INDONESIA: Life Without The Privilege Of Domestic Help
I was born in Peru in 1978, when I was very little I spent a lot of time at my nonna’s (grandmother’s) house. I remember sitting with her in the bedroom while she talked with Antonina, the cook that had come upstairs to plan the day’s meals. My grandmother would ask if there were enough ingredients for something and Antonina would tell her what was missing. They would write a list, count out some money and then the cook would go off to the markets to get all she needed for lunch and dinner that day. In her apron she carried the handwritten recipe book; the page with the chosen recipe and some cash.
After my nonna was dressed and ready to go and do some kind of activity, the upstairs maid was already making the beds and cleaning the bathrooms. Downstairs, the first floor maid was dusting or sweeping while the gardener took out weeds from the flowerbeds and the butler served breakfast. The chauffeur was in the kitchen drinking coffee with the seamstress. My nonno was already at the table with his newspaper and his coffee.
I remember all these things as if they were normal; a complete part of my nonna’s house. I didn’t think it strange that there were so many people doing so many different things around the house. This is the way my mom grew up, and that’s what I experienced until the age of 9.
The house I lived in with my mom was not like this, we “only” had a maid and a nanny. Little did I know that just these two people were a huge help!
I have moved away from Peru twice in my life, to the United States when I was 10 and then to Southeast Asia when I was 35. When I was 11, we didn’t have a maid, or a nanny or a cook or a gardener. Instead I had a very tired mom who would try and make me clean my room or throw away the trash or wash the dishes. Everything seemed so foreign and annoying. Then because of visa complications and jobs that were lost, my mother was the one cleaning houses for money. It’s funny how things can turn around like that.
When I went back to Peru to live with my aunt, she had two maids, a gardener, a washing lady, a front street guard and a handyman that painted or fixed things on a regular basis. When I went to live on my own in Cusco, the house I went to live in had a cook, a maid, a chauffer, a gardener and also a fix it all handyman. Back in Lima the first thing I did was hire a maid, and she stayed with me for 8 long and wonderful years.
Three and a half years ago we moved to Asia without our lovely maid and suddenly I had to do it all! Well wasn’t that a freaking shock! I remember walking into our house in Laos and stressing over the dust on the floor, and the ants, and the windows not being squeaky clean or beautifully see through! We did end up hiring a maid for the three months in Luang Prabang, mainly because I was extremely pregnant and the shock was way too big for me.
When we moved to Bangkok I started doing it all myself without help and my most vivid memory regarding this change was how I would stress out, over my 13 year old daughter not helping me out! Well how could I complain, she had grown up with a maid and nanny too, they did everything for her (and me). That was a harsh slap in the face, it was like reliving when I was a teenager and my own mom freaking out, over me not helping her out.
My mom learned the hard way, I learned the hard way and my daughter learned the hard way too. You will not always have the help you were accustomed to, you will not always be able to just sit back and wait for lunch to be served.
Those privileges are not always accessible, and for me now, they seem almost superfluous. I also feel that no one could ever be like Sabina, my maid of 8 years, she was like family to me, as I am sure my nonna’s cook was to her.
A few days ago I was at the indoor playground with my two kids, the cafeteria has some tables and sometimes they are not enough to seat all the parents and nannies that accompany the children so often, the tables are shared. While we were in the outdoor area playing on the swings, a Balinese woman sat at the table where we had our water bottles and snacks. I got to talking to her when we came back in to refresh in the Air Conditioning. She is a Stay at Home Mom that is finishing her masters in Law but only because she’s “bored”. She has a nanny who is also the cook and the maid in her house. The nanny was the one playing with her son in the playground while she shopped for clothes on her laptop.
She was amazed at how I would actually play with my kids, she said she really disliked playing with her son, that she got bored very fast. She asked how much videos I let them watch and told me how her family would judge her if her son watched “too much” YouTube. This conversation put a lot of things into perspective for me. It really isn’t about where you live that decides if you will have domestic help or not, it’s the way you are brought up and what your priorities are.
I remember in Peru knowing of families that did not have that much income but nevertheless had a maid or nanny and other families with nice houses and higher paying jobs that decided that they did not want a nanny at all and at most had a cleaning lady come to their house once a week. The Balinese woman in the playground told me that that’s the way it’s done here, you have a maid and a nanny and a cook even if you are a Stay at Home Mom. Exactly like my nonna.
My husband offers to pay for nannies and cooks and maids all the time when I complain of being tired of the work but I keep on saying “no”.
I have finally given in to a cleaning lady who comes three times a week to do the mopping and bathroom scrubbing. I also managed to get a gardener so now my front garden and backyard are looking beautiful. I have made “friends” with a couple taxi drivers so essentially I have a chauffeur. What I still don’t have is a nanny, and that might take a long time for me to feel comfortable with.
The need for Domestic Help I have come to realize is totally a psychological thing, you get it if you feel you need or want it.
If you can’t afford it then you pass the days wishing you could have it. If you have it, then you pass the days thinking of how you are wronging your kids by not being with them as much as other moms. It’s a lesson to learn and find balance in how you manage your house and kids. I feel that I am still learning.
What is the “domestic-help” scenario at your own place? And what is your take on it?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by World Mom, Orana Velarde in Bali, Indonesia.
Photo credits to the author.