Thursday, April 7, 2011

Household Help

Daniela at Tuk & Tam is hosting the FS Weekly Blog Roundup. The optional talking point (OPT) is "The Best Of... insert country here." I am opting out of the OPT this week. Hey, it IS optional.

I’ve already ranted about the shortfalls of Malawi, although I think it is more a case of false advertising rather than actual shortfalls. Still I have already had my say, and I don't think I need to rehash it again. So far the best of Malawi has been the trip to Zambia last October, and well, Zambia is a different country, so that isn't exactly the best of Malawi.

Instead I am going to focus on house staff. If you are a long time reader you already know that I hired house staff before we arrived, based only on a recommendation from the people who had this house before us, no interview. It was a disaster. One I won't be repeating. While I appreciate that for some people having staff all lined up and ready to work from the day you hit the ground is a necessity, especially if you are a single parent or a tandem with kids, in the future I will be taking some time to settle in before hiring staff.

I have been without house staff since early October. Mostly I have enjoyed having the house to myself. An acquaintance here asked rather incredulously if I enjoyed cleaning toilets all day. Well no, but then again it only takes a few minutes to clean toilets, so it's not that big of a hardship. Plus the kids are old enough to help out around the house, and I think that having chores is a very important part of growing up.

I’m a bit of a homebody. I enjoy the process of making a house a home. I like cooking, dusting, and the satisfaction of a clean, attractive room. Ok, so I don't really enjoy laundry, but at least I have a washing machine to make it easier. I'm not sitting on the banks of a creek scrubbing my clothes like most women in Malawi, and I do love the smell when the dryer is running. Unlike a lot of (fully justified) trailing spouses you won't hear me complaining about not being able to find work at post. I was born in the wrong decade; I actually like being a domestic goddess. Sick isn't it? My mom is probably rolling her eyes right now trying to figure out where she went wrong.

As of this week we once again have house staff in the form of one maid/nanny. She's a hard worker, the house sparkles, she keeps the kids from fighting while I cook dinner, she speaks English, and she even bathes Grayson before she leaves. She’s a real gem. She’s driving me absolutely bonkers!

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that I would be best off without full time help. I think in my ideal world I would have someone come in once or twice a week to do toilets, mop, vacuum, clean the windows, and do the ironing. That someone would call my by my given name, make eye contact, laugh when I tell a joke, and never never never flinch when I walk into a room. Then the rest of the time I could have my shiny clean house to myself.

So why did we hire a maid? Well there’s no such thing as a babysitter around here. David and I have not been out to dinner once since Dakota left for boot camp last December. In order to have a night out a few times a month we had to hire a full time employee. Talk about your overkill. The kids are all school age, so having a nanny seems a little silly. To justify hiring her we have her do housework in the morning and in the afternoon she mostly watches Grayson play with her daughters. I have to admit this plan beats having to run out and break up 10 fights between the boys while I try to cook dinner each night.

You know not so long ago I was a stay at home mom in the states, trying hard to keep my sanity with two kids in diapers, one half potty trained kiddo, and a preteen with attitude issues. I would have given my eyeteeth to have even a part time helper. A full time, live-in maid was the stuff of movies and dreams. David was working 2 jobs and going to school part time, so I was on my own most of the time. I don't know how we did it, but we did.

This is probably a case of be careful what you wish for. I was really looking forward to having help again. It is only now that I appreciate just exactly how lucky we were in Jakarta. Our pebantu and driver there were totally wonderful and we still keep in touch with both of them. It’s clear I will not have the same kind of relation with our current employee, but I do think we are going to be able to make it work. Now if I could just convince her to call me anything but “Madame.”

13 comments:

wellthatwasdifferent said...

Wow, if the best part of your time there has been a trip to Zambia, that is pretty sad (: The best part of my tour in Zambia was a trip to Zimbabwe! But OK, it was a pretty nice place to visit back then. Still, it really was a LOT nicer than Zambia...

Shannon said...

To be fair the only place we went was South Luangwa Park on safari so we saw the part for tourists, not the real Zambia. Loved safari. I might feel differently if I was posted to Lusaka. I am so glad that someone feels the same way about Africa I do. LOL!

Bryn said...

We can't afford help here, which has been bitter sweet. My house is messy, but it's all mine. In Mexico we had a maid come once a week and she cleaned EVERYTHING and did all the laundry. It was perfect. She came while I was busy working or running errands so there wasn't a lot of "weirdness". I have to admit, I miss having someone else clean my house....

Smallbits said...

Childcare can be hard here too unless you employ someone all the time. I'm just glad we're at a post where there isn't much that is only for adults. We would have had to employ someone all the time otherwise. We've done okay but our house sure isn't as sparkling as it was when we had a housekeeper. On the other hand, my kids are lobbying for a "smaller house so we don't have to clean so much next tour." :) Good luck! Having someone in your space can be tough. And I really don't like being an employer when I don't speak the language well. Maybe I'd feel differently if I could communicate well. Who knows.

Connie said...

What you say is so true! There is no childcare, without having hired help. Nobody to watch your house when you're away (which I worry about more because I've had more... um?... spectacular maintenance issues overseas than at home!), and it's also important to have someone you trust watch your pets while you're away. Help with the regular cleaning is just gravy.

Shannon said...

I am glad this will be the last post we really have to worry about childcare, when we leave here Alonzo will 13, old enough to watch his brother for a few hours. He will be taking the red cross baby sitting course during our next homeleave!

Smallbits said...

Good call on the Red Cross training on home leave. I didn't even think of that but it's a good idea! We have one more tour where we'll need childcare (and it has willing teens that we can hire). I am excited for our oldest to be old enough to babysit too.

Tradeurbeads said...

Before I even pulled up your blog today I was thinking If the gov't really does shut down and I loose my part time job at the embassy I just might loose it with the driver and maid. Which I should add they are both wonderful people. But the three of us home all day in the house just is not going to work. But they would rather be here in my home then go to their home early in the day. I have water, food, music. I am the one that has to find something to do outside the house. This just does not seem right.

Jen said...

Cait's been babysitting for us since she was 11 (during the daytime) and 12 (at night) and it is an absolute God-send! We can put Nicholas to bed and go out for a quick bite to eat and/or movie, and don't have to fork out an inordinate amount of money (in addition to evening out)!

LeesOnTheGo said...

***BRAVO!!!!***

I just want to give kudos when kudos are due & I believe you've earned your fair share. If cleaning your own home (if even temporarily) is satisfying, then I'm glad that you didn't give in to the majority of us who have grown really, really (overly) used to the help we have. I confess that I spend time daydreaming of having my house to myself sometimes (and not being called Madame, and eye contact, and the not flinching thing too...). In some ways you're living the dream...you just happen to also do dishes & laundry in the dream. And if it ain't so bad, then it ain't so bad. (Part time gal though...that was a good plan for reinstituting date nights).

Don't let any of us mouthy ones tell you how to run your house. If you don't mind cleaning, then just tell us to shut up. What do we know anyway...(we're just jealous).

NKL

Daniela Swider said...

The Weekly State Department Blog RoundUp is posted, and you're on it!

http://tukytam.blogspot.com/2011/04/weekly-state-department-blog-roundup.html

If I've made any errors, or you prefer not to be included, just let me know. Thank you!

Kate Husband said...

Shannon - I'm behind on reading blogs. I just wanted to tell you that I have a friend in Zambia who hired a maid/nanny as "fulltime" (salary and availability) but then only had her work part-time (cleaning 2 or 3 mornings a week) and babysitting on request. She LOVED it. The employee ended up using the rest of her "time" going to school! Great deal all around. She had to resist the guilt trips of her other expat friends (for over paying) but she wanted part-time and no one was looking for a job with part-time pay. Remember, you are in charge! You get to choose how much time she spends inside your house.

TulipGirl said...

We've been very fortunate with our helpers... But I'm very glad that our house is large enough that when I want to be alone I can find somewhere quiet and secluded (and lock my door.)

I oh-so-don't want to hire a full-time driver, but the roads and driving and accidents and craziness here. . . well, I'm about to break down and do so.