Pembantus in Bali


anaLiving in Bali long term means sacrificing things such as access to certain products and good roads, but there are other things that balance that out. One of the best is the pembantu (helper) who is a part-time / full-time house cleaner. Houses in Bali tend to be more open plan than in the west, my porch / living room area goes directly out to the garden with no dividing windows or walls. This means the breeze can come in and also the dust. This in turn means you have to clean the house everyday, as Indonesians themselves do. My pembantu Ana is a married woman in her mid-30’s. I find this is a good age group as they usually have a family and value the job (I pay 500,000rp per month). She shows up at 9am and starts cleaning, at 12 takes off for 2 hours, then finishes at 5pm. That happens 6 days a week and during that time she will clean all the rooms, do the laundry, take care of the garden, cook some food and look after Jevon for a while.

People have told me in the past that its not a good to get physical with your staff and I agree. I know of one expat who will fire his pembantu’s if they won’t sleep with him, which is a mistake. Finding someone who is regular, hardworking and honest is the main thing. My pembantu does not have her own key, but it would not be a problem if she did, I just like to know I can lock the door and have it stay shut.

Cleaning out here takes on a different strategy than it does in the west. Back home we’re all about getting it done in the shortest time and come armed with sensible tools and chemicals. Here in Bali there is no such thing as a yard-broom, locals preferring to sweep an area with the hand-held whicker brush. A version of this brush is available to sweep the bed with, which actually makes sense.

Cleaning the bathroom involves lots of sloshing water around and getting down on the floor with a cloth. Scouring powder isn’t used at all and the end result is neat, but not necessarily sparkling. Having an older pembantu and a younger girlfriend / wife can create problems as the younger ‘boss’ feels the older ’employee’ should give her respect and vice-versa.

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To newcomers living in Bali having someone around all day to pick up after may seems a little strange, but they seem to understand their role and get on with it. Hiring a pembantu isn’t difficult, just ask a local if they know someone. The trick is finding one who is reliable. It helps if she can speak English, has a motorbike and cell phone. My pembantu has none of these thnigs but is still good. Trustworthiness and a good work ethic being her strengths. Since living in Bali I have not heard many stories of people getting ripped off by the pembantu. Balinese staff will often tell you they need time off for a family emergency or religious event. This isn’t really a request, more of a statement. Best strategy is if you want to keep your good employee, let them do what they have to do without stressing over making up the hours. Some are willing to some won’t.

A pembantu can make your life in Bali pleasant if you both get along.