Today I participated in an unusual voluntary job. I offerd to go to work with my host. And my host is Patricia. A beautiful Afro-Brazilian with a striking smile in her late 20’s. Like any other volunary job it’s a great way to give back to the community (in my case thank my host for her amazing hospitality), and experience the real lives of the people in the community. Life is tough for the average Cairoca. It’s not all about lazying on the beach catching the sun… And I experienced a bit of the hardship when I offered to be a maid for a day.
The alarm was set for 4 am. I was up long before (perhaps excitement or most likely fear of over sleeping) hitting the snooze button with ease. However it took me longer than expected to organise myself in the confusion of the early morning darkness. I could sense Patricia’s impatience come to a halt as I finally threw my make up into my bag and declared I was ready.
A large queue had already formed when we arrived at the bus stop. At least 30 people, the vast majority women and Afro-Brazilian. A wild guess would be they were also on their way into the south of Rio to work. The bus arrived and we managed to get a seat. The aircon was generously on full blast and I shaverred as though sitting at a bus stop in London on a winter’s day. Anyway, my discomfort was distracted by the ambience on the bus that it could have passed for a school trip! Excited chatter, laughter, jokes being told. A hard day of work ahead and people were still smiling.
The journey from Nova Iguaçu to Copacabana seemed to go on forever. And I now understand why we had to leave the house so early. Arriving at the apartment around 9am, I was expecting we’d be offered breakfast before we started cleaning. When this didn’t happen, I thought nothing of it and got on with my duties. The kitchen.
I’m incredibly house proud so I tackled my tasks as though cleaning my own home. I was on a roll hoping to win brownie points from Patricia by working fast and efficiently. However my energy levels started to fall and so did the enthusiam before long. At one point I noticed the amount of dust which had accumilated on my well oiled legs and my hands wrinkled from excess water without using glovers. I’d had enough!
Not that I’m a lazy person or I don’t like house work. I’d had enough mentally of slaving around for spoilt (perhaps rich) European expats that couldn’t clean up after themselves! And the more dust and stains I removed the more these thoughts remained in my head. Like, why is that the house cleaner always has to be black? Including myself in this case!
But then I’d flip the coin. Patricia wouldn’t have a job if these (spoilt rich) expats didn’t need a cleaner. Anyway, who was I to judge? I’ve always contemplated having a cleaner come to my apartment twice a month to give it a full clean out (of course I never have).
I finished my dusties tired and exhausted. I waited patiently for Patricia who was quite the perfectionist to finish the rest of the apartment. I took a seat in the living room. Her ‘boss’ whom was actually a friend, sat at the dining room table on his laptop. Initially I chose to be stubborn and not attempt to make conversation. The coin was once again flipped and I thinking along the lines of ‘so you’re the lazy bugger that’s got my friend slaving around your apartment huh?’
Those thoughts were soon banished as we eveturally got chatting. The resisidets of the apartment walked through the the living room in dribs and drabs, each one was curtious and polite. We engaged in casual conversation (I wonder if my British accent had anything to do with it?)
Eventually the most important hour arrived well after 2pm. Pay time for Patricia. At this point I lingered around the window pretending to be interested in the view (a beautiful view it was, but I was more interested in the amount she was getting paid). I didn’t look or ask how much she was handed. In my opinion anything less than $150 is slavery!
However much it was, it was enough for Patricia to treat me to Pastel (and later that evening after a crazy train ride, some jewellery from her friend’s shop). We sat and ate in silence. All I could think was ‘wow- you’re superwoman!’