Two months ago I published My First Maidservant in Latin America, in which I described the excellent maidservant Chata who we had to fire because it was obvious she didn’t want to watch our children most of the day as the wife was entering her third trimester.
We told the agency we needed a babysitter first and foremost, somebody who was willing to watch two babies for up to eight hours a day. The agency is supposed to bring two candidates at a time for a home interview, but after a week of waiting they brought us one. Humility was very eager in the interview, and she had gone to an institute or vocational school for daycare and pre-school work.
Unlike Chata, Humility actually liked our kids. She was excellent with them, but she came with more problems than Chata did. She was almost never on time and she missed at least three workdays in the first three weeks. The first time she didn’t show up she called the agency, who called us right away and told us she had gotten lost. Humility lives in freakin Chorrillos (I’ve ridden my bicycle farther than that). Apparently she took the Metropolitano and missed our stop in Lince, taking it all the way to Rimac until turning around to go home. Doing all that would not take four hours.
Humility let it known early that she spent 9 soles ($3) every day in transportation. So in an attempt to normalize her sketchy arrival times, and being a good liberal gringo who wants to help the poor Peruvians, I decided to incentivize her arriving on time. I told her that every day she arrives early –before 8 a.m. – I would give her 5 soles no questions asked. Money in the hand. I set an alarm to go off at 8 a.m. every day, and if she rang the buzzer before the alarm, I gave her the 5 soles. It didn’t happen much.
The incentive created some uncomfortable situations because she would try but just not quite manage to arrive early. When she arrived at 8:30 it’s obvious, but many days she would arrive at 8:05 or 8:07, after the alarm went off. I would open the door without saying anything, noting her hopeful expression. Then one day after arriving at like 8:03 she cheerfully announced, “I arrived early today.” And I told her about the alarm.
We had noticed that Humility was good with the children, but if we hadn’t noticed we would have known anyway because she often told us how effective she was at getting them to eat their food or pick up the toys or whatever. Maybe she’s the type that needs recognition, or maybe just enthusiastic for her chosen career.
In fact, Humility was so enthusiastic about the children that after a couple weeks she said that she would not cook, wash dishes, do laundry or clean the house. She is only a babysitter, and babysitters take care of children. The wife managed to convince her that washing the children’s clothes and cooking the children’s meals falls under “taking care of the children.” But that still left two gaping holes in our labor needs: cleaning the house, washing our laundry and cooking our meals.
We never expected one maidservant to do all that and care for the children. Wife is always helping with either the children or domestic duties, and we want a maidservant who can go either way. So in changing Chata for Humility, we went from one who avoided the children whenever possible to one who refused to cook and clean.
In the same conversation that Humility announced what she wasn’t going to do, she also asked for two half-hour breaks per day, which I agreed to.
Around this time Humility missed another day of work. I called her and she said she was sick. The next day she came in late as usual with some news: she’s pregnant. She didn’t come in because she had morning sickness.
At this stage, wife and I were not yet annoyed with the new policy of no cooking or cleaning. The agency offers a six-month guarantee on their maidservants, and Humility had started about a month prior. I told her she’s great with the children and we want to keep her on, but we also want to take advantage of our guarantee. We discussed how long she thought she could continue for, because she obviously wouldn’t be running after our little whippersnappers in her third trimester. We agreed to end it before the guarantee was up in five months even if she thought she could continue working.
About two weeks later I had no clean clothes and my dirty laundry filled two hampers. I haven’t done my own laundry in years, not just before getting married but also before moving to Latin America, and I don’t want to start again now. But wife was in her eighth month of pregnancy and doing her own laundry was almost too much for her – wringing out the wet clothes and hanging them up on clotheslines. So I started looking forward to replacing Humility with someone who could be more of a utility player.
It happened sooner than later. Humility came in four hours late one day and said she had morning sickness again, and that she might as well quit now. She faked a tear and said she wanted to visit the children sometimes. Of course, I said, and I told her to call after she had the baby and we’d bring her back. A little white lie.
That night, I decided she must have known she was pregnant before taking the job. There’s no way that was a surprise. I bet she found out she was pregnant and realized she needed some fast cash to help pay for a c-section instead of doing it the old-fashioned way (her first child was cesarean too). That’s why she was so eager in the interview, and in her mind it was always just a temporary gig.
Fortunately wife had the baby by this point, so there was no chaos in trying to watch babies at home while she’s laid up in the hospital. We also know she’d be recovering in a couple months, and thus able to take on more domestic work. So we told the agency we needed someone who could take care of two babies at a time and also do some cooking and cleaning as needed – a switch hitter.
So a full week went by with no Humility, nobody. When we have no maidservant, I have to spend at least half of what would be a workday watching with the children. On those days I get maybe two hours of work done, and an unproductive two hours at that. So after a full week I’m desperate for the agency to bring the new candidates for an interview so I can get back to work.
Maybe three babies are a tough sell, because it took a week for the agency to round up just one candidate. Integrity lived in Surquillo, a district I regularly go to on my bicycle and even closer than Chata was in La Victoria. At 24 years old, Integrity had an eight-year-old son or daughter (I don’t remember because she wasn’t around long) and she was studying to work in daycare.
On her first day Integrity said she didn’t have money for the bus. Could I give her bus fare to get her through the first week? No problem, I gave her 20 soles.
Her second day she didn’t show up. I called the agency. They asked if I had called Integrity. I felt stupid because I hadn’t. But a no-call-no-show on the second day, I assumed she didn’t like our children.
The agency called Integrity and it turns out she was sick, but had no credit on her phone to call. She came to work the next day, her third day since being hired, but only her second workday. She said she was in dire straits with the child and her rent or bills. I don’t remember the sob story, but she asked for a loan of 200 soles ($62) until her first-month salary.
All the agencies adamantly insist to their clients NOT to advance the maidservants any money under any circumstances. But I felt bad for the poor single mother, and I want to be a good liberal gringo helping the downtrodden Peruvians. So I gave it to her.
We never saw her again.
So the agencies whose job it is to manage maidservants were right, and I the liberal gringo in his rookie year hiring maidservants was wrong. Go figure. And Integrity made 220 soles in two days.
We were back to square one. We called the agency to exercise our guarantee for the second time on the same contract. After a few more days (when I can’t work) they brought one candidate, Ferreñafana. In the interview she seemed as dispassionate and uninterested as Integrity had. But given Humility was so enthusiastic, maybe the interview means nothing. Ferreñafana lives in Carabayllo, which is about as far as you can possibly imagine someone living from their job in this town while still being in this town. Further than Comas.
We were desperate. We hired her. A month later, things are going well. Despite coming from 25 miles away in Lima traffic, she’s usually early. She told me it takes two hours by bus each way. That’s four hours every day, and she’s never late.
Because she’s never late, there is no need to offer her 5 soles for every day she’s early, but it struck me as unfair that a maidservant has to be egregiously bad in an area to get extra money under my system.
The only complaint I could possibly lodge is that Ferreñafana sometimes watches the most awful television programming in Peru while taking care of the one-year-old. But all the better if she’s being entertained while taking care of babies. If she’s enjoying herself, maybe she’s less likely to quit.
Ferreñafana almost seems aloof as she works, effortlessly switching between babysitter and cook or maid. Her demeanor just makes it seems like she’s not working hard, but she gets the job done. She makes it look easy. I decided she was perfect.
Why Rich as F%#!?
So far this is all about maidservants. Why does it qualify for the Peru is Rich as F%#! series?
I use the term “slave” jokingly to describe the maidservants, but it’s getting less and less accurate. As you can tell throughout the article, we’re having a hard time keeping this kind of labor around. There is not a huge supply out there, because Peru is rich as fuck.
In the last article I detailed some of these poor women’s backgrounds and horror stories. They have been desperate for most of their lives, but in 2017 they are not desperate for opportunity. Nobody has to scrub shit off people’s shoes to get by. The going rate for all these women is 1200 soles ($370), or 41% higher than Peru’s minimum wage. And we went weeks with no applicants!
Around the time Humility quit, I asked a gringo friend for advice on managing the empleadas. This American is an expat mentor of mine. He came to Peru over 30 years ago, so he lived through Alan Garcia I and hyperinflation, Shining Path and the rise of cocaine, Fujimori’s autocracy and the 21st century of newfound prosperity. He has graduated from “expat” to “immigrant” under my definition, since his Peru-based business earns fuck-you money (millions of dollars). He doesn’t have just one empleada, he has a staff. He’s had one for decades.
The first thing that came out of his mouth summed it all up: “Give them whatever they want.” I’ll paraphrase the rest.
When you find one you like, don’t let her go. Give them whatever they want. It’s not like the eighties and nineties anymore. Back then if you fired a girl you’d have ten new girls on your doorstep the next morning, all vying to take her spot. Now they’d rather go work at the malls or office buildings. It’s more dignified. Being a maid for a family is low status, shameful. So you have to pay them more if you don’t want them to leave. Give them whatever they want.
He said he pays his maidservants 1600 soles ($500), almost double the minimum wage, and he pays for private health insurance. He estimates the insurance is worth 250 soles a month, which brings his total compensation package to 218% of the national minimum wage.
We’re the only family in my building with a maidservant, and a few days after that conversation I was talking to a neighbor. She asked about the flurry of maids that recently came and went. I told her what the American said, which was in line with what I was beginning to see. She offered a brilliant anecdote.
Her cousin has three children and they’ve had the same maidservant for five years. They were paying her 1800 soles per month when the woman asked for a raise. She wanted 2200 soles ($680), or 259% of the minimum wage.
The cousin denied her the raise. Instead he hired a second girl for 700 soles to clean the house three days a week. I assume he was trying to be clever by, instead of paying an extra 400 soles for the same service, paying 700 more for extra output and reducing his main servant’s workload.
And his babysitter quit! Now this poor bastard has a three-day-a-week maid and no babysitter, and he has to call the agency for the merry-go-round.
Rich as fuck.
While the salary is 1200 soles, the agency deal actually calls for a reduced salary for the first month in what is a kind of probationary period. The contract requires me to pay Ferreñafana only 800 soles this month, and 1200 for her second month and beyond. But I made the executive decision to surprise her at the end of her first month with a proper spread at a nice restaurant and the full 1200 soles. And I told her I’d bump it up to 1300 in June, and we’d continue raising it throughout the year as we see whether we’re a good fit for each other.
Makes you wonder, by the time I’m dead, will Peru be more like the United States where nobody grows up with maidservants? Will the upper-middle and upper-class Peruvians learn how to do the laundry and wash dishes? It’s not impossible. It wasn’t long ago when a similar maidservant class existed in the southern United States, but that’s long gone. The concept is so alien a fictionalized film depicting the South’s maidservant culture was released recently to commercial success and critical acclaim.
A Rich-as-F%#! Extra: PPV Boxing
Not enough for a bonafide post, but another area of Peru’s being rich as fuck is the market for marquee boxing matches. One of the little things that made life in Latin America so nice was that all the big PPV fights which would cost $50 in the States were broadcast for free down here. Mayweather, Pacquiao, Canelo Alvarez, Andre Ward, Sergei Kovalev — I’ve watched all these guys and more for free.
I assume the thinking went that in these third-world holes nobody is going to pay extra to watch boxing, so it’s more profitable to make it free and sell advertising. Something’s better than nothing.
On Saturday night longtime heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko faced young star Anthony Joshua in what was one of the biggest heavyweight fights in a generation. But it wasn’t on cable because Peru’s not such a third-world hole as it is rich as fuck. Movistar has launched its “bloque de boxeo” package — all fights in boxing and MMA for 30 soles a month.
Paying for fights marks the end of an era, underscored by Joshua stopping Klitschko in the 11th round.