I try hard not to turn into a total diva in Panama. In Seattle, I live alone and pretty much do everything for myself. I cook, shop, clean up the kitchen, take out the garbage, do the laundry, change the linens — you get it, all the little daily household tasks that make things run smoothly. I do have a cleaning person every two weeks. Occasionally I call on Ben and Sara to do things like change the batteries in the six smoke alarms — not because I couldn’t do it, but because they make quicker work of climbing up and twisting the devices off their brackets in order to insert the new batteries. I asked Matt to come over and help me with the grill after I’d assembled it and didn’t think it was igniting. It was — I just didn’t recognize the almost invisible blue flame.
But in Panama, I have Gloria. We all do the big shopping on arrival, to make sure we get what everyone wants to have on hand in the kitchen. But she goes to the fish market in a taxi every day, and to the Super 99 when we need to replenish groceries. She sets the table, cooks delicious meals, cleans up. She does the laundry, and sweeps the sand out. She doesn’t really clean because she hates it, and I don’t care much for the two or three weeks I’m there. But if something goes wrong, like the shower backing up, she gets on the phone with the on-site manager and deals with it. I find myself getting more and more indolent as the time goes by. I can certainly get up and get myself a second cup of coffee at the breakfast table. But Gloria will notice before I do, and she brings the fresh pot to me.
I pay her really well for the time she’s with me, and by now she joins right in with whatever we’re doing. She takes meals with us, and goes in the pool — sinks like a stone, despite our many valiant efforts to teach her to float. She comes on the outing to El Valle. The social class differences prevented her from doing that with her former employer. Indeed, when Senora P. first saw Gloria having a hamburger with us poolside, the Senora was visibly horrified and visibly angry at the breach of etiquette. Gloria, and all the servers — who come from the village and quickly discerned what was going on — found it very amusing, at least after I reassured Gloria that Senora P. could not come over, yell at her and send her back into the house.
Working for me has been a change for Gloria, but my time there is a big change for me too. I do … not much. And I have to admit, three weeks of being waited on is quite a pleasant and restful thing.