Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Nanny #1

Let’s call her Asrat. Asrat from Addis Ababa. She was the first the nanny agency had me interview. Had taught kindergarten before, had two grown up daughters, fluent English, had also traveled to Wales twice for an art course. She left within three weeks. No notice. The joke was that Chip’s birthday balloons lasted longer than the nanny. She said she had some personal work and asked for a morning off. I agreed and she never came back. Left back her clothes and shoes. I was seething then. And in tears.

Asrat had two daughters. One was 19, the younger one 18. Her husband had sought political asylum and she and the younger daughter followed Asrat’s husband to the US. Why not the older one too, I asked. She hesitated. Slightly ashamed to have asked this personal question, I kept quiet.

“My husband refused to file for her. She is not his”, she said quietly.

It took me a while to understand what that meant.

“Would that be a problem?” she was asking me.

For what, I wanted to know.

“Her asylum papers, she has to file separately now.”

I was not familiar with US Asylum laws, I told her. But as long as she had a birth certificate, she should be ok.

“Even, if there is no father’s name? We were not married.”

The US government doesn’t care.

“No?” she was incredulous. “It’s different in Ethiopia.”

Although completely unacquainted with Ethiopian legal system, I found it hard to believe it was illegal to have children out of wedlock there.

“I don’t think there is a law” she said. “But people look at you.”

The US government doesn’t care.

I told her she would need a lawyer. But that would not be a problem. I would find her a lawyer who did charity work, so that she did not have to pay.

A week later, another request. She had decided to do the paperwork herself and was asking me for help to write a letter. What sort of a letter, I asked.

“Something to explain how she is not safe in Addis Ababa.” So we wrote about how gangsters from the rival tribal gang were persecuting her oldest, how she was not safe among the crude bombs, the shootings and the assaults. How she could not get a job or even she did manage to get one, it would be impossible to commute to work. I told her to see the lawyer before she filed.

The following Sunday, when she came, she was upset. She needed to get a second job. Ok. I said. I can ask my friends if they needed occasional baby sitting or house cleaning done.

On Wednesday, she left. I had tried calling her, and then tried calling her younger daughter. The nanny agency later informed me she had taken a job with a local Target. They did not have weekend positions. She had to work weekdays to get weekends and she had agreed. The agency would need a day to find a replacement, since this was so sudden. There were apologies, but my only worry was Chip would have to go through another period of adjustment.

BigGeek and I both had to be at work the next day and an incredibly kind friend took Chip in and watched him. Her husband stayed home to help. In the evening, the agency called and said they had found a temporary nanny.

“Why temporary?” I asked. Surely if we liked her, she could stay.
“She has a leg problem” they said.

Late on Thursday evening, Berket arrived. Chip was already asleep. The woman from the agency went upstairs to gather Asrat’s clothes and shoes while I talked to Berket.

Things I learnt from Asrat:

  • They speak Amharic in Ethiopia, not Ethiopian. I learned later that Amharic is a semitic language. Who knew?
  • Raw beef, Kitfo, is a delicacy.