Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Begging and Shopping

I had to leave the compound yesterday afternoon to go do some shopping. If I’ve not said it before, let me say it now: I hate shopping in this country. Hate. It. Forget purchasing clothing in The Sandbox. There are no dressing rooms so you can’t try anything on and the malls, unless someone will take you to a broom closet, and unless you’re shopping for clothes, there’s really no sense going to the mall because they are filled with mostly clothing stores. But I wasn’t shopping for clothing. I needed a pair of silver shoes to go with this dress which I am wearing to a friend’s wedding on Valentine’s Day. And I was shopping for a wedding gift. I already know what I want and need to get for a gift, and of course, couldn’t find it.

Let’s make things difficult enough that women can’t drive in The Sandbox, so you know you have to have a driver to go anywhere. Occasionally my husband will take me shopping but he would rather crawl across shards of glass on his knees on pavement in 120 degree sun than take me to the mall. So, I had a driver for this particular outing. But to make it more fun, let’s close everything from mid-day prayer, which is at 11:54 in the morning right now, until late afternoon, when everything opens back up around 4 o’clock. So, at 3:45 I got into the car and headed downtown and did find some silver shoes, which I’m not thrilled about, but which will suffice, which I paid too much for, because I doubt I will ever wear them again, unless I wear the dress to some other function, and I guess that is always a possibility.

Not a single “wedding gift” in the entire Dhahran Mall, or that is to say, not what I was looking for. But a gazillion people milling about – hordes of women dressed head-to-toe in black, and throngs of men sitting at the Starbucks and other coffee shops all playing with their mobiles and smoking, and army upon army of little kids – armies of them, I tell ya’. And let me tell you that most of these little armies of kids were all running around, being unruly and unsupervised, and totally oblivious to shoppers trying to walk peacefully and safely through the mall areas. I saw only a few people actually purchase anything, and even then, it was more Westerner’s purchasing than locals. I don’t know how so many malls here are supported, and just like anywhere else, I guess, shops come and go without notice, but going to the malls here are actually a social event for families whereas I go there to shop and socialize elsewhere. It was a royal pain in the ass is what it was and by the time I got in and out it was prayer time again!

So I told my driver to take me to Tamimi and that I would just wait until after prayer so I could go ahead and finish shopping without having to go back out later. I knew it wouldn’t take all that long to do my grocery shopping, and it didn’t. The little guy – an imported worker from another third world country – bagged my groceries and pushed the cart out to my waiting car – I think they look for Westerners – knowing that they are going to get a small tip and I don’t mind giving a little something for this service. These little guys make nothing for monthly wages and we all know that bagging groceries or pushing a cart outside to unload into a waiting car is far beneath the local’s who wouldn’t do it even if they were paid hundreds of Riyals a day.

What really pissed me off though was that we had to wheel around the outside area of the grocery store because there were a half dozen “black figures” and a bunch of little kids all sitting directly in front of the doors as you exit holding out their hands begging. Not a single, “Please Ma’am, I am hungry, could you spare a Riyal or two,” and not any indication that the “black figures” were actually women and not men. Begging is big “business” in The Sandbox and it is common to have little children running to your car at the stoplights holding out their hands –supposedly it’s not allowed and they are “working” to curb the beggars, but whatever officials are supposed to be in charge of stopping this practice don’t seem to take much notice of it and so the begging continues.

So the little guy wheels through the maze of “black figured” obstacles to get to the car, and he’s putting my bags into the trunk and this one “black figure” who looks very, very obviously pregnant keeps thrusting her hand into my face – she won’t get out of the way – my way or the guy who is unloading my groceries – and she’s not saying anything, so for all I know it’s a man with a round beach ball under the black robe. This particular “black figure” has everything covered – the full face covering, and gloves – no skin peeking through anywhere that would maybe give someone a clue as to whether or not it really was a woman or if it was a man. Even as I got into the back seat and shut the door, she’s still right there, and as I lock the door she’s still holding her hand out. And just as the driver gets ready to back out of our parking space the woman lunges toward a toddler – maybe two or three years old – who is just about to run behind the car as we are backing out. The little girl was dressed to the nines – she had a dress on, tights, little buckle shoes, ribbons in her hair and a light pink parka with a hood.

So, wait, here’s what looks like a pregnant woman about to pop hanging out in front of the grocery store and following me to my car and not willing to get out of my face with her two or three-year old in tow begging with her and the little kid is dressed up in an impeccable, adorable, little outfit. What kind of scam is this?!? I’m all for helping those truly in need, but being harassed like this is going one step to far as far as I’m concerned. And if you are truly an unfortunate sole and in need, trust me, your child isn’t dressed up like this little girl is! By the way, where’s your husband, if you really are a pregnant woman about to give birth, that he’s not supporting you?!?

Here’s a tip for you, “black figure” holding your hand in my face! Just because you’re about to hatch another urchin, perhaps you should have married someone other than your lazy first cousin who’s decided that bagging groceries and unloading them into a car is work far below his status [in his own mind, that is] and perhaps if you can’t afford to feed that adorably dressed little toddler with you that you should have taken some sort of precaution to make sure you’re not faced with a second mouth to feed.

I’m going to be sure to complain to management next time I’m at the store about the growing number of beggars that are allowed to hover right at the doors as you are coming out making it about impossible for you and the little guy pushing the cart to get to your car. If these beggars are truly hungry and deserving of some sort of assistance there are places where they can go, but it’s not to my car with me!

Houseboy No. 14 – You’re Fired!

[Note: I wrote this on Friday, 8 February 2008.]

I am so angry I could spit nails. No. Wait. I am spitting. I’m muttering and I’m cursing. And, I’m reciting over and over what I am going to tell the houseboy when he shows up on Sunday. If Friday wasn’t his only day off, here on our compound, I’d be calling him right now, telling him to get his sorry butt over here and would probably end up saying things I’d regret later. Or, maybe not. Tomorrow he doesn’t work for me, but he is here, and we may well end up having a little “get together, I’m in your face and if you want to continue working for me you better not, ever, ever, again do things you have been told NOT to do!”

We left The Sandbox last week for a week long vacation in Petra and Amman, Jordan. And, I’ll post on that incredibly awesome experience after this post. I left specific instructions with our houseboy – in writing, no less, and yes, he does read English. The instructions included only the most basic of duties which I expected him to be responsible for and left contact numbers and emergency numbers for contacting someone here if he ran into trouble with maintenance issues. The ONLY duties he was responsible for, over and above his regular duties: bringing in both newspapers every day; opening and shutting blinds so that looked as if someone was here, and leaving different lights on; making sure that the house was completely locked up – all doors and all three outside gates. Pretty damn simple. He read my list the morning he was here prior to our leaving and said he understood. I went over it with him, item by item, and pointed out which lights to turn on and off.

The duties I assign to my houseboys are, naturally, ones I have chosen which I do not care to do. I will do them if I have to; I have done them, for the most part, for all my adult life before we had a once-a-week housekeeper in the States and before I arrived in The Sandbox where you live in the land of “houseboys.” I expect my houseboy to wash the floors – I have a machine that does this – and one houseboy sometime ago broke the first one so now, if my new one gets broken I threaten to beat whoever is responsible for breaking it. It may be a pain in the ass to use, but it does a thorough job, and this IS how I insist that my floors be cleaned. I want my bathrooms cleaned – we’ve downsized since moving from the townhouse to a house and have only two now instead of three. I have never just said “Go clean the bathroom,” but instead have taken time – many, many times – to show each houseboy that hasn’t been able to “cut the mustard” so far how I want the bathrooms cleaned. I expect my leather furniture to be cleaned with the products I provide. I want my furniture dusted with a particular polish and DO NOT let me catch you placing a can of polish on the wood furniture – you put it on the floor or on the glass table or keep it in your pocket – but DO NOT put it on my furniture. I expect the carpeted areas to be vacuumed, and yes, I expect that you will take the edger to the floors once in a while – and more often than once every three or four months. The windows need to be cleaned and even though Windex comes in a spray bottle and is easier to use with paper towels than using a bucket and some ammonia, a squeegee and old newspapers, that is how I want my windows done and this is my house and I make the rules about how I want things cleaned, so really, it’s not an option for you. There are some other relatively basic cleaning chores that are included, but the current houseboy comes four days a week from eight o’clock in the morning until one o’clock in the afternoon so I do not feel as though my expectations for accomplishing these tasks are unreasonable.

As for the rest of the household duties, I will take care of them. I do not expect you to make the bed every day – this is something I usually do and don’t mind doing. It’s done my way, which as far as I’m concerned is the ONLY way, in MY house. My current houseboy tries to get to the bedroom before I can in the morning – as my husband doesn’t get up as early as I do – and he’ll insist that he make the bed. I have had to correct him a half dozen times as to how I want my blankets pulled up, which side of the bedspread I want [it’s reversible – basic flowers on one side, stripes on the other – it’s a cheapie and you get what you pay for – so basically it’s a piece of crap and looks like one, but I have two Kids who sleep on the bed – so there’s no way I’m spending a couple hundred dollars on a bedspread that I replace every six or nine months]. I want it on the flowered side and NOT the striped side. I make this decision. Don’t make me tell you again, damn it!

With the exception of large dinner parties or parties, I do the dishes. Yes, I am fussy about how my dishes are done, and there is certain glass wear – my crystal, for example, which I do not put in the dishwasher, but do by hand, and I’ll do it myself because if something is going to get broke – I want to be the one who does it. I do not want my dishes done by hand – no one will ever be as fussy as I am about it, and I will use water hot enough to take the skin off your hands if I have to do them by hand – most of what we own can go right in the dishwasher – and yes, I am of the old school in this regard and rinse everything clean before it goes into the dishwasher. My pots and pans, I do wash by hand, as well as my Henkel knives. Sometime quite shortly after the current houseboy just started working for me I heard this noise coming from the kitchen and walked out to find that he had emptied my silver wear drawer into the sink and was hand-washing all of it. “What are you doing?!?” “I am cleaning the silver wear, Madam, so that it doesn’t smell.” “WHAT?!!” Ahh, silver wear doesn’t smell, and if it smells like anything, it smells like lemon from the dishwasher soap. So, oh no, you’re not. Put every piece of it into the dishwasher right now and don’t ever let me see you do this again. Unless I tell you to do something like this – your duties do not include making these types of decisions on your own. Good grief. What would possess someone to think they had this kind of authority in someone else’s house? Am I wrong on this? No. This is my house.

Do not ever, and let me repeat this loud and clear, DO NOT EVER touch my laundry. I do the laundry. I have a system. It may seem anal to many, it may seem like a process which could be simplified – but I don’t think so – and I am way, way, way too fussy for “you” [houseboy] to ever be able to do my laundry to my expectations. All whites with bleach get done first – in hot water, with warm water rinse. All delicate whites without bleach get done next – this prevents something with colors being put in the next load and getting bleach spots – something I have learned with experience over the years. Then the tans and light colors get done. Then the light blues and grays get done. Greens can be included with the darker blues. Jeans are done separately, inside out, in warm water. Browns and blacks can be done together – in cold water, only. My sweaters get done in special laundry bags on delicate and I lay them flat to dry on a special dryer that I have that fits over the tub. My underwear is all done in warm – with the exception, of course, of some special pieces that are colored, and I hang it to dry. I fold everything as soon as the dryer beeps at me so nothing lays in there to become a wrinkled mess. I hang things that many people probably don’t, but that’s my choice. I hang things going ONE direction only. I have heavy-duty plastic hangers for some of my DH’s shirts because they are big and bend the regular plastic hangers out of shape. My DH’s hangers are all white. My hangers are purple and lavender. ALL pants are on wooden hangers. My closets are organized by long-sleeves and all colors grouped together; short-sleeves and all colors grouped together; ditto for pants and everything else. The flimsy wire hangers that the cleaners sends back to us I immediately remove, and replace whatever clothing we’ve gotten back from the cleaners onto their respective plastic or wooden hangers going the “right” direction – the cleaner’s places all pants on those flimsy wire and cardboard bottomed hangers backwards so I take care of this. I fold tee-shirts in thirds; I fold socks in half and then in half again and the sock drawers are organized by size and colors with all of the heels lined up – I never, ever fold socks inside one another cuffing one over the next. I fold underwear in thirds. I can fold king-size fitted sheets in such perfect squares that they could be put back into the packaging that they came in – along with the flat sheet and four pillow cases. My towels are folded in thirds – always the same direction – all towels – bath towels, dish towels, etc., and they too, are organized by color. I don’t deviate. Ever.

So, as I said, last week were away and I expected that I’d come home to a dusted house, vacuumed carpets, clean tile floors and clean bathrooms, along with clean leather furniture – my living room set is leather – my Boy often naps there and moves from the chair to the couch to the loveseat – it needs to be cleaned, often. [The Baby is not allowed on the furniture. She thinks it is a play surface and is not nearly as gentle on it as The Boy.] Blah, blah, blah. I expected that the houseboy would fulfill his usual duties and take care of a couple of additional – simple – responsibilities.

The morning we were leaving while I’m going over his additional tasks with him, and as I was finishing getting ready the dryer buzzed and I said, “Do me a favor, just fold this stuff for me, and I’ll take care of it when I get home.” The Houseboy and I have already had a discussion about laundry – one day while I was out walking The Kids – the dryer had gone off and the houseboy not only folded that load, but took wet clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer and had started another wash load on his own. Suffice it to say that my conversation with him was very, very clear, and he was told in no uncertain terms that he was NEVER, EVER to touch my laundry again, and that he would be all finished here if he did. So, I probably made a grave mistake in judgment by asking him to fold ONE load of dry laundry. There was no wash in the washer that was ready to go into the dryer – I didn’t expect him to do anymore than fold what was dry so that I didn’t have a wrinkled mess – and yes, the laundry basked contained a couple of loads of darks still to be done – but which, as far as I’m concerned, could wait until we returned. At the bottom of the laundry basket was a tan pair of sweat pants and matching jacket that were covered in wine – red wine – that I needed to use special stain remover on and take care of to try to save.

Apparently I wasn’t quite clear enough with some of my “extra” instructions, and apparently I wasn’t quite clear enough with my earlier instructions that my houseboy should never ever touch my laundry. We came into a dark house – not a single light on – not over the stove, not in the hallway, no where. Imagine my surprise when I turned on the light in the dining room and saw laundry hanging all over – on hangers – wire hangers, along with plastic hangers, but in a hodgepodge fashion – my DH’s golf shirts on my lavender hangers, and my tee-shirts on heavy-duty white hangers, and sweatshirts – yes, sweatshirts – on wire hangers. I truly wish I’d have taken a picture of this because I was stunned! And I was furious. The houseboy must have been incredibly bored without us to pick up after and no Kids to clean up after because he ironed EVERYTHING we owned except socks and underwear. Every single tee-shirt I own was ironed, as well all my sweatshirts. Who irons tee-shirts and sweatshirts?!? Sitting on the table, all folded, was my tan sweat suit – which was washed – with NO pre-treatment whatsoever – and dried!!! It is permanently ruined. It might have had a chance, and I might have been able to save it. Not now. No, instead I can use a hundred dollars sweat suit – which I only wore once, by the way – as cleaning rags. And, I will have to spend several hours putting in the proper hangers to the clothing and re-hanging it in its proper place. Not only had he done this, but there were three boxes of Christmas ornaments still in the corner of the living room which I hadn’t packed up and put away because I was out of white tissue paper and wanted to get more before I finished this chore. They were gone from the living room and no where else in the house so it was easy to presume he’d taken them to the garage even though for several weeks I have told him not to touch them, that I would take care of them, and that he would just have to clean around them. The bedspread wasn’t on the bed in the bedroom – where the hell is it? Oh, that’s what in that green garbage bag sitting next to the washer. Did I tell him take the bedspread off? No.

The houseboy showed up the next morning – an hour late – and was at the house when I returned from picking The Kids up from “canine camp” [the kennel where they stay when we’re gone]. I told him that while appreciated that he had tried to help that I was not happy that he had taken care of things I had told him not to, that I wasn’t in the mood to go over everything and that he should take the next couple days off and I’d talk to him on Sunday morning. He then had the audacity to ask me why I hadn’t called him when we returned to tell him we were home and I told him that I had left the information about our returning for him and that I didn’t think that it was necessary that I have to check in with him, nor did I think it appropriate that he even ask me to and that if something had happened and if we had missed a flight we would have called him. Not enough, that I’m furious at him for doing things he’s been told not to, for making decisions about packing up the rest of the Christmas things – he said he wrapped them carefully in two “Kleenex” tissues each – and then taped the boxes for me and took them to the garage – but now he wants me to call and check in with him? Oh. No. I don’t think so. And finally, he asked me if he should take the bedspread to the cleaner’s – because he has determined that it is dirty. No. The bedspread is a cheap piece of crap that has to be washed in the washer and hung to dry or it will be ruined more than it’s already ruined. It can’t even be ironed – it’s that kind of cheap material – and it will take the print off of it. And, by the way, it looks dirty because it’s been washed a few too many times and I have two Kids who sleep on it all the time – and it’s usually covered with a sheet which I replace every other day or so. And, even if it is filthy, and covered with crap, it isn’t your decision to make whether or not it needs to be cleaned. Thanks, but I’ll decide.

My dilemma is that I want so bad to fire his ass on Sunday morning because I am so, so, so furious that he somewhere along the way – he’s only worked for me for about four months – decided that he should be the one who takes care of this household and that my decisions are questionable in his opinion and that he has some authority to override them – but I am leaving for a three week trip to the States in only eleven days and just don’t have the time or inclination right now to have to get a new houseboy and train him before I leave. My DH will be here with the Kids and although DH can take care of doing his own laundry and his own dishes and [occasionally] making the bed, I do not expect him to be dusting, cleaning the leather furniture, washing the floors or cleaning a bathroom. Already I’ve gone through numerous houseboys because they all seem to have difficulty with this being my house and my rules. Every time we get a new houseboy friends start pools to see how long he will last. And, this isn’t a topic my DH even likes to discuss with me, at this point, because it’s been ongoing for five years, now.

Alright, apologize for the rant. This isn’t over. And, I guess, I’ve made my decision now that I’ve addressed it head-on. “Houseboy No. 14, you’re fired.”
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