Chapter Two

Chapter 2

What I wrote 40 years ago:

“I first met her at our front gate.  She was so short I could not see her black hair until I opened the gate.  At five feet three I had most often looked up to people.  It was hard to get used to looking down. “We were mutually nervous.  I was having a time with the language and I didn’t know the first thing about how to ask someone to work for me.  She was timid in expressing herself, and caught at a disadvantage because, as she told me later, she had already agreed to another job.  When she saw my sign she pushed our doorbell on sudden impulse, almost hoping we were not at home.

“She was the first person to answer on the first day we put up the “Help Wanted” sign.  “Se necesita muchacha.” But some way, in spite of the problems, we settled the necessary details of salary, work clothes, room and furniture, and the kind of work to be done. I was glad to hear her say she liked children and she was pleased to hear we would be glad for her to go to school.”

More details: The bell rang, indicating there was someone at the front gate.  I went to the small window in the door and looked out.  Though I saw no one, I opened the door and walked the ten steps to the green enameled wooden gate.  I opened the gate and invited her in. The view from the front hall where we sat on folding chairs seemed very strange to her.  We were a wife and husband and seven children, ages from 18 months to almost 12 years of age.  She remembers that we were barefoot, a detail I find hard to believe, but that observation already made us suspect as to proper urban culture.  A glance into what should have been a living room showed five rows of folding chairs and a wooden pulpit stand.  The small family dining room was devoid of furniture. We had been in Lima only a few days. Three families from the United States who were there for various vocational reasons had rented the big house for us.  The Marine Sergeant, who had been in charge of the Embassy Guard, and the engineer from Armco International were being transferred out of the country in a short time, and our house was being furnished slowly as they made their moves into temporary apartments. The folding chairs had come from Panama via Harold, the Air Force radio operator, who would be staying in Peru with us another four years. Glenn, my husband, and I had both studied Spanish for three years in college thirteen years previously, but we struggled with understanding and putting our thoughts into spoken language.  Setting the monthly salary wasn’t too hard. Our friends had prompted us on what to offer.  A day off every week, yes, probably Sundays.  Would she like to go to school?  That was a conscience-salving offer, from an independent American woman who wasn’t sure having a “maid” was a democratic thing to do.  I also hoped I could protect some family privacy and avoid spoiling the children. The school offer turned Constantina’s decision in our favor. It gave her the courage to tell the other family she would not be coming.  The hope of going to school had been her reason for looking for work in our part of the city. She kept asking about “uniformes.”  I hadn’t been briefed about uniforms.  She was wearing a simple flowered frock.  I found out later that she had made it herself, by hand, and probably owned only one change at the time.  The custom was to furnish work clothes, two changes of a blue and white striped dress that buttoned down the front. Our house had servants’ quarters, two small rooms, one above the other, at the back of our concrete patio. She looked at the lower room and told us she would need a cot and bedding, a chair and a table. The arrangements made, she left to excuse herself from the other commitment and with a promise to return in two days with her belongings.  And we wondered what we had let ourselves in for, and made arrangements for a trip to the market to find uniforms and rustic furniture for her room.

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