05 November 2010

Au Pairing

We have an au pair!

I would say that it's her fault that I have already missed a day of NaBloPoMo, but that just seems rude given how lovely she is, so I won't put that on her. It is, however, true that last night was dedicated to last-minute preparations for her arrival plus a girls' night with my mom to keep me awake before I went to the airport to pick up the newest member of our family (let's call her Z for now).

She had a smile on her face as she came through security and tears in her eyes as she gave me a big hug, and she pretty much hasn't stopped smiling since she arrived. She was up with the Maddie and Riley birds, has been completely hands-on all day, and just projects an air of caring and joy. Maddie and Riley have taken to her immediately—granted, they are pretty loving—and it all just feels right.

Sure, there's bound to be a honeymoon period and of course there will be bumps along the way. But the first 24 hours leave me reassured that the decision to host an au pair for a year is the right one for our family right now, and that this is the start of something good.

UPDATE: Discussion of difficulty in reaching Bolivia by telephone follows. Thanks to those who gave suggestions on ways to resolve this. Looks like MagicJack wins for now!

It turns out that calling Bolivia, Z's home country, is no easy feat. Sure, it's easy enough to pick up a land-line phone and dial a number there, but (a) it can take a few times to get connected, (b) it's expensive as all hell, and (c) I don't have a land line, nor do I want to get one.

I had been counting on Z being able to Skype to video chat for free with her family and friends, and I think that will work with a subset of those she wants to be in touch with back home. But there is a good-sized cohort of folks in Bolivia, including her parents, that either aren't online at home at all or aren't online regularly. Having lived overseas myself, I know that having a reliable way to be in touch with family and friends is critical to good mental health, so I'm trying to figure out a relatively simple way for Z to stay connected.

My first thought was to use Skype for Z to call cell and land lines from her comptuer, and that's still an option. It's not free, of course, but I figured the $15/month for their monthly unlimited worldwide plan was a fine tradeoff for Z's mental health. Well, of course, Bolivia is not on their unlimited worldwide monthly calling plans, and the pay-per-minute rates hover around $0.20.

Calling cards are OK, but the 800-number access line on the one we bought today would not work when dialed from my cell, so if land-line is required for calling cards to work, that's not a real option. My dad pointed out that perhaps it's less cost-prohibitive for Z's family to call from Bolivia to the States, so now I'm thinking that we can get her set up with a Skype Online Number for her friends and family to use to call her, but it looks like that's only valid for calls coming from the country in which you set up the number, grrr. (I'm having a hard time understanding the logistics of that setup.)

I'm not sure how Bolivia has been left behind when it comes to modern telecommunications, but there you have it. At worst, Z will be able to call Bolivian cell and landlines from within Skype at rates that strike me as ridiculously high rates; I'll have to figure out if I can/should pay for some amount of those calls. If family can also call her, all the better, but I'm not sure about that part.

For today, though, I've thought about it enough. I need some sleep! We've got a whole lot of nothing planned for tomorrow, then Sunday we'll spend some time with my mom and stepdad. I'm off work Monday and Tuesday to help with the settling in and to oversee the first two days of normal schedule school dropoff/pickup. Maybe by then we'll have the calling sorted out. Advice appreciated.


Megan said...

I would check out Google Voice. A brief look indicates the price/minute is between .09 and .15 per minute. She should be able to talk via the computer or your cell.

hcb said...

Trying to figure out if your title is a pun or not...

td said...

I would say, just bite the bullet and get a land line. If she weren't able to regularly communicate with her family simply because you didn't want the land line, that would seem pretty harsh when there is a relatively simple solution. I have a metered land line (use for security system + fax) & the monthly cost comes out to about $14-$18/month. If your au pair uses calling cards to call home, it shouldn't be that much money out of pocket for you.

Nicole S. said...

I worked for a telecom consulting firm and did research and fact collecting for latin american countries. The differences between countries are astounding. Internet connections and landlines in Bolivia may be expensive due to lack of infrastructure - Bolivia is one of the more "behind" countries in SA. Hope you are able to find a solution!!

Anonymous said...

I second Megan, try google voice.

Allegro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

you should try rebtel.com

it's kinda like skype. i use it to call north africa and europe (even US)


Allegro said...

My father swears by http://www.magicjack.com/6/index.asp.He uses it to call the West Indies for free. Calling Bolivia can be prohibitively expensive. I think you need a land line for the Magic Jack to work but it still might be worth looking into.

Snickollet said...


Not a pun, just my inability to type when exhausted. Fixed now :).


Anonymous said...

I am not informed enough about the telco issues abroad and where to get better or less expensive service (than Skype).

However, you may want to consider a land line for an emergency.

It's never not charged and does not go out with a power outage. It's a safe option for children. It also ties to your home address- which can be helpful in an emergency (perhaps they now use GPS with cell phones to achieve that same result).

Just another thought...

Val said...

'No advice about the phone calls, I'm just glad things feel right to you all with her. I hope this is a wonderful time/experience for you and yours and for her, Snick.

Much Love,


Anonymous said...

Another "no advice about phone calls" comment, but just wanted to wish you and your new au pair the best.

My daughter was an au pair for a year for a family in Rome when she was 19 years old. One thing that was striking was the period of homesickness that fell over her after the excitement of the first week or so. She had been prepared for it, but even so, it was very difficult.

She said one thing that really helped her was meeting other young women who were also working as au pairs (most weren't American, but they all had their situation in common) and being able to socialize with them on her days off.

She formed some amazing friendships that have endured over the years, with visits back and forth across the ocean.


twingles said...

I"m assuming you got her thru an agency - she can't be the first Bolivian au pair they've worked with...check in with them for some advice.

My sister had au pairs for years - good luck, usually get a vibe pretty quick if you have the right one, sounds like you do.

Yummy Mummy said...


you can do it from cell phone, or any phone. 50 cents to connect and a 1 cent a minute.

We've used it for years and it's awesome.

Megan said...

Another thought is that maybe you can strike a deal with some neighbors where she's allowed to use their landline phone and you pay for the calls.

Anonymous said...

Magicjack sounds like a solution, but calling cards should work from your cell phone. It might have been the particular one you bought, or it might have been related to bad connections on the receiving end. I used to have to make work calls to Europe and all over Asia from my (US-only) cell phone when I didn't want to go to the office in the middle of the night, and I just used a $20 card from the convenience store down the block. Even if you had a land line, you'd be better off buying a card targeted at Bolivia than using an international plan.

Anonymous said...

My experience with friends who have called me using Magicjack is that the connection is very bad, lots of static, many times so bad that we end the call for an inability to understand each other through the static. But at "only $19.95" it's worth a try; perhaps my experience is unique.

Holly said...

I'm having the same issue trying to call Panama. I use calling cards from 7-11 but they are expensive- $1 per call plus/minus connection fee for the first time used. And it's expensive for Panamanians to answer a call from the US on their cell phones.

But text messages can be sent for free online- you will need the name of the cell company and can send through their website.
Try google to find the best deal on calling Bolivia.

Reba said...

I like http://www.onesuite.com. Excellent rates and can be used from a cell phone or land line. I call Turkey, Suisse, and France all the time with no problem. I just looked at rates for Bolivia, .10-.17/minute.

Anonymous said...

Hi Snick,
I live in NY and I'm from Portugal, and the best service that I've found to call home is voipcheap.com.
It's free for landlines to a number of countries (that don't include Bolivia, as expected) but I checked the rates and to call a landline, it's a little under 4cents and mobile about 10cents.
You can either call from the computer or you can make the connection online and make it ring on your phone (cell or otherwise) and when you pick up, it starts ringing on the other end.
I hope this helps.
Lisa M