We will happily talk about all of those financial benefits all day long. What is harder to talk about, however, is the disparity between the haves and have-nots in Colombia and our categorization into the haves.
This is the hard part. The minimum wage in Colombia is about 18 dollars a day. This amounts to $4,320 per year. This is what women like Maria, the lady who helped us with our house, would normally make working as an "empleada de servicio." We make more in a month than they make in a year. When Billy and I decided to hire Maria (after a lengthy conversation on whether we are, by hiring her, enabling a broken, unfair system or if we are doing what we can with what we have to help a person who needs employment), we offered her more than the minimum wage, close to a 30% increase. She came twice a week and we paid her around $45 for the 2 days. She was absolutely wonderful: she was kind, honest, hard-working, and she helped me immensely during those first few weeks after I had Roman.
If you hear someone in the US talk about their cleaning lady, then they're a pompous dick. Like they're so rich that they have a cleaning person or their house is so big that they can't clean it. And this is like a cleaning person that comes once or twice per week. But in Colombia it's totally normal and expected that someone who makes what would be barely over the poverty level in the US should have a full-time empleada who cooks and cleans 8-10 hours per day.
My relationship with Maria grew to be more than just employer - employee. She was taking care of me and my family and for that, I was so grateful. We would oftentimes sit and talk about her family and my family, her job, her sick mother. She came to be a great friend who just happened to cook and clean for us. We had similar relationships with other people, too. We became good friends with our "portero," doorman, Carlos. His wife just had her baby in September, so we gave all of our baby stuff to him to take. Every morning, when Billy would take Des to the little bus that would pick him up for school, he would sit downstairs, have some "tinto," and chat for a good 45 minutes with Carlos about Colombia, their jobs, their families, etc.
Rosa, the lady who cleaned the apartment building, became just as dear to us as Maria. Every morning, she would hold Roman while Billy or I took Des to the bus. As soon as we would step out of our old elevator, her sweet, high-pitched voice would ring out. "Roman! Roman Daniel!" And automatically, Roman's face would light up and he would smile the biggest smile, his one dimpled cheek reddening from the exertion. He would flap his arms wildly and almost dive into her arms. She would spend those 45 minutes that Billy was talking to Carlos with Roman, playing with him and singing to him about arepas and pollitos (baby chicks). She cried the day we left.
I did, too.
So, yes. I am so glad that we hired a cleaning lady. I am so glad that our money went to help Maria, Rosa, and Carlos earn a living. I am so glad that we were in a place where we could afford to do so. These women and men, even though they provided us a service, even though the disparity between our incomes and our worlds was vast, became our friends in Bogota and made our stay and our experience that much richer.