(WARNING: very long post. no pictures. read at your own risk.)
It's no secret that I have been a little overwhelmed with my responsibilities here and as such, I made it a top priority to find some domestic help STAT. I set about looking for the world's perfect domestic helper, one who excelled at both housecleaning and childcare and who could speak both French and English fluently. I secretly hoped she might also be very likable and could double as "my friend," but that's another story entirely.
Knowing little about how such people are located here, I went to our trusty "xpats.com," which is a kind of craigslist for expatriates living in Brussels. It's an amazing resource and I found many ads for women (and men) looking for just the kind of job I was offering. I quickly set about emailing all of them (literally), hoping to found one I liked. I got a few responses, not as many as I'd hoped, but a few was enough to find "Anny."
Anny and I corresponded over several emails. I learned that she was young, 26, and she was originally from Cameroon. She had loads of experience "child-minding" and cleaning and she also "loved to iron" (huh? really? okay.) Her written English was superb. It was very, very formal, yet instilled a sense of total calm. I felt her words formed a warm embrace around me and said, "I will save you. I will make your life livable. I will coddle your children, iron your bed-linens, cook along side you and sing haunting, west African lullabies all the while." She seemed perfect.
We set a date to meet: 6:30PM last Monday evening. I was so excited. I had found the solution to all my problems: out of control children, disaster of a house, wrinkled duvet covers, lonesomeness. I spent all of Monday preparing the house (weird, I know) and setting the stage. I wanted to say, "We need you, Anny, but we're not totally out of control." I lit candles. I dressed the children. I coached Stefan. Then, we waited. And waited. 6:30 came and went. 7:00 came and went. I scratched my head and defended her to Stef, "Perhaps, she's gotten lost. She's never been here before after all." Right. 7:15 arrived and I decided to call her, "Anny? It's Devon. Just wondering... are you still planning to come... I hope?" Her creamy, smooth French/African voice sang, "Yes, Devon. I am just getting off the bus. Should be there momentarily."
She arrived at 7:45. It was admittedly sort of ridiculous to be over an hour late to a job interview, but it's ridiculousness sort of made it all right. I was also very desperate. The interview went well. She had a strong maternal presence despite having had no children of her own. She had gentle eyes and a soft voice. She was confident in her interactions with the girls. She answered our questions thoughtfully, if not a little bashfully. She was willing and eager to do all the things we asked and ready to start immediately. Phew. Fabulous. We left it that she would start on Wednesday, as long as her references came in and were up to snuff. They were. Well, it was.
I sent emails to the three references she gave me and I got one back in response. It was glowing and included passages such as this:
"With regard to the quality of her work, one word summarises her output- superb! She tended to the general cleaning and tidying up of the house and that she did remarkably well! With respect to childcare, she cared for our kids as she would her own-- with sheer kindness and affection. The kids simply loved her, and would mimic and sing the new songs she taught them."
"Besides, she was punctual, and incidents of timing or lateness were very uncommon."
To summarize, these people, for whom she worked for two years, thought she was the second coming. They adored her and had nothing but extraordinarily good things to say about her. Additionally, the woman mentioned timeliness, which had obviously already become a concern, so I felt like this was as good as I was going to do with absolutely nothing to go on. She seemed great. She said all the right things. She seemed like a good fit. And most importantly, Adela seemed to like her immediately. So, I wrote an email and said, as I had mentioned at our first meeting, that I would like her to start on Wednesday morning, at 9AM.
Tuesday night, before I went to bed, I checked my email for a final time and she hadn't written back. Then on Wednesday morning, I hadn't heard from her still, so I called her and asked her if she intended to come. She claimed had only just seen my email, but would love to come work for us and she would head right over. She would be here at 11AM.
At noon, she came and she made no apologies. Okay. No problem. She hadn't expected to come, but she made it. And she got right to work and began cleaning. And she cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. I was very ill. We were all quite ill, but she cleaned around us... for 8 hours. Much longer than I had asked her to and much longer than anyone would have expected her to. So sick was I that I just kind of let it happen and enjoyed the sounds of the vacuum and mop downstairs. Finally, Stefan suggested that she leave and go home. She had done enough for the day and could finish on Friday when she came. She left us with a mammoth list of supplies that she needed to "do a proper job," and left. We agreed she would come back on Friday and that I would email her the time.
The next day, I wrote to her asking her to come at 1PM and thanking her for her hard work the day before. She wrote back and said she would come at 1PM and thanked me for thanking her.
Friday at 1PM came and she didn't show. I waited. And I waited. And I waited. By 3PM, I started to worry about her. The weather was bad. It was icy and snowy and Anny, well, Anny is a very large young woman, so I was imagining that she'd taken a bad fall along the way or some other horrible scenario. After all, it would have to be very bad for her not to even call me from her cell phone to explain her absence. I had long since forgotten all the things I needed her to do and was more worried about her well being.
At 3:30PM, I got a message. It read,
"Dear Devon, I'm deeply sorry I couldn't make it today as earlier agreed, due to my failing health. Worse still, I couldn't send you a mail notifying you about my impending absence (lack of internet connection). I've been bed-ridden the earlier part of the day. Hoping to regain health and vitality back quick enough. Please, accept my most profound apologies for every inconvenience inflicted upon you and your family as a result of my poor health. I'm awfully sorry. Whilst counting on your kind consideration, Regards Anny"
Now, I ask you, friends and followers, what would you have done? Every instinct I had told me to cut and run… immediately. In this day and age of instant communication, there’s really no excuse for the old “no show, no call,” and in any formal workplace, there would have been nary a second thought. But there is this nagging part of me that still isn’t sure that my immediate dismissal of poor Anny wasn’t just a bit too harsh. Of course, we probably gave her the illness that kept her from coming to work. And I have no idea what her circumstances are at home. So, I feel a little bad and a little sad about the whole thing. Mostly, I just think it’s all a bit weird and when it comes to choosing the people who will help care for your children, weird is something that we all try to avoid at all costs. So, I explained that I need someone I can count on unconditionally and that her not calling to let me know was simply unacceptable and the end of this very long tale is that Anny’s gone and my house is still a mess, my children are still overwhelming and I am still a little lonely... but, just a little. Life has improved immensely. More on that tomorrow.
Little House in the Big Tokyo
1 week ago