The restless life of Nelsi Ayala: cleaning houses 12 hours a day to earn 1,200 euros | Economy

On June 10, the Government began parliamentary procedures to improve the working conditions of the more than 370,000 domestic workers with a contract —there are 200,000 without regulation— who are counted in Spain. When they are finished, no one will be able to fire them without reason, as is the case now, and they will receive unemployment benefits if they lose their jobs, a right they lack today. Nelsi Ayala, 42, is an optimistic and strong woman who arrived from El Salvador in 2007. In all this time she has only returned to her country once: seven years ago, to bring her children . Her daily life is a succession of houses to clean and long trips on the subway. Her daily life is a succession of houses to clean and long trips on the subway. What follows is an example of one of her work days.

  • 6 o’clock
  • 8:00
  • 10:00
  • 12:00
  • 14:00
  • 16:00
  • 18:00
  • 20:00
  • 22:00
  • 00:00
  • transportation
  • worked
  • break

Exit through the portal

Nelsi walks out the front door of her house on Monday smiling, with her Altius backpack on her back. She lives, together with her husband, a gardener, two of her children (17 and 19 years old) and her brother-in-law, in a small apartment in Alcobendas. You have to walk a bit to the bus stop. She does it very quickly, waving her arms. She always walks fast. In the square, she waits for the 151, which will take her, in twenty minutes or so, to the Plaza de Castilla. If she has data on the mobile, she watches a recorded movie. If not, she looks out the window. If there is time, she has a chocolate and a chocolate Neapolitan in the subway lobby cafeteria. She zigzags through the subway corridor to overtake some commuters and gain minutes. At nine o’clock, she enters the door of the first house today.

first house

It is a large house, owned by an older married couple, from a well-to-do middle class. Clean, iron, cook lunch, dinner and the next day. Nelsi has been with this marriage for almost four years. She is hired all week, for 600 euros per month, from 9:00 to 13:00.

He came to Spain from El Salvador 15 years ago for a specific reason. “I came to pay a debt. I’ll tell you later,” she explains. She left her husband and her three children there. She landed on a Tuesday. Her mother, who was already in Spain, told her that she should go to an agency run by a certain Mrs. Petrita who gave work to undocumented immigrants. She did and on Saturday she and she became an intern in a house for 700 euros a month. “The worst thing is being an intern,” she clarifies. And she adds: “They wake you up at any time of the night so that, for example, you make them a tea. I was available all day and on Sunday, when I was free, I went out there to wander, to be on the street, not to be in that house, I don’t know”.

With the marriage is at ease. She says that they treat her very well. She complies in turn because she does not rest for a minute. At one o’clock she walks out the door in the direction of the subway entrance.

eat en route

She walks almost running, somewhat overwhelmed. There’s not much time. Today it’s time to go to the Puerta de Toledo metro: approximately three quarters of an hour. The house on Tuesday afternoon is in Novitiate, more or less the same distance. The one on Wednesday afternoon, where you only iron, is also in the center of Madrid. Same on Thursday. Free weekends. It takes almost the measured meters. If you lose one, do calculations. He overtakes almost all travelers with his brisk step. He leaves the subway. On a shady bench in Ronda de Segovia, he stops, sits down, opens his Altius backpack, takes out a container of beans and meat from dinner —and that he has heated in the microwave at home in the morning— and eats quickly. He drinks water from a small plastic bottle that he also carries in his backpack. It takes less than ten minutes. He always stands on the same bench. It would not matter another, but always choose the same. It is a costume. Ends. Save everything. He stands up. It says: “Ready. Let’s go.”

Second home

At a quarter to two he walks into the second house of the day: a small, secluded attic of a single professional. He plays vallenato music on his cell phone, which he carries in the back pocket of his pants. Here he will be from quarter to two to quarter to five. He starts cleaning from the bedroom and moves towards the exit door. “I like cleaning. I like to move, not stay still. Once I got to work in an old lady’s house. I went every afternoon. And she told me that, instead of cleaning, I should watch television with her. The Save me. Hey, every day the Save me. The lady wanted me to keep her company, to comment on this program, if that…. I learned to crochet, crochet and everything, next to her, without moving. But she couldn’t, standing there all afternoon. oops! Belén Esteban had me… harassed! I couldn’t anymore. I told myself: I’m getting out of here because I’m getting sick.” At twenty minutes to five the bachelor’s house is spotless. He unplugs the cell phone. Stop playing the vallenato. He puts on his backpack. He leaves the house.

One hour travel to the next destination

Again through the Ronda de Segovia, this time up, but without stopping at the bench, with the usual accelerated pace. The same smile too. The subway again. Ahead, almost an hour’s drive to the Montecarmelo neighborhood, far north of Madrid, already on the outskirts, where at a quarter to six he must appear at the door to clean the offices. In the subway, he puts on his headphones and plays the recorded film. this time it is Crash, a somewhat explosive thriller that relates sexual arousal to traffic accidents. “I like action movies. The romantic ones, not so much. My favourites? Well, the drug trafficking ones, ”she says, and laughs.

Now, sitting on the subway, passing through Madrid, she remembers the story of the debt, which is basically the story of her life: “In El Salvador I used to sell food in the streets with a little stall. My husband, who had gone to university, was an electromechanical technician. One day he decided to buy a computer. In installments. In dollars. It cost 600. We paid 35 dollars a month. Of which 18 were interests. But he didn’t come to us with what we earned. The debt on that computer was growing. So I decided to come here to end the damn debt. If we hadn’t had it, maybe I wouldn’t be here. But God decides. In six months I paid off the debt and paid the money that my mother, my sister and my cousin had left me for the ticket. In the following six months I saved for my husband’s ticket”.

Their children were then 3, 5 and 13 years old. The paternal grandparents promised to take care of them. It took Nelsi and her husband seven years to raise enough money to come back for them. During all that time she spoke, every day, by videoconference, with each one of them. She helped them with their homework, congratulated them on their birthdays and read them the holy scriptures. That did not prevent the first day of the reunion, in El Salvador, her youngest daughter, who was then 10 years old, from rejecting her mother and hiding from her in fear behind her grandmother’s skirts. When traveling to Spain, the two little ones were deceived, telling them that they were only going on vacation, that they would stay 15 days in Madrid and then they would return. They couldn’t lie to the oldest, who was already 20 years old, had a job and a girlfriend, and there was no way to convince him: he stayed forever in El Salvador.

Nelsi Ayala, on her way to the offices she cleans in Montecarmelo, north of Madrid.
Nelsi Ayala, on her way to the offices she cleans in Montecarmelo, north of Madrid.David Exposito

Cleaning in the office

It leaves the metro at Tres Olivos station at 5:40 p.m. He crosses a lonely roundabout, a noisy bridge that crosses a highway. He enters the office building at 5:45 pm and without wasting time goes down to the garage, changes in a small changing room, takes a cleaning cart and goes up to the third floor, which is the one of the Lefebvre legal book publishing house. Today she and her three companions have a few free minutes that they spend talking to each other. Nelsi takes advantage and drinks a machine chocolate that she accompanies with some cookies that she takes out of the Altius backpack. Later, at six in the evening, they divide up the entire surface and begin to work. There are hardly any employees left. Everybody has gone or is going. There are afternoons when, if the four of them are alone, one of them hangs a loudspeaker with reggaeton from the cart. If not, they settle for hearing it through their headphones. They clean the tables, the boards, the rubbish bins, the meeting rooms, they wipe everything down, they scrub the salary… Nelsi’s arm hurts from the stooped posture she uses to dust computer screens.

The Government’s intentions are that by the end of the year the work improvements of the 375,000 contracted domestic workers will become effective, including Nelsi and her three companions. 95% of all domestic workers are women. And 4 out of 10 are immigrants. This percentage is the same for the 200,000 women who work in an irregular situation. The low wage conditions in the sector explain why 34% of the families of this more than half a million women are below the poverty line, despite the improvement that the rise in the minimum wage has meant for them.

back to the gate

Nelsi leaves the company at half past nine. In summer, if it’s not too hot, the walk to the metro is almost pleasant. In winter, at that time, it is pitch black. Nelsi likes his work. She is hired, with vacations and extra pay, for the marriage in the mornings and for the company in the afternoons. For her working day, all inclusive, she earns about 1,200 euros a month, to which are added the 800 that her husband earns.

He speaks well of all his current bosses. But 15 years working as a maid in dozens of houses with dozens of bosses is enough to store a collection of grievances, like the one about the lady who told him the cherries so he wouldn’t eat a single one or the one about the one who questioned him one afternoon about a banana missing from the fridge. When asked if she regrets having emigrated, she answers very confidently and very seriously that she does not, and she adds that she only asks God for health to continue working at the same unstoppable pace. At 22.40 she leaves the subway. Five minutes later, she returns to the Alcobendas portal from which she left 14 hours earlier, almost with the same rapid pace as the beginning, with the Altius backpack on her back and the same determined smile.

After dinner with her family, Nelsi Ayala goes to bed to watch a Netflix series.
After dinner with her family, Nelsi Ayala goes to bed to watch a Netflix series.David Exposito


Developing: Alexander Gallardo

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button