A tale of two cities
Published: 05 Jul 2014
About two decades ago, I attended a week training session in an office in a London suburb. There was a pretty young lady who worked in the office three hours a day cleaning the office. This also included cleaning toilets.
Sometimes she made tea for us which she served us with a smile. All trainees were amazed by her charm and one or two wanted to know her more. The head of the office was also a nice person who happened to be one of the known lawyers in London.
When we were on the last day of training, the young cleaner brought tea for us at the break. When she served tea to the head of the office he gave her some money.
She smiled and said: "Thanks dad". I think all trainees hit the ceiling. He turned to us and said: "She is my daughter waiting for her barristers exam results".
She smiled innocently and went away.
Cleaning, a good income source for some students living in the United Kingdom is no way a looked down employment. Some high flyers with very impressive qualifications and a CV also at one stage of their life have worked as cleaners or shop assistants etc. It is important to have a continued list of engagements on the CV than having some gaps of unemployment or idling.
There is no social discrimination against employees of the lower end in the United Kingdom openly. Once a dustbin collector won a national level quiz program on TV.
Although I had no kitchen or cleaning experience before I left for the UK, I have had plenty of them since my arrival here working at restaurants, supermarkets, petrol stations etc.
My first employment was at an Indian restaurant as a waiter and a plate washer. When I was looking for jobs after the exams, I went to Indian restaurants in the city looking for a job.
At the first stop the owner asked me what I could do. I said "anything". He said there was no job here for "anything". I then realised that I should reduce my enthusiasm just to one area.
At the next, I said I could wash plates and I got the job. Unfortunately, I was wearing a tie on the first day and it got soaked in the sink when I had to wash plates for hours and hours continuously. I didn't realise that the tie was in the sink for sometime. Anyway after work I could not walk and had to sit on a bench in the kitchen for a while.
But I was amazed when the owner asked me to join him and others for dinner at the same table. There everyone was joking and laughing repeating what happened at the restaurant that evening. I walked home thinking of that different world.
Around the same time a well-off cousin of mine who came to study in the UK, answered a paper advertisement of a vacancy for a cleaner.
She wanted me to accompany her to the house where she was supposed to start work. When a woman opened the door, I left my cousin there and came back.
Although the work was for three hours she came back within 45 minutes. Her story was funny. After I left she was invited inside and offered tea. Then the woman in the house led her to the place where all the cleaning stuff was stored. It was a trolley. The woman was by the door watching what she was doing. My cousin pushed the trolley in to the kitchen and took her time reading the contents of the cans and bottles. She took one of the cleaning spray cans out and sprayed it on the kitchen top.
The woman jumped on her screaming saying that it was a bleach which is used to clean toilet bowls. My cousin was ordered to stop, given the bus fare and asked to leave. That's why she was early.
At the time we left Sri Lanka, there were only sovereign bar soap, vim and sunlight for cleaning. We cleaned plates with nothing other than coconut husks. The new generation is lucky.
It was the story of one city. What's happening in the other city is different.
When I was in Colombo recently I travelled with a friend in his car who happened to be a chairman of a corporation. When passing a bus stop, he said one of his employees was there and he would definitely be late as usual.
I admit that the chairman can't take a lower grade employee in his car to office. But discrimination towards fellow workers exists in Sri Lanka at all levels.
Taking a lower level member of the staff in his car or sitting for lunch with them is unthinkable for some in Sri Lanka. Standing up from your seat is essential when the boss passes by you. That's the way it goes in Asia. The western world knows about it - but never learn the lesson from us. But in real terms who am I to talk about it anyway?
Courtesy of DailyNews