An amah is the Asian name for a servant. All my married friends, had amahs, most of them were older Malaysian women who worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for a pittance. Back then in the 90's the going rate was MR$250 a month. Converted to Aussie dollars, that's about 35c an hour. Wives of men earning $10,000 a month plus free house, free car, free utilities, first class flights home for holidays and school fees paid for, at the best and most expensive schools, saw nothing wrong with this. As Mary-Grace from Calvary, (not her real name), said to me, “They don't need much. I mean how much is a bag of rice."
The women who worked for ex-pats weren't complaining. They knew they had it good compared to the foreign girls who worked for the locals. The Chinese family, who lived next-door to Mary Grace, employed a Filipino. The first thing they did when she arrived was confiscate her passport so she couldn't run away. Sleeping in a pokey cupboard under the stairs - her duties went beyond housework and baby sitting - the male of the household took it as a given that she would sleep with him.
Not that the locals were the only ones to enjoy their amah's favours. Hundreds of single men and married men—temporarily available—flocked to the oil town. I noticed their amahs were always the beauties, the delicate, ultra feminine Iban girls, straight from the jungle longhouses.
A lot of these men formed relationships with their amahs and, many of them married, and took their sweethearts back home. But others just used them as pretty playthings and forgot about them when their contracts were finished.
For three years, I was the only ex-pat, in my circle of friends, who didn't have an amah but then I met Jelimah...
More about Jelimah in my next post.
In the meantime if you’d like to read my book "The White Amah" about a young woman, little more than a girl who trades life in a remote jungle longhouse for the bright lights of Miri click here.