Sunday, June 3, 2007

Babysitting Blues

Our househelp babysits for us on occasion. Recently we have been out for a few things what with birthdays, anniversary and a teacher's party on Sat. We thought coming to Sri Lanka where everyone has a househelp, and domestic help is so cheap and readily available, that babysitting would be a cinch here.

Unfortunately because our hosuehelp is a Tamil, and even though it costs us only £1.50 for her to take a tuktuk home, she is afraid 1.) as a Tamil and 2.) as a woman, to go home that way at night. She gets harassed, is afraid she will be driven off down some dark lane. There is a shady underworld involvement of some tuktuk drivers and she doesn't trust them. And there are stories to corroborate this mistrust. So we take her home. At the end of our night out we drive the 12 km back to our suburb, pick her up and then I drive 12 km back into Colombo to take her home, then drive back again to my home.

It's hardly ideal. She keeps asking if I know anyone who would like a babysitter or could give her evening work. However this constraint means, as I explain to her, that few people would want to have to do this. I admit it is a real hassle but we know she appreciates the extra money and it helps her out. Seems a small price to pay.

W e have asked her to stay the night to solve this problem. However under this new Rajapakse government, she is subjected in her Tamil residential area to police raids at night or in the early hours, checking ID cards, searching houses at random, and without warning, but on a very regular basis. They check that who is listed as living there IS there and no one else and so on. So if she wants to stay the night with us, (which she does if I can give her enough warning), she has to go to the police station fill in a form and get permission. Reminds me of when I lived in Apartheid South Africa in 1988 under the State of emergency. Exactly the same racism, and restrictions on one ethnic group. Or perhaps here, it would be called 'profiling'.....

I get on very well with our hosuehelp. She's intelligent, interesting and very much her own person, not cowed or subservient despite the prejudices she suffers. However we differ as many Westerners here do with sri Lankans, on child rearing. Here you never leave a child to cry, the minute they so much as whimper, you pick them up. Even aged 3, when let's face it they know exactly what they are doing, you still let the child rule the roost. If they cry you pick them up adn give them whatever it is they want. She tells me she feels 'so sorry for A when she cries'

After our 'run' of nights out a pattern began to emerge. every single time we have come back, our 3 yr old has been up watching tv with Maheswary... even at midnight. She wa sfast asleep when we left... Maheswary has told us it's because A 'knows' we're going out, is unsettled and wakes ehrself up, or hears the gate opened. So we have gone out once she is alseep, we have left the car outside the gate. Nothing makes any difference.

It sounds terrible, but I have even begun to wonder if Maheswary wakes her up, as she does adore her, or goes in and checks her and talks to her, or something, because she never, never, never wakes when we are at home. A friend of mine here says that that is exactly what she used to do when she babysat as a teenager because she wanted always wanted to cuddle the babies.

Our daughter loves playing with her, but also knows exactly how to manipulate Maheswary. So last night I tried asking my daughter what happens each night. She said 'I wanted to get up and play' and 'I like watching tv with Maheswary'

She was in that half-asleep, yet conversationally lucid state and was one of those moments when you think you are having a lovely, sometimes amusing, cosy chat when your child is delightfully dozy, co-operative, quiet and generally adorable (in a way they just don't seem to be during the day...). But my daughter, being my daughter, landed me a reality check in the solar plexus when suddenly said 'Please go away Mummy, I need to sleep'. And there was me thinking at least I show her whose boss, and don't let her run rings round me like Maheswary does. I obediently crept out of the room. She had a point after all......

Maheswary also insists on staying up till we get back (in the same way that she insists on changing into her 'work' dress even when only babysitting) but her solution suggested yesterday completely threw me. She asked if she could sleep on the floor between the children's beds. So then she wd hear them cry or if there was a problem. I said 'you can't possibly sleep on the floor' not only because it was, well, the floor, but also mindful of the black rat she herself had beaten to death with a broom when we were away, in that very room, and the large cockroach I had squished only that morning. She said 'but I always sleep on the floor at home' .....

But I said we weren't happy with that idea (never mind what the children wd have thought) I said she had to sleep in the guest room with its double bed, a/c, mosquito net and private bathroom......... Weird thing cultural differences.

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