This is the third and last part of the story of ‘Sinta’ and the friendship which grew between her and myself during the course of about four years. Read the first part of Sinta, the Indonesian Housemaid turned into a prisoner here. In the second part of her story there is a spark of hope for a better future. Unfortunately I cannot say the third part of the story has a happing ending. I wish that one day I would be able to write a happy ending, that is, if I ever find Sinta again.
Please note that this post is copyrighted material under KSA laws and should not be published elsewhere without permission, or legal action will be taken. (looking at you Lifeinsaudiarabia rip-off blog, who stole already the first two parts I wrote). That and more than 20 other articles from Blue Abaya and many other honest hardworking bloggers in KSA. It doesn’t look like they have original content at all, it’s just ripped off from others.
Sinta Part 3
The Saudi family of Sinta would not let go of their bitterness and anger toward the hospital for causing their mother’s paralysis at a routine procedure. This terrible medical error was to be the fate of Sinta too. To know exactly what happened you must read Part One and Two of her story. The family refused to take their mother back home for home-based nursing care, (which would’ve been possible from the medical pov) and instead insisted she be admitted to a ward. It was as if they wanted it to be a sort of “punishment” to the hospital for what they had done to their beloved mother. The hospital could do nothing but accept, perhaps because of strong wasta of this family, or they felt so guilty for the medical error, who knows.
(If you’re not familiar with the term wasta read this post: What is a Wasta)
Looking at the patient’s condition from the medical and ethical point of view, having her laying in this small dark hospital room was the worst thing they could actually have done to their mother at that point.
Sinta, one of the Indonesian housemaids who worked in the house of the spinster daughter and ‘Mama Ameenah*’, was appointed the sitter of the patient. A patient sitter means the person who sits in the room assisting the patient in everyday tasks. Usually these sitters would be family members, and they would rotate their duties and shifts. The duty of a sitter is normally seen as an important and honorable task, but for Mama Ameenah, nobody seemed to care just that much that they’d sit there for just one day. Not even half a day, or few hours, which would have allowed Sinta some free time. It was just too much to ask. (*all names have been changed)
Any pleads (which I directed toward the only people who came to visit the patient, the son and the spinster daughter) to find a substitute maid for Sinta were completely fruitless. Mostly my suggestions were met with the “inshallah attitude”.
Shockingly the family saw nothing wrong in this arrangement.
In the second part Sinta had just suffered a minor stroke, leaving half of her face paralyzed. She was still able to muster a half smile which was equally heart warming than the full one had been. I became even more concerned for her health and future with the Saudi family she was working for. Their true concern seemed to be losing the caretaker of their paralyzed, brain dead mother, not so much the actual wellbeing of Sinta. Sinta continued to take care of Mama Ameenah with the same selfless devotion she always had. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With no breaks, no holidays, no getting out of the hospital premises for many years. Her salary was 600 SAR per month. That’s about 120 euros.
Despite her failing health, Sinta would always be in high spirits and greeted me with that big smile whenever I would see her.
Something remarkable about Sinta’s character was that despite her miserable personal situation she was always able to be so upbeat and supportive of others. Being confined to that small dark hospital room for years, treated like dirt by her Saudi family, and not much better by the nursing staff or doctors, yet I can hardly remember her saying a bad thing about anyone.
One example of how this positive attitude manifested itself was in Sinta’s ability to offer me a listening ear and support even in the most difficult of situations. During the course of about four years that I was lucky to know Sinta, she was one of the only people in my life who 100% believed in and stood by my choice to marry a Saudi man. She knew our love story from the beginning, when I met my husband, at the very same ward. Waiting for his family to accept his choice of spouse was one of the most difficult times in my life, but Sinta supported my decision and never criticized or doubted us.
To most people around me at the time, marrying a Saudi guy was viewed as more or less an insane idea. People would tell me horror stories and all sorts of “expert opinions” about being married to a Saudi man. “He will lock you up” “he will marry other women” “his family will take your children”. And the legendary comment of “Haven’t you read ‘Not Without My Daughter’?”
Sinta on the other hand would always be supportive, positive and even encouraging, regardless of her own terrible experiences with Saudis. For that I will be forever grateful.
A good example of Sinta’s character and her unwavering support of her friends was regarding my future in laws. We were facing lots of difficulties in getting the family accepting his decision to marry me, a foreigner. You can read more about these deeply rooted tribal attitudes on marriage in this post: A Saudi Male Perspective on Marriage, Love and Tribes in the Kingdom.
We had waited for over a year for his family to accept the idea, only to be met by a brick wall. My fiancee had pleaded and tried everything he possibly could think of. It felt like all roads were leading to dead ends and doors were slammed in the face. There were threats of disowning him and “over my dead body” talks. Things did not seem good at all. In fact it was a rather shitty situation to be in. People were telling me to stop wasting my time on him and to just move on. No one seemed to think it was going anywhere.
Except Sinta. She would just encourage me to keep trying and hoping. Sinta had noticed my stress levels were off the roof and tried to consolidate me, reassuring everything would be alright, that these things just take more time around here.
Sinta also gave me some practical advice in how to soften the inlaws in their stance. She told me to pray, (she always told me how she prayed everyday for things to get better for me), to bake something special from my country Finland and to buy his mother some jewelry as Eid holiday was approaching.
I took all her advice and put it into action. A lot of time and effort went into finding the perfect gift. I finally found it, a Tiffany’s charm bracelet with as many charms on it to match the number of her children. I gave the gifts to my fiancee so he could pass them on to his mother. However after hearing the gift was in fact from me, she had rejected it. I remember crying to Sinta about it one night shift, I didn’t even tell anyone else about it because it felt so devastating. Sinta hadn’t given up on us though, she told me to just keep trying and praying, never to lose hope.
Another year went by with the same persistent resistance and rejection from my husbands family. I began to feel like my life was on hold, my happiness was in the hands of others. It was as if my life was just sailing by as I waited on the dock of the bay for something that had become apparent, would never happen anyway.
Again, Sinta was able, despite her own suffering and painful situation, to see the pain caused by the hopeless situation I was in. Instead of telling me to dump my fiancee and forget the whole thing, she suggested I take a long break from work and distance myself from Saudi Arabia for a while. She suggested I travel to visit my family, who were at the time living in Spain. Sinta told me that leaving would have a positive effect and I would be able to see things with new eyes.
After some thinking and soul-searching, that’s exactly what I did. I took my distance from KSA a step further and went on an around-the-world trip, leaving work, my fiancee and my worries behind. I traveled for three months and went to the places I’d always dreamed of. I skydived in Fiji, climbed to Macchu Picchu in Peru and sailed around the Galapagos islands. All with my own hard earned money, which made it somehow feel even sweeter. And truly, Sinta was right. Things became crystal clear. Shortly after my return to KSA and back to work, things between my fiancee and I started to progress at new levels.
All this time poor Sinta was still stuck in her small room at the hospital, dutifully watching over mama Ameenah. Sadly both of their health began to deteriorate. Mama Ameenah, paralyzed, brain dead to an extent we never knew for sure, was in a ward that made her susceptible to all kinds of hospital acquired bacteria. These organisms can cause huge risks for immunocompromized patients like her.
These bacterias such as VRE, MRSA and other dangerous and even deadly “super bacterias” were actually quite commonly seen in other long term chronic patients on the ward. Poor hand hygiene practices and other factors contributed to the spread of these mega bacteria like wildfire on the ward. So it was just a matter of time that one of them would infect mama Ameenah too. Actually, it was a small miracle on its own (and only owed to Sinta’s dedication) that the patient had not gotten infected earlier in the many years she had been in the hospital.
The super-bacteria infection was probably what started the cycle of illness with Mama Ameenah. To make matters worse for Sinta, the room had to be turned into an isolation room, meaning she was not supposed to leave or even walk on the hallway anymore. This took the concept of prisoner to a new, more hardcore level than ever before.
The patient also began to have seizures, which seemed to be random. I didn’t think they were random though. Sinta told me how some of the nurses didn’t make sure all the medicine went through the feeding tube. Bits of crushed medicine, which included her anti-convulsion medicines, were sometimes left in the feeding tube. Some nurses failed to flush this tube properly or at all, or pieces of medicine were left in the bottom of the syringe. Of course nobody believed Sinta when she complained about it to the head nurse. They thought she was just an uneducated woman from Indonesia who knew nothing. But I knew she knew exactly how to administer that medicine herself. However, she didn’t do it, simply because she was just too honest. Sinta had been specifically instructed to leave the medicine administration “to the professionals” and that’s what she did.
One of these seizures was so severe they ended up having to resuscitate the patient. Things went downhill rapidly from there. At this point, I was already pregnant with our first baby and I was about to go on maternity leave. Sinta was devastated that I was leaving the ward. I promised to visit her and that our paths would not part.
She insisted on coming to work for me when the baby was born, but we both knew that was not going to happen. We cried and hugged a lot. I felt terrible for Sinta, I really did and couldn’t figure out how to help her any further.
After I left the ward I visited her a few times but unfortunately some of the staff at the ward had a bad attitude about it. I thought it’s for Sinta’s own good not to make anyone have any reason for envy over financial support given to Sinta so I decided to stop going in person and just called her on the phone. In the second part of Sinta’s story, I explained about the strange behavior of a few Asian nursing staff members, who became envious and began acting spiteful toward Sinta. This was most likely due the support, financial and other, given to Sinta by myself and some other nurses. If you want to know some of the causes for this behavior, read my post about bullying in the Saudi hospitals. and the Saudi Salary Racism.
But little did I know that the day I visited Sinta at the hospital would be the last day I ever saw her.
After a few months I heard the sad news about what had happened to Mama Ameenah. Another severe convulsion and transfer to the ICU. What exactly happened to Sinta at this point is unclear. Personal sitters are not allowed for patients in the ICU, so the family most likely would have sent her back home. The patient passed away in ICU shortly after being admitted there. That was the last I heard of any of them.
I had Sinta’s number of course. It was switched off. I kept sending her messages in hopes she would be able to turn the phone on and read them, but nothing happened. I asked the Malaysian staff who were her friends, nobody knew what had happened to her. I asked Sinta’s friend, a ward housekeeper, who helped transfer extra money through Western Union to Sinta’s family in Indonesia, but she also knew nothing. It was just heartbreaking, all of it.
So after the demise of Mama Ameenah, there was nothing else than radio silence. To this day I’ve kept trying to text and call her phone every once in a while. In fact I just did it again to no avail. A few times her number was actually switched back on but nobody picked up. It could be the number is now in someone else’s use.
All I can hope is that the death of their mother somehow miraculously humbled the family to show some mercy on Sinta. I hope they let her go. I hope she’s in Indonesia away from this family and finally united with her own loved ones. I hope gratitude was shown to Sinta for all that she did. Was it in their hearts, to show an ounce of gratitude, I can only wonder. What did they give Sinta, for dedicating all these years of her life to taking care of a brain dead person, who she loved dearly but was not even her relative. I hope this cold family were able to show some warmth and appreciation to Sinta. I can only hope.
And maybe someday, I will meet her again. Until then, I can just close my eyes and remember her smile, and pray she’s doing just alright, wherever she is.
Feel free to share her story, maybe someone somewhere knows about her whereabouts, you never know.
DISCLAIMER: This story is a description of ONE family, not all Saudi families with maids. Don’t for a moment think that this is somehow the norm of how maids are treated by Saudi families in KSA, because it’s just not like that. No doubt abuse happens and the kafala system is what enables the bad people to treat the workers badly. This sponsorship system needs to fly out of the window in order to protect the employees and the employers too. Sinta’s story is here for you to read because it’s inspiring but yes, also very sad and infuriating how the family treated her, but it doesn’t mean that another family somewhere else in the world would not have done just the same. Just because it’s a Saudi family, it doesn’t mean they are all bad and abusive. People are just like that, in general, humans everywhere have always abused the weaker ones and misused their power. Its human nature all around the world. But what an extraordinary woman Sinta is to be able to keep her dignity, her positive outlook and honesty through it all. That’s the reason why Sinta’s story is so special. Never lose hope.