It has taken me over a week to write about this. Some things are just too painful to write about. And of course yet again it involves domestic help. Which I guess just goes to show you that as wonderful as it is to have help, it also comes with a major downside – drama.
We had to part ways with our housekeeper of a year and a half and it has been painful for everybody involved, especially our middle daughter, Siena. What happened was that we went on a trip over the holidays and left our housekeeper money to pay the electricity bill. I didn’t know how much the bill was going to be so I left her the maximum that it could be. When we got back and she gave me a little bit of change, I felt something weird in my stomach, like something just wasn’t right. I asked for a copy of the bill and a receipt (which is standard here) and she told me that she had left in on my desk in our bedroom.
The thought that went through my head the moment that she said that was, “It’s not going to be there.” And sure enough, it was not. Our housekeeper made a big show of looking all over the house for it, but the bill and the receipt were nowhere to be found. She offered to go to the electrical company and get me another copy but I said that this wasn’t necessary. I did not want her to think that I didn’t trust her and most importantly, I wanted to trust her. I wanted to ignore the little feeling in my gut because this woman had become a part of our family.
Yes, she cleaned our house, washed our clothes, and cooked our food, but she also came over with her daughters for sleepovers, comforted my kids when I wasn’t there, and shared confidences. Plus, we paid her extremely well compared to the market and treated her with great respect. She often told me how much she liked working for us and shared with me stories of how her friends and family members were mistreated working in other families.
Well, the gut never lies. I could only ignore the situation until the next month’s bill came and there we saw that our electricity usage for the month before was much lower and the bill should have been significantly lower than what she charged us. We called the electrical company and sure enough, she neglected to return about $25 worth of change, over a day’s pay here.
We immediately asked our housekeeper about this and she denied the whole thing. She reacted differently than we expected. She swore that she didn’t take any money, that maybe she had been overcharged or made a mistake while paying. She said that she would go the following morning to the electrical company and straighten things out. It was all plausible except for the feeling I had in my gut. Yet, we wanted to believe her and we didn’t want her to think that we don’t trust her, just in case we were wrong, so we agreed that she should go and straighten things out and even gave her more money to pay this month’s bill as long as she was going.
After she left, we wondered if we were stupid. I could imagine our Colombian friends saying that we were nuts to give her more money after something like this. They would say that she would never come back. Well, what was done was done and besides, what’s a little money in exchange for not losing faith in humanity?
Our housekeeper did come back the next day, with a story. The story was that she went to three payment centers and to the electrical company that everywhere she was told that the computer showed that she owed 107,000 COP when the bill said that she owed 90,300. The implication was that the computers were all screwed up and that she must have been charged more the month before as well and just didn’t notice it. It all sounded plausible (things often go wrong here) and I wanted it to be true. Yet, I also have enough experience to know that my gut is always right and it told me that something was funky from the beginning.
I also knew that the wonderful energy in our household was built on trust and that trust had been badly shaken here so I couldn’t just take the explanation at face value. I needed to go and find out if what she was saying was true.
So I went off to a payment center near us and unfortunately, they only charged me what was on the bill. Then I went to the electrical company, which had a self-service station where clients can look up their bills. Again, the computers reflected exactly what was on the bill. I waited to see a service representative and get a print out for all of these bills and receipts. I felt like a detective who has solved a case, but at the same time I couldn’t believe that this was happening. How could a person I trusted look me in the eyes and make that up?
To make a very long story shorter, I did go back and we had a series of conversations. She insisted that she didn’t take the money and had no explanation for the missing receipt or computers giving out the wrong information when half an hour later, they were giving out the correct information. We had a hard time believing her. I told her that I know that people make mistakes and that we can all learn and grow from this, but the only way that healing can happen is with the truth. I asked her to tell us what really happened.
She insisted that she had been telling the truth even though she recognized that all evidence pointed to the contrary. She told me that she couldn’t keep working for us if we didn’t trust her and that she would be happy to keep working for us until we find somebody else. I think she thought that I would say “no” and try to patch things up. She had become an indispensable part of our household and it’s not easy to find a good housekeeper here. It’s also not easy to find a job paying as much as we do with the working conditions we give. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and needed time to think and talk things over with my husband in private. We agreed that we would call her the following morning and let her know what we wanted to do.
We did what we said. We called her and left a message asking her to come the next day so we can talk and figure things out. We were still abit in shock and the kids were very upset about what had happened. Siena kept asking me why we can’t just forget about it and have our housekeeper come back again. It was heart breaking and I was very torn between knowing that it would be very hard for me to trust somebody who I believed was not telling me the truth and wanting to teach my children about the power of forgiveness. I figured that our housekeeper has not had many opportunities in life where she made a mistake and then found forgiveness. Perhaps I could find it in myself to move past all this.
While I was contemplating what to do, our housekeeper never called us back or showed up again. Siena was very upset and kept asking me to call her again and again. I tried to explain that I already did and I already offered her several opportunities to make this right and move on but that she was choosing not to take them. I couldn’t chase our housekeeper. As is Colombian friends kept telling me that we needed to fire our housekeeper and move on, that once a person stole or told a lie, they would keep on doing it. My head agreed with them but my heart ached for my kids.
Now a week has passed. It has been tough. We found a new temporary housekeeper but she isn’t as good as our former one. She is very sweet but we are all a little jaded by our recent experiences. Nobody wants to get close to this one. We still feel the loss of somebody who we trusted and was a part of our family and we feel the loss of her little girls.