Cairo’s Couch Corner: Confessions of a Teenage Maid

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Written by Mariam Amr

"She was forced into working at the age of 5..."
“She was forced into working at the age of 5…”

“No, no, no, tell me how it all started” I coldly interrupted my friend’s words, in search for the truth behind this brutal tragedy.

This story was like nothing I have heard nefore. Her name was Jamila. Born to a fairly poor family in Cairo’s suburbs, Jamila had 4 younger brothers and 2 older sisters. She was forced into working at the age of 5, when her father was locked up in prison for drug possession. She’d said that working that young never bothered her, it was in fact her escape.

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“…begging in the crowded streets of Cairo’s Downtown”

Her escape from a house where her older brothers beat her up every day, and her mother did nothing to stop them. Her escape from not having her own room to shut the world away when she needed to. Her escape from the boring days where she did nothing but count the hours till its end. As she begged in the crowded streets of Cairo’s Downtown, she ‘d contemplate running away, numerous times, but the fear of ending up alone stopped her every time.

A couple of years later, her mother got her a job as a maid. What Jamila thought could be her big break, ended up being the start of a nightmare. The woman she worked for tortured her mentally; always asking too much of her, mistreating her, and calling her names. But when it got physical, Jamila left the house and told her mother she would never go back.

The expectations of  the support her mother would give her vanished as she received nothing but a harsh beating from her brothers. Her mother scolded her for caring only about herself instead of putting the family first. Jamila returned the next day and apologized to the woman for her ‘inappropriate’ behavior. She spent her time there, and I quote,  ‘waiting for the day it would end’.

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“The woman she worked for tortured her mentally”

What she did not expect, though, was to fall in love with the porter’s son. The good mornings, smiles, and few words shared between her and Mohammed added some lift to her deadly routine, and for the first time ever, she felt ‘happy’.

By the age of 14, her father had found a suitor for her to marry immediately. I could not put my feelings into words when my friend told me it was a 40 year-old man her father met in prison! Her opinion was unasked for, and her arguments were considered as selfishness. What’s funny is that one of her brothers, who’d accuse her of not wanting to help the family’s economic situation, was himself unemployed and good-for-nothing.

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“… it was a 40 year-old man her father met in prison!”

They were to go on with the wedding whether or not she was on board with it. She begged her mother not to marry the man, and to marry Mohammed instead, which only made things worse, her mother was infuriated and forced her to never see him again.

Fortunately, the man was jailed again for theft before the marriage would take place. But she was still a prisoner in her own house as a heartbroken teenager with no job. The next year was more fortunate for her, though, as her mother sent her away to work at my friend’s house, where she would stay over during her time working there, and go back home once a week, to hand her salary to her family. Her new employers treated her very well, and took care of her as they heard of her rough past.

Soon enough in that peaceful house, she started to feel like herself again. But even though the bruises on her body were gone, her heart was still deeply wounded, and she knew she had to see Mohammed again. So one day while she was grocery shopping, she passed by the old building where she used to work, in hope of seeing him. And she did. For the first time ever, they started talking personally to each other.

After she explained why she had to leave her job there, Mohammed was very sympathetic and soon enough, they started seeing each other. They promised each other she would wait until he saved enough money for them to escape to somewhere far away from both their families, where they could start their own. She told my friend of her love story, and said that she’d see through it ‘even if it cost her life’.

Life seemed perfect to her, but that didn’t last long! Mohammed disappeared during the events of the 25th of January revolution, and was nowhere to be found. She gathered up her courage and searched for him at the building where he worked. She found out that he had died in the midst of the clashes. The pain she felt was unbearable. She felt like all she had in life, her only hope for a better future, was gone! She took her life later that week, leaving behind a suicide note to the family she worked for.

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“She felt like all she had in life… was gone!”

Her story breaks my heart and makes me feel ashamed to have never noticed her whenever I was over at my friend’s. Perhaps all she needed was someone to comfort her and tell her all would be okay. But she didn’t have that. All she had was pain and misery.

 

Till next time…

Feel free to share with us any similar stories you’ve heard of, and your thoughts of Jamila’s.

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