I made bhindi (Okra) the other day, and as I cut the bhindi and fried it to add to my salan (curry), I couldn’t help being reminded of Asif, the house boy in my parent’s house who taught me to how make it. Asif was one of the household help at my parent’s house before I got married and gave me my basic cooking lessons for roti and every day food. Bhindi was one of his specialties and I was excited to learn that from him. The first time I tried making it on my own though, after getting married and moving to Seattle, I discovered that the okra available at grocery stories here turned into a mess when you tried to fry it and so that was the first and the last time I ever tried it. Until this time when I tried it with frozen okra available at desi stores recommended by a friend. It turned out great, finally! As I cooked it I could almost remember standing in that hot kitchen in our Wah house with our cook busy with his own stuff and Asif teaching me the basics of everyday cooking. I could almost hear his voice in my head, ‘Nataliya baji, dekhein aisa rang hona chahiye pyaz ka..’ Look, This is what color the onions should be like. Since those days almost ten years ago, he has gotten married and moved on to different places as my family moved to Karachi and then back, but many of our stories and memories from those days include him as well the other help at my parent’s house.
Growing up in Pakistan, there was always some kind of household help at our house. It is such a normal part of life in Pakistan and even though they were always treated well at our house, now when I visit from here it just feels so different. The contrasts between the lives of these people and our own, while living under the same roof. The way we treat them, pass on our leftover food, clothes and items that we deem not good enough for us to use. We sit in front of our heaters and they sit in the cold of the kitchens as we order them around. And it gets worse in the excruciating heat of the Pakistani summer as the kitchens become lifesize ovens, and ever more so during Ramazan. We yell at them, ridicule them and treat them like they don’t deserve the same rights that we do. Of course some times they live up to the expectations we have of them; they lie, they cheat, and they try to find short cuts in their work; but sometimes when we have low expectations of people they tend to live up to them. Still we trust then into our homes, we trust them with our children. It just breaks my heart sometimes, the contrast they must feel between us and them, every day of their working lives; in the price of one of our smartphones that they clean around in our houses, they could provide basic necessities for their children for months!
Living in the US and having to do everything on our own, from cleaning our houses, cooking our food, doing our laundries and keeping an eye on our kids from morning to night, one just feels so much more appreciative of them. I had a cleaning lady while I was pregnant and through the time that Anya was a little baby, and it was so different with her. It was her job, just like any other job and she deserved respect just like any other person would and I wish we would realize that about our help back home. Their hard lives and their circumstances of course we can only help in a limited way, but what we CAN do is appreciate them as they do our dirty work, as they help keep our perfect houses clean and our elaborate meals going. Lets treat them with respect and kindness. Let’s realize it is a privilege to be able to have help.
What do you think? If you live overseas, does it feel differently to you too when you visit Pakistan?
Thanks for reading. Lots of love.