“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Thursday, September 07, 2006


My lovely cook, Sabai, just came to me right now to ask for an advance of next week’s pay (around $7.50 for 3 part-days’ work—quite a good salary for here) because her daughter is in hospital with some kind of mosquito-spread spots.

It caused a cacophony of emotions to erupt inside me, many of which I am ashamed of. My first thoughts were defensive, along the lines of why is it my problem? While I never actually thought that, I was very selfish. I kept thinking about what a responsibility it is to employ someone, and how when you employ one, you employ their whole family, and you become responsible to them in many ways. I don’t like that responsibility. I want to be only responsible to myself, and anyone else relying on me like that, so utterly, makes me uneasy.

I had absolutely no problem advancing her pay for her, but the thought did flit through my mind that there might be future expenses and perhaps I would have to pay for those or perhaps next week she would need another advance or loan or more, and it would escalate into me having paid, and not getting what I paid for. Or maybe I don’t like seeing me as the money bag, of course (I can just see my parents smiling because now I’m in their shoes, although family is very different). I rationalized this pessimistic side of me down and reminded myself how lovely Sabai is, and how she wouldn’t ask for more than she needed—and honestly, how much is it really! She has been going through this all week, and didn’t say anything until today (I wished she had—I honestly would have really loved to have given her a paid day off instead of eating (or feeling guilty about throwing away) the enormous piles of food I get) but she must have been very needy to have asked at all. I thought about how I would act in that situation, and I really respect that she did her best and didn’t ask for help (Drew heard me going on about how hard it is for me to ever ask for help!) but I’m so torn as to whether I consider it a weakness to ask for help at all—isn’t that an awful thing to say!

Ironically, this time last month I was fretting over whether to cancel the third day that Sabai works for me because I just can’t eat all the food that she prepares for me, but of course, I haven’t because of that same responsibility to her and that she needs the salary that I pay.

I felt angry at Myanmar for putting its people in such a desperate situation that there is nothing for them to do in emergencies like this. Then I thought of the American medical system and how it really wouldn’t help you either. Then I thought of the wonderful collection that my friends did for our dear George (www.geocities.com/natalyamarquand/george.html), who passed away from a leukemia operation. It made me happy to think of the generosity of the human race (and also guilty because so often I am selfish and think only of myself).

I thought repeatedly of how I should offer Sabai some kind of gift as assistance, some money to help pay, but I’m so wary of being taken for granted in the future that I didn’t. I thought I could term it as a bonus, but she’s only been working for me for a month! I would love to help her out, but I’m held back because she hasn’t asked for my help (after all my BS about not respecting it!), and by what she might think of me (though, why should that matter), and… I don’t know. I’m just reluctant (or selfish). I want to jump up and write in our little notebook that the money is a gift, but I don’t. Am I a horrible person? Listen to all my excuses, and none of them really hold merit!

Sitting on the table in front of me is the shopping I just brought home. I went out especially to get 2 shirts I saw last week (and came home with 4!). Each shirt cost around $9, and I just feel wretched because each shirt is more than Sabai’s weekly salary! I am “rich” and can afford it (well, I shouldn’t really have considering all my upcoming expenses), but here my “extravagance” is put into perspective. I want to go around my house collecting all the unnecessary, excessive items (and there are many) and give them to Sabai to sell or use (perhaps I am rationalizing that then at least she would earn it?), but I have been cleaning a bit lately so don’t readily find anything. I don’t like how I am so materialistic!

So basically I’m feeling guilty for earning more than she does and living an easier life. I’m feeling guilty because I’m not jumping up and down to help her in any way she needs. I’m feeling guilty for not offering her more. I know that in her shoes I would be reluctant to ask, but truly, despite all my rantings, I am very willing to help her if she needs it. I have adopted and become responsible for her and her family after all, no matter how much I might dislike that fact.

1 comment:

Rama said...

the fact that she did wait to ask for an advance tells me that she would be insulted if you offered any kind of "gift"... interpreting it as pity, which proud hard-working people don't like.

You could always take the extra food and provide it to a shelter (assuming they have those) or to the hospital... I'm sure there's somewhere you can donate it (thus alleviating a bit of the selfish guilt)...