My Nanny State

Here in Guatemala all my friends have nannies, niñeras, muchachas or whatever terminology you care to use.  It is par for the course, and a well known advantage of the third world lifestyle – a hangover from a colonial past, or a reality of the present apartheid labour system.  It is also a common pastime for mothers to get together and sit around complaining about their nannies´ incompetence.  Not me ……  no never.  In this one matter I am quite splendidly smug.

My nanny is the BEST.

In my native country, to have a nanny is a status symbol of the super rich or royalty.  It is also something which harks back to another time.  An England of AA Milne and Winne the Pooh and Edwardian nurseries.  Not one of my friends in the UK has one, or had one when they were children.  I didn’t grow up in a house with a nanny, neither did my parents.  And really, I did not expect to live over 6 years with a nanny coming into my house 5 and a half days a week.  But serendipity played me a huge hand when I was introduced to Judith Han, who will always remain one of the most wonderful and amazing people to have come into my life.  I don´t have a nanny, I have Juju.  She has been my support system, my social services, my home grown remedy advisor, comedian and all round superstar.  How will we all manage without her?

Smiling and laughing as usual .......


Juju, as she was christened by Paulo, has a Chinese grandfather and comes from a different part of Guatemala out towards the Pacific coast.  She has a strong, happy face that always is a mili-second away from a giggle and we have laughed so much with her that I am seriously worried if I can live without her laughter, never mind anything else.  Just listening to her good natured funny ramblings to my baby girl and my boys over the years is enough to put a smile on your face.  But on top of that huge attribute, she is a person who can grow anything, fix anything, cook anything superbly, clean the house, mend clothes, ……… the list is endless, and all this while playing and chatting with my children.

Right now as I am writing, the rain is pouring down and all I can hear is the sound of Nico laughing with her.  Yesterday she spent the afternoon playing football in the garden with Paulo whilst carrying a smiling Saskia.  A mother of 6, she takes multi-tasking to a whole new dimension.  She helps them with their Spanish homework, plays chess and Monopoly with them and hardly ever has raised her voice to them in 6 years.  I wish I could say the same for myself.

I always thought how weird to have a stranger in your house.  Not used to servants, it took me a while to get used to the concept, but if there was ever a person that I could hang out with peacefully it is Juju.  On Saturday mornings she sneaks into my house so not to wake us up.  Faultlessly thoughtful and incredibly kind, she regularly arrives with a little present from the packa for my children: some clothes, some books, toys, silly bands (the latest craze).  She always knows the name of a plumber or a painter or a mechanic.  She has plastered walls, macheted huge parts of the garden during the rainy season and is always available for more.  She drops Christmas tamales at our house every year around midnight.  She has come on trips with us to San Salvador and Atitlan.  If you have Juju with you, a family holiday almost feels like a holiday!  All my friends love Juju and she likes a lot of them too.  Especially my great friend Felix who makes her laugh even more than usual.

5 of her 6 children on my famous sofa








Some Guatemalans would warn me about being too close and relaxed with my nanny.  The apartheid rules are hard to shake.  But bollocks I thought.  I will eat lunch with my Juju trust her with my life and share my worries and my secrets. I went to her daughter´s wedding, her oldest son´s graduation ceremony, she received me home with baby Nico in my arms with Sopa de Gallina and so much love, and 4 years later Saskia too.  Her husband helped us move house, has rescued me from flat tyres several mornings, and often plays football with our boys.  All her children adore mine like siblings.  And my children love hanging out in her house and garden with all the animals and friends and family.  They even met the famous tacuazin in the jaula.  Juju caught it while walking the two blocks home one night.  She shared the hunting technique with me if anyone´s interested.  You see there is just no end to her talents.

Juju in days gone by with my boys and her youngest








Husbands are husbands, and mine is a pretty good one most of the time, but over the last few years if you exclude time spent sleeping next to each other, I have easily spent more time with Juju than Rafa.

Juju has been there for me when no-one else has.  She has seen my tears, two panzas, my pain, my laughter.  My children are blessed to have known her and be loved by her.  She has been my rock.  To think that I will no longer have her strong light in my family is the thing that is breaking my heart these last few days.  Juju we love you and we will miss you.  What more can I say ……………..

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8 Responses to My Nanny State

  1. I love it!
    Even though you’ve made me cry because you totally reminded me of our Cata, who was my eldest daughter’s nanny 27yrs ago and besides parting from my family, my friends, my country and all that I loved; leaving that single amazingly gifted woman who ran my household and made our lives incredible happy, nearly killed me with sadness.
    I hope you find someone equally as wonderful as Juju now you move to your new home, Jo.
    Angels do exist everywhere.
    Ah…and you made me laugh too, especially with the bit ‘I say bollocks to that!’ lol…
    Humorous in mid heart ache! hehehe Superb.
    Hugs & all the best wishing you endless courage in these final days in Guate

    • Josephine says:

      thank you for your kind words Lucia, you obviously understand very well . Juju will be irreplaceable but I think Cuba is a place where children are loved and appreciated. it´s more me that I am worried about! We have a nice gentle woman in the house in Cuba and I will look for a nanny in the barrio. No doubt you will hear how I get on! I hope serendipity helps me along.

  2. Hola Jo,
    If it is any consolation, as I mentioned before, I was there so many years ago and did move from Guate, to Miami, to Costa Rica, to the UK in Liverpool…all in the space of 1 1/2 yrs. Liverpool has been my adoptive county and it was very hard at 1st to be ‘just a nobody’ from having lost all the privileges of middle class ‘apartheid-like’ Guatemala and to learn to fit in a totally different culture.
    If it helps to pour your heart out – I’m here and I understand. It is very karmatic to write and good that you can do it as you go along too!
    I really wish you strength and make more room in your heart for all those lovely people you are leaving and the ones whom you will meet – with your beautiful personalities, you will no doubt meet and make more friends with other wonderful people in Cuba or anywhere you go, Jo.
    Arriba el animo, y buena suerte
    Abrazos solidarios

  3. Josephine says:

    So sweet Lucia. I hope we can find a way to meet up in the UK this summer.



  4. Bass says:

    There was a resonance with me for this blog post. My socialist principles were not exactly in favour of a nanny; but we were fresh strangers abroad and we faced a series of medical interventions for one of the parental unit. So sans cousins, uncles, sisters etc , principles were thrown away for the reality of making sure kids went to school, were fed and whatever else. We hired a nanny

    And it was a good thing, she helped us integrate, “hablar espanol”, welcomed the kids into her family. And we helped her move on by paying for her to do courses to fulfill her modest dreams. She is now a friend of some years of the family and doing well on another career path.

    However one story you reminded of, that she decided the garden needed weeding. The landlord’s imported heathland scrub, with a difficult Latin name to boot, may have looked like a common old garden weed, but were not. I was left with the job of explaining the cold snap in a rather warm spring which had killed the landlord’s treasured ugly looking flowers…. and she back to ironing the “calcetines”.

    • Josephine says:

      a good nanny is your social services! I learnt all my Spanish with Juju and so much more. But I have to say I am quite strict about the ironing thing as I see a day when I will be doing the ironing so no socks or underwear!!

  5. marvin says:

    As a Guatemalan living here in the USA am pretty familiar with many of the stories concerning the nanny’s job performed by the many Guatemalan women, who usually work for the well to do American households. And as far I cans say, the treatment they get from their employers, is far better than the one many of the nannies get in their native country where, all forms of discrimination and abuse, are the norms in the treatment they get, for the dedication and hard work they so dutifully perform.

    I don’t know anything about Cubans nannies, but am pretty sure that if you get one, she will be treated with the same kind and love as Juju was. Thank you for being the kind of human being you are.

    There’s a Guatemalan nanny who produces a blog, La Guatemala de Ilka Oliva,, whom I recomend you whenever possible to contact, she’s doing a great job.

    • Josephine says:

      Thanks for passing by. I will check out the blog, it sounds interesting. YOu are right not everybody treats their servants with the respect they deserve but this is centuries of apartheid. I came into Guatemala from a very different society so my nanny is my heroine!

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