On one of my last weekends in the UAE, before I flew out finally after more than five years, I was on my hands and knees in my bathroom scrubbing away. For the past year-and-a-half, I lived in the three-bedroom flat, and with my departure imminent, I decided the time had come to give my ensuite a makeover. In fact, horrific though it sounds, this was the first bathroom cleaning with any kind of soap or detergent since I'd moved in in 2008. It was not quite as filthy as you might imagine, but it was definitely in need of a thorough going over.
There was grime in between the tiles on the floor, water and soap spatterings all over the enormous mirror, a chalky accumulated soap residue on parts of the walls, and dust and a strange purple and pink fuzz on the floor (why is the fluff that accumulates in the home always this colour?). And the toilet bowl? Well, I've seen much worse public toilets in the UAE, but that's about the kindest thing you could have said about it.
So on a Friday afternoon, I got two scourers and some thick white cleaning fluid, and scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed until the bathroom was, if not sparkling new, then at least pretty clean. By the end, I was actually quite proud of my work. But I have had more enjoyable Friday afternoons, and I could have saved myself the bother by simply paying a cleaning lady Dh30 or Dh40, or however much they charge, to do the work for me.
My two flatmates have regularly had their bedrooms and bathrooms cleaned for them. While I would pay a contribution to the cleaning of the shared areas of the flat such as the kitchen and the living room (although I would rather we had had a cleaning rota and done the work ourselves), I balked at asking the cleaning lady to sweep and tidy up my bedroom and scrub the bathroom. Likewise, when I still had a car, on a Saturday evening once every few weeks I would fill a bucket with soapy water and giving my little four-wheeler a bath.
As with the bathroom, I saved a few dirhams, but, again, saving money wasn't really the point. If I had paid to have my car, bathroom and bedroom cleaned, I would not only have been wasting money, I would have been giving myself significant cause for guilt. I have never liked the idea of coming to the UAE and getting hired help for the type of job that, if I was in my home country, I would never have considered asking anyone else to do for me. It is easy to understand why some families decide to hire help. Perhaps there are several children to look after, to take to and collect from school, and maybe both parents are working.
Doing the cleaning and washing the car, then, is another tiring task on top of a million other things that have to be done each week. But as I am single I have no such excuses to stop myself from feeling uneasy at asking somebody else to be my skivvy. Of course there are plenty of reasons why I should not feel bad about using hired help to do my chores. For example, is getting someone else to clean your car any worse than being waited on in a restaurant, for example? Probably it isn't, but at least you have a choice over whether you wash your own car, while there is no option but to use the services of a waiter in a restaurant.
And if you are paying someone else to do your cleaning for you, aren't you doing them a favour? I assume these workers are sending the money home to their children or spouse. It's certainly true that no one forced our cleaning lady to come to our flat every couple of weeks or so. She was happy to spend a few hours vacuuming and cleaning, and to walk off with at least Dh150 for her trouble. Also, there are far worse things people ask others to do for the sake of money than cleaning a toilet or a car. Look how prevalent prostitution is all over the world.
But I am still uncomfortable with the idea of using my wallet to avoid the type of work that I could easily do myself. A pointless stand, maybe, but at least I feel a little better for taking it. email@example.com