Last Thursday I was on the phone when I heard the porch door burst open and someone crying.
I got off the phone and found my neighbor Kalpana holding her head. I knew immediately her husband had returned home from drinking and beat her. In these parts the story of hardworking wife and non-working, drinking, violent husband is more common than not. But it never gets easy. Were a woman to leave she would be so ostracized and her future would be so bleak… I reluctantly understand why women never leave.
I brought Kalpana in and laid her on the couch and a knot the size of a golf ball had formed on her forehead. I felt sick with anger but I focused on getting ice and ibuprofen and sat with her and prayed over her as she cried. The next day when she was more stable I told her, “If you ever decide you and your kids should leave we will help you.”
Kalpana’s husband had never been this violent. Out of the blue (and in front of his niece) he had picked up a large metal stick and beat her on the head. I honestly wonder if he was trying to kill her. For three nights I mulled over it… and all I can do is say as few words as possible and pray that there is life and wisdom in them.
But I’m thankful to be in Kalpana’s life, and I’m so thankful she is in mine. Six days a week. From 8:30am to 3pm.
You see, my neighbor Kalpana is also my maid.
Did something like indignation just fill your being? Do you feel uncomfortable? I remember feeling that way.
“You have a MAID? Well, that must be nice!”
In six years living in India I’ve seen that the idea of hiring household help has made most new foreigners squirm with discomfort. Each mom seems determined to maintain her American dignity by doing her own dishes, washing her own clothes, and raising her own kids.
I’d like to share 5 things I’ve learned from my housekeeper, Kalpana, and why I made the decision to hire household help. But before you judge me, please hear me out.
I share this (at the risk of criticism) only to free up every woman in Asia from her own idealistic expectations and fear of judgment.
Here are five humongous lessons I have learned from my maid.
1. I did not move here to be a full-time housekeeper.
If you were a competent homemaker in America (meaning you were able to manage your home and also love your husband, children and community well), then you should not just assume you can do the same in Asia.
There’s no way to explain the amount of labor that goes into just surviving here.
Everything you eat must first be soaked in a giant bucket and thoroughly air dried before eating. Very little comes in boxes and cans. Dinner takes two hours every time. The washing machine is a third the size of an American washer and won’t work simultaneously with the dryer, so instead of one big load of laundry per week I have to do six. And not more than one a day or we’ll run out of running water. Washing dishes takes two hours. Boil water, hand wash dishes in tiny sink, hand dry dishes on tiny countertop, repeat. Three or more times a day. There goes 4-8 hours of your day.
Chai is made on the gas fire and served like water to whoever walks in all day long… mud is tracked in and the living room piles up with dishes from guests who are most welcome. Here, there is no such thing as, “call ahead”.
My home is a gathering place in the community, and it can only be that way if there is more than one woman cleaning, preparing, and hosting.
2. I learned that in an overpopulated developing country, I can invest by employing and training someone for a better future. A housekeeper in a good household (in which the employee receives possible benefits such as extra rations, tuition for kids’ schooling, an air-conditioned (or heated) environment, a toilet to use, and safe drinking water), is quite the coveted position.
If I can afford to employ someone, and it allows me to fulfill my purpose in living here, then that is a win-win.
So when we moved here Kalpana came and told us she needed a job. It started with a couple hours a day. But I struggled just to keep up. I was torn between living up to my own image of competent woman, and actually making memories with my kids, hosting people, and helping with my husband’s business venture.
Instead of investing in people, I had become a full-time maid. I could not keep up with the constant breaking of pipes, appliances, power outages, mold, the bugs, the food prep, and the laundry.
Not only was I failing as a housekeeper; I was also failing as a mom, neighbor, wife, and coworker.
So… Kalpana quit her second job and started coming 5 hours a day. I was sure either Kalpana or I would run out of things to do, but it never happens!!
We work side-by-side most days, one cooking and one answering the door, one walking the kids outside and one doing laundry, one cleaning mounds of mold out of the cupboard and the other arguing with the garbage man who’s rather grumbly.
3. A maid will teach you to be a good employer… and so much more.
Friends, I have learned what’s rude and what’s appropriate. Kalpana has taught me culture and so much Hindi. I’ve learned all the superstitions and the value for family. I’ve learned that neighbors will do anything for each other. Like come up and spend the night at midnight when Tyler rushes me to the hospital and expect nothing in return. There are no “boundaries” and there’s no such thing as not answering the phone.
To employ someone I must be a good employer. Consistent, with clear expectations, and firm if my employee doesn’t show up or does a bad job. Someone is watching me five hours a day. I’ve learned I have to be full of love and grace and patience, and this keeps me desperately relying on Jesus.
4. A nanny can help fill the void you left behind.
Kalpana loves my strong-headed baby girl like she’s her own. When I have no more patience she steps in like a grandparent and rescues my kids.
On the days I long for our parents, cousins, aunts and uncles, I’m so very thankful for Kalpana.
5. A maid can save your life.
When I was down, when I was anxious, when I felt like this place was closing in on me, Kalpana believed in me and told me I could do it.
She helped me fight off monkeys when they broke into the house. She called her husband to break down our front door when J-bug got himself padlocked inside at 10pm. She came sprinting out of the house and down the road when I had my scooter accident. And when I was sick of India, Kalpana was the Indian friend I was forced to face every day. She became the face that reminded me why I’m here. She’s taught me to love and speak the truth every day whether I see change in her or not. She kept me from running away.
My advice for every woman moving your family to India is this. Don’t deprive yourself of the relationship, the local wisdom and the help of a “helper”…. Because God just might use it to help you survive.