July 13, 2013

The New Domestic Help

Do you know the scariest thing about repatriation?

And no, I’m not even talking about the hassle of moving an entire household. Of re-registering any bit of data that needs registering in a new place. Of learning that not all toilets flush equally. Not even of finding a new hairdresser, and, almost worst of all, a new orthodontist yet again.

No. It's the prospect of losing your domestic help, of course.

I consider myself lucky. In that I dimly recall, from three years ago, how to do household chores. How it feels to put on clothes that are not ironed. To sleep in sheets haven’t been changed in, ahem, two months. To try and ignore all the dust bunnies as best you can, or sort of kick them under the sofa, until such time as you actually haul out the old vacuum once every blue moon.

Some of us aren’t that lucky. Some of us gave birth abroad and have had domestic help from Day One of child rearing, with no earthly idea how this monumental task can possibly be achieved all on our own.

Even though I don’t fall into that latter group, I still had to go from made beds, perpetually mopped floors, and starched underwear back to a world of disorder and dirt. Also called The Real World.

So I’m quite pleased to announce that I've hired new domestic help. Not even just one, mind you. Why not get four, I thought, especially as they come for free.

The new domestic help

Although not entirely free or even cheap, to be honest. You have to provide room and board. And sometimes they can be quite demanding about the "board" part. Taken together, my new domestic workers don't eat any tomatoes, peas, or anything green for that matter. None of what they do like seems to overlap with one another, and their dislikes are often expressed in a loud exclamation of disgust.

You also have to be able to bear decades of whining and bickering and arguing, except maybe for the years that they refuse to talk to you at all. And you have to be entirely immune to all sorts of eye-rolling.

But if all that doesn’t bother you too much, and if your standards of cleanliness aren’t too terribly high, and if you don’t mind prodding and nagging constantly, and I mean constantly, then my new domestic help solution might work for you too.

Meet Zax, Jabulani, Impatience, and Sunshine. They now cover the areas of folding laundry (all that arrives in the laundry room is washed, dried, and sorted but that is where my contribution ends), dishwashing duty including putting away food and wiping counters (rotating on a weekly basis), taking the trash out to the curb, picking up rooms and vacuuming as needed, preparing their lunch boxes on weeknights, and cleaning their own sinks and toilets every weekend. Dusting shelves will eventually have to be added too, but so far the thick layer of dust hasn’t bothered anyone. We lately added the new task of making the dessert of the week, which for some reason has been embraced a lot more willingly than all the other stuff.

The new domestic help might be a bit slow addressing such situations in a timely manner

And not only has this helped keep my workload to a manageable degree, it has also contributed to some real savings in terms of energy and supplies. Tossing laundry in the bin, it turns out, is done much less frequently when tied to the vivid memory of having folded it in painstaking labor not too long ago. One can actually look at it and sniff at it and determine that it can be worn again if hung on a hook. I’m a master of installing hooks. There are about a bazillion of them all around the house. I love nothing quite so much as a favorably placed hook in the right location.

Take this rather substantial reduction in laundry, together with the fact that my washing machine now holds a load the size of a small elephant, and all of a sudden I have to go on a veritable clothes hunt each time I want to fill a load.

So, if you’re an expat living a life of bliss with around-the-clock maid service and facing the dreaded repatriation in your near future, don’t despair. You can retrain your kids to pick up the slack.

I’m told you can also train small rodents for the same tasks. It probably works better.