Sunday, November 18, 2007

Arranged Marriages 1

Our house helper, as I call her, for want of a better word wants my help. Everyone here says 'maid'. I just can't bring myself to do it. Domestic worker sounds like a euphemism to hide the fact that someone is doing a lousy, low status job (like Refuse Technicians) So house helper it is. Thanks to the Dutch community for that one.

She want sto go and live in England. She is 38, single, too poor to marry because her family can't afford a dowry, and in a boring, dead end job. She speaks and reads 3 languages, with 3 different alphabets, has A Levels, does the simultaneous translation of the service in Singhala at her church, and leads the choir. As I have always said, there's a bit more to her than the average househelp I have encountered here.

Oh, and she's Tamil. 3 yrs ago, the Danish family she worked for, offeed her the chance to go back to Denmark with them. She declined. I asked why. She said 'because things weren't so bad here then' She feels that as a Tamil, she has no future here, but certainly a whole load of insecurity and mistreatment on a daily basis. After the LTTE attack which took out ssomethign like 16 of the army's aeroplanes and then the Government's killing of the number 2 in the LTTE, security has once again increased.

So Maheswary has almost nightly visits from the police to her block of flats. Raids basically. They come between 12 and 3 in the morning. She has to get up , stand by her bed, and wait motionless whilst they go through her stuff (and her parents' and sister's whom she lives with) No they don' t have search warrants. This is a Tamil area. This is reason enough. Evidently.

So she has decided that I am her lifeline. It's a burden being the 'great white hope' but then who said 'with great wealth comes great responsibilty'? In Sri Lanka, we do have 'great wealth' comparatively. Everyone asks for help. M's tutuk driver said "Will you get me a job in England?". Our son's violin teacher said, when he heard I worked at his interantional school "Can you get me a job there please" That's how it works in this country, as long as you know the right person to pull strings, rules/laws etc are no object.

It all happened because Maheswary was entering the Green Card Lottery so I offered to pay for her flight in the (very) unlikley event that she was one of the lucky 50, 000 worldwide who won. She then said that actually she wanted to go to England where she has a cousin, and would I help with her flight?

Initially she wanted to go on a tourist visa (sh eknew she wd never get a work visa) and said that the Tamil church comunity have told her once there that they could help her get a work permit. I have spent hours explaining the immigration laws/visa requirements/work permit requirements etc. It is very hard to convince her that she's wrong, especially as she knows Sri Lankans who have, somehow, managed it. I explained that she wd be living illegally once the 3 mths were up and working illegally from the start. AND that England is hellishly expensive. We couldn't afford to sponsor her to live there for months. That's what the visa requires, to prove you won't become a 'public charge' . It really isn't that straightforward. And she would probably be considered a flight risk and refused a visa anyway.

I have scoured immigration/visa websites too looking for a way. The one way she could get in legally is to come in as our family's househelper on a domestic worker visa. If she worked continuously as a domestic worker for 5 yrs, she could apply for indefinite leave to remain. Otherwise with no sought after skills, no money to study there is no option. However we are not staying in the UK, but going to our next posting. (More of that post in another post....)

But she has not rested on her laurels. I take my hat off to her for her tenacity. She discovered a loop hole I didn't, when reading through the visa guidance forms I gave her. She is going to ask her cousin to arrnage a marriage for her. She says it has to be with a Tamil, a Christian, someone prepared to marry a 38 yr old non westernised Tamil etc. M thinks this is even more of a tenuous proposition than any of her other ideas. However she could then get into the UK legally on a tourist visa, marry and hopefully 'live happily ever after'. She would have had an arranged marriage here, and considers this the norm, even though not part of her religion. She would love to be married and has no chance here.

This has kept me awake at night. I so feel for her, and want to give her the chance of a new life. To live in peace, to be treated fairly, marry, settle down, have her own bathroom rather than sharing one with 50 others in her block. Normal aspirations. If only it were as simple as buying her a ticket....


Iota said...

How very complex.

I think it's "with great power comes great responsibility", and it's Spiderman it refers to. But "wealth" works just as well.

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