I recently read an amazing, thought-provoking book, The Help, by Katherine Stockett. It is about black women working in white women's houses in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960's. At the end of her remarkable book, the author writes a short essay : Too Little, Too Late, recalling her family maid, Demetrie, and how this women contributed to her life. Her sadness though, was in not being able to talk to her about what it was like being a black women, working for a white family, in a time of racial strife in the U.S., as she died when the author was sixteen.
What does this have to do with living in Huatulco? When I first moved here, I was not going to have Mexican "help". It was too demeaning to hire someone to do your dirty work. I had visions of white Europeans going to India and Africa, and turning the people into servants; oppressing them, disabling them from more productive lives. Growing up poor in Berkeley, California, puts things into a different perspective, especially for a person who grew up in the 50's and 60's and being involved in the hurricane of the civil rights movement. I had visions of the Rudyard Kipling's "white man's burden" thing going on in my head. And so, I never had a housekeeper. I couldn't even imagine hiring someone to clean my house or cook my meals (honestly though, there were days).
In fact, I spent several years working as a maid in a motel, and didn't much like being thought of as a maid. You are treated differently. As soon as you mention you are maid, at say a cocktail party, suddenly the atmosphere changes. I had a college degree, and I felt different. I loved the job though. You are on your own, almost self-employed. You can see the end result of your labor and be proud of what a great cleaning job you just did. I was tipped well (in a community where tips ran to alternative types of "tips"), very well indeed. But that fact is, I didn't want to make anyone else ever feel inferior because of their job, and so resisted hiring help.
Now that I am older, and living in Mexico, I had to reconsider this position. My friend Susan was horrified I did not have "help". I was not helping the economy of Huatulco. It was my duty to have help. For the first few months, Larry and I handled the housework, and garden. We always had a pool specialist, Feliciano, who is such a great guy. Feliciano and his family lived in our house for seven months before we moved in. They knew everything about the house, and walked us through the idiosyncrasies of living in it when we finally came down. He's still mentoring Larry on the subtleties of living in Mexico, and Huatulco. We consult him about everything Huatulco.
Feliciano and his wife, Karina, take care of the house across the street from us. After much soul searching, I approached her about finding someone to come help for maybe 6 hours a week. She considered it for a few minutes, saying it might be hard, as it wasn't enough hours for someone to have an opportunity to make a living, but she would be glad to do it. Karina, one of the busiest women during the "season", does get months of leisure, and a nice house to take care of. She is also the Jafra Rep, Avon Rep, and handles a catalog sale-style clothing business. We struck a deal, whenever she had time, she would come do our floors, windows and kitchen. She comes at odd hours, granted, but in fact she cleans house just like I clean house. This room today, the kitchen tomorrow, the floors in a couple of days, the windows next week--just the way I like it. When I hurt my back, this turned into a blessing. I thank Karina everyday for just existing. She has made my life sooooo much better. I consider her our Life Coach, along with Feliciano. She actually, in her 6 hours a week, runs our house. Thank God she lives across the street.
We also have our good friend Juan. He is our garden consultant. He comes by once a week, to work with Larry, on garden development. We are surrounded by incredibly beautiful plants, trees, and flowers, mostly recommended by him, if not planted by him or Feliciano. He and Larry discuss good dirt, plants, trees, and life. He has been our friend since we first came to Huatulco, and his innate sense of horticulture is coming together as our garden starts to mature and look like something almost exotic. It was Juan's wife who taught me how to make Oaxacan tamales. And when my sister came she repeated the lesson with such pleasure, to show off how badly I failed at tamale making.
To the horror of other gringos here, we invite our "help" to dinner, take care of their kids, tutor their children, celebrate their family's good times, share in the sadness of bad times. We respect their knowledge and expertise, and try to show our appreciation every day. They connect us, and gave us an entrance into communities we otherwise would never have had an opportunity to become involved with. My sister and friends have made friends with our help. They bring gifts for everyone when they come to visit.
As I look at the flowers, the pool and the house, I feel blessed to have help. We couldn't live (well) here without them. They look after us. They laugh with us and at us. Our very foreign gringo ways sometimes puzzle them, but we are soon enough set straight. Help, I have learned doesn't mean having servants, it means having help. The Karinas, Felicianos and Juans of the world are considerably more important to us than their "job" title. They have given us far more than we can ever repay.