Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lost in Translation

Everyone knows I've got a thing for refugees. This isn't some sort of Angelina Jolie complex. In the late nineties, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Turkmenistan where I met Afghans who had fled the Taliban, Russians who were trapped following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and other ethnicities just trying to make their way under one of the most oppressive regimes on Earth. (Turkmenistan or the Taliban? Good god that is a choice no person should ever have to make.) And, of course, there were times when I felt like a refugee myself. Everything was different in Central Asia and I frequently found myself torn between an overwhelming desire to return home and honoring the commitment I made when I joined the Peace Corps. Until Vivi's first birthday when I decided to stay home full-time, I spent my career working on behalf of refugees.

Fast forward to a few months ago when my husband and I made the decision to hire a babysitter for a few hours each week, for the sake of my sanity. We placed the usual Craig's List ad and got a prompt and pleasant response from Lu, a 60-something grandmother from China. She came with her daughter for an interview and both were very sweet. I called Lu's references and we hired her a week later to work 9:30-12:30 on Wednesdays. Simple, right?

Well, not really. You see Lu barely speaks English and when I say barely, I'm being generous. I don't know what the heck I was thinking when we hired her. Somehow her English seemed fine at the interview but since I've got that thing for refugees, I may have misremembered (a la Hillary Clinton).

Today, I was still in my nightgown and was peeling off the five swim diapers Vivi had decided to put on when Lu arrived at 8:45 a.m. I thought, "45 minutes early. Maybe she got a ride instead of taking the bus." Of course, I couldn't ASK her so I got myself organized and headed out the door half an hour later. As I was leaving, I pointed to the clock and said, "Can you stay until 12:30?" "Yes, no problem" was her response.

I arrived home at 12:10 to find Lu flying out the door with her purse. My first thought was, "Ummm... where's my kid?" She hastily said, "Yo husband wid Wee Wee." Then, I started to put things together. She must have needed to leave early today so that's why she came early. She could have at least told me that! Well, actually, she couldn't because she doesn't speak English. UGHHHHH!!!

Fair reader, you might ask, "Why don't you let her go?" Good question. She really does love Vivi and I know she takes good care of her, despite the communication difficulties. And, well, I've got this thing for refugees.

2 comments:

  1. I would be concerned with this. What if, God forbid, something happened? Would she be able to communicate with the proper people effectively? Helping out refugees or recent immigrants is great. However, sometimes you need to look out for you and yours first.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This has definitely crossed our mind. She knows how to dial 911 and to reach me. If she calls, I would assume that I need to head home even if I can't make out what she is saying. I'm trying to weigh the hardship of my kid not seeing her with the annoyances of our language difficulties. Right now, I just feel like I can't pull them apart. It's a quandry, indeed.

    ReplyDelete