Monday, March 26, 2007

Aimee goes to France

Jacques decided not to go to France for the summer holiday, but I desperately wanted to see the family and Jacques mother had booked two weeks holiday with Marc, Nina and three cousins. I didn’t want to leave our maid, Aimee, alone for six weeks with nothing to do, and Jacques thought she could help his parents, prepare the meals and accompany Jacques' mother on the holiday. It would be helpful to have a traveling partner especially with a lively 18-month old toddler. I thought Aimee might enjoy seeing France and I promised to take her up the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I had to do all the paperwork at the French embassy, where I bumped into two school mothers who were also taking their maids back to France. They assured me it always went well and their maids were happy to travel. Finally after much packing and gift buying we boarded a night flight for Paris via Dubai.

We finally arrived in Paris around lunchtime. Usually we took the direct flight and could catch an early morning train from the airport, but we had to take a bus into the centre to Gare Montparnasse. Our bags weighed a ton, the kids were grumpy, Aimee was jet-lagged and disorientated and I felt like I had four children. We were so slow that we nearly missed the train and ended up sat in the corridor on our bags, because our reserved seats were the other end of the train and you could not pass through. Aimee must have wondered what on earth was France like. When we arrived at Poitiers, looking disheveled and giggling with over-tiredness I was truly wondering if I had done the right thing. But when we arrived at the house in Pouillox everyone was waiting for us. In the sunny courtyard Jacques’ mother had prepared trays of cool drinks, tiny jam and lemon tarts and savoury snacks. It was heaven. The cousins re-established their friendship instantly and Gabriel was admired and cooed over and Aimee met everyone.

Aimee adapted very well to France and although she didn’t speak French she always managed to second guess what was needed. Aimee did not like the cold mornings though and didn’t own any warm clothes. Odile dug out a bag of secondhand clothes and we managed to kit Aimee out. Coming from a large family Aimee told me she liked having so many people around. She made her speciality fried rice and spring rolls, and fussed over the cousins, plaiting their hair and playing with them.

Only one time did she feel out of place. At the end of the holiday we went camping with Gaelle and the cousins at the beach. Aimee had never slept in a tent and was curious why all these rich people were sleeping outdoors when they could have gone in a nice hotel, or barbecuing sausages and washing their dishes under the tap when they could have gone to a restaurant? The beaches were crowded that year, so Gaelle and I decided to go to the plage naturist or nudist beach, where it was easy to find a space and the kids could run around without their swimsuits.

Aimee was horrified and shocked to see nude men and topless women, and looking at it from her eyes I was too, especially after coming from Malaysia where nudism is not at all tolerated, and Muslim female bathers wear suits that cover everything but their feet and hands. I told Aimee that I wouldn’t strip off, it was really for the kids to have more space. But Aimee sat fully clothed and uncomfortable under the parasol until we left. After that we either went to the usual busy beach or left her behind in the campsite.

At the end I took the kids and Aimee to Paris for a few days. We did all the tourist things and went to Disneyland for the day. She said it was much better than she imagined. It was her birthday as we flew back to Malaysia via Dubai, and the kids joked that she had her birthday in three continents; Europe, Middle East and Asia. Odile and I had given her some euros to spend in duty-free at the airport, and she came back with a huge bottle of Estee Lauder perfume, which she said would remind her of France.

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