December 9, 2007

Got patience?

view through window, La Ceiba, HondurasThrough the kitchen window

Life in Honduras takes a lot of patience.

I know that cleaning house isn't rocket science but I do have to do a lot of very basic training. I understand that someone who doesn't have glass windows in their house is probably not going to know how to clean them. Someone who has a dirt floor may not know how to properly clean a ceramic tile floor. Someone who does not own a cabinet or a piece of wood furniture probably doesn't realize that dousing it with water is not a good thing.

(Yeah, they always say they are experienced, but what that really means is that they had a job for a day and a half sometime in the past five years.)

Before we hire anyone, we always say that we have our own way of doing things and it may be different than they are used to. We tell them that we would expect them to be flexible to our ways. They always eagerly agree.

Starting with day one, I have to say to every maid, "Do not use bleach on the floor, the clothes, the sheets, OR the towels. Never use bleach on anything unless I give you permission and then I will show you how to dilute it. Bleach can ruin the clothes. Always ask me first if you think that you need to use bleach."

That sounds like overkill, however, even with repeated reminders, I do not understand why someone would (and has) poured bleach straight from the bottle onto my clothes or sheets and ate holes in them. I do not understand why after ten days of mopping floors with me saying "Please don't use bleach because it is dangerous for the dogs," why on the eleventh day, someone will decide, for some odd reason, that today it will be okay to use bleach on the floor.

Is it stupidity, stubbornness, or rebellion? Or, as one Honduran suggested, are the brain cells of the poor damaged from malnutrition? I don't know but it sure is hard to explain.

Sometimes I think that they think because I am a rich foreigner that I cannot possibly know how to clean house or wash my own clothes. (I'm not rich, by the way, but all foreigners are perceived as rich, and relative speaking, they are.)

Here are some examples of true life conversations:

Clothes Washing Detergent

First day:
LG: This blue spray is for cleaning glass. This purple spray is for cleaning sinks. This Ace blue powder is for washing clothes. It is only for clothes. Don't use it on anything else because it could damage it.
Maid: OK.

Maid: I'll clean the terraza floor with Ace.
LG: No, Ace is detergent only for washing clothes. Only use it for washing clothes. Don't use it on anything else because it could damage it.
Maid, looking doubtful: OK

Thursday morning:
LG: What did you use to clean the kitchen floor with?
Maid: I used the blue stuff.
LG: What blue stuff? The spray?
Maid: No, the Ace.
LG: No, don't use Ace on the floors. Ace is detergent only for washing clothes. Only use it for washing clothes. Don't use it on anything else because it could damage it.
Maid: Oh...

Thursday afternoon:
LG, pointing: There is some gunk stuck on the floor here. Tomorrow, please use a scrub brush and some water to try to remove it.
Maid: Should I use Ace on it?
LG: No, Ace is detergent for washing clothes. Only use it for washing clothes. Don't use it on anything else because it could damage it.
Maid, still doubtful: OK
LG, pointing outside: Look, do you see those two rows of ceramic tile by the stairs that are shiny?
Maid: Yes.
LG: Do you see the rest of the tile that is dull?
Maid: Yes.
LG: The reason why the other tile is dull is that a maid insisted on using Ace to wash floors. Those last two rows weren't installed until after she left and no one has used Ace on them.
Maid: Uhmmm.

Nonstick Pans

First day:
LG: See these pans that are black inside? This is a special type so that food doesn't stick. Never use metal utensils with them because metal will damage them. Only use wood or plastic spoons − the ones in this drawer. In other words, use these black utensils with the black pans. Also, ONLY wash these pans with a sponge and dish soap, nothing else. Ever, because it will damage them.
Maid: OK.

Later that day:
Maid, picking up a harsh scrubby to clean the nonstick pan.
LG: No, Nora. Remember? The black pans should be cleaned only with a sponge, never anything else.
Maid: But it has a stain.
LG: It doesn't matter. Only use a sponge to clean it, never anything else, because scratchy things will damage it.
Maid: Should I use Ajax?
LG: No, only use a sponge. The stain doesn't matter as long as the pan is clean.
Maid: Then should I use a Brillo pad?
LG: Absolutely not. A Brillo pad will ruin it and I'll have to throw the pan away. Only use a sponge.
Maid: Hmmmm.

I've got patience!

Those are actual conversations. So far Nora doesn't seem to have a bleach fetish, thank goodness, but I don't know how I'm going to break her from the Ace.

El Jefe laughingly read these conversations out loud, but he used a loud, annoyed voice for my part. No! Didn't happen that way. Absolutely not! I was perfectly calm and reasonable and said the things each time as if I had never said them before. I'll probably have to say them again tomorrow.

Sometimes I think that I need a locked cabinet, not for my jewels ;-), but for my Ajax, Ace, bleach, and Brillo pads. I do need to use these things occasionally or I swear I wouldn't even keep them in the house. It's like keeping a loaded gun around.

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