“Hard to get good help these days,” I remember Lola Enchay complaining, and Mom and aunts, too, later in their time. Now, in the autumn of my years, I’m hearing it again from my own peers.
Actually, it’s the good ones we have outlasted who are hard to replace, which is not to say we didn’t get good help. In fact, every generation going as far back as Lola’s has been favored with efficient and dedicated help; only, they, too, age and, given their hard life, sometimes faster. Our need for them goes on beyond their retirement and becomes progressively acute, it seems, as we ourselves age on.
Cousin Ninit is quick with another valid and more up-to-date observation: “No one wants to be a maid anymore, they’d rather be salesgirls.” Indeed, the demand for them increases with every new mall.
“What’s left are usually those lacking in, among other things, physical attractiveness,” she continues, not exactly relevantly, for it’s the one trait we precisely don’t look for.
Anyway, I didn’t realize how bad the situation had become until I visited a friend who felt she needed to warn me, before her new maid made her appearance, that in desperation she had hired a hunchback, although, she added, it was a condition “still in its early stage” (whatever that meant). Frankly, I wouldn’t have noticed if I had not been told.
Another friend has hired a one-eyed girl, and, to everyone’s relief, the lone eye is naturally, not cyclopically, situated; still she kept apologizing to her guests. In fact we thought it kind of her. Later, though, she would complain of a problem she herself, complete sight and all, didn’t foresee. Now, after her maid has tested unsuitable (nothing to do at all with her impairment), she couldn’t let her go, let alone look her in the eye and say it. “It just seems cruel and discriminatory,” she says.
Most of us are softies, indeed, when it comes to our kasambahay. A nephew of mine has inherited his family’s mayordoma cum cook, who had become hard of hearing. Nothing irremediable, he thought. He got her an affordable device in Divisoria, but, to his disappointment, she refused to wear it.
When I told Vergel about it, he remembered how my mom herself had not been thrilled with her own hearing aid—too much trouble for the little help it gave. And then he added, “Baka naman ’yung hearing aid na galing sa Divisoria Motolite ang battery!”
When I heard my own daughter complain how hard it was to find good help these days, I thought her too young for the problem—her maids couldn’t have gotten that old. Then I realized that Becky had been with her from the beginning of her marriage through the births of each of her three children, the youngest now well into her teens. Becky was retiring to get married, something life definitely owes her.
Gia usually networks with friends, but the search takes too long. She’s tempted to go to an employment agency, which in my time proved reliable—evidently, not as much now.
I dropped by Gia’s only the other day and was surprised to find two senior-looking women in maid’s uniform in the kitchen. Before I could say anything, she said, “Mom, they’re only in their 50s!” As I was leaving I saw a new face come out of the driver’s quarters in a short-sleeved barong; it was her new driver—a single mom.
‘Lavandera’ to cook
Nothing surprises me anymore. My BFF Bea’s driver for many years used to be her lavandera, who has proved a natural at the wheel. Now Bea has an excellent driver who can also accompany her to the Ladies Room. Lucky Ninit still has her driver of over 50 years and can’t imagine how she’d ever get anywhere without him when he retires. When her cook retired, she asked her lavandera to step up—she did, to her level of ineptitude.
Some barangays, Bel-Air for one, have just the program to train kasambahay in a range of chores; it also teaches spiritual values formation, personal hygiene and health practices, and even prepares them for adult education.
We cannot be too careful, especially at our age, about hiring kasambahay. We’re easy prey to predators. And what perfect disguise—as maids! But who could have warned my friend Nena about such things as mangkukulam when she hired a cook?
When Nena suddenly fell ill after her husband had died, nobody thought it strange; after all, she had gone through many months of sleepless hospital duty for him, and, moreover, she had her own blood pressure and cholesterol and knee problems such as common to the overweight. However, things started to look worrisome when she kept going in and out of the hospital.
When one day Billie, a close friend, came to visit and was not let in, she sent to look in on Nena a lady termite-exterminator regularly servicing both of them. One look and the lady, who has her own special sense about strange conditions, sensed kulam—witchcraft. Through her occult network, she got a mangkukulam buster to give Nena the tawas treatment. She recovered.
It seems Nena tends to attract such characters. Her own mother, living with her in helpless old age, got herself a cruel caregiver. Stricken with dementia, she sometimes woke up in the middle of the night and asked her caregiver for a full meal. She instead got a knife held at her, and was told to shut up and go back to sleep. It was only after the daughter had fired the caregiver, for something else altogether, that her mother told her about it.
When my time comes, I’ll have CCTV cameras installed in my room and connected straight to Duterte’s department.