Toxic chemicals have nothing to do with it; the trick to unclogging a toilet is all in the arms of the person wielding the plunger.
I only know this because I have cleaned over a thousand since I graduated from university, with a degree that was meant to ensure I’d never scrub a porcelain bowl ever.
But you do desperate things when you travel, putting egos and paychecks aside in order to live and work in your own sought-after paradise. Or, at least, save up for the next one.
Of all the assorted paychecks I’ve earned (as spray tan tester, temporary gas station manager, handbag saleswoman) something about cleaning hotel rooms comes with the biggest mental battle. And yet, in the process, I’ve grown grateful for every hour spent ironing pillow cases and emptying rubbish bins, for the many things I’ve learned as a housekeeper.
Because if I hadn’t freed human feces from those thousand plugged toilets, I wouldn’t have gained the following:
Optimism – This is a quality inherent to the act of traveling, and coincidentally behind the best advice I’ve ever received: “Pick a place that you love and do whatever it takes to stay there.” It requires optimism to believe that foreign places could feel like home, and to overcome the weights of ‘Real World’ worry that tag along – finances, relationships, how to unplug the men’s toilet.
With each splash of the plunger, I remind myself that this job is just part of one great big Adventure.
Humility – It doesn’t take many fights with a mop and bucket to wash away all remnants of self-greatness. At first, there’s a sense of injustice, the unpopular mantra “This is what I’ve been reduced to?” But really, I’ve done nothing to deserve reduction – merely performed an act so universally mundane, most people don’t even get paid for it (cough cough wives and mothers). Why do we need to be special?
If travel is the great equalizer, than pride and arrogance are simply excess luggage.
Patience – This martyr’s blessing is merely a headache waiting to happen – one that begins the instant someone points out streaks on the lobby floor I’ve just polished three different ways. Impatiently returning to those tiles, I re-scrub and scowl and re-scrub and swear. Yet in the end, labor shows in my shiny reflection.
The oh-so obvious results of cleaning demand your full attention on each task, each moment, each emotion.
Persistence – Bleach stains. Forever. Its impossible-to-remove spots are the only evidence of several years’ housekeeping experience; for, if I’ve done the job correctly, each room I exit looks like new. Whether it’s this disappearing act, or the fact that it triggers realizations of everything I have yet to accomplish (see: Humility), each housekeeping shift motivates me to find that one thing at which I can shine, then peruse it for all I’m worth.
Unless, of course, that is housekeeping . . .
Loyalty – Most backpacking jobs come with a catch-22: while being ‘just’ a temporary employee means you can walk away when you want, being a temp also means management can you send you walking when they want. And it’s far too easy to quit after the first time someone leaves beard trimmings all over the bathroom sink.
Who says we can’t find dignity in shaping a perfect bath towel animal, or proving our commitment to the financial demands of a nomadic lifestyle?
Imagination – I know few room attendants strong enough to unfurl an entire sheet over a king size bed, like they do in hotel commercials. But I’ll keep trying. And while those crisp white corners sail to the farther reaches of the mattress, I’ll muse over distant locations and places too warm for bedding.
After all, I’m gaining experiences and getting paid to daydream.
Hospital corners – And finally, Mom was right: knowing how to make my bed properly did indeed pay off one day.
Have you worked somewhere unexpected in order to keep traveling? What surprising things did you learn on the job?