Domestic Woes and Hope

Ughh, I hate complaining about household help because I can only imagine how abnoxious and whiny it sounds, but seriously, when you haven’t been raised with domestic help, it’s a weird and sometimes uncomfortable situation to navigate. I am the boss and two women work for me but they are in our home and become part of the family. Except that they are not really. And it becomes awkward sometimes as does navigating the cultural differences.

So here is the latest. Our housekeeper asked me for a loan, equal to about three week’s worth of her salary (about $270). She said that she needs the money because she took a loan from a cousin when her daughter was very sick a few months back and the medical bills were mounting. Now the cousin needs his money back and is calling her every day. Can she borrow some money from us and then we can deduct it form her paycheck over the next 6 weeks?

Being a gringa, I instantly feel her discomfort and feel uncomfortable myself. In my value system, if somebody is asking for money, they must really need it to put themselves in such an awkward (and to me, humiliating) position. I want to help her so I say that it should be OK but let me talk to my husband. I talk to Esteban who says that he will talk to some people at work to see how this is normally handled. I decide to ask a few Colombian friends. Their responses are unanimous: “How do you know that she will come back after you give her the money? Maybe she found a better job and is planning to leave and wants some money. It’s pretty cheeky to ask for money after only three or four months on the job. I wouldn’t give her the money. Well, maybe a little, a week’s worth of salary at the most. If you give her money now, she will keep asking you for more and more, you’ll see. She will think you are a pushover if you give it to her. She is taking advantage of you being so nice.”

Ughh, it has become a trust and respect thing again. I actually find it very hard to believe that she would take the money and not come back. She seems to really like working for us and I trust her. Am I naive and too trusting? Maybe. But I don’t really want to become cynical and jaded. Colombian friends tell me that it’s not cynical and jaded, it’s realistic. These things happen here all the time.

So what to do? $270 is a lot of money here, especially in my housekeeper’s world. Can we stand to lose it? Well, let’s just say that if she didn’t come back, I would be more upset about losing a good housekeeper than losing the money. But I don’t want to be a sucker either. Or worse, have her not respect me or keep asking for money because I am a pushover.

I decided to take the middle road. I told her the truth of what people told me. I told her how uncomfortable I felt with all of this because my culture is more based on trust. I told her that I am comfortable loaning her one week’s salary. And I made a joke at the end that I hope she does come back on Monday. She thanked me and told me that unfortunately, many of her fellow Colombians do take advantage of each other so there isn’t much trust in the culture. She told me that she is different, that she is trust worthy. And she thanked me. Another notch in my belt of toughening up by having uncomfortable conversations.

On a different note, Jade and I had a very fun day today with a new girl in her class and her mom. A yummy lunch in Bogota followed by the Muppet Movie in Spanish. Nothing like Kermit and Miss Piggy singing “Rainbow Connection” in Spanish. I was the only one in the whole theater swaying to the music (and singing along, to myself, in English.). Jade had a really good time and seemed more OK about school starting in a couple of weeks. And I really clicked with the mom. We had a very real and meaningful conversation about what’s going on in our lives. We also seem to have many shared values and much in common. That’s very rare for me here and for those of you who know me well, you know that this is my bread and butter, that which really makes me happy and makes life worthwhile – deep connection with others. I am feeling hopeful!

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