We have an ayi. Ayi is a word that means aunty – it’s a respectful term for the person who comes to your house to take care of domestic life. Some people think of them as “maids”, friends of ours call their ayi their “Chinese mother” and we – well we call ours a force of nature!
She has a long history of being the ayi to pastors in our congregation. We don’t have children nor a second income so we haven’t been able to employ her full-time. She is now shared among a number of families in the congregation who, like us, employ her for two half-days a week.
She is a dynamo. She moves round the house at speed, using her limited English to say “sorry” as she lifts up our computers to dust under them or chases us from the room so she can mop properly. She banishes the grit and grime of Beijing life from our apartment. She rings the management office on our behalf when we have maintenance needs. She tends to be effective – one morning she just rang every ten minutes, the calls increasing in volume, until someone came to do the job.
We have had a few battles of will. She wins. Mostly our miming and her little English and our little Chinese work out. Sometimes she seems unable to comprehend my instructions. This usually is not related to our communication skills but to her definite ideas about the right way to do things. Fortunately these have not been about anything significant.
Earlier in the week there was a robbery at the apartment complex across the road from us. An ayi was killed. Our building has put signs up telling people about this and warning us to be very aware of our security.
Our ayi is the kind of woman you can imagine berating a robber for his bad behaviour. This is when our Chinese fails us. We would sound like toddlers. “Bad man come. You give him our things”.