Come December 1st, my domestic helper of two years would be leaving us for good. Pleas to convince her to continue staying with us unfortunately fell on deaf ears. Considering the family issues that she has to settle back home, she reluctantly told us a month ago with tears streaming down her face that she had to leave.
Growing up with domestic helpers all my life, I should have been used to their comings and goings by now. However, the older I get, the harder it is to say goodbye to the one person who keeps the family together. Without domestic helpers, our household would be in chaos. No clean clothes, no food on the table and definitely not a clean bed linen in sight. It is definitely not easy to manage a family of seven coupled with two kittens but the maids who have come and gone have proven that such a feat is possible.
When my previous domestic helper of nine years went home, I found myself fighting to hold back tears as I watched her walk into the departure hall to catch her flight. This was never an issue with the plethora of previous maids that left. I did not realize how attached I had grown. More than just departing with a maid, I was saying goodbye to a close confidant, the one who knew my whims and fancies, who's clearly seen me at my worst and who has entertained my picky eating habits. Let’s be honest, not everyone is willing to care about my pickiness.
I was very opposed to having a new maid after my previous helper left. Honestly, it was very difficult getting used to a stranger in the house despite living with domestic helpers all my life. Trusting them and getting accustomed to their working styles takes time – I reckon the feeling is mutual. Nonetheless, the past two years with my current domestic helper has been nothing short of a good journey. Her seamless transition into our family in all aspects especially in warming up to my siblings and her exceptional cooking skills will be something that I will miss.
I admired her quiet determination as she started her stint with our family. She was very clear that she was working here to fund her mother’s pilgrimage trip. No matter what setback she faced along the way, she remained unfazed and carried out her duties. It is inevitable that we get snarky and give her attitude after a long day of work or school. Yet, she still greets us with a smile. She never raised her voice nor threw a tantrum when the work got too tough. It wasn’t easy but she took it in strides. In her own unobtrusive way, she slowly became a part of the family.
I will miss the look on her face when we brought home a stray kitten and that bright smile that flashes across her face every time she plays with that kitten. I will miss her company on late nights when I would be watching a Korean drama for an assignment and the questions she would ask after I explain the plot to her. If she saw something she didn’t understand about Korea or the Korean culture, she would ask. She was always curious. I will miss how her face lights up when I tell her about my travels in Tashkurgan and about past family vacations to India, Vietnam, and Dubai. She always had so many questions especially regarding the activities we did in those countries. Her oohs and aahs always made the stories worth telling. It was in those moments that I realized that this was the closest she had to travelling to those countries. I found it to be pertinent that I didn’t miss out any detail so she could get a proper visual.
In retrospect, when asked if there was something she would like to learn when we first met, she said she would want to learn how to use the computer. Every time I would be on my laptop, she would marvel as how quickly I was typing and how easily you could find answers online. She would ask me to search for recipes so she could cook something delicious for the family for dinner. If there’s one thing I regret, it is definitely not setting aside time to teach her how to use the laptop.
Now almost two years into her stint, I can’t seem to find it in myself to part with her let alone discuss her departure. I’ve grown so attached to bibik that I can’t imagine going through the same cycle once again. I know the end is near and one day she’ll start packing her belongings and we’ll have to say our goodbyes. Till that day arrives, I’m going to cherish every remaining moment.
It is inevitable that the age-old norm of established roles has been blurred; through this transitional relationship from a stranger to domestic helper to a confidant and finally saying goodbye to a “relative”.