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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.)