Saturday, July 29, 2006

We Are About to Begin Our Final Descent

If you thought that we could sink no lower after joining the ranks of SUV owners, think again.

There are certain hardships involved with living far away from one's family, in a strange culture, in a city with a crime rate so high that it makes Detroit look like Dekatur. But when one's cheif complaint about his living situation is that the apartment is so big he can't keep up with sweeping the floors, one can't help but start counting the days until he fully embodies the charicature of the pampered ex-patriate sipping cocktails and complaining about how hard it is to find good help.

To ease the terrible burden of sweeping our own gargantuan apartment (or more accurately, the burden of walking around with blackened feet because we haven't bothered to sweep the layer of settled diesel particulate and volcanic ash off our floor in a week (and further to avoid looking at the grime on our feet and thinking about how that stuff winds up on our floor because it's so prevalent in the air we breathe every day)), we hired a maid. Sylvia comes by once a week, and we pay her a ridiculously small amount to spend a whole day cleaning our kitchens and watering our plants, doing laundry and breathing the toxic fumes of the solvents used to clean a whole bottle of purple nail polish (not mine) off the bathroom floor. And yet if you told the Guatemalan families who live above and below us what we pay Sylvia, they would either pity us for getting suckered into such a terrible deal, or scorn us for driving up wages for the whole neighborhood. Or both. Not unlike the SUV, we wound up hiring Sylvia because one of our colleagues who had formerly employed her was departing. He recommended her highly and we almost felt responsible for what would happen to her without income every Tuesday, and there was that quarter inch of soot lining every flat surface in our apartment, so you can see we really had no choice.

I think we were the only couple in the entire Embassy that didn't have a maid yet. Some families with small children have a full-time nanny plus a maid and maybe a gardener, as well. In fact, fairly often someone either from the embassy or the outside world would want to come by to do some maintenance on the apartment, and ask when someone would be around to let them in. We would reply that we both work, and can't take time off to come hang out and wait for the cable guy, to which they would explain, "You don't have to be there, the maid can let us in." When we revealed that we didn't have a maid, we would get a look of confusion, and then the service provider would just give up, which is why we've been "borrowing" wireless internet from the neighbors for longer than I should probably admit in this public forum.

Now we've had a one-day-a-week maid for several weeks. It does feel like we're living someone else's life. At first, it grated on our American sense of rugged individualism and our distrust of snobbery and noblesse oblige and the Coastal Liberal Elites Who Are Tearing Our Country Away from the Heartland Values that Made Us Great. But it is effing awesome to come home on Tuesdays and have the house spotless and the laundry folded and the dishes done. And to spend all those hours that could have been wasted on sweeping instead on composing a thousand-word blog entry about not sweeping, or other such productive pursuits.

It is, at times, a little weird to find all of the pants, both male and female, mixed in one stack on the Lovely Katherine's side of the closet; or that rather than our fluffy neutral-colored bath towels, the bathroom has been restocked with ratty rainbow-colored beach towels and a golf towel that says "Fox Hill Country Club;" or that we're still not sure where she decided the measuring cups are stored, so your correspondent just figures a coffee mug must be about one cup and wings it at least until we hire a cook. But do not misconstrue such notes as greivances. At least in your correspondent's mind, he has not yet crossed the at-least-internally-important line between hiring help and complaining about it -- I figure we have to maintain some milestones for the second year of our descent.


Gil Carmel said...

Hahahah... The SUV I don't know about. But the maid... THAT I can get behind. Sylvia is a good name for a maid. Now, just making sure here for the sake of your future cabinet appointment, is she a legal resident of Guatemala?

EEK! said...

It is only because we are too lazy to make the initial cleanup in order to even allow ourselves to let a maid into our house that we have not hired out some of our cleaning. I mean, we can't just go get another wife, right? What's a modern girl to do?

MLE said...

I bet that nail polish was a bitch to clean up.

Ma & Pa Stokes said...

Nice to see full participation in the local economy - and a clean apartment goes with the deal!

Yank In Texas said...

a maid, what i would give to afford a maid. someone else to clean? sigh. I HATE cleaning.
and you're just on the road to yuppiedom there.
at least you're helping out the economy.