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Saturday, March 27, 2010

homeless, a maid lives her dreams

Looking from the mountain in Sri Lanka's Kurunegala town, one could find the spot where Chithra Gamage once had a house. Married off to a government employee at 20, Chithra spent eight years in that home, giving birth to four children during her time there. Then the domestic dream went sour: her husband was caught taking bribes, a practice he had been indulging in for many years.

Thanks to his contacts, he managed to avoid being jailed, but worse, the savings he had faithfully invested in a local private company were totally lost, leading him to descend into a semi-insane state, wandering lost and confused around the town.

Collecting herself, Chithra realized that everything was now dependent on her and she had to take on the role of sole breadwinner. This led her to take the most immediately available job, then as now: housemaid.

Chithra, now 52, is now in the 25th year of her life as a maid. After eight years in Dubai and now in her 17th consecutive year in Kuwait, she is contented, in stark contrast to her still disoriented husband. Thanks to her Kuwaiti sponsor and her frugal living, all four children are educated and employed and two of her daughters are married off. Chithra has asked her only son to wait to settle down until her youngest daughter's marriage is completed. Her son, who was working in Singapore with a computer ha
rdware business, returned home for the sake of his ready-to-be-married sister and is now in a laptop merchandising business, in their hometown, Kurunagela.

Recalling her years of sleepless nights away from home, Chithra particularly remembers one terrible occasion when her family's home was broken into, burgled and vandalized by hooligans while she was in Dubai. She went home, moving her family to her mother's house before arranging a visa for herself to travel to Kuwait to work.

When my first daughter [who is now a nurse] turned 18, she told me, 'Now you can send money to me, I'll take care of the family,'" she recalls. Chithra who used to draft her salary to her elderly mother proudly concurred. Her mature and hardworking daughter also made extra money by giving private tuition to high school students while she was in the college.

The more highly educated second daughter, now well settled in Japan with her family, has repeatedly asked Chithra to give her work as a maid and return to Sri Lanka, but Chithra has resolutely refused.

Now I dream of rebuilding the wrecked house", she explains. "I don't want to rely on my children. My husband is still around. Although we haven't so much communication, he's still my husband".

In Sinhalese, the language of Chithra's homeland, the word 'Kurunagela' means 'elephant rock,' and Chithra's roots certainly seem to have influenced her indomitable, rock-solid character.

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