Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Scene: I'm standing on a chair in the kitchen, reorganizing the small appliances the workers haphazardly placed after they finished painting our kitchen.
Z: "Why are you doing that? Let the workers do it."
AT: "I can do it myself. What do I need them for?"
Z: "Just tell them how you want it organized and they'll come and do it."
AT: "It's not a big deal. I can have it done before they can even get up here."
Z: "But it's their job. Just stand here and tell them how you want it and they'll do it."
AT: "I told them how I wanted it, and this is how they kept it. I'll do it my way, it will be done in two minutes, and it will be the way I want it. You know, in the US you don't have someone you can call every time you want a small task done. You have to do it yourself."
Z: "Don't scare me like that."
When I was making plans to move to India I was given a single piece of advice by my then Site Director "Don't become too dependent on others to do things for you."
In India, hired help is just a call and a 20 rupee note away. Anything you want done, any time, day or night, there's someone you can call and hire to do it. Just two years after arriving, I'm realizing how completely dependent I've become on others for super basic things I've done for myself most of my life.
When I first came here I felt guilty asking my watchman to get me breakfast or to go to the market or to take my clothes to be pressed. My husband kept telling me "it's his job." Not really. His job is to keep the exterior of the apartment clean, be a Mr Fix-It when required, and ensure our building is relatively secure.
Fast forward 2 years: Hired help takes my laundry to be pressed, hired help presses it, and hired help goes and picks it up after it's pressed. Hired help makes my lunch and my tea. Hired help takes me to and from office every day. Hired help replaces a burnt out light bulb, or an empty water bottle, or an empty toothpaste tube. Every little thing, is done by someone else; to the point of my own paralysis. If my cook doesn't come, I don't eat. If someone doesn't take my clothes for pressing, I don't wear business formal to the office. I've become completely dependent on others and I find it maddening.
Having someone there to do every small task has put me into a state of helplessness when I'm left to my own devices. What I find most frustrating about it, is that I have to wait for said help to arrive then spend what feels like an excessive amount of time trying to explain what I want, and watching over them to offer direction in order to ensure it's done right. In that time, I could have just done it myself, and no doubt saved some money and my own aggravation.
I've always been a strongly independent person and I'm stunned and rather dismayed about how quickly that quite admirable trait has vanished from my character. I try and justify it by saying that everything is so damn difficult here that you should take help where you can get it. Let someone else fuss over the small stuff. Part of me is appreciative for that reason, and the other part realizes how sheltered I've been over the past 2 years because I've always had someone there to do everything for me and I've had pretty limited instances where I've had to struggle for anything. That's a blessing, but could also be a curse.


  1. I really appreciate this post. It's very insightful and thought provoking. I'm dealing with this very issue with my husband now. He's frustrated by not having the help to do everything. He doesn't want to understand that small tasks really aren't that difficult. Of course, for him this is mostly culture shock but I know you get the point of how he's feeling. I'm going to share this with him so he can feel like he's not so alone with these feelings.

    1. It's as though the feeling of helplessness goes both ways. On one hand, you can feel helpless when someone's not there to do it for you and on the other hand feel helpless when you're not allowed to do it yourself. Funny how that works!

  2. If it makes you feel any better, I don't eat if no one cooks either.