One of the advantages of living in a developing country is the variety of household help that is readily available and reasonably affordable. Chennai is one of India's fastest growing cities due to its reputation as being one of the IT capitals, with big businesses such as Hyundai, Ford, Dow, Yahoo, and Google. Good paying jobs are plentiful; as such, it is no coincidence that Chennai is experiencing a domestic help shortfall. And I'm personally feeling the crunch.
Finding decent household help in India is proving much more difficult and frustrating than I would ever have imagined. I expected to have tons of ladies knocking on my door when they heard the rumors of the new American moving in. I was wrong.
We were extremely lucky that Matt's colleague had solidified a driver for us prior to our arrival. He had our car washed and at our house the day we arrived. He showed up at noon on our first day and gave us a tour around town. We took an instant liking to him and hired him permanently a few days later. As I've said before, drivers are indispensable. They know their way throughout the city. They know who everyone is and where everyone lives. They know which stores will bargain, where to get the best produce, who to contact to buy your meat, and exactly how long it will take to get from point A to point B. They usually work 6 days a week; from 8 - 6, and will happily work in the evenings for overtime. It sounds exciting, I know, for about the first week. Then you realize that the minute your driver leaves, you're stranded. You can't hop into your car and head to the nearest store. Brave traffic during the week? Are you crazy? Maneuver the streets that have no names... heck no! When he's gone, you...are... stuck. Period. It's beginning to suck.
Hiring the gardener was thankfully an easy task as he actually worked at this house for the past 15 years. He comes every day for a few hours to water the grass and plants, pick weeds, sweep, and do general maintenance on our property. The only minor problem is that he doesn't speak a word of English ~ and we don't speak any Tamil. When I need him to do a specific task, I have to pantomime what I want him to do. He then responds with his toothless smile and head bob, that I know full well means he didn't understand a thing I just said. If he follows only half of my instructions, I consider that progress. Matt had his own interesting experience with the gardener last week. While standing at the front door calling, clapping, whistling, and snapping for Libby, who do you think came running up to the door? It wasn't the dog. It was the gardener, assuming Matt was calling him.
Ever since Matt and I moved in together way back in 1998, we've had a housemaid. It was easier on our relationship when I didn't have to bark at him to scrub the toilet or clean the bathtub. We just hired a lady. No real direction needed... a little dusting here, a smidgen of vacuuming there, use the 409, spray a little Windex, and voila, a clean apartment. That is not the case here.
So far I've interviewed four maids and I'm continuing to meet ladies this week. Only one them had a real grasp of English, but when I had her babysit the girls last Wednesday, she did a few things that really bothered me. The first was that she didn't clean a thing in the two hours we were gone. Was she expected to? Not entirely, but we don't have television or anything else in our house. What was she doing all that time?? Secondly, and this is the biggie here. When we came home from dinner, I couldn't find her anywhere. I searched the house and called out her name, only to find her asleep on the tile floor in between the girls beds. She took child minding literally. Maybe it's just me, but I really don't want any maid to be co-sleeping with my girls. I wouldn't have had any issue if she dozed off on the couch or in the playroom. But in their room? Sorry, this doesn't work for us.
The other maid who's been working during the day has a lot to learn, regardless of whether or not I hire her permanently. She is the maid who worked for the previous family who lived in this house. While she received glowing recommendations, I'm not so sure I believe them. The first day she spent 7 hours here cleaning the kitchen and 1 bathroom toilet, though you'd never know it. She swept the floor twice, pushed the dirt around with the mop, did a few cursory wipes on the counter, and did the dishes. With that amount of time you'd think that she'd scrub down the walls, scour the floors, clean every nook and cranny of the kitchen to make it sparkle like the top of the Empire State Building. Instead, I was so irritated that it was as dirty when she left as when she came, that I ended up spending over an hour bleaching the tile later that night to get a good baseline clean. The next day she came again and I had her clean the upstairs. I did the pantomime thing, and with scrub brushes in hand, mimicked what I wanted her to do. Another 7 hour day and I didn't even get the floors washed! She kept telling me, "I know madame", when I'd explain how I wanted things done. But truthfully, I don't think she did.
My mom told me that when we leave India I'm going to be a much more mellow person. It sure isn't starting off that way.