treating house maids.

When I was eight, dad taught me a little lesson, which I didn't really think about till way later. I was in our garden and saw a bunch of bugs so I told our gardener to "come here", which I didn't think was wrong at the time, given the fact that I had witnessed many cousins calling on their maids to "come here".

Dad was nearby and as soon as I'd said that, he told me to "come here" in that I'm-gonna-kick-your-ass kinda voice. He then asked me "What if your uncle was standing there, would you have asked him to come here? Or one of my friends?" My answer was, of course, no every time.

He said you wouldn't call them since they're older, right? What makes this any different? Our driver is almost as old as your uncle, a grown man and you're calling him like he was one of your friends.

To make a long story short, I ended up taking on the job of our gardener for a week because, according to dad, he must have been "devastated with that crude behavior of mine and needs some time off to recover". Since then, I started walking on eggshells concerning our helping hands and started viewing them differently, not as my cousins view them.


A true dilemma, treating domestic workers well is largely overlooked by parents and teachers, and I think it's getting worse with younger generations as well.

You cannot gloss over human beings, no matter who they are.

nabeel said...

Anon at 7:20

my jaw dropped when I read your post. Literally. Your father's take on it is both hilarious and touching. No offence meant to you at all. I do agree that its all about how we are raised. your father seems to be a man of tremendous character as I'm sure are you.

Anon at 6:38. What can I tell you - I don't make this stuff up. Even though I have heard that sometimes employers pay for tickets - I believe it is different for 'runaways' or 'jumpers.' They are jailed and deported at the country's leisure. I am not clear on how this works but I dont think the deportation and police are clear on how it works either because for every case we have been pointed in the wrong direction, sent to the wrong ppl in charge, and to tell you the truth - I think theyre clueless.

As to this story - every bit is true. Kuwaiti law enforcement (the police) do not always work the way we think they doe for each and every case.

While I'm sure there are ppl on the police force that want to see positive change in Kuwait, cut down on crime and are generally polite to even expats, I've also been told of cases where Kuwaiti police accepted bribes from maid's employers. A reliable source told me of a recruitment agency that recruits maids as prostitutes and the reason that police dont crack down on this guy is because the man in question is catering to police.

Obviously I can't tell you who related this to me but if i mentioned the name and you looked the person up you would know I was not lying.

Also I'd like to keep my head for the moment.

Anonymous said...

None taken. Though it wasn't funny at the time, at least not to an eight year old kid. By the way, my folks aren't sophisticated; they're simple and uncomplicated.

Anonymous said...

I was born in Kuwait, raised in Kuwait, and am recently married to the most wonderful Kuwaiti man. I am damn proud to be a Kuwaiti Women. I was raised with help in the house and was raised to treat them with respect, while I am not blind by the abuse that happens in other households I have never personally seen it.

While there are those in Kuwait that treat the help like animals and forget that they are human beings, they are still those Kuwaiti's that take them in and offer them a good living, and money to send home to their families, but of course you have turned a blind eye to those Kuwaiti's havent you?!

Kuwait is a small country but a grand one. We are a country were you can be raised with class, morals, values, religion, and tradition. I can not imagine living anywhere else, or raising my children in any other place. Kuwait is my home and I am very lucky to be born into this society.

If you have a problem living in Kuwait, your solution is simple...leave!

Kal said...

i was really furious when i was reading this post.. all what can I say is, ignorance is a bless from hell!
god be with you all, and thanks for ur spot on this big issue we have here in Kuwait.

q80thug said...

do not stray on the path you are in my friend. honestly, witnessing such behavior would bring out rage in me too but all we can do is do our part.

thank you for giving me perspective on this issue. i would like to join in donations from now on, however i dont have a facebook account. you can e-mail me for details and/or a better way to donate. thank you

psytrance said...

Do not let the truths consume you

nabeel said...

Anon at 8:59
"We are a country were you can be raised with class, morals, values, religion, and tradition."

Of this I have no doubt. But you can be raised this way in any country in the world. It's good parenting plain and simple.

Of course I don't mention the upstanding citizens. Firstly I know like 10 or so Kuwaiti families of which about half treat their maids with respect and the other half were my bosses. Secondly this blog is not about explaining to everyone how wonderfully human rights issues are being taken care of here.

Just in case i havent made this very clear before - I am Indian. Hence the circles I travel in are not the same as yours. while youre experience of Kuwait is sure to be rosey, you can expect less from mine just because of my nationality.

You probably know tonnes of Kuwaiti families personally.I hang out with a mixed crowd. Me just being the nationality I am means I interact with the rudest cops, the most aggressively abusive people, the most arrogant authority figures...etc. Have you ever been to jail because you didnt carry your ID? Might I ask what you starting salary was after your degree? Have you ever been threatened by your boss... that they would hold your passport?

Rather than tell me to leave - why don't I suggest that if you want to show shiny happy Kuwait - you start your own blog and explain it there.

Kal, Q80 thug, psytrance - your encouragement means a lot. Things like this make me so angry and I become irrational in my words and in what I do - It really DOES make a difference to me when people try and inject some calm and sensibleness into me.

Thank you for reading and thank you for your support. God bless

Anonymous said...

You are not forced to stay in this country. And dont assume just because I was born in Kuwait and have a Kuwaiti passport that I have not seen hardship in my life. You may be indian, but this is my country and I stick by what I say by if you have such strong negative feelings for Kuwait than leave. I am sure you own country is reflection of a perfect society, and I doubt you will find any purpose to write a blog to whine about your problems.

I am standing up for all those Kuwaiti's that you seem to dismiss with your arrogance. We are a country of class and values, which I am sure you have not had the distinct pleasure of experiencing let alone understanding.

nabeel said...

Why is 'GTFO' such a common attitude? I don't get it.

If I was in India and ppl were doing stupid stuff I would feel the same. But I'm not there, I was born and raised here. And I'm a third generation Indian in Kuwait which means even though I don't hold a citizenship, no country is home to me more than Kuwait. My Grandad loved Kuwait and Kuwaitis and never experienced the sort of inequality that is built in to society today.

And hell, I'm proud of the good stuff in modern day Kuwait too. I like Kuwaiti food, I love the freedom of religion, I love the cosmopolitan lifestyle... I don't care much for fancy cars and footware but yknow, to each their own. thats just me.

And why not - some of the food and culture is loosely based on Indian culture - why wouldn't I feel at home?

To you, that might not give me a right to have a say in anything. To me, it does, because people care about their home. If you see me as an outsider, angry at 'your' country then no wonder your upset at what I'm saying.

But again I will explain what I am saying. I see the bad because I work with the bad. Therefore I have a right to comment on it constructively, which I am trying (perhaps unsuccesfuly) to do. Hence I will still consider Kuwait home and still want it to be better if its all the same to you.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your passion, keep fighting the good fight. Please just keep in mind that while you are a third generation indian living in Kuwait, you are not Kuwaiti. So on your quest to fight human rights, try not to poke at the wrong person. Try to be diplomatic about the situation and I do wish you success, and if you manage to bring about change than I will be the first to take my hat off to you.

nabeel said...

Anon (8:53)

thank you - I will seriously take your advice to heart. There's no sense in alienating people

Some ppl do take offence at the simple statement of facts though. I certainly cant help the fact that some ppl join facebook groups because they want their names to be connected to something useful but at the end of the day they are no use at all.

I've had that facebook group open for months and none of the aforementioned ppl wrote in once to comment, had anything to say, responded to any mails... just nothing. If that makes individuals angry that I mention that, or that its something that angers me - I cant help that.

But yes I will try hard not to deliberately poke at ppl. I think some of the commenters on my blog were far more impassioned and expressive than myself. It's slightly odd that the previous commenter takes more issue with what I say than what others have said.

Meh, oh well!

Anonymous said...


Never mind anonymous @ 8:59 and 1:27. They, of course, are people you should be aware of (in terms of your own safety) but do not let them discourage you from rectifying the existing situation of abuse against domestic workers.

I have replied to them in your current post so that more people become aware of how dangerous it is to believe in the discourse these two have put forth.

Keep up the good work.

7aneen said...

Wow. Also, embarrassing that I haven't heard a Kuwaiti admit what you have just posted. You have a right to have your opinions said. Just because I have citizenship here and you don't does not mean that you have less rights to speak about your life here in Kuwait.

Forgive those with the GTFO syndrome, in fact feel sorry for them and just laugh it off. What a pity and a waste of brains..