Nanny #1 and Nanny #2
Two weeks later, we hired Alem. We were sorry to let Berket go. But it would have been impossible for her to run after a toddler and navigate the stairs carrying Chip because of her leg. Alem arrived on 3rd July. Chip liked her the minute he saw her. BigGeek and I had been planning on selling my very buggy European car for a Japanese sedan for some time. We were tired of the car going in a panic mode and blaring a screeching alarm at unearthly hours everyday. So, on that day, BigGeek took the day off and promised himself to take advantage of the summer sales and buy me a new car. He found a dealer who had the car I wanted, finalized everything and then called me at work to just come sign the papers. It will take 15 mins, he told me. I did not want to leave Chip with Alem for so long on her very first day. I called home and Alem was dressing Chip to take him out for a walk. Everything was OK, she assured me. Take your time she said. I apologized for the extra time she had to put in the very first day, but she brushed me off.
In the previous two weeks, I had talked with a few nannies and interviewed one, but didn’t quite sense a match. Admittedly, I wasn’t quite impressed with Alem’s bio. She had a brief experience as a nanny in a small home-based daycare center, but she had four kids of her own. Her English was far from perfect, but the agency wanted me to see her. So, one Saturday morning she came to see me. She talked very little, but showed me pictures of her children. The eldest, a daughter, was an accountant and worked for a NGO in Addis Ababa. The second, a son was a student in Sweden, the third daughter looked after Alem’s shop in Addis Ababa and the last one- a boy would graduate with an Engineering Degree the following year. Well dressed and soft-spoken, I liked her, and despite the language issue, I decided to give her a try.
Alem was no nonsense. Which I liked. Chip’s first two nannies had been very indulging, which ended up making me the hard disciplinarian. Not that I minded being one, but not only was it difficult to drill some discipline in Chip in the few hours together, when he was being spoilt all day, but more importantly, I wanted to indulge him a little too. Alem realized this and was firm with Chip. He had to sit (not stand) in his highchair while eating, he had to use a fork and a spoon, he had to say please, tantrums were dealt with timeouts, he had to be down for a nap by 1:00 pm latest, so he would be up in time and would have finished his snack by the time when I got home. No more than 3 hours of nap, lest he give trouble sleeping at night.
If Chip gave a hard time eating, I could simply tell by looking at Alem’s troubled face. If he came down with a cold, Alem would be holding Chip in her arms and reading from the Bible to him all day.
“It’s just a cold. He will be up soon.” I would say.
“Look at him, poor boy, poor boy.” She would cry out. “He is just lying in my arms, not saying anything.” Chip would lie limp in her arms all day; on some really bad days she would barely be able to eat lunch because Chip simply would not let her go.
“Why didn’t you call me? I would have come right away.” I would say.
“No problem, no problem. I will eat now. I am his grandmother. He wasn’t getting any worse. I was not worried.” She monitored his temperature every hour, jotted it down and gave him Tylenol. I never had to worry. She knew how to administer the inhaler when Chip had asthma, her second son was an asthmatic child. Checked for egg content even on jars of peanuts and bags of chips (thats how we found some chips have egg yolk in their seasoning)
On a cold, blustery autumn evening last year, Alem showed me her family pictures. Her husband, her children, their house, their maid, their nanny. There was wistfulness in her eyes as she stroked the sepia toned pictures gently. Alem’s husband had been a doctor. “He was trained in Czechoslovakia.” What sort of a doctor? “Orthopedic... See? This is my nanny.” She pointed to a young girl with a scarf wrapped around her head. “She was with me for 12 years until all the children went to school. She then got married.” Alem’s husband had been shot. Just like that. Some thug walked in his clinic one morning and pumped bullets in him. They had found the man, a trial followed and he was convicted. They had suspected a tribal rivalry, but that was never proven. She had decided to seek asylum after visiting the US twice. “My children have no future there. There are no jobs. Young men get into crime, do drugs, rob and steal. I come here for them.”
Just after Easter this year, Alem arranged for Chip, BigGeek and me to receive a special blessing at her church. BigGeek could not get the blessing, there was no parking to be found for ten blocks and he had parked a mile away. When we let her go a month later, I had a hard time doing it. I practiced for many days. How I would say it? When would I say it? She had looked after Chip like one of the family. Bought him presents -a huge stuffed dog, traditional Ethiopian kurta-pajama, a sweater, a pair of socks and bought me presents too -a traditional Ethiopian dress, a wallet, two pairs of earrings, a nice red top for Christmas. Despite my protests and threats. “You are family.” She would say.
We were very sorry to let her go. I wish we could have afforded to have her and send Chip to school, but that would have stretched our finances a fair bit. So school for Chip it was. I told her many of my friends will hire her in a second. She said yes at first, but the next day declined. She said it would be impossible for her to be a live-in nanny again. I wanted to know why. My friends would have paid her more than what I did. She hesitated and the said, “DM, people don’t invite nannies to eat at their table. After living here, I don’t think I would be able to live with anyone else. This is family.”
I am still in touch with Alem. She works two jobs- one at a 7-11 and one at a shoe store. I need to call her and see if she wants to do lunch some weekend.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Nanny #1 and Nanny #2