Yesterday evening I sat at the dinner table with the boys while my maid cleaned up the kitchen. She washed the dishes, and she washed them Romanian style, under running water. While I winced listening to all that water gushing down the drain, fractions of all the conversations that I ever had with her and her predesessors flashed through my head. "Why?" "It's a waste of water." "Water is cheap." Delivered in a dead pan voice. "Hm, water is actually a very valuable resource. It's important to conserve water because...," trailing off as I see a blank look appear on her face. Oh, my green soul, it ached.
I like my house clean. Unfortunately, my definition of clean differs vastly from that of my maid(s). I don't like to have cleaning supplies in the house that have the potential of killing my children. Anything that cannot be ingested without little more than a stomach ache is, in my eyes, a hazard to my kids and very probably not good for the environment. Before we started to use rechargeable batteries, I collected the empty batteries and brought them to Germany on the plane, to be disposed of in a more responsible way than just dumping them into the trash. (These days, I think one can actually bring them to a collecting place at the Carrefour. I have no idea what happens to the batteries afterwards, though.) Every time I throw away paper, plastic or glass, I wince. I'm used to a thorough recycling system and while the German one has its weaknesses and its problems, it's better than just piling every thing on one big dump. One cannot buy organic cleaning products in Romania and I could not convince my maid to use lemon juice and baking soda for scouring the sinks. So I bring green cleaning products from the US and from Germany. Blue juice and red juice are not for drinking in my household (although it wouldn't hurt you terribly if you did, which is the whole point). This resulted in the following little incident: a few weeks into Alan's toilet training, my (prior) maid went out and bought a big bottle of Domestos from her own money. She then proceeded to use half of the bottle on the tiny downstairs bathroom which, granted, stank to high heaven. Alan had watched his adored friend Jesse (aged 5) pee while standing and couldn't be convinced to sit down ever after. So yes, the bathroom needed cleaning every day. But it was just fine to use one of the green products for this. Urine is in itself not a terribly horrible substance to remove. It doesn't even withstand simple water and soap... Anyhow. I came home and could not even stand to be in the house, that's how much the stink of Domestos had invaded every nook and cranny. Domestos has a big fat black cross in a red square on the back of the bottle - health hazard! Keep out of reach of children! I was pregnant at the time, David was just two years old, Alan some over three. I made her take the rest of the bottle home and did not offer to pay for it. I don't think she ever forgave me for that. I tried to explain my reasons to her. I tried to explain to her the connection between cleaners, clean water, and our future. I guess I am not a born teacher (coming from five generations of teachers on both sides of my family, this must have required a rare genetic mutation). This ties in with the heating-plastic-thing. We used to heat the kids' bottles in the microwave. When the studies came out about chemicals leaking out of heated plastic, we abandoned this practice. The following conversation ensued: "L-, we don't heat the bottles in the microwave anymore. There is a study out [snip long explanation]. We are going to use this [ceramic milk pot] instead and then fill the milk into the bottles. I'd like to get glass bottles but that will have to wait until we get to Germany next." "Why?" "Why what?" "We always used to heat the bottes in the microwave before." "Yes, but now we know it's dangerous. The study found that [longer explanation in simpler words, or so I thought]." "But the kids never got sick from their milk." "Eh..." Well. I have to say that she follows my instructions. The milk gets heated in a ceramic pot. The dishes are washed in the sink filled with water. Red and Blue Juice are used in abundance. However, I have the sneaking suspicion that she thinks I'm a little bonkers. In which respect she is, of course, totally correct -- but for different reasons than she assumes. On an final note, I tried to contact the local Greenpeace chapter which, for some odd reason, sits in Maramures. The activist center sits in Cluj. Both never replied. (That was almost three years ago, though. Now, there is something called the Rainbow Cafe for activism in Eastern Europe. I couldn't get the site to work in either Firefox or Explorer, though. Hm.)