Dear Ros, Milly and Marisi


house girls Dear Ros Milly and Marisi,

I am so sorry for just throwing my T Shirts on the floor like a careless manpikinini. Please forgive me. I understand how infuriating this must have been because I just spent all day picking up things Merran and the children have bin sakem alabaot. You may not believe but I am a haos girl now and I finally understand what a big frustrating, important job it is to look after a family. I am writing this story because we miss you and want to say thank you for everything you did for us.

Love Ben, Merran, Tom and Sasha

If you have moved from another country to live in Vanuatu (a long winded way of avoiding using the ugly sounding E word ) you will probably have been lucky enough to have been helped by a Nanny/ Housekeeper or the more common Bislama term Haos Girl. On timely reflection I now understand that these are very inadequate titles and Haos Angel would come a lot closer to describing their contribution to a chaotic, growing family home .

vanuatu helpAt first it was an endlessly nice surprise- having all the washing done and the house clean when we were an Island fresh, free wheeling, newly married couple. It meant more time to work, surf, explore, party. It took us some time to get used to having someone in the house and we were definitely awkward newbies, but Marisi graciously and quietly looked after us. It was the little things I liked about this time. Trying to learn Bislama, finding freshly cut flowers in the house or a live pigeon fluttering in the kitchen cupboard that was being saved for dinner.

vanuatu holidays with kidsIsland time passed quickly and we readily adapted into a South Pacific life. Merran fell pregnant and we realised we would need more more help. Lots more help. Tons. Highly recommended by a dear friend going-Finis, enter Ros. Ros the special forces of housekeepers. The organiser, fixer, business lady, mother and caring soul. With Merran massively pregnant and me enjoying that novelty golden time period of being a father without any concept or understanding of the impending responsibilities. Ros and Marisi helped prepare our haos for our very first incoming child. During this time there was, I remember an expectant sort of excitement throughout and it was an early insight into the absolute love and understanding that Ni Vanuatu women have for children.

vanutau beachThen it was on. We returned from Australia with infant Tom and absolutely no clue on caring for a newborn. Sleepless nights does not even come close to describing it . My wretched puffy head looked like a Christmas ham with a face drawn on it as I shuffled off to work at Sandalwood Inc. Merran was tired and teary as the magnitude of parenthood came down on us all.

vanuatu nannyThe girls saved us. Absolutely. Mothers already many times over, I bet they giggled at our obvious ineptitude and paranoia. All those crazy little details and ideas brainwashed into us by western parenting guides were just swept away by the scoop of soft brown arms and the Island dress embraces. I can still clearly see Tom being carried around the garden in the afternoon. Grinning happily with his hair combed back and a big yellow Hibiscus flower placed behind his ear.

living in vanuatuMore time passed and my Bislama had improved and it was great coming home and chatting to Ros in the kitchen as she made dinner for the kids. If there was anything going on big politically you could always be assured on getting the inside news she had picked up at the market after work, over some green coconuts. I then learned and understood, that while quiet and unassuming, the Nanny sees all, hears all and learns much.

vanuatu lifeBy this time, baby Sasha has joined our troop and had started to get to know Ros and Nixon’s children – Penny and Pedro – and Millys’ daughter Lisa and son Sam. It was ever delightful to come home and find three-year-old Sasha and Penny in full comical dress up, acting out some game only fully understood by them. Sometimes the children would go off for sleepovers in the village and would boisterously return a day later smelling of woodsmoke and adventure. Lisa would often patiently read to the children and it was great watching her harness the power of Google on our home computer for researching her school projects.

vanuatu fishingIt would not be fair not to mention the two instances that our hapless family dog Darryl was saved by the girls. The first time our French landlord mindlessly took the top off a septic tank, leaving an open pit of indescribable horrors. I came home to find Ros and Marisi showered and in borrowed clothes both with the look of the recently traumatised . Ros recounted while Marisi interjected over her shoulder that Daryl had somehow fallen in and was floundering at the bottom. By rights they should have called me to deal with this but Ros, going as always above and beyond the call of duty, found some surgical gloves and the two of them somehow dragged him to safety and he now sat dopey and washed on the front balcony. The second time was life and death and somehow Milly the brave and lovely, stood down a group of wild lads who had Darryl lined up for dinner and brought him home safely, while Lisa looked after the children. He did not run away from home for a while after that one.

Ben BrookmanSo we grew up. Like all families, we had our ups and downs and took some hits along the way. I like to think that we looked out for each other and I am ever grateful for the loyalty shown through some of the harder times. We had a little party at the Beach before we left to say thank you and as the children played on the beach it really became evident what these kindly women had done for us. They gave a little speech through teary eyes and it was with genuine sadness that they said goodbye to the people both little and big that they cared for so well.

island life magWe are hoping to come back soon and I am going to volunteer to scratch the coconuts for dinner this time and will definitely be picking up my own T-shirts.

By the intrepid Mr Ben Brookman.