No, I don’t mean The Help, the best-selling book, I mean our help — the wonderful people we have found to help us with so many things in the years we’ve lived here. Maybe “our helpers” is a better term. Truly our time here in Costa Rica would not have been the same — indeed, might not have even been possible — without them.
From Adrian who “received” us when we very first arrived at the cabinas over five years ago (and went on to become a good friend and many-time lifesaver) and his lovely wife Ana who fixed us our first dinner to our current housekeeper, Carmen, and Mom’s caregiver, Sully (and others in between) we’ve been blessed to find great Ticos through the years to have worked for us, helped us, and simply befriended us.
Five years ago, after our great introduction to Costa Rica through Adrian and Ana at the cabinas, we moved into our own rental house and Adrian introduced us to his cousin Linet who became our first housekeeper and caregiver for Mom and Dad. Although Linet spoke no English when she started, she had a deep and sincere interest to learn and that was part of why she wanted the job. She’d been caregiver to a brother who had passed not too long before, so she was familiar with that aspect of the job, but she also wanted to expand her horizons.
Linet was an amazing addition to our “family” and even now is the one who stays with Mom so that we can go out of town, a task I can hardly imagine entrusting to anyone else. We’re going in a couple of days to Salt Lake City to visit the kids and check out neighborhoods and such. I can’t see how this could be possible without Linet to come stay with Mom. She was sad when we said we were moving back to the States, saying, “But, I wanted to take care of you when you got old and needed help!”
We told her we’d come back when that time came!
When Daddy was in what turned out to be his final phase (not that we knew that at the time) he was weak enough that we needed help more than the 3 days a week we had Linet, so she introduced us to her sister Daisy. (Now, I have to admit at this point that Daisy might likely spell her name some other way, just as you would think that “Linet” was “Lynette.” But we never actually learned how Daisy spelled her name, so I’m going with what I know….)
Daisy was strong and good-hearted and filled in the alternate three days that Linet wasn’t with us. She spoke no English at all, but somehow we all managed. (By then we’d improved our own Spanish, and also learned the technique of muddling along with semi-understanding, a good skill for living in Costa Rica.)
Although we’d hired Daisy because we needed more help with Daddy, after his passing we felt bad about not continuing the job that she’d only just started, so she stayed on and kept up with the housekeeping. (At $36 a week, back then, for 18 hours at $2 an hour, it seemed worth it just not to have to let her go.)
So she and Linet shared the job until Linet was pregnant with her third child and her doc forbade her making the long ride over to the house on her motorcycle. This all ended up coinciding with our move to the A-frame, MUCH further away, so it all seemed to come to a natural end.
(But, as I say, we’ve since had Linet come back over the years to take care of Mom when we go out of town, and it’s been wonderful. And Juan Jose, Linet’s husband, has been a godsend as well handling many a challenging job for us, always strong, smart, and a creative thinker about how to get something done!)
When we moved to the A-frame, we visited with our neighbor Alexa, who (whom? sheesh, I always have trouble with that!) we’d met previously and knew to be a great resource. She introduced us to her sister-in-law, Ligia (LeeHeAh) who had worked as a cook for a local monastery for a gazillion years (18 years or something like that!) until she’d needed to take time off for a surgery. Forget job security, she’d had her surgery, regained her health, but had no job to return to.
Ligia was a heavy woman who initially seemed dour but really had a great sense of humor. Ironically when we’d first discussed job expectations and tasks, she had seemed most worried about the fact that we had dogs, and while she wouldn’t be expected to take care of them, per se, she would end up needing to interact with them just by their very presence in our house.
We’ll never know why she was so reticent since she was amazing with the dogs. Loved them, talked baby-talk (in Spanish, of course) to them, and doted on them. She seemed to readily forgive them the need for her to mop the floor repeatedly as they schlepped in mud daily.
But, sadly, after a bit less than a year with us, Ligia took ill. A few days off at first, then word that it was more serious and she was in the hospital. After about a week, our friend Alexa figured we would be drowning in household chaos (not, probably, an unreasonable concern) and suggested that while Ligia was sick, her sister Carmen could come fill in.
Ligia passed in May of ’09, just shy of a year after we’d first met her, and Carmen has been with us ever since. She, too, speaks no English (although understands FAR more than you might first imagine!) and also adores the dogs. While we do, indeed, pay her a salary every Friday afternoon thus making her “hired help”, she’s certainly become part of the family.
While Linet was able to be both housekeeper and caregiver for Mom (and Dad), as time has gone on and Mom’s dementia has gotten worse, we’ve found we need a dedicated caregiver just for Mom. First was our friend and neighbor Alexa. She had been a missionary in the past, specifically working with the elderly, so she was a natural. First for a few hours in the afternoons, then for a longer period of the day, she was a life-saver.
In the end, as Mom needed more intense care — not so much that the “tasks” are that intense, but she can’t be left alone since she has no idea whether she’s been alone for a moment or hours — Alexa found it was too much of a distraction as she tried to also care for her family of three lovely young daughters and her husband.
As we pondered our alternatives, we thought we might discuss the job with our young friend Sully (not pronounced as you would expect in English, sully, as in to “sully” someone’s name, for instance, but SueLee, all run together into one word). We knew she was taking a full course load of college classes so we didn’t really think she, herself, could take the job, but we wanted to offer it to her “just in case” and figured she might be a good resource.
Turns out that her school program was designed for working folks, so classes were at night or on the weekends, and she was thrilled with the job and we were thrilled to have her. Before going into psychology she’d been a nursing student, so the needs of elder-care weren’t unfamiliar to her. She’s not daunted by the occasional pee or poop problem, she’s patient beyond all human expectation, and she’s just relentlessly cheerful and another delightful addition to our family here.
In her time with us Sully has graduated with her Bachelor’s in Psychology and is now finished with the classwork for her “licenciatura” or license to practice psychology. A grueling series of exams are still ahead of her, but we know she’ll do brilliantly. We were dreading the time to come when she would leave us, and now with our moving back it looks like we’ll be able to last out the rest of our CR stay with Sully in hand. Thank goodness!
Sully’s brother Deivis (yes, pronounced Davis), has also become a great resource. A talented young man, he’s been dealing with our coffee, not only picking and processing it, but handling the “in-between” steps of clearing out the appropriate amount of underbrush and other mysterious maintenance as needed. He’s wonderfully handy around the yard and garden and now that we’re “freshening” up for the sale, he’s proven to be a good painter as well!
There are others. Alexa we’ve mentioned, along with her jack-of-all-trades husband Oscar who is our trusted “go-to” guy. When our house was hit by lightning recently, it was Oscar who came to our rescue (but as always, through the wonderful benefits of Alexa and her English which just helps make sure that what we think we’re saying is actually comprehensible!) When the toilet isn’t working, or the gas water heater is inexplicably inoperable, or we need a railing for the porch… Oscar is our guy! Humble, honest, hard-working, and multi-talented, we’re proud to call him and Alexa our friends.
You occasionally hear folks rant and rave about being taken advantage of by their Tico “workers” and I’m sure there are plenty of true stories, just as there would be anywhere. But I have to say that we’ve yet to find that to be the case — we’ve always been able to hire folks that are as honest as you could dare to dream of, that work hard, that trust and respect us just as we trust and respect them….
And at wages of between $2 and $6 per hour, this is definitely on the “things we’ll miss” list! But for now, it’s just on the “things we appreciate” list.
Our help. Our friends. Feels good.