Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lady, Lady, Leidy

Yesterday was the first time I have been here when the cleaning lady came.  It seems as though everyone in Bogotá who can reasonably afford it (that is, everyone in the four upper strata of economic class) has an empleada servicio or muchacha who comes on a regular schedule to thoroughly clean their home, do their laundry, wash their dishes, and sometimes prepare their meals as well.  It was once emphasised to me that this is not because people here are lazy or unwilling to do the housework themselves, but because having such a person is good for the economy: for many of the people in the two lower strata, it is their only means of employment.  I am not sure whether this is the truth, or just a way to make oneself feel better for paying a girl less than $15 for a day's work.

I have never been really comfortable having someone else clean up my messes.  (Well, my mother would probably beg to differ, but I  don't mean the messes I made as a child!)  In Oxford I had to get used to a scout coming in a couple of times per week to clean the kitchen and bathroom and to empty the bins, but I always felt super uncomfortable just sitting there while he or she cleaned.  Sometimes, when I was home all day working on a paper, I would attempt to make chit-chat with one of them, but I never knew what to say beyond "good morning" or "how are you" or "quite the storm we had last night; it was tipping down when I got home! Sorry about the muddy tracks in the hallway…"

Man-eating spider, with toilet for size comparison
There was that one memorable morning when a scout saved me from a giant, vicious spider that appeared in the bathroom, chased me into the hallway, and was clearly attempting to eat me when I trapped it under a large plastic bowl, where it remained (with a note on top warning my housemate not to move the bowl under penalty of spider-induced, shrieking death) until I shanghaied Dmitri, the aforementioned scout, into removing it.  He intrepidly lifted the bowl, swept the monster into a dustpan, and carried it outside to be deposited in a bush some safe distance from my door.

Our cleaning lady here has not yet had a chance to rescue me from blood-thirsty fauna, but she did do an excellent job of cleaning and waxing the floors, scouring the bathrooms, washing all the dirty dishes in the kitchen, and vacuuming all of the upstairs carpets with our brand new vacuum.  She even helped me to practice my Spanish a bit, because I couldn't bear to sit at my computer and ignore her, but felt equally awkward standing in the kitchen just staring at her.  She is very sweet, and pleasant to talk to, and patient with me, like most people here are when I try to speak their language.  Her name is Leidy, which is pronounced just like "lady," and which caused some confusion and amusement when Maurizio called me by his usual English epithet ("my lady") and both she and I responded.  She is a little tiny thing, quite young, not much more than a girl, and she told me that she lives a good two hours from the city centre, which suggests that she inhabits one of the poorer barrios in the south.

I am told it is common for the cleaning lady to take meals with the family she is serving, especially if she has done the cooking.  We offered Leidy some arepas (corn pancakes) when we breakfasted, but she would not take any.  Later she accepted a cup of coffee, and after she had been here nearly four hours she let us share with her some (rather greasy) empanadas and (rather pulpy) orange juice and (rather dry) pain au chocolat. It was the best repast we could do for the moment, having very little fresh food around the house, though our refrigerator was finally delivered later in the afternoon, so I hope to do better in the future.

There is a good reason for the overalls
We probably won't have Leidy back for a couple of weeks, because we aren't quite that messy, and because we are trying to stick to a budget.  Then again, it is possible we can't afford her any more at all, after the exorbitant rate we were charged by the plumber who came to fix the sink after she had left.  He turned up (late, of course) in a leather jacket and swishy tracksuit bottoms, and had no tools with him.  The only thing that signified him as a plumber was the traditional exposed buttock cleavage when he leaned over the sink to examine it.  He did a bit of fiddling, and then he shoved the faucet in hard and twisted it down with his hands, which was exactly what Maurizio had done as a temporary fix when it first started to leak.  The whole process took about 5 minutes.  He then asked for 15,000 pesos.  Maurizio made a disbelieving sound, and the plumber lowered it to 10,000, which we paid, but after he left my boy was fuming. He seemed to think the job was only worth two or three thousand at most, and said that in a country like this the service industry is very cheap (for example, Leidy made only 30,000 for her day's labour in our house, and here this man had tinkered for a few minutes and demanded half of that).

Never mind that in the States you would have been charged a base rate of at least $50 just to get him to your house, plus a surcharge for any work or parts.  Never mind that that very evening we bought 20,000 worth of groceries for a homeless woman and her son on whom we took pity, or that we later paid over 100,000 pesos for a sushi dinner that was definitely not in the budget.  It is the principle of the thing.

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