Domestic Woes – Part I Have Lost Count

I have been blogging about our road trip the past couple of weeks but there is still a lot going on here.

I have to confess that I have always felt somewhat embarrassed while writing about our maid problems. What a problem to have, huh? In fact, I was tempted not to share our latest travails with you. However, a week ago as I was talking to an American friend who lives in the US over Skype and sheepishly shared with her my issues with the maid we were trying out at the time, she said something like, “I feel your discomfort in talking about this or writing it on your blog, but this is part of expat life. Expat life comes with maids and the issues that come with that. Ultimately, what you are writing about are human relationships. You are experiencing these dramas with your maid and I experience them with my co-workers or neighbors, but ultimately it’s the same thing.”

She is a wise friend and I think she is right. So I am going to get over my discomfort and share with you that we had to fire the maid we were trying out last week. Not so simple when the maid lives with us and shares our daily life. But it had to be done. She had personality tendencies that we just couldn’t live with. She talked a lot… and inappropriately… and at loud volume. She shared with us, and in front of the kids, her penchant for being attracted to married men (too much info!) and about the various men she met who had become “boyfriends” for the night, she answered the phone as she and I were serving dinner together and preceded to give the person on the phone relationship advice at very loud volume (As in “don’t take any crap from him or you now where this is going to lead”. I had to ask her to please go to her room and close the door because we wanted to eat a family meal in peace.), she asked me what I was thinking when I appeared deep in thought (What??? Only my husband or close friends get to ask me that. Boundaries, please), she commented on my clothing and appearance (she walked into the room where I was working and commented on how big and painful my cold sore looked. Umm, thanks. Now I feel self-conscious.), she moved furniture around and hung up our pictures without asking me. Jade, our oldest, came downstairs one day as I was putting Saige, our three year old, to sleep, complaining, “Mom, what happened to my room? My bed is on the other side and my desk is against the opposite wall and I can’t find any of my stuff?”

In short, it wasn’t working. I tried to talk to her about these issues, but to no avail. Things would improve for a day or two and then we would be back to the same old thing. Given her personality and her tendency not to even say hello to our youngest, I could never imagine leaving her alone with the kids. Plus, I dreaded coming downstairs lest I get trapped in a conversation I didn’t have time or energy for. But the thing is…. she was such a great cleaner and organizer. And I didn’t have anybody to replace her. It’s not easy to find a live-in maid and we have become somewhat, OK, I will admit it, very dependent on having a maid.

As anybody, expat or local, will tell you, winding up without a maid is a big deal. It’s not that one can’t do what needs to be done. It’s that one plans one time assuming that someone else will be doing all the laundry, cooking and cleaning that needs to be done to keep a household running. So when the maid is suddenly gone or fired, all of the sudden there is a lot more to do and seemingly no time to do it. And let’s face it, unless you like doing non-stop laundry, cooking and cleaning, you don’t really want to do it.

So I started looking for a new maid while trying to keep up appearances with the one we had. I was cracking under the pressure of being fake though. I couldn’t do it. When she interrupted me as I was doing emails to chat, I politely (or at least as politely as it is possible to tell someone something like this) told her that I could not take all the talking, that I needed to be able to do my stuff without being interrupted, that she can’t ask me what I am thinking because it’s…PERSONAL!!! She got it… and basically stopped talking at all, a marked improvement but still, a somewhat uncomfortable situation.

The pressure was now on to find somebody ASAP. I had called an agency that helps place people and was waiting for them to send me some candidates to interview. I also got the word out to pretty much everybody we know. Maids are usually found here word-of-mouth.

Just as I was hoping things would work well enough until I could hire somebody new, I received a call from my husband. I was at a busy mall with three kids and it was hard to hear, but I got the gist of what he was telling me. Apparently the guards at our conjunto (the residential compound where we live) would not let the maid leave because she had a small bag of peanuts with her. Maids gets thoroughly searched here when they leave to make sure that they are not taking anything that doesn’t belong to them. I really don’t care about a small bag of peanuts so I quickly called the guards to tell them to just please let her go, peanuts and all.

To my surprise, the main guard responded by telling me that the maid was not leaving with a bag of peanuts but with a bag of our groceries. It seems that she was leaving for a few hours to visit a friend and decided to bring some goodies along to share. This was a different story and was no longer OK. We pay her well by local standards and she is welcome to eat whatever she wants while she is in the house. I don’t even mind her taking a snack for the road when she leaves, but a whole bag of groceries without asking? That’s just not done here. It’s considered stealing and all maids know that. The worst part was that I could barely even hear the guard as he was telling me what was going on because the maid was yelling so loudly at him. She accused him of harassing her and singling her out. She was causing quite a ruckus.

So there I was in the middle of a mall trying to keep track of three keys and refereeing between the guard and the maid. I asked him to put her on the phone and just told her that we would need to talk about all this later as I really needed to focus on my kids. I felt tired, really tired of all the drama surrounding this maid.

As the story flushed itself out, it turned out that the maid did take a bag of groceries. When asked at the front gate whether she had authorization to do so, either in writing or via a phone call from me, she became belligerent with the guards and told them that they do not search our nanny so why are they searching her? When the guards explained that this was basic protocol and that the nanny is not searched because I have specifically requested in writing that they not search the nanny (The nanny is a professional, a teacher, and had never been searched in her life. I trust her and didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable, especially since she cares for my children.) At this point, the maid went back to our house in a huff, left all of the groceries except for a small snack of a bag of peanuts and told my husband that they were detaining her just for the peanuts. In short, she lied.

So finally enough was enough. There was really no way to make this work as I look for somebody else. My husband paid her for the time she worked for us, asked her to pack her bags and leave our house. I am back to household duty. And desperately searching for a maid.

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