What would you do?

I’ve had a number of cleaning women come a go, at least five.  Most of the women who clean house in Egypt (they are called shaggala) are not professional housekeepers.  The more well-off Egyptians will often hire women from other African countries to clean, and they are usually more expensive (and so I’ve heard, better at cleaning). 

I’ve had a lot of people warning me about trusting cleaning ladies (or workers in general).  Most people feel you should basically keep a watch on them at all times.  I don’t have the time or inclination to do this.  If I hire someone to clean, I don’t want to have to trail them around the house.  I’ve also been told you must be pretty firm, or else they’ll walk over you.  I’ve found this to be true also.  Most of the women started off cleaning excellently, but slacked off as time went on.  I’m just not a very good task master (or whatever you’d call standing over while they work). 

On two occasions, I’ve had stuff disappear from the house.  The first time, dh, made excuses for the person (suggesting maybe I lost the items in question, I didn’t), although no one else could have possibly taken the things that had gone missing.  For me however, the trust was basically gone, and our relationship changed.  I ceased to offer her food with us, and certainly didn’t feel like any chit-chatting.  We eventually asked her to stop coming. 

This latest time, several items have gone missing from my kitchen.  Minor stuff, two new packages of Dove soap, a full jar of honey, baking chocolate.  I’m in the middle of a move and the shaggala had been helping me to  clear the kitchen.  I noticed the soap gone right away, and the kids said ‘the cleaner must have taken it!’ (they’ve never liked any of the cleaners, but that’s a different story.)  I brushed it off, till I noticed the other items missing.  Finally I called her and asked what had happened.   She suggested that the things had gotten thrown out accidentally, and actually told me to look through the garbage for my things!  Allah knows best, I think it’s much more likely that the stuff found it’s way out of the house in the full bag of stuff she left with.  I did offer her some used clothing, and old toys.  I realize now I should have looked through the bag, but I’m just not that kind of person.  I guess I’d never make a good supervisor :).  I know that we should not accuse a muslim of theft without positive proof, and I didn’t accuse her outright.  But I can’t believe that she ‘accidentally’ threw out new items, and left empty jam jars on the counter.  It just doesn’t make sense.  I’m a pretty easy-going person, but I don’t take  kindly to people trying to walk over me.  She’d requested a few other things and actually wanted to buy some things I’m selling, but the deal is off and I don’t want her back.  It is always possible that she really did throw out a full jar of honey, but if she did, I still don’t want her back.  What would she throw away next!

The kids were complaining to our neighbor about the incident, and he told them to just forget about it and be patient.  That Allah has blessed us with more and them with less.  It’s not the stuff that really bothers me so much, it’s the idea that someone may have felt they had a right to it when it was mine.  Also the feeling of being made a fool of by trusting someone. 

Housekeeping and housekeepers

After moving here, one of the first things I realized is how much harder it is to clean house in Egypt.  The floors need to be mopped on a daily basis because of the dust.  Windows and furniture need daily dusting.  Egypt is a desert and there is a LOT of dust.  Basically it takes a lot more work to keep a house clean.  I was surprised by how many foreigners here employ a maid (known as Shugala).  Frankly I had looked down on the practice.  I like doing things for myself, and just didn’t really feel that comfortable with someone cleaning up after me.  Finally dh insisted if I couldn’t keep the house clean alone, to get help. 

I found someone through my kids’ arabic teacher.  A much older lady, I think she must be about 70 at least.  We pay 400LE (about $70) a month for her to come four days a week.  It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s more than most of the teachers at the school I studied  arabic make, and they are college grads.  I’m pretty sure the lady who cleans for us is illiterate.  Alhamdulillah, the house is much cleaner, but there are difficulties that come along.  First, do not expect them to do the work the way you do it.  I am veeery picky about somethings, especially dishwashing.  In fact, I go back over the cups, silverware sometimes, till it’s the way I want it.  Second, finding someone trustworthy can be difficult.  Even Egyptians are wary of who to let in their homes.  Ask around and make sure you find someone trustworthy.  Foreigners are often overcharged.  They will try to shirk on the work if you let them.  I have to walk a fine line between not being a dictator and still getting what I pay for.