May 6, 2007

Maid's first day and last week, again

Tuesday was another first day for a maid. We've had so many, I'm not sure I can even remember them all anymore. Yadira came to us begging for work and even though it didn't sound hopeful, we told her to come back Tuesday to start.

Yadira is only 17 and has a 7-month-old baby. She lives with her mother and baby brother. She recently broke up with her novio (boyfriend). She doesn't know who her own father is and now her baby probably won't know his either. El Jefe assumes that she'll quit as soon as the novio or a new novio are back in the picture. In the meantime, she's saying all the usual things about being serious about working, needing the job to feed her baby, that she worked for someone for a year before she quit to have her baby, etc.

I'm so disillusioned from all the other
empleadas domesticas (household help) that it's hard to get enthusiastic. As I stood in front of the glass-topped stove to explain it to her, it seemed like the 50th time I had to do it. I suddenly felt so exhausted. I knew I had to explain though, or she would burn up all my pans or worse, try to clean a hot stove with a cold, wet rag and break the ceramic top. In Honduras, that would probably mean throwing the stove away and buying a new one. I can't tell you the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of things that have been ruined (or stolen) by maids.

Similarly, I realized at noon that I hadn't even told her my name! That shows how much faith I have that she'll last longer than a day or two. I've changed a lot. I've always tried to be so happy, friendly, smiling in the past. El Jefe tells me that is my mistake, that you can't be friendly with an employee, that they will just take advantage.

Around 9 a.m., she asked for breakfast. That is a custom that I'm just not going to start. What it ultimately means is that the employee spends their first hour cooking and cleaning up for themselves. I'd rather they spent that hour at home. They also take it to mean that they have carte blanche to eat anything in your kitchen. I have a neighbor whose maid complains when they run out of bagels and cream cheese, who fixes herself pork chops for lunch, and eats the special treats that the neighbor buys for her children without permission.

Please believe me when I say that I don't want anyone to go hungry in my home! I've always offered seconds or thirds to any worker if they were still hungry. I've often given food to people to take home. What I don't like is greed. One time I gave a maid some cookies. By the next morning, all 45 cookies were gone and the empty container was left in the pantry. Another time I gave a maid some homemade ice cream. From that point on, she felt free to search through the freezer and finish off any ice cream she found. Another time a maid helped herself to the chicken we were going to have for dinner. She left us with a back and two wings for our supper.

At 9:30 a.m. the first day, Yadira asked to borrow a pair of my shoes so she wouldn't get hers dirty. At 1 p.m. she asked if I would give her one of our 5-gallon water buckets. At 3:45 p.m. she asked for a pay advance for her bus fare. I gave her L. 100 which would cover a week's worth. She rolled her eyes again and she said that she would rather get the whole two week's worth in advance.

She had offered to work from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. I said she could come at 8 a.m. and leave at 4 p.m., cutting two hours off her workday and giving her an hour for lunch. So, by 3 p.m. she started watching the clock, by 3:15 she had changed to her street clothes, and at 3:30 she was telling me there was no time to start anything new.

For someone who is poor, she showed no consideration for costs. She left lights and fans on in every room. When I reminded her to turn things off, she said, "Well, I didn't know which switch it was." I said that it doesn't cost anything to push a switch until you find the one you need. She left faucets running for hours after she left the room. She didn't like the chili we had for lunch, so she put the whole bowl of chili in the sink and ran water into it! I generally give any leftover food to the dogs. I've been poor in my lifetime and I don't believe in wasting things.

She has a real attitude. Within two hours, she changed from someone desperate for a job to a tyrant. She's 17 and she knows everything. S
everal times she ignored me when I was talking to her or walked away leaving me standing with my mouth open in the middle of a sentence. Who does that with a boss?! On your first day?! Even the Vice President has to listen to the President and the President has to listen to the Chairman of the Board, for God's sake.

When I was explaining something where her eyes needed to be on my hands, I would look up midway into the explanation to see that she was facing the opposite direction with a bored look on her face or sometimes wasn't even still in the room with me. How rude!

She argued with me and rolled her eyes when I said things like "you have to wash your hands before cooking" or "the food needs to be put into the refrigerator immediately so as not to spoil." Several times she said in a belligerent manner, "I've never heard of THAT before!" as if she, 6th grade educated, hadn't heard of it, it couldn't possibly be true.

All this is especially annoying because El Jefe had a long conversation with her BEFORE we hired her about that fact that this is our house, we have our own way of doing things and that she would have to be flexible. She agreed whole-heartedly. He wanted to fire her the first day.

We had to have a serious talk with her on her second day. I had a feeling that she was going to go from the first day directly to last day. I also had a feeling that I didn't care. Who wants to pay someone to come into your home and be rude to you? We asked her if she really wanted to work. I said that I'm not accustomed to arguing with an employee and that she needed to adjust to the way we want things done, not the other way around. I explained that I've been cleaning my own house since before she was born and that this was an opportunity for her to learn, IF she changed her attitude. She again said all the right things.

Thursday, she came with a slightly better attitude but her work still wasn't any better. She kept lying about whether or not she had cleaned something. I'm not talking about a matter of degree or a subjective opinion as to whether something was clean or not. I could give several examples, but here is the best one.

On Wednesday, I asked her to clean the half bathroom. Wednesday night I noticed that the toilet was still filthy inside. Our water sometimes leaves a thin coat of black residue under the water level. It looks really nasty, but it is very easy to clean. On Thursday, I told her again. At noon on Friday, I saw that it was still dirty so I told her again. She argued that she had cleaned it Thursday and again on Friday, "Don't you remember?!!"

So, I put down my paintbrush and took her into the bathroom where we looked at the black interior of the toilet. Then she tells me, "No sale." (It won't come off.) Having cleaned the damn toilet myself a few hundred times, I knew better. I picked up the toilet brush. With a few swishes, it was evident even to her that that toilet had never been touched. At that point she admitted that she forgot to clean it, even though a few minutes before she had even been arguing the exact time of day that she had cleaned it twice previously.

Saturday she came, nervously walked around the house a few times, and then said she can't work (on Saturday) because her mother is really sick, probably a tumor, and they need to go to the doctor on Monday. Maybe she'll come back to work someday, maybe not, can she have her pay? She also asked El Jefe, if "La Señora" (me) would hire her back, presumably sometime in the future when she felt like working again or needed another few hundred lempiras.

At that point, El Jefe had a long discussion with her. She said "You don't believe me, do you?" El Jefe said, "We've heard a lot of lies from a lot of people, you're going to have to come up with a really good one if you want me to believe you. This one doesn't even make sense." If her mother was so sick, why wouldn't they go to the doctor on Saturday? If her mother was so sick that she couldn't work, that would make it all that much more important that Yadira worked. How would they eat if no one in the family was working?

During the discussion, she said that she likes the way "La Señora" explains things to her, that the Honduran women that she had worked for just tell her that she doesn't know anything and kick her out of their houses as soon as she makes a mistake. Go figure!

Later, the water guy came around. Incidentally, he says we are the only people who talk to him, that the other people in our
colonia think they are too important to talk to him. I feel the need to show that we aren't haughty Americans who think we are better than anyone else. :-(

El Jefe told him about the maid quitting. He asked, "The fat one?" El Jefe laughed and said, "No, that one left before Easter." He asked him if he knew any women who wanted to work and got the usual answer, "No, the women in La Ceiba don't want to work, they only want to have babies." He also said that he has heard that lots of them only work for a few days to get a few hundred lempiras and quit.

I just don't understand. I can understand that not everyone is materialistic or needs a lot of "stuff" to be happy. I can not understand when people come and say that they need to work to feed their children or send them to school, that they quit after a few days or a few weeks.

Later El Jefe was going to go to the bank to deposit the puppy money and discovered that a U.S. $50 bill was missing from his wallet, which may explain why Yadira doesn't need to work anymore.
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