M’s Adventures Useful Contact Info for Lima

Contact info for drivers, dentists, estheticians, mani-pedi, waiters, classes, chocolate, vets, furniture-makers, and other services you might be looking for while living in Lima. Some of these are services I have personally enjoyed and others are highly recommended. Most like Whatsapp as a form of communication. If they do not speak English and you don’t speak Spanish, use Google translate. (A note on Peruvian names: Peruvians spell their names with a creativity that has been written about in the national newspapers. So John can be Jhon, Jon, Yon, Yhon, and beyond.) To learn about some of these entrepreneurs, watch my video about them on the video page of this website or on YouTube.
CATERING/Waitstaff
Private chef and sommelier: Jasmine (speaks English): 944 534 074
Catering: Try Miski: 965 217 210
Waiters: Jhon Vasquez owns JJ Waiters (speak English): 993 163 866
Javier is a professional waiter. His daughter is also a waiter and she speaks English: 999 185 037 (about 100 soles for an event)
CLASSES (food and drink)
Chocolate and coffee classes at El Cacaotal with Amanda and Felipe. They speak English: 937 595 812, 939 447 367
Cooking classes: Sky Kitchen: 943 701 874
Buda Bakes: Amelia speaks English: 921 924 236
Masas Salvaje for sourdough breads, beer, and classes: Francisco speaks English: 933 790 881
Wine tastings: Jasmine (speaks English): 944 534 074
Wine tasting classes and certification in enology, and sensory analysis classes, try taking class with Jorge (speaks English) the Peruvian Sommelier School: eps@sommeliersperu.edu.pe 
WineBox, owned by Gonzalo (speaks English) also does monthly subscriptions of wine delivery to your house.
DRIVERS
Most taxi drivers can be hired per hour or for the day (30 soles per hour is the normal rate).
Yuberlyn: 923 484 172
Orlando (speaks English): 936 034 508
Michael (speaks English): 979 349 077
GUIDES
Brenda Ortiz (speaks English): graffiti tours and other tours of Barranco: 962 373 975
Miller (speaks English) has a fleet of vehicles and guides: 977 654 348
Dyan: While not a professional guide, she can take you for a hike, or fishing, or babysit your guests around town (speaks English): 937 210 084
PERSONAL HYGIENE SERVICES
Again, there are many places to get all these things done. But these are some that I know of.
Dentistry: Dr. Angeles speaks English: 998 237 144
50 soles for a checkup and cleaning with Dr. Miriam: 991-590-656.
Hair: Many places, but try Mariela who makes house calls: 942-961-464.
Thomas Bennett is an American hair stylist, speaks English: 970-740-639.
Mani-pedi: Monica is the best: 950-070-925. She makes house calls. About 60 soles for a mani-pedi.
Massage: Whatsapp Dora and she will send someone for massages and facials: 999-353-381
Facials: Brian Douglas speaks English: 987-727-133
PETS
Vets: For international transportation, I’ve heard good things about Petwings.
For house calls, Dr. Cols speaks English and can get your pet’s papers in order as well: 959-189-949.
SHOPPING
Like in many places, if you like to customize, personalize, design, then you can do that here, at reasonable prices. Let the inner designer out!
Ceramics: want those plates from Central? Jallpa Niña is the most famous store that sells ceramics but you can also find it at Dedalo and other locations. Almost all of these vendors only speak Spanish which is a good mix with Google translate.
Fashion (clothes/shoes/jewelry/handbags/leather): there are so many places that can make you hand made clothes, shoes, jewelry, handbags, and leather products. Here are some:
— seamstress: there are many shops, or try Miriam: 957-383-230
— jewelry: many places on Petit Thouars avenue. Try Petit Thouars Avenue 5321, interior shop 103. 100 soles for custom made earrings and 200 soles for a custom made necklace.
— handbags, shoes, furniture, and leather repair. Try Luis: 981-025-192
— shoes: Kaleydo shoes has ready to wear but you can also design your own. Carla also speaks some English: 988-027-111
Furniture: can be bought ready made at places like Don Bosco. They can also make customized furniture. Some of highly recommended furniture makers are Casa Rustico (Juan Carlos at 977-188-057), and Tharina Kaspi. Customized furniture is not cheap but you can get what you like and it will be cheaper than in many other countries (U.S., Germany, Australia). You can also get your furniture repaired and refurbished here. I even had a “vintage” plastic poof re-sewn, re-stuffed, and re-polished, by a shoe repairman. He also re-upholstered a footstool and added a leather seat.
Frames: get your photos, awards, diplomas, etc. framed here. There are many, many, shops that frame. A diploma sized goldish frame is about 50 soles ($17).
Metal: it seems like every street has a metal working shop. Every building has a handmade door so, you could get one too. Or get a headboard or staircase made. The only limits are your Spanish skills and patience.
Fabric and yarn: alpaca, llama, and vicuna products are the main shopping item in Peru, but you can find fabric and yarn by the yard in Gamarra, La Victoria. This district is infamous but after the mayor cleaned it up, it is on its way to gentrification. The fabric can still be bought for great prices. A yard/meter of fleece for 6 soles (under $2).
Souvenirs: at Dedalo, Las Pallas, and at the Inka Market/Indian Market/Inka Plaza etc. on Petit Thouars. These stores also sell high end items and ceramics.
Other things: black salt, mangosteen, anyone? I wrote about it somewhere…

Becoming My Own Film Crew

I have become my own film crew, my own makeup artist, director, script writer, sound crew, caterer, gaffer (okay, not yet), lighting director, film editor… you get the idea. Recently, I needed some new headshots. What, I have to put on real clothes?! So I took out my makeup and put on “outdoor” clothes, set up my studio, and did a photo shoot. I even did two wardrobe changes.

The photo is from an art exhibition at the Ministry of Culture in Lima called, “Peruvian Beauty” by Yayo Lopez, and it included people from Peru of all ages and types, but the beauty on the poster shows a good example of a headshot.

What I learned from doing the photo shoot was that I’m glad that I bought a remote control for my phone, use good lighting (nothing beats sunlight), use plain backgrounds, have the camera at eye level, and take many photos. A trick I used to get a smile to reach my eyes was to do some silly photos as these would make me laugh thus causing some of the jollity to reach my eyes for the more normal headshots.

Staying indoors is giving me time to look through old photos and try to organize them. But mostly, I’ve been teaching myself how to use iMovie, GarageBand, and other tech tools for my blog.

A friend suggested that I name my studio space (my dining room table). Clearly it has to be Madventures Studios.

Masking the Face of Fashion

Face masks are are mandatory in Peru (please see vendors on my list of delivery places from my last blog posting). Peru’s internationally renowned fashion designer, Meche Correa, is finally making masks (long after many small unknown entrepreneurs). Sadly, her design is in fashionista black and not in her normal Peruvian design.

But, others are using native Peruvian designs. I see all over social media that people are celebrating their own cultural designs, like the ones from Ayachucho in the Twitter photo.

It is delightful to see that art is flourishing during the quarantine.

Fashion is fashioning itself as it does. I would add that I predict that gloves will come back in fashion. And handkerchiefs.

Markets of Lima… and Then There is Minka

I know someone whose hobby is photographing markets. In Lima, there are essentially four types of markets: wholesale food markets, local grocery markets, eco- or bio- markets (farmers), and previous “informal” markets (black market).

Wholesale markets

Santa Anita wholesale market in Ate is the source of all produce sold at the other markets in Lima. I was sure I had blogged about it but it was only in my mind. Santa Anita is about 25 minutes out side of Miraflores on a weekend. I describe it as 24 airplane hangars of produce. The prices are great if you need bulk (50 kilos of limes), but it’s not worth it if you are just shopping for personal use. Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed visiting several times.

The fish market, Pescado Terminal, is the source of all fish and seafood sold in other markets and stores in Lima.

Gamarra is the textile market. Fabric at stores in San Borja can cost around 30-90 soles per meter whereas in Gamarra that same fabric will cost 6-16 soles per meter. Gamarra is also know for it’s “informal” part (they just got raided recently).

Informal Markets (but now with legal items as well like custom made cell phone covers)

Polvos Azules is the formerly known are for knock off goods and other “informal” goods. Halfway to downtown.

Polvos Rosados is the electronics and other goods market also formerly “informal” located out in Surco.

Grocery markets

The central market in downtown is a “local” market for Lima’s nine million inhabitants. It is near the old chinatown so convenient for tourist tours of downtown.

Surquillo 1 is a local market but also a central market. I still shop here as there are specialty stalls like the spice stall that other local markets do not have. The prices are better than at Wong. This is the market where the gastro tour go so there are lots of foreigners and tourists in this market. It’s gotten sort of dirty and it’s a mishmosh instead of neatly organized (meat in one area, etc.). On Sunday mornings, there is a farmers’ market outside. Lots of places to eat local food as well (and Venezuelan). The famous La Picanteria is just a few blocks behind hence why this market is part of the food tours.

Surquillo 2 is a collection of areas and not as safe as Surquillo 1.

Lince, Labotan, market is a local market for Lince. I like this market because it has zero tourists (well, me), it’s clean, organized, and covered. Plus, the area around it has many pastry industry shops.

Santa Cruz is one of the local markets for Miraflores. Exceptionally clean.

Productores in San Isidro (on the Miraflores border) is a local market for the wealthy San Isidro-Miraflores types along the malecon. There is a fish market there. One goes in to the parking lot at the San Isidro sports complex and the market is inside.

Magdalena also has a local market. As does every district/barrio.

Minka

… and then there is Minka.

This is in the words of a friend, “reason to never leave Lima.” (my photos do not do it justice. Go see for yourself).

Minka has an excellent fish market, produce market, etc., in the old style INSIDE a giant open-air California style mall. Everything under one “roof.” There are restaurants, tailors, play areas, a Metro (grocery store), cell phone stores, banks… okay, I take it back… maybe there isn’t a movie theater… nor a high end grocery store selling my imported cheese…

Gamarra

The single word, “Gamarra” elicits a volatile reaction when uttered here in Lima.

Gamarra is an area of Lima located in the district of La Victoria, just a few miles from Miraflores and other posh neighborhoods of Lima. Gamarra is known as the textile or fabric district of Lima. Essentially it’s a giant open air pedestrian-friendly fabric and clothing shopping area. The main areas are several streets that are closed off by metal fencing and gates creating a pedestrian zone (I predict that in ten years, this area will be gentrified and quite chic). Gamarra is named after Jiron Gamarra (named after a Peruvian president) and La Victoria was incorporated as a district in 1920. There is a metro stop in Gamarra, plus, a witch’s market (famous for frog smoothies and other talismans). Read more on Gamarra here if you wish.

When reading about Gamarra, the warnings are to watch your wallet. It is true that like any crowded place in Peru, you need to watch for pickpockets. Never put anything in a backpack that you can’t afford to lose. All this said, the young mayor of La Victoria, George Forsyth, of a renowned family, cleaned up Gamarra in 2019. He has taken some heat (even threats) for what he did. Some might say that he made Gamarra not as good a deal as it once was, but it’s still good for your wallet (if you can keep anything in it). Speaking of deals, fabric can be bought for as low as three soles per meter (maybe less?). Most fabric is 1.60 meters wide. That’s a lot of fabric. You can find any type of fabric but each type has an area so I’m not sure if they sell silk (having never been to the silk area). The names of the fabric are perhaps different from what you might call them (I like “chalise” — a cotton blend — for shirts), but go ahead and touch the fabric. There are many forms of fleece which is fun as it needs no edging. During the summer, the mind turns to linen (mine does), and that can be found in Gamarra as well (in Dhaka, linen and spandex were hard to find by the meter — even though Bangladesh is famous for sewing much of the world’s clothes).

There are shopping centers within Gamarra’s pedestrian streets as well stores that sell ready-to-wear clothes, toys, bags, and there are places that will custom print your bags or clothes. The area also sells plus-size clothing (as Peruvians are generally shorter and smaller than most gringos) and some of the signage will even say “ropa para gorditas” (I don’t know where the “gorditos” shop). Some of these stores sell up to XXXL size clothes, which is about a 20-22 in U.S. sizes plus sizes, but the selection is limited so it’s better to get your own clothes made.

Gamarra is also a place where one can buy thread, tailor’s equipment, sewing machines, and yarn. It’s also possible to buy alpaca and llama yarn in Gamarra but again, I have never made it to that area.

Gamarra also has restaurants and many restrooms, as well as lots of security. Like any shopping area in Peru, there are also street stalls. Gamarra was famous for the street stalls until the mayor pushed them out. The street stalls are now a few blocks outside the gated area. The busiest day in Gamarra is Saturday and most shops open around 10 a.m.

Gamarra is also famous for the “informal” market. The use of the word “informal” is actually code for black market and knockoffs. I only shop for fabric.

 

The best fabric prices are to be had in Gamarra but the prices will vary depending on how foreign you appear. What can cost 12 soles ($3.75) per meter for one gringo, can cost six soles per meter for another, less gringo-looking, foreigner. Learning to haggle helps get the price down but also shopping in the less crowded areas as well.

The Best Things About Expat Life in Lima – Or, It’s Always Avocado Season

In celebration of Peru’s independence days, “fiestas patrias,” (July 28 is independence day and July 29 is a holiday for the armed forces and police), here is my posting about what I think is great about living in Lima. As I did for some of the other places I have lived, I have already written about what I don’t like about living in Lima. Before living in Lima, I had visited more than five times as a tourist. The first time was immortalized in this blog posting. Now that I’ve been here for more than a food-frenzied weekend, the following things are what I like about living here.

The food scene: The restaurants. It seems like every week, there is a new restaurant opening, and thanks in great part to Gaston Acurio, the culinary scene has become part of the national identity. There are fancy-foamy-intellectual dining establishments, fast food franchises, family-run restaurants, neighborhood favorites, and hole-in-the-wall secrets.

The immigrants: This is one of the reasons that the food scene in Lima is great. Thanks to the Chinese (Chifa is a normal word here for a Chinese food and restaurant, and it is as ingrained in the local food choices as hamburgers), the Japanese (Nikkei is the word used for both the food style and the Japanese Peruvians — this month celebrating 120 years in Peru), the Italians, the Lebanese, and all the other immigrants who have been been contributing to the deliciousness in Lima. Thank you to the newest (those two Thai restaurant owners, those Pakistani and Indian guys, that American with the chocolate shop, and those three Swedish ladies, that Mexican guy, and the Venezuelans, and all of those others whom I have yet to discover… I’m looking at you, shawarma palace!). Plus, many of the Peruvians are domestic immigrants — from somewhere else in the country (bringing things like their delicious cheeses… which I’m told is called “country cheese”).

The Palta Fuerte (the palta fuerte is too delicate and buttery to be exported, I’m guessing): It is always avocado season. When buying an avocado, the vendor will ask the day and time that you plan to eat it so that they can sell you one that will be ripe at the precise moment that you plan to enjoy it. “Palta” is the word for avocado in Peruvian Spanish. No one in Peru says “aquacate” even if they may know what you are talking about. At a restaurant, you can ask for a side of palta and it’s totally normal, like asking for butter (but better).

The juice (plus fruit and produce in general): the lemonade (they offer it made with pureed lemongrass at most places), the passion fruit, the orange juice, the blackberry juice. Plus, the pineapples are delicious and the mangoes have a season (like Edwardian socialites). The Edward mango is especially yummy as it has fewer fibers.

The chocolate: Go to El Cacaotal. That is my one must-do for visitors, for newbies, for chocolate haters… now serving hot chocolate and coffee!

The cultural offerings and activities: cooking classes, chocolate tasting lessons, Cordon Bleu courses, surfing classes, dance schools, wine tasting lessons, the circus, theater productions, gyms, yoga, concerts, archery sessions, wine and paint classes, museums, open studio nights, expos, marathons, fairs, farmers markets, and almost any other activity that you can imagine in a metropolis (there is always something to do). Even comicon.

The walkability: they even have ciclovia. Yes, you can walk here. There are sidewalks, parks, and hiking trails.

The neighborhoods: I like that there are actual neighborhoods, farmers markets, barrios, districts, parks, malls (mega ultra modern and local “centro commerciales”), and the coast (its own microcosm).

The positive attitude toward expats/foreigners: Generally, as a foreigner, I don’t feel hate or suspicion from the locals. The Peruvians are,  generally, pro-American culture, and certainly pro-European culture. While most Peruvians don’t approach/talk to foreigners, they also don’t harass them and follow them around (as would happen in other countries where I have lived)… It’s funny, the little things one appreciates. As a foreigner, one can have a life here without being a circus act.

The security: I am completely amazed to see people out jogging, with headphones on, at night. Granted this is along the more patrolled streets but I am still amazed. Utterly. Amazed. Every. Single. Day. Really. Still. Ah-maze-ed.

The view of the ocean: Yes. It’s amazing. Beaches too. If one likes sand.

The public toilets: Almost all grocery stores and malls have public toilets. One has to remember to not flush the toilet paper, but, at least they have toilet paper, although, not always in the actual stall — so get it beforehand.

Delivery: Like in Bogota, almost anything can be delivered.

The taxi prices: $2 for a basic short ride of a few miles. Sometimes $7 for an hour’s ride.

Help: there is always someone to carry the groceries, the taxi drivers help with luggage, the doormen help with stuff, and domestic help is a normal part of life here. I’ll write more about that in a separate posting. Aside from the domestic cleaners, there are nannies, gardeners, drivers, porters, dog walkers, DJs, caterers, dishwashers, movers… you name it. I have an “event tech” whom I hire for parties. I may change that title to “event engineer” as engineer seems to be the new generic term for “trained” (I was chatting with a taxi driver who told me that he used to be a “production engineer” — he potted yogurt in a lab. He chose to drive a taxi because the yogurt potting only paid $670 per month, double the minimum wage, but he makes double that as a taxi driver, even though he works double the hours. But, at least, he is his own boss).

The prices for dental care: as with most things, one can pay lots of money for dental care, but one can also get good dental care for $17 (cleaning and checkup). But, if one wants to pay $170, one can. Many of the dentists have trained in other countries and their certifications in those countries may not be valid here.

The prices in general: from picture framing to groceries, to clothing alterations, to the above mentioned items.

And, did I mention the palta?

Han Solo Season in Lima

I once saw a meme about “Han Solo season” in which some equine looking ladies dress in boots, dark jeans, and puffy down jackets.

This season also happens in Lima every winter. As I may have mentioned before, the Peruvians follow dress code carefully for formal events, and this seems to carry over to casual fashion too. As soon as winter comes around (in June when the temperature plummets below 60 F (16 C), the down jackets come out.

I know that I haven’t gone native yet because there is no down jacket in my wardrobe. But, now that I think 16 C is “freezing,” the pull of a down jacket is getting stronger… buy down jacket, I will.

100 Percent Linen

In a place as hot as Bangladesh, most expats want to wear natural fabric like linen (or silk, but silk easily disintegrates). Trying to find 100 percent linen in Bangladesh is much harder than one would imagine. If you ask for “linen” in Bangladesh, the cloth merchants will bring you a linen/polyester blend. What I eventually discovered was that I needed to ask for is “reh-mee-cotton” or possibly “nip-cotton” as that is what they call linen(the “remi-cotton” is “remixed cotton”). Working with my tailor, I finally managed to communicate that I wanted something cotton that felt a certain way (by giving him a sample of other linen pants I had). He successfully brought me a four samples of material and they were indeed 100 percent linen.

Samples of 100 percent linen on the table.
Samples of 100 percent linen on the table.

A friend had the men’s tailor shop, Ferdous, make linen pants for her. I was looking for lightweight linen and Tailor Johnny found it. Unfortunately, it was only in a few colors. In the photo, you can see that the four colors on the table: dark green (it looks blackish in the photo but is green), pink, orange, and gray. These are not the usual colors that I would wear. But, I was happy to know that it was possible to find 100 percent linen.

Tour Dhaka in One Day – Visit Bangladesh

Tourist in Dhaka? I get asked where to take friends and family when they visit Dhaka. Depending on how long the visit (hopefully it’s at least a week so that your guests can recover from jet lag), here is my run down of what to see and do, and frequently asked questions (FAQ):

When to visit? In the winter. The temperature will still get up to 70-90 F. You know that saying about “mad dogs and Englishmen”? Well, it’s true. If you go outside in April-October, you may become a mad dog from the heat. Not sure if you will become English…

The river in Dhaka.
The river in Dhaka.

Travel agencies and tour guides? Yes, use them if you want to. You can usually talk your way to about 2,000 taka per person for a group of six or more for half a day. Most tour companies include riding around in a minivan, called a “micro-bus” in Dhaka, bottled water, and long talks about the sites. That said, at almost every site, actually all the time, you will be surrounded by friendly Bangladeshis eager to talk to you, about the site or not. The official guides, or random fellow who opens the site for you, appreciate a tip (10, 20 taka for the random fellow) as almost anyone likes a tip (like the guy watching your car).

Self-guided? It can be done… if you want to attempt it in one day, here is how I would do it (but, I would try do this over two days leaving the Liberation War Museum and New Market for a different day):

“Bangabandhu” – site of assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the current prime minister of Bangladesh. It’s located at Road 32, Dhanmondi. Opens at 10 in the morning. There is a nominal fee and you cannot take anything (no purses, no phones, nothing), into the museum. Leave it all with a driver in the car. Agree on a time when the driver will come get you.

Parliament: It’s an award winning building. If you want a tour of the inside, you will have to work your contacts.

Lalbagh (there is a bath house and weaponry if you get someone to unlock the door for you): It is the site used when the TV show, the Amazing Race, came to town the first time. But, it’s so much more.

Pink Palace (Ahsan Manzil): It’s a pink mansion turned museum. It has large steps which allows for a sweeping view of the riverfront.

Eat at Nirob — Lunch (if the traffic is flowing, you could be here by 1:30 p.m.)

Old Dhaka/Hindu Street: Buy shell bracelets (called “shakha”). These are usually worn by married Hindu women as a symbol of their wedded state.

Bracelets made from conch shell.
Bracelets made from conch shell.

Liberation War Museum: This is not for the faint of stomach. Gruesome photos and explanations about the war in 1971.

Dhaka University – Curzon Hall is a notable building.

New Market: buy whatever you can find, from lace, sarees, curtains, carpets, etc.

BBQ Tonite: enjoy the smoky courtyard atmosphere and grilled meat on a stick… if you have the energy.

On another day:

Boat trip on the river (can include visits to jamdani weaving workshop, jute factory, etc.). These day boat trips are relaxing once you get on the boat. They usually include lunch on board. Book through a tour company. They will pick you up and drop you off at home. One of the companies even has a boat shaped like a peacock. There are many companies but I liked this one: Tourist Channel Bangladesh… 02-8189273. Or 9130260. CEO is Iqubal Hossain. Touristchannelbd@gmail.com. It was 50,000 taka ($633 and the boat can hold 25-35 adults and 10 children, or something such combination) for the whole boat for the day including the bus to and fro, and lunch and tea. They were efficient without being overly “talkative.”

Rickshaw factory tour: Arrange through a tour company. If your guests can visit Dhaka when the Rickshaw Relay happens, even better. (The Rickshaw Relay is a fundraiser which is popular with expats.) There are half a million rickshaws in Dhaka, so you will see many of them, and I’m sure that any one of the rickshaw drivers would be happy to let you drive them around if you want to give it a try.

Go to the spa. Get mehendi(henna) tattoos. It wears off after a few weeks.

Shop in Gulshan: Shops include Aranya, Jatra, Aarong, Folk International, and Artisan (where “reject” Western clothes are sold, like TJ Maxx or Ross).

Fly to Cox’s Bazar, the world’s longest beach, or Sylhet tea country, or take a multi-day cruise in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. Look for the Royal Bengal tiger. I know people who have actually seen one in the wild.

Attend a wedding: If you ask your Bangladeshi friends, they are usually very happy to include your guests. Then your guests will have the fun of getting dressed in the traditional Bangladeshi clothing.

Explore! Or try some of the restaurants and find more than the 100 I tried.

Keep in mind that the traffic may change how much you can see in one day, or on any day. Take water, mosquito repellent, light cotton clothing, a good camera, nuts or other snacks, and sun protection (hat, umbrella, scarf). I have been on these tours in June and I sweated so much that I began to hallucinate that I was a fish. But, I got lots of photos!

Domestic Help in Bangladesh

A few days, a few months, may go by, but eventually, most expats will acquire some form of domestic help. Bangladeshis have domestic help in their homes and it is a way of life here. Bangladesh is rich in human labor and affordable (to us expats) domestic help is one of the advantages (or just part of the realities of life here) of living here. As an expat, we can afford to pay our domestic workers a good salary, provide a place to live (some are live in), and the arrangement seems to work. I appreciated having help, especially my driver (mentioned him last time), but the key is to find what works for you. I will try to cover what I’ve learned about domestic staff employment but I may have to come back and update this as I recall more details (as I know that this is of great interest to some). First of all, for many expats, this will be their first experience having domestic help. For many, it is the first time, they are the employer with employees. It takes work to learn how to be a good boss. Okay, on to nuts and bolts:

How many staff? Depends on your needs/wants. I had a housekeeper who cooked and cleaned. I paid him extra for extra work helping at parties. I then switched to a part time cleaner who came three days per week.

Where do you find good staff? My advice is to ask around. Find someone who is as picky (oh sorry, as “quality conscious”) as you, and then try to find domestic help like they have. Also, keep in mind that what works for them won’t always work for you. It is easy and hard to find good employees. Sometimes, you will get accosted in your building by staff who tell you that this is their turf and that you have to hire them because they have always worked in that building. Take it as you will (or won’t). Some find this style too aggressive. Also, outside the building, there will be people coming by looking for work (everyone knows that you are new). Another thing, all the domestic staff probably know each other. It’s a network. Many are related to each other (or can bring a “cousin” who can work for you).

Interview: Yes, do. Also do a trial period. One staff I had to let go, sobbed and begged… and showed up days later to beg again, apologizing. But it wasn’t a matter of apology. It just didn’t work.

Contract? Yes, you can draw one up but your staff may not be able to read.

Live in or out? Many domestic staff also live in (all apartments have a “servant’s quarters” but mine was small. I guess free housing is free housing, but, I use my “servant’s quarters” as a closet).

Salary (including insurance, healthcare, bonus, uniforms, and tea money): Here goes… As expats, we pay double what they pay (and we don’t make them work as much) so we are attractive employers.

Driver (mentioned him last time): A driver is a skilled person and they make between 12,000-20,000 taka ($150-250) for 40 hours per week. Drivers have very loose schedules. Some work six days per week but only a few hours per day. Most are sort of “on call” and that’s why they get paid (to wait around). Average pay is 14,000-16,000. Most drivers are men. There is a school for female drivers run by an international non-profit but they also teach men to drive. So far, I’ve heard of one professional female driver but there must be more. Hopefully, your driver has a real license. Some people send their other staff to driving school and this benefits everyone.

Cook: To only be a cook is the top position unless there’s a housekeeper who doesn’t get their hands wet (these are rare). Have them make you a meal to test out their skills. Many of the cooks in the expat pool have worked for other international families and can cook cuisines from all over the world. I know of some folks who diligently taught their cooks how to make their dishes the way that they liked them. I had planned on making a menu of what my cook could make so that he could take it on to the next employer, but I never got around to it. The cook can also go buy groceries. Some can make meals for you without you having to tell them what you want, and this can be a boon to some busy people.

Housekeeper or cook/cleaner/bearer (bears your tea to you): The salary range for an expat’s housekeeper is 12,000-20,000 taka ($150-250) for 40 hours per week. Housekeepers make more than bearers and cleaners (if an employee is a cleaner or bearer only, they make less). They can also do your shopping for you and fetch your dry cleaning etc.

Nanny/Aya (or caregiver): Some families have more than one (one for each child and one as a babysitter. Why not). Some expat families even hire caregivers for their elderly family members. The salary range is lower 10,000-18,000 taka. The aya/ayah/nanny is a fixture in expat literature and the separation from the aya is the most traumatic.

Gardener: Many expats hire someone to grow vegetables for them, plus normal yard work. They get paid around 12,000 taka per month.

Dog walker: I have heard of people hiring part time dog walkers but I would guess that a full time one makes about 8,000-10,000 taka per month. Funny story, one of my friends found that her cook had been giving the dog tea… if you know how strong Bangla tea is, then you know that that dog definitely needed walks!

Bonus? Yes, a 13th month salary at Ramadan for Muslim staff and at Christmas for Christian staff. Once per year unless you want to give them more at another time (second Eid) BUT that is not the norm. This “bonus at second Eid” question is one of the most frequent questions that I hear. Plus, almost everyone gives their staff gifts of belongings like TVs, clothes, bags, computers, etc. especially when trying to organize for a move. The staff will often ask to be allowed to buy or have the things that you don’t want. Almost anything from America is a hot item. Sometimes, the staff will give you gifts. Try to not accept them as they usually can’t afford it (like a 2,000 taka sari).

Uniforms: Much is said of this. Usually something about two uniforms per year or the money to buy or have made a uniform. The amount I was asked for was (negotiable like all other prices in this country) 2,500 taka. I think that for most staff, this is a form of income. That said, some staff do wear uniforms. There is a certain dignity in wearing a uniform when at work, and that I understand.

Tea money? Many people give their staff tea money or lunch money. This is how they supplement the low wages. Tea money of 1,500 taka per month is extremely expensive tea and is more likely to be food money. To expats, $13 is nothing but I’m guessing that a Bangladeshi can buy a cup of tea for two or three taka.

Other expenses: There will be other expenses that the staff ask for money for: their children’s weddings, school fees, hospital fees, a new cell phone, etc. etc. It is up to you as the employer to decide if you want to pay it or lend it. Some people withhold some of the salary and keep it as insurance or savings for such events (make it part of the initial salary discussion). In the true spirit of “if you don’t ask…” You will get gotten but you can probably afford it. On that note, you will hear lots of “You have so much; and I have so little.” Many people will pay for the staff’s children’s school fees (what’s $120 to you when you can provide an education. It’s a form of charity).

To end the discussion of money, you (or I did) may likely pay salary + tea money + uniform + “emergency life expenses” per employee. I’ve heard some expats say, “it’s less than car insurance in the U.S.”

Other duties: In general, if you have a good relationship, your staff can do many things for you that will make life easier. I had my driver do all sorts of errands from getting my lace fixed (yes, one guy who can re-weave cloth for 100 taka) to buying jersey (very hard to buy in bolt form here) to finding a place to sell bottles. Some people actually have their staff help as “lady’s maid” and do massages, hair removal, pedicures, manicures, hair cuts, or paint mehendi/henna on you. There may actually be some people who have a “lady’s maid” but I haven’t heard of any (my friends aren’t rich enough). But, when you need to dress for a wedding and need your sari wrapped, you can have your staff do it for you (usually 500 taka at a salon).

Keys/Privacy: Some people do lock cabinets or rooms. Some give one key to the door (so the other lock can be used by you). Some keep the key to the car and have the driver come get it before they go anywhere (a Bangladeshi friend had the experience of discovering that his driver was using the car as a taxi business while he was at work.) Some people worry about stealing… and lock up their oil and flour… Many people lock up a room just because they want a level of privacy. After all, the domestic staff know EVERYTHING about you. They take out your trash.

Dismissal/Severance/Firing/End of contract: If you leave or dismiss your staff, it is normal to give them one month’s notice and pay them a severance pay in proportion to time served. Usually it is a month’s salary for each year. Even if you have to fire the staff for some reason, it’s normal to give them severance. If you liked your staff, try to find time to write them a letter of referral. They will use this for future job hunting.

At expat parties, there is an incessant buzz of talk about domestic staff. I try to not get involved. But these are some of the subjects people talk about:

“How much do you pay your….?” “Should I give a second Eid bonus at the second Eid?” “Do I give the bonus at the beginning or the end?” “She won’t leave at the end of the day and just hangs around!” “She’s lazy but she’s honest.” “Why do I need a full time driver when he just sits around for 30 hours of each week?” “I sent my driver to English school.” “I sent my cleaner to cooking school to improve her professional skills.” “How do I get my cook to use less oil?” “How do I get my cook to make food for less than 20 people?” And so on.

I think I answered most of this questions above except: The cooking oil question — I have heard people tell their cooks that they need to lose weight. Or that the cook can keep whatever oil is leftover in the bottle. Like with most lessons, repetition is important. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Banana bread made by my housekeeper.
Banana bread made by my housekeeper.

I hope that this has been helpful.

After a year in Bangladesh, I realized that I had made a mistake. When I got to Dhaka, I had the intention of hiring a woman (empowerment and all that) but instead I hired a man with a full CV (he came well recommended). What I realized after a year is that I should have hired a young woman and sent her to school to learn English, to sew, and to give massages. I could have had a tailor and a massage therapist at home. Next time!

My New Favorite Tailor in Dhaka – Tailors Johnny

After many hundreds of hours spent thinking about tailoring, I’ve got a new favorite tailor — he is on time, makes clothes that fit, and he is not creepy (according to one of my friends). Getting tailor made clothes is a normal pastime in Dhaka. It’s part of every day life for the Bangladeshis (although there are also retail shops where you can buy ready made clothes), and as an expat, this will most likely become a part of one’s daily routine as well. Previously, Juhl/Jewel, Juhl DIT 1, was my favorite but after he got too busy last summer, I ceased going to him. Now, the tailor comes to my house — Tailor Johnny! He is the nephew of Al Babar tailor also located in DIT 1 and he is the tailor known for his halloween and glitterball costumes.

Give Tailors Johnny a call.
Give Tailors Johnny a call.

Tailor Johnny speaks enough English to understand basic tailoring requests (plus he text messages in English which is useful) but works best from a photo or a sample. But, he can actually measure you and make clothes from those measurements. He is the ONLY tailor in I have found who does not make the clothes too tight. Plus, he can also make mock-ups of your suits etc. and then use pins to adjust it to fit perfectly (this may sound like no big deal — they do this in Thailand and elsewhere at tailor shops — but in Dhaka, this does not happen so it’s rare to find someone who actually can “tailor”). Tailor Johnny is also punctual. This also sounds like no big deal but it is. His prices are not cheap (for Bangladesh) as pants/trousers, fabric and make cost runs about 1,000 Taka ($13) and adjustments to existing clothing runs about 700 Taka.

Tailors Johnny is punctual.
Tailors Johnny is punctual.

One of the few drawbacks about finding and publicizing about a good tailor is that he may get too busy. The tailors get busier during Ramadan so it can take longer to get one’s clothes back. Most tailors take a few days to a week to finish a project. But, during Ramadan, it can be weeks to months. The other busy time of the year for tailors is December-January which is wedding season in Bangladesh. Unlike in Hoi An, Vietnam, most tailors in Dhaka cannot mail you clothes.

I hope that Tailor Johnny can handle the publicity that his reputation is getting him.

All Under One Floor – Unimart

Ziplock style bags...
Ziplock style bags…

Until Unimart opened up early this year, Dhaka did not have a true one-stop-shop. Unimart is located on Road 90, under the first floor and it is a large shop for Dhaka. They have a bakery, a deli, an ice cream stand, a fishmonger, green grocer, gift store, clothing, shoes, and almost everything you might need or want.

Plastic hangers and plastic buckets, etc.
Plastic hangers and plastic buckets, etc.

They even have toasters, blenders, irons, school supplies, hijabs, football/soccer jerseys, and toys. I bought a jigsaw puzzle of Bangladesh for under 300 Taka ($3) which I plan to give as a gift.

Every kind of long life milk.
Every kind of long life milk.