You know what they say — there’s no use in crying over spilt milk.
Especially when you have a housekeeper to clean it up for you.
Yesterday morning, Ashleigh and I were scooping eggs onto our plates in the kitchen. We both ended up dropping some eggs on the floor. Caroline, one of the women who works at the villa, was also in the kitchen. She noticed the food on the floor and immediately told us not to worry about it and that she would clean it up. I have two hands, and I could easily have done it. However, I let her do it for some reason even though she was already busy with other stuff.
I have been putting the thought of having domestic workers here out of my mind. I have not really allowed myself to think on it too much because it is an assumed part of living here, and because I do not want to seem ungrateful for the beautiful home we have been allowed to live in. However, I am writing this not only because it is uncomfortable and abnormal for me, but also because I feel like I really do need to acknowledge Caroline, Michael, and Anne, all the work they do for us, and the obvious racial disparities between the people who own the villa and the people who work here.
I am not trying to criticize anyone. I am just making an observation.
The two people who run the Mediterranean Villa are white while the domestic workers, Caroline, Michael, and Anne, are all black. Imagine if the roles were reversed and if the people who owned the villa were black and the domestic workers were white. The fact that that would be an unusual, if not isolated, occurrence is problematic in itself.
Every single morning, I come out and all the food is prepared on the glass table in the center of the dining room. The constants are fruit, toast, rolled-up meats, tomatoes, cereal, yoghurt, and granola. Then, there is usually a special addition like eggs, bacon, crepes, French toast, or pancakes — all homemade. Every morning, I eat my food, free of cost, without thinking of the work that went into preparing it. When I finish, I drop off my dirty plates in the kitchen. I usually try to say good morning to Caroline, Anne, or Michael, but I am also usually running late so it turns into a half-hearted, rushed “Hello, good morning!” as I run out of the house, leaving them to clean my dishes.
I’ve talked to them before and have learned that they have to wake up extremely early to get to the villa in the morning. Then, they are there all day long, cleaning, cooking, and making our lives easier. I come home from work every day to a made bed and cleaned floors even though I leave my clothes everywhere.
It’s just weird and unfair to me that someone’s entire job is to serve me. It’s weird that I have been living with them for the past five weeks and barely know them. It was weird when we first arrived at the villa and the owners introduced Caroline, Michael, and Anne and spoke for them as they stood silently to the side. It’s weird when we are listening to our speakers on Tuesday night, and, rather than sit and listen with us, they set out the food that we will sit down to eat afterwards without them.
At work, there is also a woman named June whose job is to clean the office. I have been lucky enough to talk to her on a few occasions when I was up at the front desk. She told me about how she has to leave her house every morning at 5:30 to make the 6 am train to get to work by 9. She then doesn’t get home until 6 or 6:30 at night and has to do all the housework then as well. She was coughing the other day, clearly sick, but explained to me how she cannot afford to take a sick day to rest.
These jobs are so demanding of people’s time and energy. They usually have to travel far to get to the houses or offices that they clean. They do not get home until late at night, or they just sleep at the house they work for. I can imagine that would be hard for people with families.
It is a difficult job that, when asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” many privileged people like me would not even consider to use as an answer.
Rather, we would think about it for a moment, pondering all our different interests before responding with our major, “Computer science,” or “art history,” or “public policy.”
It’s because we do not have to consider it. We are able to go to college and study what we are passionate about. We are able to choose to travel and intern this summer rather than make money at a paid job in our hometowns. We have the privilege to do work we are interested in. Many other people have to take whatever job they can because of necessity. It is especially unfair and uncomfortable when that job is to serve me and my peers so that we can go do our jobs better and when it is clear that race is such a big factor in who has privilege and access to the better jobs. The inequality of it all is so wrong and twisted, but I don’t know what to say or do on a daily basis. I know in the big picture of my life I can and will use my privilege to do something that will assist oppressed and disadvantaged people in having more equality and room for upward mobility. However, on the day-to-day at the villa, what can I do? I guess just talk to Michael, Caroline, and Anne more to get to know them better, and, maybe, I can pick up my own eggs next time.
***I also want to acknowledge that I am not trying to speak for anyone, and that the people who I am talking about have full agency and the ability to speak for themselves. Also, their identities consist of much more than the simplistic depiction I have given of a domestic worker.