It came as a surprise
and shock to us, but the evidence was irrefutable.
After almost three decades of worldwide travel, we consider ourselves to be veteran travelers. We
know about safety
on the road, what to pack for long journeys, and how to get
the best prices
possible through negotiation with
vendors, hoteliers, and even
medical professionals. In our lifetimes we’ve had housekeeping services, garden
and lawn services, countless employees during our business years and maids and
gardeners in our times overseas. Generally, we can tell if we are
and our antennae are up as a matter of course.
But this time, we got
taken by a maid.
Love is blind
As you know, we
house sitting in Antigua, Guatemala. We love it. Being able to
Colonial city from the luxury of a home with full privileges,
views of three volcanoes from the rooftop garden and only a stone’s
throw from a marvelous bakery has been fantastic. The house sit came
with a 6-day-a-week maid who is cheerful, hardworking, sensitive to our
privacy, and never carried an attitude towards us or about her job.
This lifestyle is beyond
domestic help's wildest dreams
Rosa and I had
countless chats about being a single mother, her family background and
her dreams for her children. She neither reads nor writes because when
she lost her father in the Guatemalan civil war, she had to drop out of
school to help her mother take care of her nine siblings. When her
mother fell ill with cancer, Rosa moved in and nursed her during her
dying time. I shared that I was
my mother's primary
caregiver also and
we nodded together in understanding.
joking, we discussed spiritual quests, the men in our lives and personal
challenges we faced.
We see what
we want to see
finger was de-gloved in early September, our reliance on Rosa
increased. She went shopping for us and carried the heavy bags of fruits
and vegetables back to the house. She cut fruit up, cleaned and mopped
the house, tied my shoes when I could not, and put flowers on the table.
Answering the door when the bell rang, she knew to say “no” to the
firewood man, negotiated good prices with the fruit vendors and she
ordered bottles of water from the water delivery man.
She was an
angel, a Godsend, and she made our lives run smoother during
The evidence builds
Meanwhile, due to the
severity of my finger accident, we were spending 6 to 12 hours a day driving to
and from Guatemala City for therapy and appointments with my surgeon. Because we
were paying out of pocket for all services received, we were going to the ATM
every other day. We were burning through cash quickly and our lives were filled
with medical distraction.
Time came for my skin
graft and it was relatively expensive. Making several trips to the bank, we had
to store up some cash a few days ahead of the operation.
You can see where I’m
going with this, can’t you?
The night before
my operation, we recounted the cash we had stashed and mysteriously, I
It was hard to
think straight with all the medications I had been taking, and I
certainly was not looking in Rosa’s direction for a culprit. Something
didn’t settle well, but to go into the operating room with negativity on
my mind was not what I wanted. I pushed the event away.
Weeks later when
it was time to pay Rosa for her monthly work, we again took Quetzales
out from the bank and placed it separately from our daily household
cash. Payday arrived and when I reached for her wages, half of that
money was gone.
Billy and I
always travel with American Dollars, and with Guatemala so close to
Mexico, we had a wad of Pesos in reserve as well. Sadly, we found that
all of our stockpiles of cash were depleted.
Normally in a hotel
room, we would be locking everything up in a steel
cable Pacsafe with several locks and with the Pacsafe attached to something
immovable like some plumbing or a fixture attached to the wall. We are advocates
for the safety of our gear, and we always advise you, our Readers, to be aware
of your surroundings.
Here, in a home
situation, we were not careless, but we were definitely “casual” in our
approach to Rosa. We treated her as part of the family, giving her food,
buying presents for her kids, and “loaning” her money. Rosa is smart,
funny, engaging and a hard worker. We fell in love and got sucked in.
Now we had found
that our money was missing and we were embarrassed. We know better than
this state of affairs as much our fault for blurring the lines between
“employer and employee” as it was for her to succumb to temptation.
Wealthy Indigenous home
It’s hard to
think clearly when your heart is smashed and waves of anger come surging
vulnerable and she took advantage of me! We trusted her!” I would
wail to Billy.
“We let our guard down
and we never should have. We know better than this!” would be his retort.
“She is so poor, she
can’t even read or write, she’s a single mother. She needs the money far more
than we do...” I’d say in subdued guilt.
"If she's a thief,
she'll lose this job. The owners will never trust her again," Billy reminded me.
Back and forth like this
for a couple of days we went, not knowing whether to bring it up to her or not.
Remember, we are house sitting, she is technically not our employee, and more
importantly, she has the keys to the house and to the owner’s car.
We found ourselves in an
unpredictable situation, and felt responsible for the owner’s belongings. We
thought we knew Rosa and could trust her, but what if she felt cornered, came
back to the house when we were gone for the day and took the TV or stole the car
and sold it for parts?
Our discomfort in where
we found ourselves increased.
Basic human values cross
The next few
days were joyless with Billy and me not looking into Rosa’s eyes for
fear we would be too angry or somehow bumble it and say something not
well thought out. But this “not-treating-Rosa-like-a-full-person” ground
on us. It was an unsustainable situation and just felt ugly. It’s not
who we are… It’s not who we want to be.
confronted Rosa in as gentle of a way as possible about the
disappearance of our dinero.
Over and over
and over Rosa unequivocally denied she knew anything about our loot and
then said she had to go home and feed her children.
With no anger in
our voices but with obvious disappointment and hurt, we explained to
Rosa how we knew it had to be she who had taken the money. As the
evidence closed in on her, she became very quiet.
We told her she was
better than a thief and that her children needed a role model or else they might
become thieves themselves. She would have pain if her children walked down that
road. We told her that we can see that she has a hard life and we know she works
“You are like a daughter
to us and we love you,” we said. Our hearts are broken. Our trust is broken.
We are broken. We asked her to think about it, and she said she would come
in the next day to work.
The next day Rosa was an
hour later than her promised time to be at the house, and we were beginning to
think we had blown it. We were ready to find an alternative temporary maid and
have the locks changed to the front doors to protect the owners’ home and
Then she walked in.
Rosa asked to
speak to the both of us together, so we collected in one of the
light-filled bedrooms upstairs. Spilling her guts out and with tears
streaming down her face, she tells us that she pays for everything with
her children and that the temptation was just too much for her. She told
us she took the money, she was very sorry, she would pay every bit of it
back, and asked us to forgive her.
It was a heart
wrenching 10 minutes of confession and redemption.
Then she handed
friendships are a treasure
courage inspired us. Telling her we loved her we reminded her never to
forget that she is a strong, good person and a solid example for her
children. It was very tempting to forgive the whole debt right then and
If we actually
her as our own daughter, we would want her to learn that stealing is not ok. She
must demonstrate to us and to the owners that her word is good and thereby
reinstate herself as being trustworthy and reliable.
So we worked out a
Each month Rosa will pay
towards her debt just like a loan payment. Unbeknownst to her, a certain portion
will be held back in reserve for when she completes her promise. As she finishes
her commitment, that amount will be given back to her as a gift from us, a
reward for her personal discipline and for keeping her word.
Without the cooperation
and understanding of the homeowners on this matter, the full circle of this
lesson would not be possible. In most circumstances when a maid is found
stealing, they are fired and the relationship is severed.
Rosa’s authenticity and
willingness to engage impacted all of us. It takes a certain quality of spirit
for her to face us, admit to a mistake and ask to be given another chance.
Sometimes, it is
difficult to be both loving and firm. But, when we can manage to make it happen,
the results can be very powerful.