Four events this month will celebrate the launch of The Dohmestics in paperback. Hope you can join me in one of the states to talk about maids, secrets, and of course, writing. Details at my author page for those who won’t use QR codes :).
Nothing ranks as high on an expat’s list of fears as being deported. Maybe death of a loved one while you’re abroad. Not your own death, because like the average teenager, you think your charmed expat life is immortal. Those who have lived overseas know all too well both death and deportation are likely scenarios. Neither is polite to discuss in public.
I wrote about both in The Dohmestics, my most recent paperback release, based on observations as an expat for nearly a decade. The novel explores the lives of six women: three employers and three housemaids who live in the same compound, or walled neighborhood. I found out how difficult the employer-housemaid relationship was to describe in the process of trying to get interviews as background research. Even friends were reluctant to let me speak to their helpers.
Then fact and fiction collided when we were told that a nanny in the neighborhood’s sister was in the detention facility.
That’s how we learned there’s something worse than being deported. Detention.
The sister, also a nanny had runaway from her employer who had her working at several homes in the extended family with little sleep or food. Yes, for some reason, we use the word “runaway” to describe a grown woman who has no other recourse to end her employment. Runaway: a word that has been to describe willful teenagers and slaves, those beings treated as human chattel.
She left her employer one day, walking out while the family was upstairs. She worked for a series of other families in various conditions: sometimes sleeping on the floor on the kitchen because the maid’s room was used a storage. Waking up at 4:30 a.m. to iron and cook for her landlord who also charged her rent. Bouncing from family to family, a few years went by. An ailing mother, a maturing daughter: she wanted to go home.
She got an airline ticket – hard to come by at the tune of thousands of riyals – and went with her luggage to the embassy. They turned her over to CID or the criminal investigation department. She called, hysterical, because she was being held in a facility with hundreds of other women, some of whom had been there for a month, others for three.
The line was scratchy: they were default fasting because no one was being given food during Ramadan.
Despite being a women’s area, there were no sanitary supplies.
Anything you received, you had to get from someone on the outside.
We assembled a care package, the contents what you might take your daughter’s dorm room: peanut butter, bread, jam, Kotex, chocolate, laundry detergent. She could have really used someone to talk to onsite like a counselor. All of the women could have.
More calls, from random numbers, from borrowed phones (hers had been confiscated) of other long timers. Rushed conversations to exchange file numbers and any updates.
She has a good chance of eventually going home. She has a ticket, no debt, no pending charges. Someone has to take an interest in her to distinguish her case from the hundreds of others who are much, much worse. They are waiting on sponsors to pay fines for having a runaway (that word again), waiting for family to raise money to bring them home, waiting for a miracle to clear their debts.
“That’s the place people take their maids when they want to punish them,” a friend told me. “If they don’t want them any more, they leave them there.”
As you may recall, my first book was banned for being about Qatar and Qataris. I had no idea that love was a sensitive subject.
Maids, though, housemaids, I knew were controversial. They are the invisible army without the glamour (or indignation) of the 2022 World Cup stadiums to galvanize the international media to their cause. There is no country named in The Dohmestics because I hope it makes it into the hands of readers in Doha. But also because the treatment of these women, who sacrifice their lives for their children, fund unfaithful husbands, and prop up their home economies (personal and national), is commonly archaic across the Middle East – whether Lebanon, the GCC, or Egypt – and extends into Asia where high rise suicide jumpers in Singapore are so commonplace, they only make the news if they take a young child with them.
“I am not a housemaid,” I said enunciating the vowels for the embassy official who had missed my American dress, accent and husband. “I am here for a friend.”
Is the deportation facility in the novel? You’ll have to read it to find out. This is one instance when real life is worse than fiction.
Thanks to Kate Lord Browne for asking me to participate in this blog hop. KLB is the author of ‘The Beauty Chorus’ and ‘The Perfume Garden’, which was shortlisted for Romantic Novel of the Year. She also writes the Ahlan! magazine Book Club column, the first of its kind in the Middle East, and lives in the only true desert country in the world with her family.
Courtesy of this blog hop, you’ll get a window into world of writing via me and three other writers as we answer the same 4 questions.
1) What am I working on?
My mind, or shall I say computer, is a bit of a muddle right now because I’ve got 2 books that need heavy revisions and not enough hours in the day. One is a novel that’s set in the Arabian Gulf and explores the relationships between maids and their employers called The Dohmestics. This is my second title due out in paperback this summer. The other is a novel set in Laos in 1975, about war in Southeast Asia and immigrating to America, The Opposite of Hate. This is my next eBook. Looming deadlines are good motivators to get going as is controversy; the sequel for my banned novel, as yet unnamed, is lingering at 15000 words. Needless to say, it will be a busy summer of writing.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My work is a blend of history, culture, and place. The books stand out because they explore places that many readers may not know about: Laos or Qatar – examining spaces within these countries that wouldn’t be accessible to outsiders.
3) Why do I write what I do?
I write to take the reader places s/he couldn’t go on their own.
4) How does my writing process work?
Dear oh dear it’s not streamlined. I am usually writing a draft of one project, revising another one, and marketing all the published ones (8 to date). Generally I’m working triage, on whatever title is getting a facelift or scheduled for next for publication or promotion.