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 Post subject: Sri Lankan Maid in Switzerland
 Post Posted: Thu Jul 28, 2005 7:04 am 
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Sri Lankan maid's super ride in Switzerland

By Ranee Mohamed
Sunday Leader / 03rd September 2000


Housemaids, particularly the Sri Lankan ones, get taken for a ride more often than not when they go overseas.They all have their little hidden sorrows over which they cry softly at night in the privacy of their homes.

Mary Philomena Welisarage has no home but hidden sorrows. For her life has been one paved with disappointment and sadness. "The only happiness I have known is the birth of my son, but that too was laced with sadness," said Mary.

Being a single mother, Mary had slaved as a housemaid for twenty years in Lebanon to provide for her son. And just as she thought that life was warming towards her came the greatest slap that she could ever get in life.

Mary Philomena would have comforted herself if she got this kick from a Middle Eastern household because of all the stories' she had heard about housemaids in the Gulf.

But Mary Philomena's story is a different one. This Sri lankan housemaid is still reeling from trick that a so-called Sri Lankan family allegedly played on this innocent, woman who obviously did not know the ways of the world.

Her face is rounded and there ought to be a happy smile on it, just the way cooks and maids in the movies have. But Mary's face is shadowed by a worrying cloud. She wears imitation jewellery and has Rs.20 in her wallet. She carries a once expensive handbag which rats have found nice too.

Mary Philomena was told by a lady living in New Galle Road, Moratuwa that she was the chosen one' - that her daughter-in-law working as a top official in Sri Lanka's permanent mission to the UN in Geneva wanted a housemaid. The family was respectable and kind' Mary was told. And she believed so. For when the lady from Switzerland came down to Sri Lanka, she kept on asking Mary whether she had nobody because she wanted to hire a woman who had nobody.'

This lady official wasted no time when she discovered that Mary was without husband and without any support from friends and relations. She made Mary sign several documents. Her passport bearing No. L0852362 was stamped with a visa valid from 27 April, 2000 to 27 May 2000. It had later been extended by the lady.

"She also got me a visa very easily to go to Switzerland," Mary said in tears. "She asked me to buy everything I need from Sri Lanka and gave me Rs.10,000. She said that I should not buy even a paracetomol tablet from Switzerland. So I bought warm clothes and medicine because I have high blood sugar. I even obtained a loan to get all the things I needed because I was told that for two years I would not be allowed to buy anything from Switzerland. All these expenses were in addition to the Rs.50,000 I had to give to the people who introduced me to the mother-in-law of this lady. I obtained a loan for all this," she said. Mary however was puzzled that after obtaining the visa the lady official did not take her to Switzerland immediately, instead she waited till the last day on which the visa was valid, and then Mary found that she was on a flight to Switzerland.

"I carried with me about 5 kilos of fried fish and murukku !" she said. On reaching Switzerland, Mary had been puzzled as to the amount of fried fish that she had carried in her bag.

It was April 2000 and Mary found herself amazed at the wonders of Switzerland. She was offered a salary of Rs.15,000.

During this time Mary made Sri Lankan breakfast for the lady official, her husband and their ten-year-old daughter and also packed lunch for them to take to work and school respectively. "I often made fried rice, chicken and salad and most of the time I cooked Sri Lankan meals as dhal, fish, vegetables and rice and packed their lunches. Then I used to take a bus and travel a long distance and bring their daughter from school," she recalled.

As Mary was adept at making international cuisine, she found herself making Arabian food and western specialities to suit the tastes of the madam's' varied guests. "My days were filled with grilling and baking and sauteing and because of my love for my madam I used to make the most fancy desserts," said Mary

The lady was nice to me but she prohibited me from talking to a single Sri Lankan. I was very lonely. She did not let me read any Sri Lankan newspapers and if I spoke to a Sri Lankan she became livid," said Mary.

The couple often entertained and at most times Mary found herself cooking Sri Lankan food single-handed for about 40 people. "I used to make traditionally Sri Lankan menus as ala thel dala and yellow rice and brinjal pahi. Madam laid the table and if ever a Sri Lankan man or woman came to the kitchen to wash their hands and if I just as much smiled at them I had hell to pay," said Mary.

I had no complaints and I used to work hard. Madam hardly came to the kitchen but I saw to it that they had their breakfast and lunch and dinner made to perfection.

"But I was tired of living as a prisoner. I was not allowed to talk to anybody and what upset me most was that Madam did not allow me to send any money to my son. I also discovered that I was earning less in a month, less than what most workers earned in a week. When I asked Madam how much is Rs.15,000, she avoided answering me," said Mary. "If I knew that this question was going to anger my madam I would never have asked it, but I had nobody to talk to, there were so many nice things around me and I was not allowed to buy any of them and I had no money with me," said Mary in tears.

Just when one month had elapsed, Mary's madam' had come home in a flurry from work and told Mary as sweetly as possibly that Mary needed to renew her visa. "For this she made me sign several sets of forms and I did not know what I was signing as I cannot read English."

Then one Sunday evening, Mary's madam had told her that they were going on a long trip and that she was expecting a lady friend to come along.

"She made me cook breakfast and lunch and pack it up and I was also asked to make coffee and tea and put in flasks. The Madam and her daughter took me down to the lobby from our apartment. Madam sat with me for some time and then told me that she has to go to the bathroom and she left me with her daughter and she went back to the apartment. I was upset because Madam was taking a long time. Neither the Madam nor her lady friend turned up," said Mary.

After a long time when the mistress came Mary had been relieved. Mary had told the Madam that she needed to use the bathroom too, but the Madam' said "You are not going anywhere now, we have to go and get your visa from the airport. When Mary had queried whether the airport is open for visas on Sundays the Madam had told her "We are working in the United Nations so we can get a visa from the airport at anytime."

However, the mistress lady friend never turned up. "So madam said let us go to her house. It was a long drive and there we picked up Madam's lady friend - a saree-clad lady who had been living in Switzerland for a long time. Madam and the lady friend and the little girl took me to the airport in Zurich. It had been a three and a half hour drive from Geneva to Zurich airport. At the airport, madam' had acted like a cat on a hot tin roof. Running here and there, almost pulling her hair out because she had misplaced some of the forms that Mary had placed her signature on.

On finding them, she was relieved. It was then that she told me that I had to get on a plane and go home. I wailed, I had never been so unhappy in my life. "How could I go home Madam, what will I tell my friends and relations. I have no money. Where is my suitcase?" I cried.

Madam told me, when you go to Sri Lanka the suitcase will come in the next flight. But I was crying. Madam told me then that when I land at the airport in Colombo to go and look in that belt and my suitcase will be there. "

"It is only now that I realise that Madam had used the time she had spent in the bathroom to stuff some of my clothes into my suitcase and take it down in the lift and dump it in the car," said Mary sobbing.

"I brought home nothing. I could not even buy a chocolate. Most of my warm clothes are still in Madam's house. She had not put them into the suitcase," said Mary. Mary Philomena arrived in Sri Lanka on June 26, 2000.

Mary came home empty handed. She was more poorer than when she was when she went to Switzerland.

"When the plane landed, housemaids from the Gulf were rushing into the duty free shops to buy gifts. I had no money and I was starving too. I had nothing to declare and I did not even have money to get home to 109 Main Street, Panadura.''

Mary says that she learnt that she was the third housemaid that these Sri Lankans had employed and sent back this way.

This is the story of a Sri Lankan woman at the hands of a Sri Lankan family in Switzerland. An educated couple, the wife working as a top official of the permanent mission of Sri Lanka to the UN and the husband at the World Health Organisation.

Top jobs, top shots, but something seems sadly lacking - that very essential quality of kindness. Without which, what use can be success, money and social status.

It is time that missions, both permanent and temporary inquire into these violations of human rights and human feelings - of taking innocent, not-so-educated human beings on a flight of fantasy - only to send them crashing back to earth - without a red cent in a gross abuse of power and position.


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