Expat Stories, Kiddo

Finding Childcare in the Maldives

Like everything else here, turns out it’s an adventure.

In New Zealand Mila was in daycare three days per week while I studied full time. Obviously, those numbers don’t quite add up: to make my study work I had to rope in my lovely husband and parents on occasion, and pull all-nighters when I ran out of time. I did make it work, but it was far from ideal. What was ideal was her daycare. Oh, that place! We all still miss it. A Reggio Emilia  based centre with an outstanding child-staff ratio and staff that were caring and engaged and interested. They cooked together, gardened together, went rampaging through the local forest and stream. It was an idyllic place for her. If I could find anything like that again – or if we ever go home with a preschooler – I wouldn’t hesitate to enroll her. But here? Wishful thinking.

We were of course, promised a nanny would appear almost as soon as our plane’s wheels hit the tarmac. I was anxious about it: I drove Mr C mental making him repeat the assurances and check that the deal was still on. It was, it was:everything will be ok! Don’t worry about it. We’ll have you a nanny within an hour. Three in the next day – just pick the best one. But I was right: promises are slippery things here, and finding a nanny was not that simple.

The first one, Irma, took two weeks to show up: an eighteen year old with an attitude and no previous experience. “My sisters don’t think I can do it, so I want to prove them wrong,” she announced at her interview. If there had been anyone else, we wouldn’t have hired her. But there wasn’t, so we decided to give her a go.
“Do I have to come this early? It’s too early for me, I’m so tired,” she complained on the first morning. It was 8am and she’d just stepped in the door. As a parent of a small child, I’m pretty lacking in sympathy for anyone who thinks getting up at 6.45am is an ungodly hour.
“Yes, you do.”

“I don’t like the food at the canteen.”
“Do I have to take her to meals? I don’t like that place.”
“Can you make the TV work? I want to put the TV on.”
“I didn’t see her drawing on the floor because I was busy talking on the phone to my ma.”
“I don’t like having to get the ferry.”
“We didn’t do anything today, it was so boring.”
“Do I still have to take her to breakfast?”
“I couldn’t play with her today because she doesn’t like me.”

Photo credit: Dharmaflix

No wonder she doesn’t like you! I raged inwardly. You don’t make an effort – you don’t take her to meals unless I practically drag you – everything is an effort and a chore. I split into anxious halves: let her go or keep trying? It was amazing how fast the whole situation unravelled. Irma left the house a mess every evening, kept turning the TV on after I asked her not to and seemed to be eternally distracted because she was on the phone. The last day Mila spent with Irma was awful. She’d just had enough and clung to my husband and I as we tried to leave. I held her and rocked her on my lap for an hour before I left. She screamed as I walked out the door and I could still hear her screaming as I walked away. My heart was broken: it was not right leaving her in that situation, with a nanny who obviously did not, to be quite frank, give a shit about her little charge.

I bawled down the phone to Mr C that I was not doing this anymore. I would withdraw from my studies for the semester if it meant no more Irma. He agreed. No more Irma. Despite the loss of my academic semester, I felt my lungs inflate properly for the first time in days. My stomach unclenched. Relief. We’d had two weeks of Irma and that day when Mila screamed was the last day she worked. We paid her out for the rest of the month, and went back to square one.

We had already listed on Great Au Pair, a site which charged a steep US$60 for a month’s premium membership. And you needed to have a premium membership in order to contact potential nannies – so basically for the site to be of any use, although of course it was easy to sign up for the free version without realising that. Despite the name, the site promised it was also possible to hire nannies for any country in the world. We had plenty of applicants: but nobody from the Maldives, and most expecting the same salaries from their home countries: France, the UK, the US. Here in the Maldives we are able to offer a salary that is much better than the local going rate, but it still doesn’t compare to a Western income. Plus, we didn’t want to pay for an air-fare over here or organise work permits – so in the end, the site was a flop for us. We needed to go local.

And then I found it: Ibay. It’s the Maldivian equivalent of Ebay, and it has jobs. It’s a hassle to sign up for: you have to register with a bizarre SMS back-and-forth, the terms and conditions you agree to are only in Divehi (so God knows what I agreed to!) and the links aren’t the easiest, but, but, but – 100% worth it.
Maldivians seem pretty keen on their phones, so I gave out – with some reluctance – my phone number as well as a robot-protected version of my email address. Nobody bothered with my email. I had ten applicants the first day, and ten the next. Where were all these would-be-nannies coming from? I didn’t care. Well I did, but there was time for going through their CV’s later. For now I just wanted to feel gratitude that anyone had replied at all. The resort hadn’t made any progress finding anyone else, and I had begun to feel like we’d just fired the only nanny on Male’.

Of course, not all the applicants were what we wanted. The most memorable was Amina. Our text conversation went like this:

Amina: How much you paying.

Amina (five minutes later) Why you no text me back.

Me: Hi, can you tell me your name, whether or not you are living in Male and your childcare experience please. [I give her the salary range]

Amina: So how many hours I have to work

Me: Four days per week and two evenings.

Amina: I want to keep the baby with me in Male’ during day

Me: Sorry, she has to stay on the resort

Amina: I will come and see environment then decide if I accept the job.

Uh, sorry Amina, but no-one’s offering it to you! We may be a little bit desperate for a brilliant nanny, but you’re certainly not The One and we ‘re not THAT desperate. Been there, done that. Not doing it again.

But then moments later:

“Hi, I saw your advert for a babysitter for your family. Am really interested to spend time with kids. I am a Sri Lankan, married, living in Male’. Thanks, Martha.”

Photo credit: Dharmaflix

Now that is more like it.
We haven’t got to the interviewing stage yet, but today I’m feeling upbeat: somewhere in my phone inbox is someone who will take good care of my beloved little one.
Today, despite all the idiosyncrasies and dysfunction of everyday life here, is suddenly bright and warm with sunshine.

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One thought on “Finding Childcare in the Maldives

  1. Pingback: Tiny Island: Pros and Cons | Expat Travels

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