Thinking big: Former exploited housekeeper seeks to improve her life

“It was too overbearing and sometimes you feel like a slave in you own country and one day I just couldn’t take it anymore and me and another girl we just have to stand up fuh we rights. It was not a easy thing to do but sometimes you just have to say enough is enough and in de end we lost we job.”

The words of a 27-year-old mother of one who was fired four months ago from her job as a housekeeper at a hotel operated by Brazilians. She agreed to speak with me through the Red Thread organisation which assisted her and her colleague to ensure that they were adequately compensated by their former employer who had fired them on the spot. She felt she had to stand up to a man who made sexual advances and who exploited her and other women working at the hotel.

“I don’t really care if you carry me name because right now it does not matter,” she told me when I asked if she wanted her name published.

However, at the end of the conversation I decided not to publish her name because of some of what she shared.

“I work at the hotel for six years, but for two years another person use to run it and then when she lef she said I would continue working for the new owner and I work for he for four years.

“It was like three of us working there and one of the girls say she don’t like how the wife use to talk she, I did not really understand the language, but she use to understand. And then a next time she was sitting down on the steps and he ask she if she private too big. It was in he language but she understand and she just lef the job. But I stay because I had a son,” she said.

I asked her to tell me about her experience at the hotel because I got the impression that she was more comfortable talking about others; she hesitated before she started to speak.

“One time he said a man like me and I said okay. Then he said the man buy some clothes for me and I wouldn’t lie to you I tek the clothes. Then the man lef and went in the bush and he come back he tell me how the man want have sex with me and I tell he no. He come back later and tell me the same thing and tell me if I don’t like the man and if I don’t want to go to a hotel and sex the man and I tell he again no.

“He turn and tell me how is $200,000 the clothes cost and I tell he shoulda give me the money then,” she said with her head bent.

I did not ask her why she took clothes from a stranger; I was not walking in her shoes.

“Then sometimes if I gaffo take my son to the day care he would tell me ‘tek day don’t come back’ and I would lose a whole day pay.

“And when you do something that he don’t like he would talk to you in front of a whole line of customers, like put you to shame and I never use to say anything. A time I get really vex because a hear he talking to somebody it was in he own language but I understand some of what he was saying he say how [some ethnicities] like thief and how [some ethnicities] like sex. I get really vex because he in we country talking suh but wah I coulda do?” she said sounding almost defeated.

I got the impression that she was relieving that moment when she overheard the insulting conversation.

“Then one day he come and ask me if I would sex with him for $100,000 and I tell he no and he turn and mek it like a joke. But it was not joke because I know other girls who he use to get sex with.

“And then sometimes he and he wife does want give you stale, spoil food to eat because they use to give we lil food and you know you hungry because is whole day you working. But nuff time the food ain’t use to good. All dem things we use to go through just fuh get a lil money,” she said.

“First he use to pay me $12,000 a week and then another girl who use to work with me lef and he start giving me $15,000 a week but you working from morning till night and sometimes every day,” she further revealed.

“And sometimes he want you go on the road to buy fan and greens and so in deh hot sun and sometimes I would go but other times like I ain’t use to able in deh hot sun and he would get vex with you,” the young mother said.

She paused for a while before she started speaking again.

“But he wasn’t all bad, man I don’t know what to say is like he had more than one side,” she said.

“One time when I get stab by me child father…,” she paused because she noticed the shock on my face; she had just thrown that into the conversation so casually that I was taken by surprise.

“Yes, my child father de stab me in my lungs. I nearly dead. I spend two weeks in the hospital. Well he come and visit me in the hospital and he buy a blanket for me and he give me mother money to buy other things for me. And for four months I couldn’t work but he still pay me $12,000 every week. And I not saying I was not grateful, I was grateful but when I come back to work he throw it in me face and he tell everybody all who want listen and I use to feel shame,” she said.

“You know he saying he do me a favour and is like he would talk about it all the time. And he ain’t treating you better.

“And one day he come and talking to me and another girl hard and she turn and ask he what was he problem and ask if he can’t respect other people. And I turn and tell he too how he must talk to people better and treat we better and you know like he don’t like when people talk to he and just so he tell we don’t come back to work,” she said.

“We say we taking he to labour and he say how he go get a lawyer and we not getting nothing and is then we went to Red Thread and they really help we and in deh end he had to pay me $209,000.”

I asked her what she did with the money.

“I don’t even really know because I had bills and I have lil bit lef back but you know I have to live and me son have to live,” she shared.

I asked her about when she was stabbed by her partner and initially she refused to speak on the issue but later without any prompting she spoke openly.

“I am doing better. I get stab in me lungs, but I don’t want to talk about it what I know is that I would never get back with my child father,” she said when I first broached the subject.

“Right now, I am looking for a work, any work because I am 27 years old and I been working at the hotel since I was 21. I want go to Carnegie [School of Economics] but I can’t go during the day so I waiting for when they can take me in the night classes,” she continued.

“And you know I want to tell women out there working not to let people do dem anything, like yelling in they faces and so you know really treating dem bad, they should speak up. They deserve to get treat better. Me boss only make me cry one time, dem other girls use to cry steady but I use to feel really shame. Sometimes he use to be really horrible is like something tek over he,” she said.

I got the impression that her interaction with Red Thread has empowered her and maybe one day she would become an advocate for marginalised women in the workplace.

“I remember one a dem staff who use to live in at the hotel she tell me when she washing she had to wash he and he wife underwear and one time I see how he knock a staff on she butt and she laugh but to me I know she de shame. And I tell she don’t leh he do it but as I said sometimes some a dem use to get sex with him and so.

“Since I get stab I am a stronger person and I don’t be ashamed to tell people I get stab,” she said, returning to the subject without any prompting.

“I use to live with my child father and he knock me three times. I use to do some stupidness I wouldn’t lie but I know he had no right to knock me. Anyway, the second time a tell he if he knock again I guh move out and when he knock me deh third time I lef and went back home by me mother.

“We use to be off and on but I never went and live back with he, but the day when this thing happen he say how I send somebody to kill he, just bare madness. But the day when stab me I tell you is like he was not the same man, I never see he smoke or drink, but I believe he de high or something because if you see his eyes. It was like pure evil and then like when catch he self he run away. I nearly dead,” she said.

“He get charge and the matter now gone to the High Court, I don’t talk to he but I does allow he to see he son, he does go and spend time by he mother and so and he does give money for he.

“He mother is a really nice woman after the incident she call me and I tell she don’t call back me phone and she call again and again telling me that she only calling about the child. But she never raise the incident with me, never tell me to drop it or anything and she does see the boy.

“He friend dem telling me to drop the matter because he don’t trouble me anymore and how he looking after he child. But I tell dem when the time come I will make the decision, but I would never take him back,” she maintained.

“Right now all I want is a job,” she said switching the conversation.

I did not interrupt her as she related the horrible experience because I knew already that she was reluctant to talk about it.

“I hope one day to, like, own my own restaurant because I like to cook. You have to think big, you know,” she continued with a smile.

She picked up her bag, signalling the end of our conversation.

“I am going to go. I am walking looking for a job. I need a job,” were her final words as she left.

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