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Across the Equator

South American Adventures

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Domestic Life
losmorris
I have loved hearing back from so many of you and encourage you to ask any questions about life in this new diplomatic or hemispheric arena. I received one that is more insightful than the writer probably thought and want to use it as a spring board to sharing something about domestic life and life of the newly unemployed. The question was "Are you working or goofing off. A maid….must be nice!"

Good question and good reflection. The simple answer is that I am not working for pay and that having an "empleada" - here the term for maid is considered demeaning - is really kind of cool but a new learning experience as well. So let me address both concepts around the theme of domestic life.

The empleada - Before coming here we had heard that we would probably be hiring a "maid". We had no idea what she (of course it is a "she") would do. We now know that one cannot get by real well without the help. For example, all of the housing units here are rented and repairs are apparently a multi-step coordination between the embassy, the owner/landlord, the building management and, at times, an agency of the Peruvian or Lima government. When someone finally shows up to do whatever, you need to have someone at home. In our case, that has meant installing air conditioning (we are the first "permanent residents" in our unit) and repairing cracks from the earthquake. Having an empleada ensures that someone will be in the home and will monitor the worker folks like a hawk.

So that part I get - we (Delia and I) are still working out the rest. Her photo will show up here shortly. She's great and has experience traveling with embassy families to Columbia and Venezuela and back to Peru. It's just really tough if you are an empleada and your embassy family heads back to the states. That's where the visa issues often times become insurmountable and you need to look for a new family. Hence our good fortune in finding a very skilled and mature empleada. But she needs to train me in this new management endeavor while I am laying out my need for structure and schedule and all the other stuff I have not yet left behind.

So - I am sharing Delia's time with one of Richard's co-workers and we each have her half a day every day of the work week. She cleans, irons clothes, washes clothes and cooks a few dinners a week. Yesterday was cook day and she created two dinners in essentially no time. I am told that re-entry after this experience is real tough. I now get it!

So what are the challenges, other than worker-bee scheduling - that give rise to the need for an empleada? Well, there is no automatic dishwasher, no disposal in the sink, all fresh food needs to be washed before eating, and shopping is not a "one stop shop". The "big thinker" in me wants to solve all this with greater efficiency, bigger markets and better transportation. But the reality is that the poverty level is well in excess of 50% and the unemployment/underemployment is tremendous. Hence, the encouragement to hire housing staff. This phenomena also plays out at the grocery stores - the bigger ones have their own taxi service that will deliver you to your home. While there is a standard transport fare for the taxi, you and your goods show up promptly and safely at your door. At that point the building porter is available to make sure that all your goods get up to your unit.

The tough part for me has been to step back and let all these folks essentially wait on me. I have US Disease of not wanting to put people to the effort. However, this is their job and their pride and I need to let them do it. But at this stage, it is still tough to do so.

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