This is our second expat assignment, and our first where we have been offered the services of a driver and maid. Here in Luanda, a driver is a necessity, as it is not safe to walk anywhere, except a small area along the waterfront called the Marginal. The maid service is purely a luxury, one which I have not had for many years. Truth be told, I have always preferred to clean my own house, mostly because I’m a bit of a neat-freak and usually wind up cleaning behind the maid. But, twist-my-arm, I will suffer through having a maid while I am here. Poor me, right?
If I had to sum up Luanda in one phrase, it would be the verb “to wait”. The simplest tasks take an inconceivable amount of time to complete here. My driver has the patience of someone who has dealt with this waiting every day of his life. Even now, his job is to wait – for me. He sits in his car all day, waiting for a call from me or my husband, asking to be driven somewhere. On our way to wherever we are going, there will be traffic – crazy traffic. Drivers squeeze their cars in front of one another with no regard for any rules. We creep along, inches at a time. More waiting. When we get where we are going, again my driver waits in the car. Is he bored by all of this waiting? Not visibly. He appears to be perfectly content to pass the hours in the car. From what I have seen, he considers this a good job and is thankful to have it.
He is not unique in his attitude. No one here seems the least bit unnerved by waiting ridiculous amounts of time for just about everything. In the US, I can open a bank account and have a debit card in my hand in about an hour. Here, we have been working on opening an account for about two months! Aargh! More waiting. I will surely have a stroke if I don’t just accept the pace of life here! Patience is a virtue I clearly do not possess.
In Portuguese, the verb “to wait” is “de esperar”. This also means “to hope”. Somewhat ironically, my driver’s wife is named Esperanza. What does she hope for? Perhaps she hopes for the same things I do: happy children, health for my loved ones, and good friends. More likely, her hopes are for everyday things I take for granted: food on the table for her family and a roof over their heads. Being surrounded by good people just doing their best to make ends meet, well…it sure makes my problems seem small.
My maid is another example of this patience and acceptance. As young and pretty as she is, I can only imagine how different her life would be, if she had been born in the US or any other western nation. With small children to take care of and no husband to help her, life is incredibly hard. She needs this job to feed her family. When I came home the other day, she was sitting in my tiny hall closet, waiting for the dryer to be finished so she could fold the clothes before she left. I was appalled! Of course, I immediately told her it was perfectly fine for her to sit at the table, and I served her a piece of cake to make my point. It was such a strange feeling to walk in and find her sitting there in that dark closet, full of cleaning supplies and wet clothing. Even now, the picture is still fresh in my mind.
Dealing with “staff” is a new thing for me. Obviously, it is also one that makes me a bit uncomfortable. One thought has stuck in my head ever since I saw my maid in that closet: but for my fortunate birth, I could very easily have been in her place.
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