While doing research of where we wanted to move, we came across a couple Nicaragua blogs that mentioned the extremely low price you pay to have help in your home. No one said it better and more convincing than Mike’s Gringo Life, “We have a traditional home. I work outside the house and Carol works at home and with the kids as a full time mom. If we lived in the US, she’d probably be doing most of the laundry, housekeeping, cooking and cleaning. Here she doesn’t have to. She gets to spend an extra hour (30 minutes each way) with them every day because she is free to take and pick up the girls from the school. She creates crafts and games ready for them after school. She’s there rested, relaxed, and ready to listen and engage them in conversation. This, alone, is a treasure chest of gifts for the girls.” I knew I wouldn’t be working at least at first, and it seemed like a daunting task going from working full time to raising 2 kids, doing all the household chores, and shopping, all in a foreign country. It was a pleasure to hear that I didn’t need to…and that my husband was on board!
We mentioned to our landlord that we were interested in hiring someone to help in the house, so he set up a meet-and-greet with his friend Juanita (and her son who speaks English). We negotiated how many days she’d work and what hours. Juanita wanted to work 6 days a week, with Sundays off. She gave us the choice of either 7am-12pm or 8am-1pm. I mentioned I’d like her to cut fruit to have in the frig, make lunches some days, and prepare dinner for about 3 nights a week. She already seemed to understand the regular household chores she’d be doing. Juanita seemed perfect for the job and we told her we looked forward to her coming the following day.
So here’s the breakdown: Juanita works 6 days per week 8am-1pm officially, but usually she leaves between 1:30 and 2pm for $200 per month. That’s about $6.70 per day or $1.30 per hour…assuming she actually left on time. At first she worked Monday – Saturday, but recently she’s asked to take Wednesday off so she can bus to Managua to buy clothes for her side business. She now works Thursday – Tuesday. She makes lunch probably 4 days a week and prepares dinner about 3 days. Its best if I take her to the supermarket (Palí) and the mercado to do the shopping for the week, otherwise I’m running to the store every day after we decide what she should cook.
I had an epiphany the other night while the whole family was enjoying dinner together as usual since we’ve moved. We hardly ever ate dinner together in the US. I’m embarrassed to say, we usually parked Azalea in a high chair seat in front of the TV with her favorite show playing so that we could get a 30 minute break. When she was a baby I’d feed her mashed up veggies hours before we even started making our own dinner. We could never get our dinner ready early enough for us all to eat together. With Juanita preparing the meals, its easy to eat dinner together every night, its become the norm. Even when we cook, we start early and always include both kids around the table. This is the way I grew up, and I’m so happy to be passing the dinner table tradition on to my kids.
Every morning I make a fresh fruit smoothie or fruit and yogurt mixed with granola. Its easy to do now with all the hard work already done. I have 3 Tupperware containers full every day of cut fruits to choose from. The fruit is SO good here! Papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, and pineapple are our favorites.
Kharron usually comes home for lunch and we all eat again around the table. If we don’t eat at home, the kids and I meet him in town and go to one of the many restaurants. After lunch both kids are usually ready for their nap. I put them to bed feeling gratified that they are getting the love and attention they deserve from both of their parents.
Juanita has helped us in so many ways outside of the household. She not only lead us all around Rivas shopping for a motorcycle for Kharron, but also put the motorcycle in her name since you have to be a resident to own a vehicle in Nicaragua. The day after we purchased the motorcycle she rode back to Rivas to file all the paperwork and get a tune up. She rode with me into Rivas to get local prices on new tires for the car, hunt for everything necessary to make cupcakes, to go to the cleaning store, Casa de Limpieza”, and navigate the large mercardo. She also gives us a patient Spanish lesson each and every day she works.
There are some hidden costs to hiring household help. People in Nicaragua are paid on a 13 month payroll, paying double in December. Its possible your maid might ask for help with a medical bill or other necessity they cannot afford. I am told that if you hired correctly, you will not mind sometimes paying for the small things requested. We have already volunteered to purchase Juanita glasses after seeing her squint to read the small print of Google Translate on our phones. This cost us $170 for exam and glasses, but the pride I feel when I see her put them on is priceless. Juanita has 3 sons and asked for a loan of $100 to send her middle son to finish English class. This came at a good time because we started to need some childcare for 3 hours a day twice a week while I volunteered. We negotiated just $15 more a month (and towards her debt) for this extra service. Last night she asked to borrower our motorcycle to ride to church because her family’s motorcycle had a flat tire, we gladly lent it…its in her name!
We have lucked out with Juanita. We totally expected to go through a few maids before finding the right one, but couldn’t want for anything more. We look forward to speaking more of her language because its become clear that she is very funny and can’t wait to understand all of her little jokes. After one month she’s already become one of the family.