by Stephanie H Meade from In Culture Parent
One of the things I have gotten wrong repeatedly in Morocco is the proper treatment of household and garden workers. I didn't realize it, but I was inadvertently starving them.
The first time a woman came to clean for us, she brought her mother. We had only arrived a week before and were still in that scattered phase where cereal counts as a legit lunch and dinner cause you haven't figured out cooking in a new place with new foods yet.
The cleaning woman spent the day. I don't remember eating lunch but the kids had cereal. I only learned after the fact how angry the cleaning woman was with us as I had starved her and her mother the entire day. They didn't eat! Since I had never had all day help before, I didn't give much thought to their eating but figured they would help themselves to whatever. This was a wrong assumption. Providing food for the household help and inviting them to eat available food is required.
By the time we hired a full time maid, I was aware of our obligation to provide meals for her, and I always made sure the gardener was served lunch too on the days he worked.
But I noticed uneasy patterns of our maid's relationship to our food that I think stemmed from a story she shared one day. She worked for another American family who had admonished her for eating a piece of their chocolate without asking. I often found her in the kitchen eating a snack in a hidden way, like she didn't want anyone to see her. We have had to continually reinforce she is welcome to eat any and all of our food at any time she likes. Nonetheless, if some days we don't arrive home for lunch until 3 or 4, she also waits until 3 or 4 to eat.
This weekend I saw my mother-in-law one morning at our house preparing a small tray with tea, bread and olive oil. I wondered what she was doing. Was she making my father-in-law his own tray for breakfast? As I'm used to the unfair gender roles where men are catered to and pampered in excess, I didn't think too much about it as I'd get irritated.
An hour later the gardener knocked on the kitchen window to give me back the tray. She had kindly prepared breakfast for him! He's been working for us for months and I have failed for months to provide breakfast for him. File that under things I wish I had known much earlier.
About the author
Stephanie Meade has had a passion for global issues, languages, international travel and writing ever since she can remember. After studying comparative politics at Columbia University as an undergraduate, she lived in Ecuador for over a year as an English teacher. Upon her return, she worked at the United Nations in New York before obtaining her Master’s in International Affairs from Columbia to further her interest in international development. For over five years after, she worked as an economic consultant in the water sector, helping to build water systems across the developing world. Her work brought her to work and sometimes live in a lot of interesting places including Armenia, Georgia, Yemen, Uganda, Germany and Brazil. After having children and a foray into the hedge fund industry, she decided to create InCultureParent.
Stephanie speaks Spanish, French, Portuguese, some German, tiny bits of Armenian and Russian and is just starting on Arabic. She and her husband, who is from Morocco, are raising their two girls bilingual/bicultural in Arabic and English in the Bay Area. They started to introduce French and some Spanish as well. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find other stories of the series "What you wish you would have known earlier..." here.