Wednesday, August 1, 2007

It's a Hard Knock Life . . . For Us

Living in Latin America has a lot of perks – one of the best being that labor (unlike goods) is cheap. That means that for about double what I used to pay a cleaning lady to come to my house twice a month for a total of six hours, I can have a full-time live-in housekeeper, who cleans, cooks, washes all the day’s dishes, does laundry and irons. And to top it off, she is a de facto babysitter for Asha pretty much whenever we need. Cheap labor also means that we can hire a driver who works 40 hours per week, for about the same amount we pay the housekeeper. Our driver, however, happens to be paid for through Sonny’s company for six months, and costs nearly triple a regular driver because of his security and defensive driving training.

Needless to say, we are not planning on using his services once our six months are up – not because we don’t love his help around the house with hanging pictures and assembling Asha’s toys, his running to various stores and banks to pay our utility bills (Mexicans haven’t quite got the hang of online bill pay just yet), and his help pushing my grocery cart and handing me plastic bags in the produce section at the grocery store. Rather it is because, quite simply, we are cheap. Plus, I need to buy my own car because I am not supposed to drive the company car, and since I plan to drive here, there is really little point in having a driver long-term. Of course, we’ll see in November whether we were actually able to give up the comfort that Arturo provides with never having to worry about directions to get somewhere or parking once we arrive.

While all this help around the house has been really nice – I mean really nice – there are some real adjustments that come with having people in the house all day, every day. Even a spacious apartment can start to feel cramped because there are always people around, seeing me in my pajamas if I am having a late morning, observing all my interactions with Asha, and probably even wondering if I am actually going to go to the gym that day. It is also odd not being the one who decides what we eat for dinner (or if we order take in yet again), what brand of cheese to buy or what color eggs are better.

And then there is the matter of driving. While I am learning the roads and have been driving, I constantly have Arturo with me to help me with directions. Somehow he also sees as his job to remind me that my hands should be at the ten and two o’clock position on the steering wheel, notify me of red lights up ahead that I can see as well as he, and inform me that truck drivers cannot see me through their right side mirrors (all of this in case I never took a driver’s ed course, and have no common sense).

I would never have thought having such great help – and for such a reasonable price – could have it’s downside as well. Still, unless I am prepared to cook dinner every day, pick up a toilet brush and clean, and lug my own groceries up from the car, I should probably just keep my mouth shut and enjoy the perks.

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