Monday, March 26, 2007

Au Pair? Au Contraire!

Never overestimate the interpretation skills of someone who speaks English as a second language. English, with all its contradictions,
dialects, slang, idioms and nuances, takes way more than 9 months to figure out. Sometimes we, especially me, tend to forget that.

It was kind of funny, back in December we had informed Asmira that we needed to know if she planned on staying for her second year. We needed to know by mid January because if she didn't plan on staying, we needed to start the interview process again. I guess we never stressed the staying "where" part. When my folks were at our house over Christmas, my mother had told me that Asmira told her that she was planning on staying. I had also heard the same from my brother in-law and mother in-law. After nine months of living with someone for whom English was a second language, I had learned that a lot gets lost in translation. So when my family would tell me these things I started asking them, what exactly did you ask her? Did you ask; are you planning on staying for your second year or did you ask; are planning on staying with us for the second year? Anyone who talked to Asmira always forgot the latter half of the question which... is really the most important part. I'm just as guilty. About two weeks before the deadline, I asked her do you plan on staying a second year? She replied I think so, I really like it here. I was so relieved but it was only after I was telling Sheri later that evening that I realized I did the same thing, I didn't ask "where". Fast forward two weeks to the deadline and we're all sitting at the dinner table and I ask again. Asmira, do you plan on staying a second year? She said "Oh yes, I love it here, I don't want to leave, I plan on staying the full two years."

I was relieved for about 15 seconds when it dawned on me that hey idiotself you still have not asked "where". By now, after listening her to rave about how much she loved it "here", I thought the "where" part was pretty moot at this point. I remember thinking "She loves it here, she's not going anywhere". But because it was the deadline I felt I better make sure there were no misunderstandings. I asked do you plan on staying "with us" for your second year? Without hesitation she said "No - I move in with a family in Baltimore for my second year". I knew it!

It's down to the wire now. Asmira officially has 14 days left at our house. It's been a wonderful year for me, Sheri and the kids. We can't say enough about Asmira and the program in general. Sheri and I were disappointed that she decided to complete her second year with a different family. However, we understand that if we were in Bosnia and had an opportunity to live within walking distance of a lifelong friend, we ourselves would probably jump on it as well. Asmira's best friend is in Baltimore and she is moving into a host family down the street from Almira. We can't say we blame her.

Asmira was excited about the move back in January/February, these last few weeks the realization of change has set in. The aforementioned excitement has turned to anxiety as she will be starting over with a new family in a new location with new rules. Sheri and I are confident she will do well.

What have I learned?

1. Bosnians are mentally tough and work hard.
2. Bosnia reminds me of Pa, I would like to visit.
3. I'm far more paternal than I thought even though Asmira is 24 and I'm th...not.
4. By Bosnian standards, I baby my two boys.
5. Not all Muslim women wear veils, in fact when going out; some of them wear very little clothing and a lot of makeup.
6. Bosnians are not confined by time; at least they act that way - an enviable trait for many Americans.
- For Asmira's birthday we bought her a very nice watch because we noticed she didn't have one. As it turns out, in Bosnian Culture, watches are never given as gifts. In fact, it is an insult.
- We gave her an alarm clock when she first got to our house and I don't think it has even been plugged in yet.
7. My family's life was positively influenced by Asmira. I hope we were to her.

We are looking forward to our new au pair that will be at our house on Good Friday. Her name is Lucianna and she is 21 year old from Brazil. She speaks English pretty well and Portuguese is her native language.

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