Monday, April 11, 2016
A Very Fond Farewell
Oh, my dears, it's a sad day hereabouts. We got some really rather dreadful news this morning.
It seems that the sweet lady known to Café regulars as Mrs. Galapatti-da Silva, our much loved housekeeper back in Sandlands days, has died, quite suddenly. She moved to on to work with good friends when we decamped, and in the last few years she had been as omnipresent and appreciated in their household as she was in ours; more so, really, as they've had a baby and she revealed a not-surprising gift for nannying in addition to her many other talents.
This young lady is not she, but with her clear-eyed gaze of calm good sense, she's rather as I imagine the small, birdlike woman we knew might have been, once upon a time.
The women - tens of thousands of them - who leave their home countries (Sri Lanka, for Mrs. G.-da S.; the Phillippines, India, Nepal, Ethiopia and more for others) and head to the Sandlands for lives as domestic workers have a hard time of it. They are at the mercy of employers who often have no idea how to deal with household help; they have few legal protections; and they are far from family and anything familiar, usually with very, very little in the way of money or personal possessions. I like to think that we were better employers than most, but I have few illusions that it's not a system stacked against the vulnerable, the weak, and the infinitely hard-working.
And the return for being what is basically nothing more than a minimally decent human being? Dedication and gratitude beyond anything proportionate, and kindess that informs every aspect of one's life. Mrs. G was a wonderful woman, patient with our ridiculous dogs and with us and our goings-on. She loved our parties, pulling in friends and relations to join her in the kitchen, and I won't lie: it's a marvelous thing indeed to have a few dozen of one's closest friends and colleagues in, and when they leave just to go upstairs, knowing that you'll descend in the morning to find a spotless kitchen and pristine living and dining rooms.
I think the first moment I knew we had a treasure predictably enough involves the dogs. They are a fraught subject in the Sandlands, dogs, not popular with locals for reasons both religious and cultural, and no more popular with people of many of the nationalities who come to work in houses. We interviewed one woman back in our first sandy principality who claimed to love dogs, but who, we later discovered (after thankfully not hiring her) had been quite awful to one in her care previously.
It was therefore a relief to see how much our two seemed to like their new acquaintance. I knew, though, that the feeling was mutual when one day I came home in the middle of the afternoon. Our street was a long, row of villas, each walled and gated, with little of interest to two small dogs except small patches of green, some with flowers, some with palm trees, in front of some of the walls. I turned the corner that afternoon, a blazing hot summer day (in a place where few days on earth on hotter), and there was tiny Mrs. Gallapatti-da Silva, picking her way down the pavement, a terrier under each arm. As she reached a green patch, she'd pause and put her charges down, leaving them be until they got bored, and then picking them up again before they had the chance to put a paw on the furnace-like bricks that made up the sidewalk. They liked to be outdoors in the afternoons, she said, but it was too hot in the garden for them, and she couldn't think of letting them burn their feet...
Even at this distance of many thousands of miles, and with the prospect of ever crossing paths again very small, I shall miss her very much.