You Can Reach Me By….

Image It was Girl’s Night, the first of the new year. Most of us have made it back from our holiday travels, and we were reuniting at a friend’s house to meet her visiting mom, who could probably successfully pursue a career in standup right now. There was lots of laughter, animated stories, tabloid gossip, the Beyoncé discussion (which I’ll reference in another upcoming post), chicken and waffles, and of course wine. (Wine seems to be the standard ticket of entry for all Singaporean household functions. Maybe it’s more about the status shift rather than the location.) Image

Whenever we get together, I temporarily forget where we are. It just feels normal and like home. It almost feels like college again, but without hotplates and with a much earlier bedtime. Being around the friends we’ve made here has been the greatest gift from moving, you know aside from the change in lifestyle. 

My mom called. I hadn’t been able to reach her all week, so I was delighted and I excused myself for a moment. It was almost like I thought by answering, I was inviting her into the fellowship. We both love entertaining and being in good company. I answered blithely, but quickly became worried. 

She’s been sick; just released from the hospital. Yet, she began the conversation with words of flattery for a new gift I just received from my husband. “It’s so beautiful! You deserve it. I’m so happy for you,” she remarked. You’d think she was speaking of something far more valuable than a material object, but my mom personally enjoys when all of her children are “rewarded” in some way. 

She asked if I was busy, as though I’d ever say “yes” or be too busy to talk (once I’ve actually answered the phone), especially when there’s a 13-hour time difference. Whenever she asks this, whenever she overly expresses her consideration of my time or resources, I know she wants to share something important with me or she needs something, but doesn’t want to ask. I wish she knew by now that she could ask me for anything, except my child, and it’d be hers. She actually has asked for my child. 

After convincing her that I could talk despite my location, she goes on to tell me how there was a quite a scare in her health and she has a condition that puzzles every physician she’s seen. There’s no known cure, but “there’s no Cancer!” For a Cancer survivor, the relief is always in the benign results regardless of any other diagnosis. I listen in silence and consternation because I don’t want my alarm and confusion about why I’m just being informed to interrupt her. I can already hear the reluctance in her voice to tell me, which she only felt obligated to do because she didn’t want me to hear the news from someone else. I thought of my father and siblings who were all instructed NOT to tell me anything. Though, my father did try by including me on a group text that was sent to my previous U.S. based phone number. God bless him for trying. 

After hearing all the details, I was somewhat satisfied that she had access to all she needed to head towards some type of recovery. I spoke calmly and assured her that I could be there if she needed me. I would do whatever she needed me to do. I always had and would. Distance had not changed that. I reiterated how much I wanted to remain included in the important discussions back home. And then,with the gregarious cachinnation in the background, I realized in her efforts to protect me, she was really asserting that I was becoming too far removed. In her mind, I was in a world living a life they hadn’t even imagined, and there was nothing I could do from afar. Any request, even one that would be extremely beneficial to her and inconsequential to me, would not be worth the inconvenience she thought it would cause or the disruption to my seemingly completely carefree and lavish new life. It’s neither, but the display is always best from the window. 

I was able to control the tremble of my voice on the phone, but began crying in solitude once we said our goodbyes. I couldn’t help thinking now of all the sacrifices that are made when people take leaps of faith to live outside the norm or outside of their home country. The distance it creates between you and your extended family, the milestones you miss, the family hardships where you can’t readily assist, the exclusion, the absence, the friends who find it too difficult to “keep in touch,” all come with the territory. There is no quick trip home. Packages and money take much longer to arrive when needed right away. Technology doesn’t connect in the way an arm’s embrace does. Image

Awareness of this, makes me all the more appreciative of Girl’s Night and moments like them. We bond over our need to remain tangibly connected to someone. For temporary windows in time, we can just reflect on the greatness of the experience and recreate the type of events home afforded us without dwelling on what it lacks. I said a prayer, rejoined the gathering, picked up my glass ,and tried to forget again.  

The Break

The Break

Sunday December 1, 2013 and Thursday January 9, 2014

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It felt like water breaking.

<Hi, my name is Talitha, and I can be dramatic.>

Though premature, they say it happens around three months, then again at six, this labor was intensive and the birth was full weight. I cried, wept until I was weak and my face and hands were drenched. Only silenced by my daughter’s gentle embrace, as though to say, “It’s ok. It’s all over now.”  I can only remember a few other occasions where this has happened; when I was so overcome with a range of emotions that they just broke through and tears violently flushed me.

I had the breakdown; the question everything, troubles seem to last always, pain comes through the mourning, ‘What the hell am I doing here (with oatmeal in my hair)’ breakdown! And, it paralyzed me. I couldn’t write about it. Hence, no blog posts. I couldn’t talk about it in depth to anyone, and I (still) couldn’t move around it.  I’ve just been moving through it; trying not to let it overshadow the incredible blessing and opportunities of being here with the uncertainty of the same.

For almost a year and half prior to that moment, we were assessing the notion of an international relocation, the shifting of my business, and the impact of uprooting and leaving our support system for a world unknown.  We were in “go” mode for about six months of that time, just moving, selling, packing, making lists, checking them off, & creating more. I was phasing out Black Girl Speaks in the U.S., preparing our daughter, and handling all of the remaining tedious tasks while living in a hotel after my husband moved a month before us. I believed in my husband and supported his ambitions wholeheartedly. I was excited about all this shift would bring. I was ecstatic about creating something new and greater in Asia. I wanted this as much for myself, as I did for him and our family. I was glossy-eyed and in love with the idea of being an expatriate.  And, the first two months proved to be an extended honeymoon of exotic new foods, amusing people, & cultural infusion.

                                                          Then,Image

I woke up one regular Thursday morning with the day’s agenda cycling through my mind as usual. My two-year-old was especially “busy” that morning: running, playing, hiding, throwing and hiding essential household objects. You know, being a toddler. I had just finished cleaning the kitchen to a spotless shine after serving breakfast to my family, while forgetting to eat myself, only to find a mix of oatmeal and Play Doh streaked throughout the house and all over the kibibi’s already-dressed-for-the day body.

 The Day’s Condensed To Do List:

  • -Throw 3 loads in the mini-machine
  • -{Insert: Give her a bath…again.}
  • -Get her dressed…again
  • -Keep her entertained, while I: Prepare snacks, books, toys for the day
  • -Dust every room & all the ceiling fans (face fear of heights)
  • -Vacuum
  • -Mop the floor
  • -Get a shower and get dressed
  •  -Then, teach. (Homeschooling)
  • -Get ready to travel for an hour to Chinese class (question necessity)
  •  -Prepare grocery list in transit
  • -Feed her in transit
  •  -Go grocery shopping
  • -Prepare dinner
  • -Play-date
  • Give her a bath and wash hair

Not one task on the list was directly for me, though my husband would argue that cleaning is a chore of choice because he’s far less concerned about the dust balls that would form a small army otherwise.  This picture was drastically different from the one I painted in my mind. And, certainly not the upgrade in lifestyle I was anticipating and as advertised by the mister. Image

I had idealized being a stay-at-home mom when I was in the states. I realized shortly after moving to Singapore, that I’m that other type of mom. There’s the primarily SAHM that can seemingly juggle it all and finds the majority of her joy and fulfillment in solely serving her family. Even if she works outside of the home, she is completely tied to her family, and only does so to benefit them in some way. That was my mother, and she was/is phenomenal in this role. It used to rattle me to recognize that I’m the type of mom that needs something external to fulfill me….everyday.  (See The Help(er) Part III). 

So, as mentioned, we decided to get the highly recommended help (which has been a necessity in maintaining sanity), but the breakdown was right before (the catalyst for) this decision.  The stress of actually finding assistance did not help my disposition either. My process was not ideal in the least. I’ll have to post separately about that.

In the midst of this emotional typhoon, I’ve met some wonderful people, traveled to some amazing countries, celebrated birthdays of loved ones and wedding anniversaries, started a business, and had more assistant (helper) drama than my share.  It’s been an eventful few months, and I’m finally ready to SPEAK about it. Stay tuned. 

The Help(er) Part III

Ok, so we’re getting a helper/maid, but that’ll be the last time I refer to her as such. My foreign domestic worker (FDW), which is the legal title of the position, will be called “Mae” for the purpose of this blog. 

It’s been two whole months now and so much has happened in the transition of my thoughts in the short time I’ve been here. (I know. I know. Either you “knew it,” “can’t believe it,” or you don’t care, which would make me wonder why you’re reading my blog.)  I haven’t had time to actually write about my evolution of thought and share it because my life is consumed with my new full-time roles.  I can’t fully explain it because I don’t fully understand it. But, something about living away from your norms makes it so much more difficult to complete the simplest tasks and manage marriage and motherhood while finding any sense of balance for yourself, which I NEED. 

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I used to read, write, meditate, pretend to exercise, enjoy my friends, and enjoy just myself. Now, literally from the time I open my eyes until the time they can’t stay open any longer, I’m serving someone else, or cooking something, or cleaning something, or running to get something, or doing something (mainly) for my husband or daughter. Of course, this is the typical life of a stay-at-home mom in the states or anywhere I suppose.  Yet, here, it’s not just time-consuming; it’s life controlling.  I’m not one of those SAHM that can juggle every task without a hitch and still find her Zen while looking like I stepped off a runway from Fashion Week. I’m more the “drop a few balls (or child) because I fell asleep while I was juggling, half-way to insane, looking like I’m almost stoned with blood shot eyes, but still rocking a smile for my baby” type. Image

I realized before I ever took on either role, that I could not solely be a wife and mother. I’m a better version of both when I have my own outlets, whether they are professional or recreational. My outlets, especially my sisters by blood and those I’ve adopted along the way, replenish me. I actually found a wonderful group of women here, I like to call it a sister circle, with similar interests that I’d love to see more often, but time is restricted. My life in this wonderful, engaging, beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime setting is restricted.  I’ve come to the, probably selfish, conclusion that my immediate need for balance, freedom, and my sanity is greater than my ability to completely shift the paradigm of Asian domestics and eradicate global poverty. My superpowers may be waning. Image

The S**t Hits the Fan

I like a clean home; this you know. The phrase “cleanliness is next to Godliness” was drilled into me all my childhood. My semi-controlling nature makes me take it to the next level because I also like things moderately organized. Everything has a place and should be there. If you ever see my space out of order or messy, I’m not completely well.  If you walked into my home now, you’d know I needed help. I still haven’t completely unpacked and I haven’t yet had every part of every room clean at the same time even once; just once is all I need to feel satisfied. This is tragic to me.

My husband, on the other dirty hand, is not concerned about this as much as he is about our (lack of) personal time together. As clean, and I use this term loosely here, as he is for a man (you know exactly what I mean), the dirt could sit down with him and have a conversation, but he still wouldn’t notice it. He’s also on a personal strike from doing all of the concretely delineated household domestic duties he did in the states. “When in Rome…,” he chimes.

He just wants to be able to live more spontaneously here. He wants to be able to whisk me away to Thailand or Malaysia or Bali for an extended weekend or just dinner on a Tuesday night without there having to be a conference call and bartering system set up to organize babysitting arrangements ahead of time. Under normal circumstances, this would excite me, but it just irritates me after a long exhausting day/week of entertaining and educating my kibibi.  When I realized his romance was my annoyance, I knew I had to do something. When I laid on my couch, (which finally just arrived), staring at the ceiling fan on my high vaulted ceilings that I’m too nervous to reach and noticed the fan looked like it was trimmed in something that I had eaten, digested, and excreted, I knew that something was a someone.

Help is On the Way

After countless conversations filled with advice and insight about the FDW process with other expat friends here and several referrals and interviews (that’ll have to be another post), I think we’ve found someone that would be a good fit for our family. Mae will be considered a transfer from a Chinese family here, where she’s been employed for over a year. There, I’m told, she was relegated to sleeping on the kitchen floor, rationed food portions, involuntary dietary restrictions, only one day off a month (the standard is one a week), and chastised for speaking to or even smiling at strangers when in public, which she could only frequent in the company of her employers.  Of course her lifestyle, as well as ours, would drastically change here. Plus, she has a sister that lives near us, which she would see often. Part of me feels like we’re actually helping her as well, but then I feel convicted about even feeling that way because I know my ancestors’ oppressors echoed the same sentiments. Ugh, historical context is a murky lens. I know. It’s not (quite) the same. We’ll see how this goes. I’ll keep you posted, now that I may have the time. (Please post any comments and inquiries directly on the blog so that I can compile them.) 

The Help(er) Part II (I’ve got a feeling this will have many parts.)

The Help(er) Part II

ImageHelp in Asia comes in the form of predominantly Filipino or Indonesian women from 16 (those who lie and say they’re 18) to about 50 who leave their homes, families, and support systems and come to live with you, strangers, to become yours.  They’re called “helpers.” Not maids, though they cook and clean your home to your liking. Not assistants, though they can be trained to assist you personally and professionally. Not nannies, though they care for, and in some households raise your children. They’re called “helpers” because they help with EVERYTHING. And, just about everybody has one, especially families with children.    

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When I first arrived, it was assumed that we had one already waiting for us. People were inviting us out for the evening, assuming we could leave our daughter with the help(er).  In fact, every week since we’ve been here, we’ve gotten multiple invitations to attend events that are not child-friendly with the thought that, “surely you have a helper by now.”  Wow, really? Really.

Before my husband and I made the move, we were made aware of this helper phenomenon and we agreed that it was not something we needed and it was too reminiscent to our ancestors’ plight. We just couldn’t take a woman from her family and expect her to live with us and serve us six days a week (most get at least one day off a week, but some only get one day off a month!), 24 hours a day under the guise that we’re giving her a better life because we’re freeing her of the criminal level of poverty in her home country. We would not be like the oppressors of our ancestors. We could handle and take care of ourselves. We’ve been doing it. This will be no different. Right? Right. We were on the same page. 

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Then, he moved here….first. All of a sudden, he was struggling to take care of himself by himself. By the time I got here, this man was convinced that the only way we could survive was by getting a helper. Remember the state of the home I walked into upon arrival. (See “Singapore Nice.”) And now, a month and change in, I’m torn about it.

It’s frustrating because I honestly can’t singly identify what’s so different about living here that makes me so much less productive during the day. I’m certainly not idle, but I just can’t get everything done, as it seemed I did in the states. That’s why these blog posts are so sporadic and infrequent. I’m always tired, and if it stays this way, we won’t be able to enjoy this incredible opportunity to its fullest.  Now, if we had moved to say Iowa, where we know no one, we still wouldn’t consider hiring a live-in maid/assistant/nanny. We’d just make do, and that would be that. But, we wouldn’t have Bali at our doorstep, or Thailand, or India, or all of Asia and many parts of Africa and Europe just a short and cheap flight away from us. We wouldn’t be living in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen with a thriving and romantic nightlife. And, for all intents and purposes, we’d still be “home” where everything would at least be somewhat familiar. I could find a Target or something akin to it. 

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Soooo, you see my dilemma? I need help, but I don’t want to play the role of the oppressor by any means.  I also don’t want to lose all of my privacy and the intimacy of my home. I mean what if I just want to walk around and clean my house in the nude on a Saturday morning? Sue Lynn or whomever will be right there ready to take my mop. And, it is MY mop and I am the Queen of MY house. Yeah, there’s all of that too. Clearly, I need help. What to do? (Please post any comments and inquiries on the blog so that I can receive them.)

 

 

The Help(er) Part I

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The Help(er) Part I

“It’s the best thing about living in Asia!” 

“Everyone has one. Just do it!” 

“You’ll never want to leave if you get one. They change your life!”

These are all statements that have repeatedly been echoed to me since we did completely change our lives enough as it is and move to Singapore.  All are sentiments shared about Asia’s norm, the hiring of a “helper.”

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ImageMy paternal grandmother, Big Mama, and great-grandmother cleaned the homes of affluent white families in Georgia, among several other jobs, to help provide for their families. They would leave before my father and his siblings awoke and return home close to or after their bedtimes. There, they would enforce the standards of maintaining an immaculate household, always reminding their children to honor their labor by respecting their home. My father can recall few memories of quality family moments with his parents from his childhood, which is why those he can are even more valuable. Yet, he certainly remembers their lessons of the importance of work ethic and respecting that which you do have.

By the time I was in elementary school, Big Mama and my granddad had turned this job into a small business and cleaned several offices after their official day jobs, with me alongside them emptying trash cans, dusting off desks, sharpening and stacking yellow number two pencils neatly in gray cups with the lead pointing up like a cylinder of slate needles. I remember thinking they must’ve been so important to have the keys and be able to enter these big buildings in the dusk of evening when no one else was there. It was like we were invisible. I remember being proud. I remember feeling accomplished. I remember them being exhausted. Image

It was later that I realized that their invisibility was not a superpower, but a necessity as to not upset the environment of those who employed them.  I also realized they didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did as a child. Much like the characters in the book and film, “The Help,” they did what they HAD to do, not what they wanted to do with their lives. Choice was not afforded to them, as it was not afforded to many of my ancestors. Tasks and jobs were done as a means of survival, not fulfillment.  

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My whole life’s work now is about helping others find what fulfills them through living with purpose. I motivate people all over the world to tap into their potential and seek to pursue their passions. I do this through my own multi-faceted company, while raising a child, educating her, and caring for my household. I’ve only been able to do this because of my grandparents’ and ancestors’ sacrifices and the assistance of those around me. In the states, it was possible to “do it all” with a support system of family and friends who were but a phone call away from being at my door step.  The convenience and accessibility to everything I needed and familiarity with home also has been a tremendous help in doing what I WANT to do.

Now, I live in Singapore; a country, but also on a continent I’ve never seen outside of a map, “National Geographic,” or “House Hunters International.”   Nothing is familiar or easily accessible by comparison. They have great shopping, efficient public transportation and all, but I mean they don’t have Target for goodness sakes! They don’t have one place that I can go that has a plethora of high quality products at reasonable prices. (hmmm, business opportunity) There’s Mustafa, the nine-story megastore connected by an overpass in Little India that sells everything from cereal to diamond tennis bracelets. But, I get lost in the store every time I go, the lines are always wrapped around the building, and the quality is not always the best. Cereal shouldn’t crawl in your bowl. 

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been overwhelmed with getting the house in order (still not done), managing my rambunctious toddler, normal everyday household duties (that require a full day to complete), exploring a new country, and figuring out what I’m going to do with my life while I’m here to maintain some sense of sanity.  We’ve met many new wonderful people, but there’s nothing like family or at least friends who are like family that you can trust to watch your little one while you say, use the toilet in peace. (She’s my shadow.) I recognize I need help.

(Please post any comments and inquiries on the blog so that I can receive them.) 

My Today is Your Tomorrow Part I

My Day is Your Tomorrow Part I

Sunday, August 25, 2013, 6:30 AM 

After four weeks in Singapore, I still don’t feel completely “home.” I honestly can’t tell you why or what that means exactly. It could be because I still have boxes packed with no sure place to unfurl or that as Westernized as it is, I’m still getting slapped in the face, (or literally nudged by passersby), with the reminders that I’m not “home.” I’m told this feeling is typical and actually will come in waves over the next year. The next year?!

Nothing you read or research can fully prepare you for living outside of your home country the first time, especially if the new country is literally on the other side of the world. So, yes I’m a little green. And, I tried to read it all: blog posts, books, news reports, the omniscient Wikipedia; I got my “Living in Singapore for Dummies” book and everything. Buuuuuuut, as soon as I stepped on that plane, which was really a four-star resort where the stewardesses dressed like they were graduates of the “Miss Asia Beauty and Charm School” while serving you lobster and turning down your bed (yes, bed on the plane), I knew I was in for more than I read. This was not Kansas anymore, (see “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” blog post).

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I literally time-traveled to get here and landed a day earlier than it was back home in Florida. When I called my parents upon arrival and really realized that they were still in yesterday, my whole “this isn’t really that big of a deal. People do this all the time. It’ll be just like moving within the states,” theory jumped off the roof. From there, the differences in how everything and everyone moves throughout the day continue to jolt me back to reality. On the surface, it looks very similar. It’s bright and sunny most of the time with chance thunderstorms that seem like the world is coming to an end for the ten minutes they last. Just like home. There are, surprisingly, a myriad of people (a beautiful mix of Chinese, Indian and Malaysian cultures, but LOTS of expats from everywhere) moving back and forth, coming and going in hurried or sluggish paces. Just like home. A plethora of tourists’ attractions, eateries, cultural activities, and enrichments are at your fingertips. Just – like – home.

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My daughter said, “mama, that’s Poo Poo,” when I cut this “dump”ling open for her.

Then, there’s everything else. They say, “the devil’s in the details.” And, if the devil is feeling like a nomad in a strange land, then the devil is in every ingredient in every dish I’ve eaten, every subway ride or walk I’ve taken, and every transaction I’ve made.

The food, that needs its own blog post (See “Fine Dining & Dirty Diving” coming soon), is anything but typical for me. The sticker shock alone will turn your stomach. But, once you’re passed the fact that you might as well leave them with your dominant hand when you pay, you have to get over the fact that you probably ate something that was alive ten minutes ago (freshness is a plus), but that you may not be certain of what that “something” is. Very few meals are completely identifiable by every ingredient. Even the rice and vegetables are typically cooked and mixed with “something.” When I ask, sometimes they just say, “meat” which I eat sparingly and selectively. Um, oooook. This is why I had some, let’s just say, issues the first two weeks. Thank God for a friend’s referral to “Yakult.”

One of the great differences about living in one of the most expensive cities in the world is that it is very clean and beautiful, in most spaces. Now, there are certainly beautiful landscapes back home, but I literally am surrounded by beauty and cleanliness, most of the time, here. I love opening our curtains every morning and just seeing litter-free greenery all around me. Even the air feels and looks cleaner, fresher. This is less about good home training and more due to the fact that the penalties for making a public mess are near unbearable. The government is less like Big Brother and more like, your crotchety older over-protective grandfather. Just see these mandates below cited from “www.hotelclub.com/blog/singapore-weird-laws,” (I told you I read the blogs):

           “1. It is against the law and a public caning offense to not flush the toilet after      using it. Again, that’s common sense, but in Singapore you might be getting a large fine for that, too, as the police officers randomly check on public checkrooms.

          2. You Litter You Pay-Big Time. A litter law dating from 1968 is the country’s way of keeping clean. Disregard the law, drop trash on the ground in this Southeast Asian city, and you’ll pay $1,000. On top of that you’ll also be forced to do community forced labor. And if you do it three times, you’ll have to wear a “I am a litter lout” sign. Along the same lines, it looks like Singapore has a law saying that relieving yourself in an elevator is particularly forbidden.  

           3. Chewing gum sales forbidden. if you had some garlic and on your way to a meeting or a date, you may be out of luck if you plan on having some chewing gum to get rid of the scent. Apparently Singapore prohibited the sale of gum after authorities have noticed a prolific amount of chewed gum being stuck in subway stations and on cars. As weird as it may sound, Singapore allows you to actually chew gum. Just make sure you stick it at the trash can, otherwise great fines apply.”

Now, I’ve personally seen several just down right nasty and disgusting bathrooms where it looked like they not only forgot to flush, but also forgot to aim. And, I’m talking about the women! So, I can’t vouch for number one, but the other two have me scurrying to pick up anything my daughter mistakenly drops on the ground and sucking on mints instead of the Trident gum I used to love. (See ending in Part II).

 

Singapore Nice

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One thing that has completely fallen below my expectations here in Singapore is the lack of quality customer service. I mean I wasn’t expecting full out red carpet treatment every time I patronized a business, but at these extortionist prices, at least a willingness to please, a smile, and “thank you.” Perhaps a, “Have a nice day,” while they handed you your plastic bag with the smiley face on it filled with 2 for 1 goodies was anticipated. I was definitely expecting efficiency and a desire or at least a readiness to satisfy the customer. But, I’ve gotten better service in the states from the 7-11, which they have here by the dozens.

The first encounter with this was with the cleaning service my husband hired to prepare the condo for me to really clean later. (I told you I could be a touch OCD).  Now, I have never hired a cleaning service before because I actually enjoy cleaning my own space for the most part, but when I first walked into our new home, it looked like a homeless person had been living there. (I recognize that these are clearly trivial “first-world” problems, but indulge me.) He, who arrived in Singapore a month before my daughter and I, had been living like it was the end of days. Trash and papers were strewn hither and yon. Furniture was displaced. Nothing had been wiped, swept, mopped, dusted, CLEANED! And, the hair…well, I told you about that. So, yes, someone had to do the preliminary stage of cleaning.

I took a nap to recover from jet lag with my daughter in her room, which I chose to clean myself, while two young women sounded like they were moving mountains to reface my home and bring it to its supreme level of spotlessness. I woke up ready to smell lemon zest and some hint of pine and see suds and janitorial supplies; if heaven had levels, this image would be one of them for me. I expected to see the “after” picture they show on any one of those HGTV specials. Imagine my surprise and confusion when no such transformation had taken place. It looked nearly the same as it had two hours prior.

Perhaps, they started in the back and they’re working their way forward I thought as I stumbled sleepily through the main hallway to our bedroom and en suite. “Nooooo, they haven’t cleaned in here.”  Hmmm, maybe they were scouring the newly unpacked pots and pans to rid them of traveling dust. It could be contaminated you know. “Noooooo, they haven’t cleaned the kitchen either.”  The condo isn’t that big, so then I thought they must’ve cleaned the wrong one.

I asked the elder of the two what they’d done. With a widespread smile and over-zealous nod she proudly boasted, “We finished now.” Huh?! I took her on a tour and asked if she had cleaned areas as I pointed to the dirt still stained there. Each time, she’d nod profusely, smile wide and say, “Yes!” Huh?!! “Did you wipe the counter?” “Yes!” “Did you sweep up all the hair I still see on the floor?”  “Yes!”

Was there a language or cultural barrier here? I had to do something we’d both understand: the proverbial white glove test. Symbolically, with my bare finger, I scrolled along the counter while locking eyes with her. I held up my grimy finger in the air without losing eye contact. She, still smiling, cut her eyes to the dirt then back at me, then back to the very visible dirt, then back at me, “You want me clean again?” “Yes!”  This exchange happened in every room.

I wanted to think this level of service was an isolated incident, but during my first week here, I experienced multiple interactions like this. From old clumpy nail polish and cold water being used instead of the hot I requested in my pedicure, to being overcharged for the wrong meal, to the grumbling soft pretzel lady actually trying to serve us the one she dropped before scolding us when we cancelled the order! No ma’am! “Where they do that at?” Singapore, and all with a wide smile, gentle nod, and teeth grinding, “Yes!”  

The thoughts and tales of black women, global citizens, and lovers of life despite its trials.

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