The after-effects of a whirlwind visit back to my hometown took their toll, still in the process of winding down – inside my core and spirit – even though I left Montreal early last week. Even now, much like when the loud sounds and reverb of a rock concert continue to ring in one’s ears for days after the show, some of the sensations and images still feel raw and palpable.
Is it any surprise, given that my days and nights were primarily consumed with matters of health and home…with a few other urgent issues thrown in for good measure? Not a day went by that wasn’t chockfull of errands, calls, appointments and other doings.
There were countless trips to the farmers’ market, the supermarket, the grocer, the health food shop and the Polish meat butcher – for organic bison and deer. The pharmacy. The bank. Many banks. Uptown. Downtown. Clerks and managers. Conference calls overseas.
Let’s not forget the hospitals and doctors, specialists and surgeons, nurses, clerks and night staff. Meetings and phone calls with a slew of accountants, lawyers, more doctors, an acupuncturist – and even an MD/naturopath that I couldn’t even fit in (even after postponing appointments twice); miraculously, I managed to squeeze in one visit to the osteopath, one yoga class, two movies, a few walks, a CD/book launch and timeout with friends.
But my time was circumscribed by things that needed care. And much care was needed.. because things broke down. As they do, in a well-tended and loved 40-year old home. People were coming and going all the time. It was hard to keep track. Plumbers, electricity and air-con technicians, phone and garage repairmen, garbage and recycling collectors (and friendly neighbors who weekly schlepped bins up to the road and back down again). Real estate agents, estate sale agents, inspectors, and even the mailman rang the bell.
Philatelic experts, second-hand booksellers, antique book and salt-and-pepper collectors. Retro and vintage LP stores, and yet more antique stores. More bookstores, specialty shops, experts in vintage items and a university rare books library.
And then there were two. Two helpers who see to it, that on a semi-regular basis, the house is clean, bathrooms and kitchen spotless, things in their place; that the tiles are fixed, cracks in the walls patched and painted, flowers planted in the garden and boxes carried to and fro – yes, lots more shlepping. They couldn’t be more dissimilar; Mayolene hailing from Jamaica, and Sergey from Ukraine. They have no common language between themselves – yet, whenever they sit down for lunch, their attempts at chatter and bountiful laughter is a joyful sound that echoes throughout the house.
In ways that are invisible to those who merely pass through occasionally – the agents, accountants and assorted techies – this pair helps keep this house’s heart and soul ticking. I feel at a loss to explain the essence of their invaluable contributions and presence. But today, on the eve of my return to Bali, I’m suddenly struck by a glaring clarity, conjuring up the precise – but non-existent – Indonesian term to describe the pair of them: pembantukang. Pembantu means house-helper or maid (an assistant who does everything from cook and clean, to drive and undertake repairs around the house); while tukang refers to a handyman, an expert craftsman and maker of all manner of things.
My parents are keen to visit Bali. But in the meantime, I’ll take comfort in knowing that they’re blessed with the many people that make their lives, hearts and home tick; and their pembantukang – the best possible hybrid of Balinese, Jamaican & Ukrainian hospitality.