When people learn that we’re relocating to Mexico, the first thing they almost always ask is: “how much help are you going to have?” As middle class Americans, we rely on a slew of shared services to help offset our crushing work schedule and social obligations: daycare, take-out, Truegreen and taxi cabs.
In Mexico, the country is filled with a staggering amount of maids, gardeners and chauffeurs. Most Mexican members of the middle and upper class have staff working for them. When expatriates like me inquire and appear conflicted by the possibility of hiring and managing domestic household help the reply is standard and economic: if someone fails to employ an unemployed maid, chauffeur or gardener then their family is adversely impacted. Harsh but true.
In our home, we’ve been fortunate enough to have had the best nanny ever and she and her family were really an important part of our family. Other than an after-school homework helper nanny, we’ve never really had help.
After conducting an audit to understand what a maid actually does (their presence often provides security by keeping the house occupied when you’re away, an experienced maid can easily manage the daily chores, providing safe and reliable babysitting services, taking care of our dogs, and answering our phone (in Spanish!!), DH and I agreed that the “safe and reliable babysitting and peace of mind that someone ever-present would make our home a little safer” outweighed any reservation we had.
Since DH was planning to arrive a full six weeks ahead of us, we decided it would be his responsibility to find, interview and hire a maid for us. He wasted no time, and had an interview with a candidate set up less than 12 hours after touching down in Mexico City. He asked our relocation guide to come with him, and had a pleasant meeting with a woman named Manuela. She brought her husband to the interview, and both DH and our relocation liaison both commented that he was very nice as well. Manuela is a 46 year old Mexican woman. She had worked for an American expat family for 10 years and they had so many positive things to say about her. After they left Mexico and relocated she began working for a Mexican family, but did not like it very much because the family did not have a clothes dryer and their clothes took forever to dry. The complete reliance on the line drying method was a frustration Manuela couldn’t forgive and she had decided and find another expat family with a dryer. She didn’t seem bothered by the fact that we had an old dog and a puppy– and also seemed relieved that we have just one 10 year old boy. DH was impressed and asked me to call her former employer to verify her letter of recommendation.
I called Lisa, her former employer right away. As her letter of recommendation outlined Manuela was kind, trustworthy, hard working and dependable. She is also completely illiterate and cannot read or sign her name. Apparently, her husband came to the interview with her so she could navigate and memorize a new bus route and sign any papers on her behalf. Although her previous employer offered to send her to language lessons, to hire a tutor to teach her to read or even how to recognize simple recipes so that she might learn to bake–something she cannot do because she cannot recognize measurements in recipes–she declined. Her family circumstance required her to end her schooling in the third grade and immediately begin working as a maid to support her family. Dutiful and proud, Manuela has worked her entire life to be the best maid possible. She has grown children, a husband she adores and a job she is passionate about. Manuela has a very different background than mine, has made different decisions and is comfortable with them. It will be interesting for our family to adapt to help in our home, and also not over-insert ourselves (and by ourselves, of course, I mean me) on teaching her to read or bake–two things I am passionate about. Living with Manuela will be an important lesson for me–taught by the most unlikely of teachers.