A Heartbreaking Conversation With a Housemaid
She began working for me as a kitchen maid five days ago. “What is your name,” I asked her. “I have two,” she said. “One is the name my parents gave me, the other is what my in-laws gave me. Which one would you like to call me by?”
I chose the shorter name–given to her by her parents. It did not surprise me that she had two names: in India, this is quite a common practice.
She is a hard worker but also a quiet person.
The next day, however, she begins talking to me while I stir milk into my coffee. She tells me she has two children—both partially blind.
“I think it happened because I had them so young,” she says. “In our society, they marry us off young, because daughters quickly start seeming like a burden to their parents. My husband is just one year older than me. I was 16 when I had my first baby. I had no idea I was pregnant. We lived in the hills of Nepal then, in a remote place. I began bloating, and thought I was putting on weight. Then one day, I felt horrible pain in my stomach, which grew worse by the hour. My husband said he would call a woman from the village to examine me. I, petrified for some reason, wriggled under our wooden bed, refusing to come out.
While my husband stood there shouting, I felt something slither out of me—under the bed!
By the time I had my second child, I was slightly wiser. But both my children had very white eyes—the blacks in them almost missing. We could not understand why, and thought maybe a ghost had come upon them. Until finally, we moved to a more civilized part of Nepal and they were diagnosed with severely impaired vision.
Their treatment turned out to be forbiddingly expensive, and we realized we would need to earn more—much more—to be able to afford at least some of it.
So we moved to Delhi. My husband works as a driver with a company, and I do household chores. We still could not afford to get the children operated upon or further investigated, so we have had to make do with thick spectacles for them both. They are going to school now, but it is difficult, they can barely see.
It is her concluding words that totally break my heart. Standing next to me, this young, waif-like woman says with a sigh, “But it’s alright. I am now 28…most of my life has passed by…”
I have been feeling a strong mix of emotions since then, ranging from sadness to compassion to an unnamed anger, guilt and more. And I do not know what to do now. I don’t have enough to help pay for her childrens’ treatment. I can and have offered her kind words, hot tea, and a small hike in salary.
Your advice would help.