For our first nine months in Bim we were lucky to have the most phenomenal woman, Di, help us. (And no – I don’t know why it’s called Bim either. Everyone I ask says “it jus’ name so” or "cause it ah little England"). Di was the backbone of our household and without her we would not have had such a smooth transition from cold to hot. When her leave expired in September 2007, nothing could persuade the authorities to give her an extension. This is not unusual. Di is Guyanese, the Guyanese are generally poor, and in the Caribbean region everyone treats the Guyanese badly. If you are poor, Guyanese, and a woman, only divine intervention will stop you being screwed over. When the immigration officer looked at Di he saw only another “unskilled worker” taking jobs away from skilled citizens. With Di denied leave to remain we were forced to test the immigration officer’s theory. Did Di take away a job that the good citizens of Bim had wanted for themselves?
But first we said a very tearful goodbye to Di. Jack, the puppy she nurtured like a proper baby, came to the airport to say goodbye. It was not a pretty sight – a Jack Russell weeping. Even The Husband was sobbing quietly - although I suspect that had more to do with the prospect of eating my cooking, rather than Di’s superb Banga Mary fish curry, dhal and steamed basmati rice. But, stiff upper lip and all that, we started the search for Di’s replacement.
We are lucky because my parents live about ten minutes away and always help in spite of their own busy lives. And they find us other help too. Andre is the first gem who comes via mom’s office. He is now a fixture in our household as football coach, gardener, babysitter, window cleaner, chauffeur, general fix-it man and Sudoku consultant. He even does life coaching (“Ingrid go to your studio and do some work. Now. Please.”). Eucilda, a wonderful lady, married to “ah lazy, wutless man” (her description of the gentleman, not mine), and my parents’ helper of many years, joggles cleaning our place between her regular gigs even though this means giving up her one precious, free day.
But this piecemeal help cannot sustain working parents and energetic seven-year old lads. The next potential Di replacement never made it pass the interview. To be precise - she never made it pass our front gate. On the telephone she kept asking if I was the radio announcer who sometimes came on before the social commentator, Market Vendor. I assured her I was not but she persisted. Maybe I just have a radio kind of voice I suggested finally. She is unconvinced. But, radio career aside, we agreed to meet at the bus stop opposite Queen’s College at 9am.
It is a 2-minute drive from the bus stop to the house and she is pleasant enough. As we drove in I pointed out the side gate that is easier for pedestrian use. Naturally we also don’t want Jack to escape into the mad parish of St. James because of our open gate. She froze.
“Yuh have dog?” she asks, her eyes widening to the size of side pates.
“A tiny puppy. Don’t worry if he jumps up a bit at first. He’s just being friendly. He won’t bite I promise.”
“Madam, what is yuh name again?”
“Mrs. Ingrid I kant wuk for yuh if yuh have dog. I did turn down ah white lady last week that wanted me to works fuh she - because she have dog. I bare fraid dog. Madam, I tink I did born fraiding dog. Never mind you say it little and doh bite. It have teet? Well, if it have teet, it go bite. Dog is dog. Me eh coming out de car while it have dog in dis yard.”
And with an air of finality she folded her arms and sunk deep into the car seat. So, I drove her back to the bus stop.
The “interview” had lasted 3 minutes and 25 seconds.
I gave her some money for her wasted day. She squeezed my hand. “Yuh is a nice lady. How yuh forget to tell me yuh have dog? Next time tell people yuh have dog.” With that she opened the door. Suddenly she stopped. “Yuh sure you eh de lady on de radio?” she asks. I reassure her I am not and say a silent thank you to the universe for our mutual parting.
Our search then moved to the epicentre of Bajan society – the church. Not exactly our personal place of worship I might add. The Husband is agnostic – he can’t help taking out an option, even where the afterlife is concerned. I am an atheist, and yes, I know I am going straight to hell, and yes, of course I’ll save you a seat by the big bonfire. But these are desperate times. We forget high principle and beg every Churchgoer we know to put in a good word for us whenever they are out listening to the Good Word. And the heavens have responded - albeit in mysterious ways.
Miss. H. came via earth’s Jehovah’s Witness network. Now my maternal grandmother, a religious tourist, is currently on an extended cruise with the Trinidadian Jehovah crew. If you slip in that you are related to the J.W. brotherhood you automatically get a little vicarious holiness, as in, you can’t possibly be the total Jezebel you seem since your granny is one of us.
Miss H. is willing and competent enough. But, how do I put this in a politically acceptable way? Okay, sue me, but the woman smelt. This was no little whiff that Lady Stick might eliminate. We are talking major body odour. Her fumes had us lighting Diptyque candles, burning incense and essential oils and, on one particularly pongy day, wearing facemasks, SARS-style, even after she had vacated the premises. We tried to make it work – honest we tried. But, by day 5, we were forced to concede defeat-by-noxious-smell. The Husband gave her a month’s wages and said we were going “off island”. If sailing a catamaran for five hours, up and down the west coast qualifies, then yes, we did indeed go “off island”. Sailing provided much needed respite, and, gave Parson’s Pest Control, and Caribbean Industrial Cleaners, time to do all within their chemical power to remove Miss H.’s special presence from our lives. Despite these measures whenever the wind blows in a certain direction I swear I still get a whiff of Miss.H.
And so the search continues. Two others have turned us down on the grounds that “we have dog”. Another said we (read The Husband) “sounded white on the phone” but of course when she turned up we were a family of four, short, brown people. Even the dog is brown. She explained, no offence, but she preferred to work for white folks because, quote, “they nicer… does wuk in the Peace Corps…and pays better”. I have no Peace Corps experience but I have checked and I am offering well above the average wage that my fairer sisters are paying. It is sad but this woman’s frontal lobe damage is keeping her at minimum wage.
But things are looking up. Eucilda has suggested her younger sister, Velma, may be interested. We have met Velma and she and Jack had an instant love thing. The kids say she is “cool” but they miss Di and will not give their affection easily. But Velma knows the route to a young man’s hearts is via the stomach and has made them her special macaroni cheese and stewed chicken. The Husband likes her because, (a) she meets his exacting standards for the ironing of his shirts – hallaluyeh; and (b) she takes a strict view of gender roles and never pesters him about household issues. I like her because, (a) she meets his exacting standards for the ironing of his shirts – hallaluyeh; (b) she does her thing well, so I get to do my thing without worry or guilt; and (c) we both love Tanya Stephens’ music - respect fuh de bare poetry ah dis Jamaican gal.
Fingers and toes crossed Velma takes up our job offer and becomes a more permanent part of the Persaud household.