The help

DIDI दीदी (n., f.) = an older sister, commonly used term to address women in one’s generation

Adding “didi” to someone’s name is very common in Nepal. For instance, someone younger to me, or of my age, might call me Zeljka didi. Sometimes people even do. However, what’s more common, especially among foreigners, is to address their house helper as “didi”. You see, it’s a completely normal thing to have a house helper in Nepal. No, let me rephrase that. It’s totally necessary for most of the people to have a house helper.

Our house helper is called Shanti and she is awesome. Seriously, she makes our lives so much easier. Shanti takes care of the house for us. She cleans (which in Kathmandu is a daily necessity because of all the dust), she does the laundry, goes to the market, preps fruit and veggies for us, and makes sure we always have water in the tank, cooking gas and drinking water in the house. Without her, we would be lost and miserable.

Shanti and I do not communicate much simply because she does not speak English and I do not speak Nepali. We have developed this half sign, half smile language, and we move around each other predicting what the other one’s move will be. I like to believe we are comfortable enough with each other. When there is no way to avoid the conversation, it makes for quite a comical sight. It usually ends in total confusion on both sides. Like that one time I was trying to replant a flower in a larger pot. I needed her to find me a bigger pot, so I brought her to another plant that was in the pot of the size that I needed. I was pointing at it trying to explain what I need. She was smiling, nodding her head, seemingly understanding what I need, confirming it by saying “Hajur, maisab, hajur” (yes, madam, yes). I was proud of myself, I have to admit, until I came back and realized that, instead of bringing me a larger pot, she simply switched the places of the plants. Or, like the other day when I wanted to make yogurt so I asked her to go to the shop and bring me one liter of milk in a green package. She came back with half a liter of milk in a blue package. And a huge smile on her face. I couldn’t break her heart by telling her that’s not what I wanted so instead I said “Perfect, thank you!” and used the milk she brought. Joys of miscommunication.

On days Shanti and I stay at home alone, I am convinced she becomes a ninja. I assume, in an effort not to disturb me, she moves around the house without any noise. Like none. I do not hear when she walks, I do not hear when she does the dishes or folds the laundry. I would walk into a room just to find her there doing something. It usually gives me a heart attack. I have no clue how she can move around so quietly. I would be ironing in the room and suddenly, she would pop her head in the room saying “Maisab, tea, chyaa?”. I try to look calm and totally not surprised, but in reality, I am completely flustered and my heart is beating fast. Ah, my ninja didi. I love her.

I often think about the future and a life back in the West where a house helper is a luxury only selected few can afford. It will be interesting to see how I will go back to cleaning my own bathroom, dishes, and doing the laundry. I predict a challenge ahead of me…


11 thoughts on “The help

  1. A question springs on my mind. Since you haven’t been conversant in Nepali yet, how on earth do you deal/communicate with people in the family one generation up the line? Most urban people of current generation are conversant in English but that’s not the case with older generation.

    A piece of advice. Watching some more youtube Nepali tutorials will surely prove better than signs and half-smiles!

    • I am taking classes, but it’s kind of difficult to be fluent in half a year time. I communicate with members of the family in the same way my husband communicates with my family – signs and smiles. That’s the reality of an intercultural relationship.

  2. I’m so glad you have your Shanti! She sounds wonderful. I’m doing without because I’m working part-time, so I have time to do my own housework, but more importantly, since we live on a campus, which is already a fishbowl, we would lose ALL of our privacy if we had a Didi. I think you can understand what I’m saying! We do have someone buy us our fruits and vegetables as we would get charged too much–again, you know what I’m saying! 🙂 I’ll bet she is picking up some English with you and that will be good for her. Have a nice day!

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