Tag Archives: staff

Through the Glass…………….

As soon as we knew we were moving to India, we made plans to take our cats with us.

Unfortunately, our one cat is diabetic and it really didn’t make sense for her to be on a plane for over 24 hours without access to water. I wrote a very fun resume for her when we were trying to find a place for her to live. If you want a chuckle, you can read it here. A lovely family adopted her while we were gone and spoiled her rotten.

We decided it would be very helpful for the kids to have their other two beloved furry siblings with them – and, not for nothing, someone else was going to be cleaning out the litter and wiping up the inevitable furball throw-up. Yeah. In case it’s not painfully obvious why that was awesome, you can catch up here.

Our first attempt to get the cats to India was a colossal fail. I do not heart United Airlines and if you want to be mad at them too, you can read about that here.

Now that you are all caught up on the history, let’s get back to the story.

Eventually, the cats made it all the way across that big ocean. Alive and well and very confused – kind of like the rest of us.

They settled in quickly and were very well cared for.

But our staffs initial reaction to them was hysterical. They could not believe that we had cats as pets. I should explain that cats aren’t really kept as pets in India. There are tons of stray cats on the streets but it is very rare for someone to actually bring them into their home, feed them, care for them, and make them a part of the family. To love them.

I guess it’s hard to worry about stray animals too much when there are so many stray humans without food and shelter.

Someone also told me that Indians consider cats to be bad luck. I cannot verify that, but it might be true.

Cats are so rare as pets that India does not even have a manufacturer of cat food – at least not one that delivers Indian cat food to any of the pet stores in Delhi –  there may not be an Indian dog food manufacturer either because most dogs are simply given table scraps. The only cat food I could find was imported and ridiculously expensive.

Good thing we brought, not one but two, very large cats who really like to eat.

When we first moved to India and lived in an apartment, the cats very rarely saw the light of day. But then number one hubby found us a house and the cats had access to glass doors at ground level. (We did not feel comfortable letting them actually go outside because there were hawks in the area and tons of stray dogs and cats.) Our cats seemed happy enough to just look outside and they immediately discovered that they were not alone in the world. That other cats lived just beyond that glass horizon.

The difference between our American house cats and the Indian stray cats was nothing short of amazing.

Ours – big and fat and shiny – not a scratch on them. Loved and cuddled. Not afraid of humans in the least. Not particularly fond of every single human, but not one tinsy tiny bit afraid of them. No front claws.

The strays – little bitty – boney – ears ripped – dusty and dull fur with patches missing – never touched by humans hands and terrified of people.  Their faces looked more alien than feline – too wide at the eyes and too narrow at the lips. And their bones nearly poked through their fur. They would never survive without their claws.

They did love our patio though. Largely because it always had a bowl of fresh water and some very expensive cat food on it. The shade from the scorching sun didn’t hurt either. And it was enclosed by a gate, so the dogs could not get in. I wonder if they felt safer in it. But I believe they must have been curious about our cats too.

They would sit and watch each other through the glass.

Part of our morning routine as humans was to put food in the bowls for the cats outside and watch them slink in and get breakfast. It was always fun to see who came first and we worried when one of them didn’t show up for a few days. We noticed who had new scratches and delighted when kittens arrived one morning. We counted them and named them and wondered if we could catch even one and bring it inside.

The pet store that carried the cat food and the cat litter I liked best was not very close to our house. So, I would often send our driver to pick up several packages of each.

This means that the cook, housekeeper, guard, gardener, driver, and the man on the moon all knew just how much money I was spending on these ridiculous creatures that pooped and threw up in the house. And I am sure they compared that to their own salaries and calculated in their own minds what they could do with that kind of money. To us, it wasn’t a hardship – but to them it could have been all the difference in a nicer house or better schools for their kids.

I am not sure why I am stuck on the thought of all of this. How anorexic the stray cats looked compared to our literal fat cats. How the staff must have been fascinated and miffed by the resources we dedicated to them.

One day, our cook was finally able to say out loud what he must have been thinking for months….

Francis: Ma’am, why do you feed the outside cats such expensive food
Me: They look so hungry
Francis: They will eat your leftover rice
Me: I guess that never occurred to me. Let’s try it.
Francis: Duh.

We did try it. And those cats had grown too accustomed to the the tastiness of the meat flavored cat food. They merely picked at the rice.

Francis was not about to be outsmarted by a street cat. He started adding leftover gravy to the rice. They were happy once again.

One of the things that struck me was that those stray cats never got any fatter. They knew what “full” meant and never seemed to gorge themselves.

I guess that is what was hardest about helping others in India. It was easy to feel taken advantage of. To feel like generosity was expected. Those cats came and took only what they needed and left the rest for the next cat who might pass by.

But now that I am once again an ocean away from the struggles of so many, I am left to wonder why I didn’t do more. How I might better define the lines of graciousness that I was willing to tiptoe around but never fully cross over. I am not sure there is an answer but I am sure I will always question why those of us with too much (including myself) aren’t more generous to those with much too little.

Twisted Sister………

This morning when I was getting dressed, I was really missing India.

Yep, you read that right. I miss living in India this morning.

I have this bra that drives me nuts. The strap is twisted and I cannot get it straightened out.

Are you really confused now? Are you wondering why that would make me miss India?

Well, if I was still in India one of these things would happen….

The lady who did my laundry (yes, I miss that too) would notice the strap before I did and she would know a professional bra strap fixer who would fix it for about fifty cents.

My laundress would spend about 25 minutes explaining to me that she did not twist the strap. In fact, she has absolutely no idea how the strap got twisted. Maybe the housekeeper did it. But it’s okay because she knows somebody. A professional bra strap fixer.

If that professional could not fix it, she would know another professional bra strap replacer who specialized in just replacing straps. The old strap would be replaced with a new strap that is a little off color but it would be good enough. And that old strap would be turned into a shoelace by a professional “turning bra straps into shoe laces” specialist.

If those two tacts failed miserably, then I would simply abandon the perfectly-good-except-for-the-strap bra in the trash. And the lady who did my laundry would take it home and love it like no bra has been loved before. It would likely become a family heirloom and get passed down through generations.

There’d be no wasting and everyone would be happy and three people would have gotten paid something for their efforts.

Wrong Question…………

When I start talking about having staff in India, I know some of you are thinking – oh jeez, here she goes again. But please bear with me because today I figured out the number one reason that having staff was bad for my family – or any family who is not going to have staff working in its home forever. You get a little too used to it. Our reality does not include a driver, a cook, a guard, a housekeeper, a gardener, and a laundress. Well, it does – but funny enough, they are all the same person – me. And the pay ain’t quite the same.

So, for those children who actually read this blog – both of you – are you listening? Here are some of the wrong conversations/situations to find yourselves in….

Scenario 1
Mom has done the laundry (including your smelly gym clothes and soccer socks) and has washed the all the breakfast dishes (after making you breakfast) and now has brownies in the oven (because she knows you love them – she even went to two stores to find the exact ones that you like – because God forbid you have your second favorite kind of brownie warm from the oven right when you walk in the door from school). She has just finished wiping off the counter and sweeping the floor. She turned off the news when you walked in the door (even though it was the story she had been waiting all day to hear) so she could listen (with focus) to how your day went. After you chat and have a yummy chocolately treat, Mom goes to sweep the floor again because there are now mysteriously brownie crumbs all over it.

It is here that the real potential for danger exists. If she then asks you to take out the trash or vacuum the basement or even lick the litter box clean – the exact wrong question is……do I have to? I will help you here because I know most of you are treading on new ground. The right answer is …..O!M!G! Mom, I would so love to do all of those things for you. And, by the by, you actually then have to do them (because sometimes it is more than the thought that counts) and then say ….. and Mom, did you get your hair cut because it looks marvelous. Do you see the difference?

Scenario 2:
You have decided that it is in your best interest to join a practice group that practices very early on Saturday mornings. This causes your mother – who sleeps through tornadoes – to have to get out of bed at 5:15A.M. on a Saturday morning. The roosters have not even learned to crow at this point and your mother is up and driving you to practice. And, yes, she is very proud of you for getting up and getting out the door – that is not the problem. Read on.

When you get back home, your very tired mother makes (okay, warms up) waffles because that is what you asked for (and no it does not matter if they are frozen v. homemade). She also makes eggs and biscuits because that is what your brother asked for. And she also makes bacon because apparently your sister would like that. You are distracted by the goings on of SpongeBob so I can understand why you don’t realize that was a lot to accomplish before 8:30am. But you push it a tad too far when you ask …… Mom, can you pour syrup in to a small bowl and bring it over here? Really?

Here’s the problem – at some point you are going to want to drive a car. If you cannot handle pouring syrup into a bowl (even a small bowl) all by your lonesome, I am pretty sure that operating heavy machinery is off the can-do list. The right answer is…….Mom, these are the most delicious waffles I have ever had. They don’t even need syrup. And by the way, did you get your hair cut because it looks amazing. Or maybe you lost weight. See how that is different?

Scenario 3
You love to ride your scooter. You have ridden it and fallen off of it a million and one times. So, your mom knows that you are one tough cookie even if you scream like a banchee. Sooooo, if you fall off said scooter the exact moment that your mom calls a friend to vent over another mom who is making her c.r.a.z.y. and she sees you fall, she might not panic and hang up immediately because she knows you are okay. And she knows that you had a 14-minute delay in crying. So, she really might not hang up the phone right away. No matter how big those crocodile tears are – because if you can stop and have a snack on the way to tell her how hurt you are, the reality of it is – you are probably going to be just fine. Operating heavy machinery may also not be in your future but you most likely don’t need to be rushed to Children’s Hospital. You might need therapy later – but right now, it’s all good.

Please forgive the parenting rant – but seriously. I don’t know how single parents do it – God love you!

Another one bites the dust…………….

Plain and simple – I stink at having staff in my house. We just fired our cook and his wife. And by “we” I totally mean “me”.

Just so you know I don’t get rid of staff willy nilly – please remember that we have had Ravi (our house keeper) since the day we got here a year and a half ago. And I am only on our second driver – and the first driver was simply reassigned within hubby’s company so he was not “fired”. We don’t have loyalty issues. But dang it. Another one bites the dust. And this was a two-fer.

If you haven’t been taking notes along the way while reading this blog, this is the 4th cook we have fired. Hubby fired the first 3 because I was just a big fat chicken and simply did not want to deal with it. So Francis and Rani were my first “fire”. I really, truly could have lived my entire life without firing someone. It’s not pretty. There were no cameras, no lights, no dramatic “cue music” like when Donald Trump does it – and certainly no applause. And they did not get to ride home in a limousine.

Francis and Rani have been working with us since October, when cook number 3 (Laxmi) got canned. My first warning sign should have been the day we hired them. They stood in our driveway and called Laxmi’s mother to find out if this was the house that Laxmi worked at and did she know they were interviewing new people. Thick as thieves these guys – literally.

I have been grappling with what to do about Francis and Rani for a few months. When we first hired them, we really liked them. They worked hard and Francis made excellent breads – which forever endeared him in the heart of number one hubby. But then I realized they weren’t honest. Francis was doing the shopping and on the way home from the store, he would rewrite the receipts to his benefit. They were not nice to the guards or the other people working in our home and they were making decisions that were not theirs to make. And they were stealing. They were smart enough about it – my earrings are all still in place but they would take little things that I probably wouldn’t notice.

Just one of the many examples of the things they did that was less than impressive was this – our guard stands outside of our gate in 110 degree heat. He does not get the benefit of the air conditioning like some of the other people who work here. Our guard asked Francis for water. Now, mind you, Francis and Rani used to fill up about 6 large soda bottles a day and take water home with them. But Francis said the guard could not have a glass of water. He never even asked me my opinion. Just decided all on his own that the man guarding my house and my family did not need to be hydrated, while he sat fat and happy in the kitchen with air conditioning. Let me just say this is probably what sealed Francis’ fate because it told me that his heart is black. How can you look at a person standing outside in the heat all day long and deny them a drink of water, especially when your cup literally runneth over? Especially when it frankly is not even your water.

Of course, there were many other things along the way that caused me concern. But the plum that broke the boss’ back was actually just that – a plum. Now, I know this will sound absolutely ridiculous to most of you and as I think about how to write the story so that it makes sense, I am not sure I will be able to find a way.

Most people who have staff here just accept that they will be dishonest sometimes, that they will take a few things here and there, that they just don’t look at life the same way we do. After all, we have so much and they don’t. And most people will argue that it doesn’t really matter if they take things from you as long as they don’t take anything important. A year and a half ago, I would have been incensed by that and argued the morality of it all. Now, I understand that it can make you crazy and if you just don’t think about it – then it is not a problem.

But even after having a long heart-to-heart with Francis and Rani about being honest and playing nice with the other staff, they still thought the rules did not apply to them. These heart-to-hearts are supposed to snap staff back in line faster than a rubber band and buy you a few weeks if not months of no conflict. But it was clear that Francis and Rani did not take me seriously and that they thought I am not the brightest bulb in the pack. Even after I explained to them that I know exactly what is going on in this house and, just because I don’t address something immediately, does not mean I am not aware of it.

Oh “yes, ma’am” they said with heads bowed. “Yes ma’am, yes ma’am, yes ma’am.” Augh.

If you are a parent and you have had this type of discussion with a child, you know just how I felt. It was pretty much “yeah, yeah, yeah” and they went right back to their antics. Immediately right back.

So, I waited until I knew that they had taken something and I asked the guard to check their bags. There it was – a plum. Along with half the contents of the fridge that I had actually given them. I cannot stand for food to go bad – so we give a lot of leftovers to our staff. (Which by they by, means that they are forever making too much food so that there are leftovers – see how this all works.) That day I had asked them to make sure to clean out the fridge and take home the leftovers. And when I walked in to the kitchen, I saw Rani’s bag with a plum in it. Completely separate from the other food. And no, I did not look through her bag – it was sitting on the counter and the plum was right on top.

Right about now, you are probably thinking, well you gave them food – how did they know the plum wasn’t on the menu. Trust me. They did.

Or you might be thinking – seriously a plum? Yes, because enough already.

As I said, there was a lot that lead up to the great plum incident of 2010. And I am writing this – not to get your sympathy or not to earn Francis and Rani your sympathy – but so that I can remember this. This blog is a great big “note to self” for me to remember my experiences here. Already, just a few days later, I am questioning my sanity. How did I let myself get so wrapped up in this? Why can’t I just let some things go?

And now I am left with a plum that is rotting and that cannot do laundry or cook dinner or wash dishes.

But, how can I stand in my own kitchen everyday and look at people who are dishonest and whose hearts are black and pull money out of my wallet to pay them to steal from me?

I will surely never reconcile this whole having staff thing.

It happens…………..

Yesterday was a very fun day – I hosted a luncheon and invited the people I just don’t get to see enough of over for lunch. I really miss having friends over and it was a nice trip down normal lane – well at least it was supposed to be.

I dumbed it way down and used my grandmother’s very best china Walmart plastic plates. Even the flowers were in exquisite crystal vases plastic cups. We had good old fashioned tacos and seven-layer dip and cornbread and all sorts of toppings. My poor cook was beside himself that we weren’t going to have any Indian food, so he threw in some delicious Indian appetizers. Apparently he has been holding out on me – I had no idea that breaded and fried broccoli was Indian food or in his repertoire. Yummy. Especially when dipped in Hidden Valley Ranch dressing – yep, I brought that from home. Along with the taco seasoning mix and the pecans for pecan pie.

Most expats have a running joke/understanding that nothing is simple here and sometimes (often) it is harder to accomplish things here than it is back home. Some of that might be a little bit of the “grass is greener” (or right now, the snow is whiter) but some of it is simply r.e.a.l.i.t.y. And the hardest part is that you just cannot anticipate where the stumbling blocks are going to be.

Bring on the luncheon. Most things went so smoothly that I should have known there would have been other problems. First of all, the people who work for me were fantastic. They worked their arses right off. Several people asked me who my caterer was – that was a huge compliment to them. Yeah for them and me! The second thing was the flowers. The flower walla opens early – I did not anticipate that and it was a welcome treat. Normally businesses do not open here until around 11am and with everyone coming at 12:30ish, I was worried we’d be cutting that close. Plus the flowers were so inexpensive, extremely fragrant, and absolutely fabulous. Bonus. Bonus.

But then, as I was riding home from school, our driver informed me that we were out of water. Completely out. Yes, that presents an interesting wrinkle when you have 25 people coming over for lunch and lots of wine. He had several theories as to what might have happened. Either there was a leak. Or our cook doesn’t like the guard and was setting him up for being fired because it was odd that of all the days this could happen yesterday would be the day. Or our guard didn’t like our cook and the reverse was happening.  Or the guard just forgot to fill the tank and it was simply an accident. I personally think Mr. Hatfield saw the tables being delivered, realized we were having a party which probably meant more noise, and so he snuck over the fence and turned the spicket on and drained the tank dry overnight. Or. Or. Or. There are more conspiracy theories about this than there are about the shooting of JFK.

Just a side note. Every night at 5pm and every morning at 5am the guard must turn on the water to fill the tank. We have a pretty large tank so for it to completely empty means that it was not filled several times. Or that there is a very big leak. Neither is a great scenario when you are hosting a lunch.

At any rate, my husband’s office was on it. A water tank was ordered to come at 11am.

I also rented tables and chairs so that everyone would have a place to sit down. That all went super smoothly this time too. Which was great because it did not go so smoothly this time. They delivered the tables the night before and came back to set them up at 10am. Smooth. Smooth. The tables were even level – not a given. The tables don’t look so great when they deliver them, but they do clean up nice.

However, there were clouds looming in the sky. Dark, heavy clouds.

One thing I have noticed here is that a lot of events are planned for outside and there is never any mention of a rain date. (In the U.S., there is almost always a rain date for an outside event.) But in India, unless it is monsoon season, it n.e.v.e.r. rains here. Unless I am hosting a party outside. 😉 Then rain it must.

As the guests start to arrive the clouds get darker. And then it starts to rain – sprinkle really – so we quickly move two tables inside and three tables under the carport.

And you guessed it, the water tanker had not arrived.

So, I have too much water outside where I very much did not want it and not any water inside where I very much do want it.

I had to announce to the guests that there was no water inside and that they could use the bathroom but please just throw the toilet paper in the trash can. And the toilets don’t work the same here as in the U.S.  My toilets back home can still function without running water – you just replace the water in the tank on the back and wallah. Here – not so much. I thought I was going to go all Tim the Toolman Taylor on everyone and show them just how this was not going to be a problem. Ha. I put water in the tank and it immediately drained out. Hmpf. But by the way, there were plenty of hand wipes for hand washing. Thank God Martha Stewart was not invited. Or Katie Couric. They would have been very unimpressed.

The water tanker it seemed was stuck in traffic. Now this is exactly what makes living here hard. There were about 4 different versions of why the water tanker was late. One – it was stuck in traffic. Two – it was actually not stuck in traffic but was not allowed to enter the neighborhood between 11am and 2pm. Three – no one actually remembered to order it so they made up the traffic story to cover up their mistake. Four – the driver was abducted by aliens. So when you don’t really know why something is not happening, it is very difficult to fix it. Short of renting a space ship to Mars, we just had to deal with the reality of no water. And my guests were so gracious – they just rolled with it and filled their glasses a little less full.

The sun ended up making a star studded appearance and we were able to actually eat outside. That was fantastic!

I was not able to get the mister in the picture to sign a waiver so plese do not use his picture. 😎 Yes he is a funny guy.

All in all it was a fantastic day. The food was yummy, the flowers were beautiful, and the company was divine. And the water tanker came just as everyone was leaving. Perfecto!

Where nobody knows your name……….

You would not think I was talking about my own home when you read this title, would you? But I am. I am very fortunate to be an ex-pat in India with staff. But I don’t think a single one of them knows my name. They call me ma’am because god forbid they get more personal than that – it simply is not allowed. And no matter how persistent you are here about changing the status quo, there are just some many things about India that are simply not going to change – at least not in the immediate future. At least not in the time that we will be here.

And, yes….snicker……snicker…… I am quite sure there are names that they call me – but I am talking about the name my mama gave me. 😉

Seriously, there are at least 6 people who come to my house every single day – they do my laundry (including washing and ironing my underwear), they buy my food, they water my plants, they cook, they clean, they guard the gate, they drive me all over town (ok, the driver probably knows my name – they are a little more tuned in shall we say – but he will never, ever call me by it), they meet my friends, and it is very likely that none of them knows my name.

They know my children’s names, they know hubby’s name (although they will only ever call him Sahib or Sir) – because if the crazy white lady yells them often enough, you are going to pick up on a name or two. They even know my cats’ names. But not mine. Hmpf.

I plan to correct that today. And I can guarantee they will still call me ma’am – but at least when they leave here they can put a name to the face.

A Perfect Example……………

I read a friend of mine’s post of Facebook the other day about her au pair quitting. It was a bad time for her not to have help and she was a little down. She went so far as to say “why me”? I felt bad for her but it was a little hard to delve too deep into sympathy. And I realized that it must be that way for many of you when I tell my tales of staff woes.

Always, I try to be clear that I am thankful for the help I have and I appreciate the work they do. Most of the time, I do not complain. Really. No, really, I don’t. Even what I am about to share with you is not a complaint – it is just an example of why it is hard to add extra people to your day.

We have a new cook. He is married and he and his wife have worked together for a long time. We only needed a cook. But….. now we have a cook and his wife. They have two adult sons. We have fairly decent quarters. I am not letting two adult men live behind my house. So, we also pay them extra for housing. So, now it is costing us a wee bit more than it should. However, they are a lovely couple and I am very happy to have them here. I do believe you get what you pay for.

They are also kind and easy to be around. The other day, Francis comes up to me with a large green piece of fruit.

Francis: Do you like these ma’am?
Me: Uh, what is it?
Francis: It is a grapefruit, they were selling them at our church, we got you one.
Me: Wow, thank you. That was really sweet.
Rani (Francis’ wife): I will peel it for you so you can have it for breakfast. It is better to eat it on an empty stomach.

Okay, yes – awwwwwwwwwwww – that was really, really thoughtful. However, I am not a big fan of grapefruit. Yes, I really, I should just be grateful. However, I am really not a big fan of grapefruit. I am also not a big fan of breakfast or of things that are best eaten on an “empty stomach”. Maybe it’s me – but telling me that is not exactly enticing!

Anyway, Rani stands over the sink for about one hour and peels the grapefruit. Why does it take an hour, you ask? Because in India, peeling grapefruit does not simply mean removing the peel – it also means removing each piece of pulp and separating it from the membrane. No, I am not kidding. Yes, I walked into the kitchen at least five times and told Rani she really did not need to do that and I marveled at how much work it was. I did not add that it was all unnecessary because it was highly unlikely that I was going to actually eat a grapefruit. But you can be sure I thought it.

Jewish mothers have nothing on Indian staff when it comes to making you feel guilty. They don’t even mean to make you feel guilty. But how can you watch someone painstakingly peel the pulp of a grapefruit from its membrane and not at least try it. Dang it.

True to my normal forgetful self, the next morning, I totally forgot about the grapefruit. When Rani came in, she asked me if I liked it. She had already moved past me and was closer to the fridge than I was – so I had to be honest and say I didn’t feel great that morning. I was simply saving it for tomorrow morning.

Morning number two. I remember to pull out the grapefruit. My teeth are sensitive so I don’t like cold fruit. And I do not like grapefruit. Did I mention that yet? So, I let it sit for a little bit to warm up – I felt like I was five and my mother was about to spoon feed me cough medicine. Then I remembered that my dad puts sugar on his grapefruit. Hurray. That is what I could do. So I pull out the sugar container and dump 3 big spoonfuls of “sugar” on my grapefruit. Only, I have a cook, so I am not in the kitchen that much and apparently – when you haven’t been around it that much – salt looks just like sugar. Dagger.

So, in reality I dumped 3 very large spoonfuls of salt right onto my grapefruit. Did you know that I have Meniere’s and that I have to really, really watch my salt intake or I get nauseous and very dizzy – like can’t walk straight dizzy. Yes, brilliant.

Did you also know that Indian houses don’t have garbage disposals and that the toilets don’t generally flush everything down? Did you also know that in India, people are very resourceful and will go through the trash because there isn’t too much that cannot be reused. So, I could not dump the pulp down the garbage disposal (don’t have one), I could not flush it down the toilet (would not have all gone down and Rani cleans the toilets), and I could not throw it in the trash (because sometimes they sort through my trash). Because, even if you are rooting through MY garbage, I think it would be rude to throw away a gift from you.

Yes, I did try to rinse it off and then add the real sugar. Yes, I really did. No, it didn’t work so well.

My good intentions were making me crazy and I decided that I had to throw away the grapefruit. There was just no way I could risk taking in all that salt. And, besides – have I told you – I. do. not. happen. to. like. grape.fruit.

So, I wrapped it in a paper towel. But it seeped through the paper towel. So, I put it in a plastic bag and tied it in a knot. But I just knew it would be discovered. So, I went to the cat litter and cleaned out a little bit and put that in the bag and tied two more knots in it.

It sounds crazy – and it probably was – but, now, I couldn’t eat it – and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

Do you see how complicated it becomes and that is just the grapefruit! 😉

where he draws the line………..

My husband embraced the thought of moving to India from the very moment the opportunity shone first light. And to be honest, he was hoping for an opportunity like it before he ever even knew there might be one – probably crossing his fingers under his pillow every night hoping something would happen. Damn him and his good crossing fingers karma. 😎

He has always thought that it would be a good experience, that we’d be glad we did it. I agree. But sometimes India can bring out the “ick” in all of us. That part in all of us that we can keep hidden most of the time. The stomp your feet, I am a brat part of us. The this is a great experience, but I really miss home part in all of us.

It is very hard to let go of simple tasks that we can do ourselves. It is hard to see them undone or done so differently than we would do them that it is nearly impossible to appreciate their doneness. It is hard to know how far in the adoption process to let yourself go when it comes to staff. It is hard to define exactly what your responsibilities for them and their well-being are. It is hard because kindness is very often seen as weakness and the vultures come out.

We are new to having guards. We had them before but they were not under our care. So, I should say we are new to being responsible for guards. We have a cooler for them and every time it is empty, we fill it up with ice and water. That is absolutely not being overly generous. I agree. They sit in a pretty small box in front of our gate for 12 hours at a time. They keep dogs and people away from our front door. They open the gate when we want to walk thru it. Not that I have lost the ability to push a gate and open it – it just comes with the package. They did finally stop saluting us.

Oh wait, I forgot to give you just a smidge of background. A couple of nights ago, one of our boxes of household items came – it had more plastic plates and cups in it.  You might recall that I love me some plastic plates and I have appointed my husband as the King of Plastic Plate Land. I swooned him over to the plastic side and he lives happily there. So when he saw that one of the boxes from home had our very LARGE plastic cups from home in it, he smiled and whispered, “You remembered”. It was like we were filming a commercial for match.com at a tupperware party. It was really a special moment.

So, anyway, these bigarse glasses hold a lot of ice. A lot. That is why number one hubby loves them. And why he loves me for remembering to send them.

Last night, we sat down to dinner – he gets his bigarse cup and walks over to the ice maker. Chink, chink, chink……………nothing. Rattle, rattle, rattle………..nothing.

I hear, “what the hell – what happened to all the ice?”

I am not an ice drinker – so I have no idea. But I am very thankful there is no ice in my cup. I notice there is some ice in his cup – but I am not pointing that out to him. He clearly does not think it is enough.

Hubby: LLLLLLLLLLLLLAAAAAAXXXXXXXXXXXXMMMMMMMMMMMMIIIII?

Laxmi: Yes sir?

Hubby: What happened to all the ice? Where is the ice? There should be ice.

(She looked at his cup and all decided it might not be wise to point out that there was some ice in it. Smart girl.)

Laxmi: Sir – the guards, the cooler. Sorry sir. Sir. Sorry sir. The guards.

Hubby: They don’t get ice anymore. Do you understand that? No more ice for the guards. If they are on fire, do not throw ice on them. Got it?
(Okay he did not really say not to throw ice on them but you can bet he was thinking it.)

So now Laxmi is nervous, I am trying to walk number one hubby off the iceberg. But he is not having it.

He temporarily doesn’t care how cold their water is. He temporarily doesn’t care how hot it is outside. He wants ice. When he wants it. As much as he wants. When he gets home from a long day at work he wants ice. Is that too much to ask?

Now my husband has kicked Al Bundy out of his lead role in Married With Children.

Just so you know that hubby is not a total grump – he would truly give you the ice off his back (just not out of his freezer)  – these two guards work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Hubby was concerned about that and added a third guard so that the first two at least get a day off. The irony in this is that they will probably just be assigned somewhere else on their day off. But now some of our energy is consumed with whether these three men are overworked and whether or not they are well hydrated with cold water. It wears on you sometimes.

Today I am going to buy ice trays so that the guards can still have ice.

Update – I just got a comment off-line that maybe this is a little silly. And if you have never been truly homesick maybe it is. So if you rolled your eyes at this one, please take a second and count your blessings that you have never missed home so much that a little cup of ice could bring you to your knees for just a few seconds. Be grateful that you have not lost perspective over a trivial thing just because you miss all that you hold dear.

And if you did roll your eyes, please understand that this is just the tip of the iceberg of what it is like to live as an expat. Most of us soak in everyday and revel in the experience, but there are moments………

When you spend your day getting promises that things will get done but those promises are not backed by even a single intention of them actually getting done,
and you worry about your parents and your mother-in-law and your family – that something will happen and you won’t be there, and
when most conversations don’t mean a lot because you can’t trust a lot of what you hear,
and you drive down the road and spill your drink because you have driven over a speed bump in the middle of the highway – a speedbump that mind you only goes half-way across the road – the half that you are on, and
small children with no present adults knock on your window everywhere you go begging not just for money but for bigger sense of purpose,
and you call your driver to pick you up and it takes 10 minutes to explain 5 different ways what you are trying to say
and your skin is heavy with the heat and humidity and the grime
and your children miss their friends
and you see trash almost everywhere you go
, and
you just want a taste of home so you search high and low for tortilla chips, you find them and buy them with excitement even though they cost 3x what you would normally pay for them, and your excitement fades because, alas, they were stale
and your towels are scratchy, and
your guard doesn’t even know your name because he is only allowed to call you sir or madam
and you float over oceans for a new experience that you know will be life changing but it is hard to hard the accept the differences, yet you do your very best to embrace them or at least understand them
and you think a cup of ice at the end of the day might melt some of the challenges away because it feels like home
and you are left iceless.

This is (kind of) funny………….

Upon hearing that we were moving to India, I got a boat load of questions – the two most common were by far….

Do cows really roam the streets there and aren’t you going to have like a million people working in your house?

The answer to number one quickly revealed itself as YEP, they sure do.

And number two was – well, not exactly a million.

Now, if you are used to doing most of your own housework, shopping, cooking, driving, and cleaning, having a “staff” initially sounds very appealing. And once you get the right staff, it is really nice in many ways. But there are shortcomings and some of them make me laugh.

Here is what happened today.

As I have mentioned, we just got a new cook. So far she rocks. She made homemade chocolate chip cookies today. Sweet mother of chocolate chip God. They were fabulous. Yes, they WERE, because we have almost completely polished off the entire double batch. And yes, by saying we, I really mean me. And, yes, I promise not to complain about gaining weight later. Pinky swear.

Oh wait, before I can pinky swear, I have to lick this chocolate off of my pinky. There. Okay, now, I pinky swear.

Laxmi is also doing laundry for us. And putting laundry away. Enter the funny part.

I wear tank tops under my shirts because it is too flippin hot here for a bra with padding and/or underwire. My 10-year old daughter also wears tank tops as a pajama top. So does my 12-year old son – as an undershirt.

Do you see where this is going? I have never been accused of being well endowed – even pregant, I was a member in good standing of the little bitty committee. But, even if you are fully aware and even accepting of reality, it is not exactly a boost to your ego when the person who puts your clothes away confuses your tank tops with your son’s and daughter’s tank tops. Really, truly it is not.

Domestic Dispute…….

When I was in college, I was in a sorority and we would have roundtable discussions – where we were free to voice our opinions and let others know what was bothering us. But in the spirit of sisterhood, we were not allowed to specifically mention another sister’s name. So we would start our discussion with “sister x” did this or “sister x” should really think about this. Well let me tell you about “cook x”.

Anyone who has lived in India for at least 5 minutes has a domestic staff story to tell – so the fact that it has taken us 7 weeks to earn our story to share is probably pretty good.

Number One Hubby hired our cook the week before the kids and I got here. He speaks good English, cooks American food, irons clothes well, and was supposed to have making bread as his specialty. He agreed to cook, clean, and do laundry for a family of five. And he promised to make yummy homemade bread. (The way to our family’s heart is with with yummy homemade bread.)

Enter a family of five.

First day:
Oh boss, I cannot cook, clean, and do laundry for a family of five. And, I need a raise. Yes, on his first day.

So, we continued with Ravi who was cleaning just for hubby. He comes in for 4 hours a day and is thorough and unassuming and very kind. So, that’s okay. We like him and not having to let him go was okay with us. Now cook does not have to clean.

We even gave the cook a raise. A 20% raise. We liked him too. (Just in case you are new at this whole staff thing – apparently, you start with someone on a temporary basis and a lower salary – then after a few weeks, if you plan to keep them, you give them a raise. We got to the whole raise thing a little early.)

So then he asks for us to include bus fare in his salary. This is really not a big deal because bus fare usually does not run more than $20 a month (and that is on the high end). So, bus fare it is. I think it might have been $10 for our cook.

We did not pack our kitchen up and bring it with us. We have just gotten things as we realized we need them. There has not been one thing he asked for that I did not get. Not one.

From what I can gather, domestic staff usually work about a 12 hour day in India. Our cook generally worked a 9-hour day and had most Saturdays off completely – or if he worked, he just worked a few hours.

Then our cook’s wife started a new job and they were moving. So we gave our cook several days off of work to move and coordinate moving.

Along with the move came the need for a security deposit. I don’t know if you just heard the collective gasp rolling across Delhi – but the number  one rule in having domestic staff is to NEVER lend them money.

We lent him money. I know, I know!

He was to pay it back over 5 months. Honestly, I will not regret this decision. We immediately agreed that it was the right thing to do. It was not so much money that it was life changing to us – but it was for our cook – and it helped him get a roof over his head. So, we did it – and, yes, we would most likely do it again.

Our cook was not happy with our smaller washing machine – so we have ordered a larger one. Our cook was not happy with our fridge – so we got a larger one.

Finally, our cook’s new digs did not have drinking water – so every night he would take lots of water home with him. We were happy to let him do that.

And quite possibly the straw the broke the camel’s back – the cook never made the promised bread for hubby. That was not a good idea. A fresh, warm loaf of homemade bread forgives a multitude of sins.

So, what I am saying is – he had it pretty good.

Or at least we thought so. Apparently he did not agree. He wanted a uniform allowance. Which is not uncommon – but we felt that we had given quite a bit already. (Again, if you are new to having staff – what I have found out is that it is normal to give domestic staff a clothing allowance for summer and fall. And a bonus at Diwali. But that the clothing allowance generally comes after they have been with you for 6 months or so.)

Hubby said no. Here is a note to staff – perhaps it is prudent to begin paying back the one month’s salary before you ask for a uniform allowance. Just think about it – ‘kay? Especially if you are new to the family.

Then he asked hubby again. The hubby said no – again.

Hubby is not impressed with having to say no again.

Our cook has been working for us for about 5 weeks at this point.

Then our cook asks me. Here is a second note to staff. If my hubby says no to you twice – I am not going to say yes. I err on the side of hubby. Period.

I told him he had to talk to the boss about it – that was his department – I can tell him what we want for dinner – that is my department.

Hubby overheard him ask me. Note to staff number 3 – it is not wise to try to win the wife over in earshot of the hubby. Not very wise at all.

So hubby comes into the kitchen and gives me a way out of the conversation. Thank you hubby.

But hubby is not done with the conversation.

Hubby outlines all of the things we have done. Cook tells hubby that hubby just does not care and that the wife is more understanding. Do I need to insert the fourth note to staff here – I bet I don’t – I bet you know all by your lonesome just what it is.

Needless to say, after talking in circles with our cook, my hubby invited our cook to leave and walked him out the gate.

It turns out that our cook had been bad-mouthing us to our driver and Ravi. They both are happy that he is gone. We both felt bad about letting our cook go – until we heard this. Note to staff number 5 – do not bad mouth your boss to the other people who work for him. They will sell you out. Quickly.

So, while I will miss his pasta salad, I now have a domestic staff story. We have two leads on new staff people – and you know I will let you know how it goes!