That’s how she became the Nanny.

Yes, I have a nanny. 

Here it’s the norm. I knew it before we arrived. But still I thought that I was going to be able to do without one. I was a fool. To be really practical, imagine you move in a country where you don’t know anybody. So, no grandma babysitting on Friday nights (not that we have ever had that in Belgium anyway). This new job of yours requires 3 nights out per week, so you will need very often a babysitter (10 euros per hour). School of the older one stops at 1pm, right in the middle of the nap time of your little one. Daycare is over 2000 euros a month, you don’t work, so you won’t put your little one there. A huge house to clean with these 2 kids almost all the time there. Oh, and your diplo husband is sometimes working 12 hours per day and during the week end. Idyllic isn’t it?

I tried, like for 3 months. Worst months ever. It was possible but I had no life. So, we started to look for the perfect nanny. It’s a real quest here. Just posting a job offer, we had hundreds of applicants. You have to know that, like in almost every country, it’s us, the employer, who sponsors her work visa. So, she can only come and stay in the UAE because of her employer. And a lot of Filipinos, Ethiopians, Kenyans, Sri-Lankan,Indians, … dream to live here, to make money and send it back to their country. I remember interviewingone young Filipino girl and asking her “Why do you want to work here in the UAE?” she said to me: “In Philippines, taxes on salary are super high, it’s almost not worth it to work there”. As an economist (sometimes) very worried about the numbers, I checked after that chat; Philippines have a progressive income tax from 5% to 32%. In the UAE income tax is 0%. Yes, you read correctly. In Belgium income tax go (very quickly) from 25% to 50%, so I guess we, Belgians, win… or not. 

Besides, after the very first interview, I cried. This 35-years-old mother applicant was just like me, except she was living 7000km away from her 3 little children. The little spoiled European that I am had NO idea of this reality. These millions of parents working far from their country and paying for the expenses of the whole family in their country. They see their kids once a year! It’s the grand parents who take care of the kids. They are in a way much more family oriented than us, but in the meantime, she would leave her kids behind to raise mine… isn’t it completely crazy? So, I cried and said that I didn’t want to be part of that “system” and stopped looking. But after speaking with some nannies you realize they all have kids and it’s often the only way for them to be able to pay for their education and health care. In a way, you can help them from where you are. Redistribute a little bit. In this awfully unequal world where your birthplace seems to determine your chances in life. Instead of paying a nursery or a cleaning company and making a rich Emirati even richer, you provide for a whole family, 7000km away from you. It’s not always easy but in exchange, you have a new family member who loves your kids almost like you do. I say almost because she is much kinder to them that I am sometimes. 

After a period of dealing with applicant nannies who could not speak English, who lied about their visa status or were looking only for money, we were a little bit fed up and stopped our search for a while. That’s when somebody told me about a British family leaving their Filipino nanny behind. We contacted her and it clicked. Therefore, she moved in just before Christmas.  

First thing, I thought it was going to be weird to have an outsider, a stranger living in my house. I thought I was not going to let her do my laundry or see me in pajama. It took Fred 2 days to walk in front of her in underwear, and I haven’t done a laundry since she moved in. I can tell you, we acclimated pretty quickly. She is very discreet, and she has her own little house in our house. UAE houses are often made with a maid’s room. I don’t see her that often. The best part is probably the morning after you had a big party. She wakes up with the kids and cleans the house while you are still sleeping. The ultimate luxury.

And the kids you will ask me? Agnes was 3, wasn’t speaking a word of English, so this Filipino speaking English was an obstacle. But it challenged her I think, and one month after the arrival of our nanny, Agnès was speaking English, or a form of English. She very quickly integrated the benefits of having a nanny… “Agnès, tidy up you room” “it’s fine mom, Lin will do it”. it’s a bit of a challenge to explain to her what she still has to do.  Jack immediately liked the Nanny. Of course, she complied with all of his requests, where I was trying (too hard) to raise him perfectly. Don’t want to eat broccoli? Fine, I’ll make some corn. Want to play outside? Fine, we will. She’s very much of an ideal Grandma, I think. Before that, he was going to a public nursery in Belgium, where a couple of nurses were fine but a majority of them were old and looking more for retirement than for kids. He wasn’t happy there. And me working from 6am to 6pm didn’t help. Agnes was doing extra hours at the school too. I did notice that having a nanny and mom at home made them happier. 

But I can hear your inner voice, something inside you rejects this system. It’s fine, I was like you too. But I’ll try to stop that bitterness and take you beyond the usual stereotypes;

  1. She is no Mary Poppins

Don’t over dream it! She had very little education and there is no Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. She writes the grocery list on the sticky side of a post-it. She thinks Portobello mushrooms are pineapple hearts. She also thinks Tintin is actually the first Belgian guy who went to the moon with his fancy red spaceship. I let her think, she probably couldn’t pronounce “Dirk Frimout” anyway. Don’t talk super food with her, she will say food is enough if you have some. And she is right, forget kale and goji berries, they almost killed my husband. She won’t invent crazy games for kids, she is struggling with some 5years+ puzzles. Her English is far from perfect. She doesn’t really know what and where is Belgium, she mixes Poland with Holland, and she thinks I’m Dutch speaking. But I TRUST her. And this is the most important thing. When I’m at a diplomatic eventI know my kids are put to bed with their favorite stuffed animal and with the right light on. I know Jack and Agnès won’t cry because they are with someone they know.When I’m at the gym and I see her walking my kids and playing with them, I’m happy. I’m a better mom after this hour alone at the gym. I took some time for me, so I can play with them and enjoy it better. Believe it or not, thanks to her I took my first shower alone in 4 years! My kids have no grandparents, no uncle, no aunt, no godparent here, they just have their Nanny, and I’m thankful for her. With her friends, also nannies, they organized a sort of nursery for the little ones. In the morning, Jack gets to play with 8 other babies and toddlers. She socializes him although he doesn’t go to nursery. They sing and do some little theatre play for the kids. OK, it’s in Filipino so it confuses Jack even more between his 4 languages, but whatever, it’s cool.

2. She is no slave

Yes, she sleeps in a smaller room than we do. Yes, she makes less money than we do. Yes, she eats a lot of rice and almost no burgers or sushi. Yes, she calls us “Madam and Sir” and not “Cécile and Fred”. But she chooses to be here. She is happy here. She tells me almost every day. I don’t hold her passport. I don’t force her to do anything. She doesn’t even have a list of tasks; she just knows how to deal with the house and the kids. She has paid leave, days off, health insurance, one flight back to the Philippines per year, WIFI, and even Netflix. She sees some nannies being really badly treated. She probably has been one of them before, but she doesn’t want to talk about it. It happens. Not only in Arab families, I can tell you some very European families can turn mad too and mistreat their helper. She has friends in the compound, LOTS of friends. Her 2 sisters live here too. She is super busy on her days off! She has her own network. She knows everything. She is proud because they made a diplo nannies club. I find it a bit weird but, if it makes her happy… “status” is the only thing we have in this job, why no sharing it. Consequently, she rules the nanny game in our compound. Not really a slave life, right?

But still, something is bugging you? It’s ok. That’s why people here don’t talk about their nanny in their home country, many of them lie and say they don’t have one. Agnès is very smart and she figured it out the first day the nanny worked. She asked me “What is Lin’s job?”. I said, “Taking care of you two and the house”. She straight away replied, “Isn’t it YOUR job mom, taking care of us?”. She pissed me off, she has some guts… but she expresses the thoughts of a lot of people in Europe. I quit my job, so I’m supposed to do it all right? What am I going to do otherwise??? I can’t be NOT working and NOT taking care of my house and my children. Is that what they think or is it just jealousy? To be honest I don’t know how I would do without her. Working or not working. She makes life easier. She makes motherhood easier. She helps. This is a concept that I had almost forgotten. And it’s sweet. We were feeling so alone in Europe. When you are working full time, commuting every day, being a mom of two is hard, you come home with no energy left for the kids and in case of an emergency problem, you can’t find anyone to help you. Here, thanks to those amazing workers, we have very precious help. So yes, I get to do nights out with my husband, I get to go to lunch with my friends and can leave the dirty dishes and play with the kids, this is what makes me a happy mom! So, long live Nanny Lin!!!

This is me, exploring Singapore with my friend the fantastic photographer Kelly Acs (google her, you will fall in love). I will tell you more about this trip another time. For now I can just say that I was without my kids and that was AWESOME. This was only possible thanks to my dear Nanny, Lin! Thank you Lin!