Yesterday, two very lovely ladies arrived to take care of my household, children, and indirectly, my sanity. I am very happy they showed up. Seriously, I am – the first two I hired accepted the job and then never came, one chickening out with a text message and the other one a half-assed voicemail.
V is the morning shift. She is shrewd – eyes that take everything in, a severe bun at the nape of her neck, a quick tongue, but a competence that her reference letters from several high-placed former investment bankers have not lied about. L – her sister-in-law, incidentally, is her opposite. Timid and shy, hair stray and messy over her shoulders, she doesn’t project confidence the way V does. I am almost convinced that she is V’s Bitch. Or she will be by the end of next week.
Household help is one of the perks of diplomatic life. I can’t read a damn thing in this country, am pretty sure I got charged four times the standard rate for the apples I bought, and maple syrup is $17.85 for 4 oz., but I don’t have to clean my toilet for three whole years! Awesome.
It’s fantastic to not have to worry about making my bed in the a.m. The downside is, I can’t stay in it. I love having the ironing, scrubbing, and cleaning done, but I am never completely by myself, and my helpers know the most intimate things about me. My maids know that I lose my temper with DiploKid 2 because he is giggling and inserting extra letters for “fun” into his very basic reading homework. They know when I get my monthly, and what brand of “feminine protection” I use. They know what medications I take, that I only floss about 4 times a week when I make my DiploKids do it every night, and that I eat an alarming amount of chocolate.
My first turn with household help was in Cameroon. J was a remarried mother – a previous relationship had produced a daughter – and because her current husband refused to support said daughter, she thought it was just fine and dandy to steal from us. Our second helper was a guy – I can’t even remember his name he was there for such a short amount of time. He helped himself to about $300 worth of my in-law’s Euros. Our final helper in Cameroon, Felicia, was lovely. Thank goodness, I was beginning to sour in a serious way on having anyone in my home.
In Germany, we had a lady part-time referred to us by a friend and who ringed an antique table, threw garbage in my recycling bins repeatedly, and was eventually busted by immigration. Her replacement was a Filipino man. He started as a dog walker and by the time he took over all cleaning and laundry duties, I almost proposed. But he was gay. Or at least the entire community was certain of it until he knocked up another one of the maids. His son was born a year before DiploKid 1, and he was the only one who ever recommended lumpia for morning sickness. I can tell you for a fact that they do not work.
In Hong Kong, we hired M. M cleaned like nobody’s business, but was crazy. No, I’m not kidding, and I wish that I were. She was devoutly religious, and surprised us one Christmas by running off to become a nun of some sort, but I’m not sure how she did that because she was married at the time. Her own husband had decided to have his sexual needs met otherwise when his wife left for abroad to support the family. He stayed in the Philippines, drank, and fathered children with other women. I seriously think that pushed her over the edge. By the time we had to fire her and forcibly escort her from our compound, she was convinced that the cable TV line gave her headaches and that my blue eyes were a sign of witchcraft. Whispering “Your Mommy is evil” to my 3yo over the breakfast table was just the final straw.
Ghana started off shaky; we hired E sight unseen from DiploDad’s predecessor. We inherited her house and her helper. Both were in disrepair and barely functional. And expensive to maintain. When I found out that I paid over twice as high a salary for less than half the work and she refused to stop calling me “Mommy”, I had to let her go.
G, her successor, was awesome. Energetic, resourceful, and beloved by DiploKid 2, who came into her charge when he was barely 7 weeks old. For four years, she backed DiploKid 2, learned how to make bagels and pizza, and kept everything in line from the DiploKids to the Embassy maintenance workers, to me.
Making DiploKid 2’s 2d Birthday Cake.
Then we brought her to the U.S. and she ran away, probably to Georgia to be with her brother’s in-laws, leaving me in the lurch for babysitting for DiploDad’s only diplomatic function of the year and a hole in DiploKid 2’s heart that has never quite mended. He still asks when he will see her again. It’s been almost two and a half years since she left. I vacillated between anger – how dare she do that to my baby? and understanding compassion – I couldn’t keep her in the U.S. much longer, but she certainly didn’t want to go back home. It still breaks my heart to know DiploKid 2 will never hear from her again. If anyone knows how to find her, please tell her he still loves and misses her. And that a postcard or Christmas greeting would be lovely.
Walking on the beach in Axim, Ghana.
B and “Big Blue”.
We’ve only had one driver. B was awesome. He is by far the person that has made the most impact on our household, and our family. B started in the garden – manual labor, day guard duties. But when I left for medevac to have DiploKid 2, we sent him to driving school, raised his salary and promoted him to Driver. B and I had crazy times – he would tell me what was going on in Accra and we would talk education, literature, culture, and politics. I would get that gleam in my eye that I had a crazy idea and needed his expertise to make it happen and he would look like a deer in headlights – but then come through. There was nothing B couldn’t find or make happen – a replacement camera battery the day before a school play, a 1959 Bedford to take a group of us to the Marine Ball, an avocado for today. When we left, he began working at the commissary and as a school bus driver for the Embassy kids.
B in DC. On the way to the 4th of July “A Capitol Fourth” with the NSO.
His visit to the U.S. last summer was one of the best summers of my life.
Can you believe it? A real beauty queen! At Mount Vernon.
Taking B around, showing him America, and seeing it all from a 36-year-old novice’s eyes was fantastic.
Hiking in the Shenandoah. I still am not sure he forgives me for taking him on this roller coaster.
We will always have B in our lives. I do not doubt this.
Now, we are at the beginning of another chapter. Team VL, the ladies in the house; V, our new driver, and V2, our dog walker and DiploDog’s bestie during Monsoon Season. I am excited to see what our new family is like. Because I know it will be like nothing else I have ever known.