Episode 21: La nana (The Nanny)

When she was growing up in Santiago, Chile, Yasna Mussa says it was common for her friend’s families to employ nannies. Even though these workers, mostly women, spent most of their days caring for these families, Yasna remembers them being somewhat invisible. She didn’t take notice of this until she became a nanny herself in a foreign country.

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Transcript

Yasna: En el año 2011 fui a vivir a París para cumplir mi sueño.

Martina: That’s Chilean journalist Yasna Mussa. She was 28 years old when she moved to France with a dream of becoming an international correspondent. But before getting there, she had to solve a little problem…

Yasna: Yo no sabía ninguna palabra en francés.

Martina: Well, two problems.

Yasna: Con el dinero que tenía no podía vivir en una ciudad tan cara como París.

Martina: So, if you dream of living in an expensive city where you don’t speak the local language, you clearly need a plan. Yasna started to look for jobs where she could make money while learning French.

Yasna: Escribí en Google las palabras: “trabajo part-time + español + París”. Casi todos los resultados eran de agencias de nounou, que significa nana o niñera en francés.

Martina: Yasna applied for the nanny job, and in doing so, she opened a door to a conflicted world: one where regardless of how much time nannies and families spent together, they could remain perfect strangers.

Bienvenidos and welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast — I’m Martina Castro. Every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories, to help you improve your Spanish listening, and to gain new perspectives on the world. The storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish and I will be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, don’t be afraid to skip back and listen again – and we also offer full transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com. Today’s story comes from Chile, and it’s told by Yasna Mussa. It’s called: La Nana – (or The Nanny)

Martina: Yasna didn’t have experience working as a nanny. But there was one ad that got her attention. It asked for a Spanish-speaking nanny with an accent from Argentina, Peru or... Chile, Yasna’s native country. And it was signed by an 11-year-old girl.

Yasna: El aviso decía: “Somos tres niños que pasamos seis meses en Latinoamérica y queremos mantener el idioma. Este es el teléfono de mi mamá. Pregunten por Chloé, la hija mayor”.

Martina: Yasna applied for the nanny job. And instead of calling the number in the ad, she chose to send an email. She thought it would be hard to communicate by phone, considering she still didn’t speak French.

Yasna: Chloé, la niña, me respondió el e-mail. Me dijo que sus papás me invitaban para una entrevista. Chloé, por supuesto, sería la intérprete.

Martina: Yasna went to the interview and, to her surprise, she got the job immediately.

Yasna: Era una familia rica. Vivían en un apartamento muy grande en un barrio elegante.

Martina: The walls of the apartment were covered with sculptures and pictures from the family’s travels throughout Latin America. They even had paintings by Frida Kahlo, the famous Mexican artist.

Yasna: Los padres se llamaban Sarah y Thomas. Mi primera impresión fue que ellos amaban Latinoamérica. La tarde en que los conocí, vimos juntos sus fotos en la Patagonia y Perú mientras los niños me miraban con curiosidad.

Martina: In addition to 11 year old Chloé, there was 8 year old Olivier and 5 year old Emilie. Chloé spoke very good Spanish and she was the interpreter for the family. Olivier and Emilie, on the other hand—they didn’t want to speak any Spanish when they first met Yasna.

Yasna: Pero unos días después pude romper el hielo. Una vez a la semana, nosotros nos sentábamos en la sala y yo les daba lecciones de español. Cada vez que la pequeña Emilie podía decir una frase en español se sentía satisfecha, me miraba y se reía fuertemente.

Martina: Chloé usually pushed Yasna to practice her French.

Yasna: Por ejemplo, cuando íbamos a comprar pan, me hacía practicar frases muy largas. “Bonjour madame. Je voudrais quatre pains au chocolat, s'il vous plaît.”

Martina: Which means…

Martina: “Buenos días, señora. Quisiera cuatro panes de chocolate, por favor”. Eran cosas muy básicas, pero que cada semana me ayudaban a mejorar mi francés y perder el miedo de hablarlo.

Martina: But Yasna’s relationship with the parents wasn’t as good as she imagined it would be. They paid her only 11 euros an hour, which at the time was about 14 dollars. But it was customary to pay at least 18 euros an hour, or 24 dollars. They didn’t pay Yasna any extra for giving their kids Spanish lessons, either.

Yasna: El problema era que yo tenía visa de turista y no tenía permiso para trabajar. Yo estaba esperando mi visa de estudiante, y si la visa no llegaba, los padres de los niños no me iban a pagar más dinero. Vivir con lo que me pagaban era muy difícil.

Martina: Six weeks after she started, Yasna took the children to a park near the Eiffel tower, very close to their house. She sat down on a bench to watch them play.

Yasna: El lugar estaba lleno de niños con sus nanas.

Martina: She looked around and realized she was surrounded by nannies—at least 25 women from different parts of the world: Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

Yasna: Eran nanas igual que yo. Fui a decirles hola y me senté con ellas.

Martina: They were all under 30 years old.

Yasna: Muchas eran estudiantes de posgrado que cuidaban niños porque necesitaban dinero para vivir en París; otras eran inmigrantes que enviaban dinero a sus países y que no podían estar con sus propias familias.

Martina: That day, Yasna found new friends. She started meeting up with them to have coffee and croissants to hear about their lives. The nannies’ main concerns were about money, the dreams they worked so hard to achieve and, also, the way their bosses treated them.

Yasna: Una colega llamada Olga nos dijo que, en la casa donde ella trabajaba, la acusaron de robar un anillo.

Martina: But the ring ended up being in her boss’ purse the whole time.

Yasna: La jefa le ofreció excusas y la invitó a cenar, pero el mal ya estaba hecho. Olga siguió trabajando en esa casa solo por el dinero, pero las cosas ya no eran como antes.

Martina: As Yasna heard her friends’ stories about where they worked, her opinion about the family she worked for started to change.

Yasna: Ellos me parecían un poco falsos. Vivían en un apartamento muy bonito. Compraban pinturas caras. Organizaban fiestas frecuentemente. Pero a mí me pagaban muy poco dinero.

Martina: This realization took her, unexpectedly, back to her childhood in Chile… where many of her friends growing up had live-in nannies.

Yasna: Eso es bastante común entre las familias de clase media de mi país.

Martina: These women didn’t just take care of the children: they took care of the whole family, and they often had no days off.

Yasna: Muchas de las nanas venían de otros países cercanos a Chile, como Perú o Bolivia. Ellas vivían lejos de su gente para poder cuidar niños de otras familias. Por primera vez pensé en cómo se sentían ellas.

Martina: Yasna remembered her friends spent more time with their nannies than with their own moms. But, those families still didn’t know much about the women taking care of them… Now, in Paris, Yasna felt her bosses were completely indifferent to her.

Yasna: Además de mi nacionalidad y de que era reportera, los padres de Chloé no preguntaban nada sobre mi pasado, mis proyectos o mis sueños.

Martina: Finally, on the third month, Yasna received her student visa. She approached Sarah and Thomas, the couple she worked for, about giving her the raise they had promised her.

Yasna: Sarah me dio una excusa absurda: que ella no ganaba suficiente dinero y que mi trabajo era fácil porque la hija mayor era casi independiente. Sentí que se reía de mí en mi propia cara. Desde entonces nuestra relación se volvió peor.

Martina: One night, they got home very late. They had agreed to pay for Yasna’s taxi in these situations, so she could get home safely. But this time, Sarah told her the metro was still running so she could take that instead.

Yasna: Yo no conocía bien París ni los horarios del metro. Cogí un tren pero después de algunas estaciones el servicio terminó y tuve que salir a la calle.

Martina: Yasna had to get off the train in a neighborhood she didn’t recognize. It was almost 1:00 in the morning and the streets were empty. Yasna didn’t have a phone to call for help.

Yasna: Había mucha gente borracha. Ellos me dijeron cosas feas y tuve miedo. Un hombre borracho me siguió varias cuadras. Yo solo caminé y caminé por instinto. Llegué a casa a las 5 de la mañana. Estaba cansada, triste y tenía mucho miedo.

Martina: Once Yasna told her friends at the park what had happened to her, they said they had gone through similar situations. “It’s better not to complain,” they told her, “they’ll just fire you.” Yasna couldn’t afford losing her job, but she also felt like she needed to say something.

Yasna: Cuando vi a Sarah y a Thomas les dije que tenían que pagar por los taxis nocturnos, y también les volví a recordar el aumento de sueldo.

Martina: Sarah listened to her intently and agreed. But sadly, Yasna’s friends turned out to be right.

Yasna: Sarah nunca más me volvió a llamar para cuidar a los niños.

Martina: She simply never called Yasna again. And that was it.

Yasna: Yo tampoco insistí porque no creía en su palabra. Nunca pude decir adiós a sus hijos y eso era lo único que me ponía triste.

Martina: By that time, other things were happening in Yasna’s life. One night, a friend invited her to a political event. It was a huge auditorium with more than three thousand people ...

Yasna: Un chico me miró y me dijo “hola” en francés. “I don’t speak French,” le dije. Me preguntó en inglés de dónde era yo. Y cuando le dije que era chilena, me respondió en un español casi perfecto.

Martina: It was love at first sight. He was a scientist. And by the time Yasna lost her first job as a nanny, he was planning to move to Toulouse for Grad School—that’s a city in the south of France. And she decided to go with him. That meant...

Yasna: ...que yo tenía que comenzar de nuevo. Pero esta vez iba a ser diferente.

Martina: Toulouse was a smaller city. Yasna wasn’t confident enough about her French to look for jobs as a journalist. So she looked for another nanny job. She was hired by a family with a 4-year-old girl and a 14-month old baby boy, Claire and Clement.

Yasna: Era la primera vez que cuidaba a un bebé que no hablaba ni caminaba.

Martina: Claire and Clement’s mom was Laura, a blonde woman in her mid thirties that immediately ask Yasna to call her by her first name. She also offered Yasna a formal contract with vacation time and social security benefits. It was already worlds apart from her first job.

Yasna: Laura iba a volver a su trabajo por primera vez en meses, después de haber tenido a Clement. Era doctora en un laboratorio llamado Danone, en una ciudad cerca de París.

Martina: Because of the distance, Laura had to spent Monday through Thursday away from home.

Yasna: Los niños iban a kínder durante las mañanas, mientras su papá trabajaba. Yo los cuidaba desde las cinco de la tarde. Laura usualmente me llamaba por teléfono o me enviaba e-mails.

Martina: The kids father was Mickaël. He was polite, but serious and distant. Yasna addressed him formally as “usted”.

Yasna: Una tarde, Clément y yo estábamos jugando en el piso cuando se puso de pie. Me miró a los ojos y se empezó a mover poco a poco. ¡Estaba caminando!

Martina: Yasna had never seen a baby’s first steps. So she did what anyone with a smartphone would do.

Yasna: Tomé mi celular muy despacio y grabé un video.

Martina: Yasna quickly sent the video to Laura.

Yasna: Ella me respondió: ¡Gracias!

Martina: Apart from those happy moments with the kids, Yasna was uneasy emotionally. She still wasn’t living the life she had dreamt for herself in France as a correspondent.

Yasna: Muchas noches pensaba que tenía que hacer algo radical para cambiar mi vida.

Martina: Five months after starting her job, it was time for Yasna to take her summer vacation. She told the family she would spend it on the beach… but that was a lie.

Yasna: Decidí viajar a Palestina para escribir sobre la guerra. Fui por primera vez en el año 2007. Y ahora que estaba mucho más cerca quería regresar.

Martina: So she bought a ticket to Palestine and contacted news outlets back home in Chile where she could send her dispatches. Yasna just needed to be a journalist again.

Yasna: Fui a hospitales para visitar niños heridos por misiles y mujeres esperando solas en la salas de emergencia. Fue un shock terrible.

Martina: One month later, back in Toulouse with the children, Yasna was exhausted and stressed by what she had seen. No one in the family asked for details about her vacation.

Yasna: Solo les dije que las vacaciones estuvieron bien, así, en general.

Martina: Those first days back, Yasna had bags under her eyes and she wasn’t sleeping well.

Yasna: La primera tarde, Clément y Claire vinieron corriendo a verme. Querían ir al parque, pero yo no tenía ganas.

Martina: It was clear that Yasna was not the same nanny she was before. She was depressed and feeling trapped.

Yasna: Una noche, cansada de esperar, me senté frente a mi computadora y busqué en Internet el e-mail de la editora jefa de Radio Francia Internacional. Le escribí un correo diciendo que buscaba una oportunidad.

Martina: It was midnight when she went to bed. At 2 am, she got an alert on her phone.

Yasna: ¡Era la editora! Quería verme en París la semana siguiente. ¡No lo podía creer!

Martina: She got the correspondent job. Her French had gotten excellent in the year since she had moved to France and she was finally ready. But this happiness came at a cost.

Yasna: Tenía que decirles adiós a Clément y a Claire después de 9 meses juntos.

Martina: The next day, she took the children to the park and told them that she was leaving.

Yasna: Clément no entendía lo que sucedía. Pero Claire comenzó a llorar. Su mamá, que esa vez estaba con nosotros, le explicó que yo no sería más su nana, pero que nosotras podíamos seguir siendo amigas.

Martina: Back in the house, Laura invited Yasna to chat on the balcony. She prepared drinks and cheese.

Yasna: Era la primera vez que compartíamos de esa manera. Era extraño.

Martina: Yasna didn’t really know how to behave, but after a while she decided to relax.

Yasna: Laura, emocionada, me dijo: “Gracias por querer a mis niños y por cuidarlos cuando yo no estaba”.

Martina: For Laura, it had been really difficult to leave Clément and Claire with a stranger. But over the past few months, she had come to trust Yasna.

Yasna: Sentí que la pared que había entre las dos se rompía. Por primera vez ella y yo hablamos sobre nuestras vidas, nuestros países y nuestras carreras.

Martina: They talked a while longer, and even though they still knew very little about one another, they hugged and held back tears as they said goodbye.

Yasna: Hoy veo lo grandes y lindos que están Clément y Claire a través de las fotografías que sus padres tienen en Facebook.

Martina: It’s been almost 10 years since Yasna said goodbye to Clement, Claire and Laura. She is now back in Chile working as a journalist. She doesn’t have kids. But everytime she meets a nanny at a friend’s house…

Yasna: Siempre busco la manera de pasar tiempo con la nana y le pregunto: “¿Cuál es tu historia?”

Martina: Yasna Mussa is a journalist and cofounder of LATE, an online magazine devoted to long-form stories from Latin America.

If you liked this story, we’d love for you to share it with others. At podcast.duolingo.com, you can find a transcript of this story and all of the other episodes. Subscribe at Apple Podcasts or your favorite listening app, so you never miss one. With over 300 million users, Duolingo is the world's leading language learning platform, and the most downloaded education app in the world. Duolingo believes in making education free, fun and accessible to everyone. To join, download the app today, or find out more at duolingo.com. I’m the executive producer, Martina Castro – gracias por escuchar.

Credits

This episode includes recordings from magnumdb, InspectorJ, Ramston and halimturk under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Author: Yasna Mussa
Script Editor: Marco Avilés
Senior Editor: Catalina May
Sound Designer: Ana Lucia Murillo
Mixing & Mastering Engineer: Martín Cruz Farga
Executive Producer/Editor: Martina Castro