Success stories are regular features of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter service, where we share profiles of people who have become financially independent. One of the most remarkable stories we've come across is that of Akaisha and Billy Kaderli, who retired two decades ago at the age of 38 and began traveling the world. They wrote the popular books The Adventurer's Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.
It came as a surprise and shock to us, but the evidence was irrefutable.
After more than two decades of worldwide travel, we consider ourselves to be veteran travelers. We know about safety on the road, what to pack for long journeys, and how to get the best prices possible through negotiation with vendors, hoteliers, and even medical professionals. In our lifetimes, we've had housekeeping services, garden and lawn services, countless employees during our business years, and maids and gardeners in our times overseas. Generally, we can tell if we are being scammed and our antennae are up as a matter of course.
But this time, we got taken by a maid.
Love is blind
We've been house-sitting in Antigua, Guatemala. We love it. Being able to enjoy this Colonial city from the luxury of a home with full privileges, views of three volcanoes from the rooftop garden, and only a stone's throw from a marvelous bakery has been fantastic.
The house-sit came with a six-day-a-week maid who is cheerful, hardworking, sensitive to our privacy, and never carried an attitude toward us or about her job. Rosa and I had countless chats about being a single mother, her family background and her dreams for her children. She neither reads nor writes because when she lost her father in the Guatemalan civil war, she had to drop out of school to help her mother take care of her nine siblings. When her mother fell ill with cancer, Rosa moved in and nursed her while she was dying. I shared that I was my mother's primary caregiver also and we nodded together in understanding.
Laughing and joking, we discussed spiritual quests, the men in our lives and personal challenges we faced.
We see what we want to see
When my finger was injured in early September, our reliance on Rosa increased. She went shopping for us and carried the heavy bags of fruits and vegetables back to the house. She cut up fruit, cleaned and mopped the house, tied my shoes when I could not, and put flowers on the table. Answering the door when the bell rang, she knew to say no to the firewood man, negotiated good prices with the fruit vendors, and ordered bottles of water from the water delivery man.
She was an angel, a godsend, and she made our lives run smoother during a difficult time.
The evidence builds up
Meanwhile, due to the severity of my finger injury, we were spending six to 12 hours a day driving to and from Guatemala City for therapy and appointments with my surgeon. Because we were paying out of pocket for all services received, we were going to the ATM every other day. We were burning through cash quickly and our lives were filled with medical distraction.
Time came for my skin graft, and it was relatively expensive. Making several trips to the bank, we had to store up some cash a few days ahead of the operation.
You can see where I'm going with this, can't you?
The night before my operation, we re-counted the cash we had stashed, and mysteriously, I was short.
It was hard to think straight with all the medications I had been taking, and I certainly was not looking in Rosa's direction for a culprit. Something didn't settle well, but to go into the operating room with negativity on my mind was not what I wanted. I pushed the event away.
Weeks later, when it was time to pay Rosa for her monthly work, we again took local currency (quetzales) out from the bank and placed it separately from our daily household cash. Payday arrived, and when I reached for her wages, half of that money was gone.
Billy and I always travel with American dollars, and with Guatemala so close to Mexico, we had a wad of pesos in reserve as well. Sadly, we found that all of our stockpiles of cash were depleted.
Normally, in a hotel room, we would be locking everything up in a steel-cable Pacsafe with several locks and attached to something immovable, like plumbing. We are advocates for the safety of our gear, and we always advise you, our readers, to be aware of your surroundings.
Here, in a home situation, we were not careless, but we were definitely casual in our approach to Rosa. We treated her as part of the family, giving her food, buying presents for her kids, and "loaning" her money. Rosa is smart, funny, engaging, and a hard worker. We fell in love and got sucked in.
Now we had found that our money was missing and we were embarrassed. We know better than this!
We considered this state of affairs as much our fault for blurring the lines between employer and employee as it was hers for succumbing to temptation.
A sticky wicket
It's hard to think clearly when your heart is smashed and waves of anger come surging through.
"I was vulnerable and she took advantage of me! We trusted her!" I would wail to Billy.
"We let our guard down and we never should have. We know better than this!" would be his retort.
"She is so poor, she can't read or write, she's a single mother. She needs the money far more than we do..." I'd say in subdued guilt.
"If she's a thief, she'll lose this job. The owners will never trust her again," Billy reminded me.
Back and forth like this for a couple of days we went, not knowing whether to bring it up to her or not. Remember, we are house-sitting, she is technically not our employee, and more important, she has the keys to the house and to the owner's car.
We found ourselves in an unpredictable situation, and felt responsible for the owner's belongings. We thought we knew Rosa and could trust her, but what if she felt cornered, came back to the house when we were gone for the day and took the TV or stole the car and sold it for parts?
Our discomfort increased.
The next few days were joyless, with neither of us looking into Rosa's eyes for fear we would be too angry or somehow bumble it and say something not well thought out. But this felt like we weren't treating Rosa like a full person, and it ground on us. It was an unsustainable situation and just felt ugly. It's not who we are... It's not who we want to be.
So Billy confronted Rosa in as gentle a way as possible about the disappearance of our dinero.
Over and over and over, Rosa unequivocally denied she knew anything about our loot, and then said she had to go home and feed her children.
With no anger in our voices but with obvious disappointment and hurt, we explained to Rosa how we knew it had to be she who had taken the money. As the evidence closed in on her, she became very quiet.
We told her she was better than a thief and that her children needed a role model or else they might become thieves themselves. She would suffer if her children walked down that road. We told her that we could see that she has a hard life and we knew she worked hard.
"You are like a daughter to us and we love you," we said. "Our hearts are broken. Our trust is broken. We are broken." We asked her to think about it, and she said she would come in the next day to work.
The next day Rosa was an hour late arriving at the house, and we were beginning to think we had blown it. We were ready to find an alternative temporary maid and have the locks to the doors changed to protect the owners' home and belongings.
Then she walked in.
Rosa asked to speak to both of us together, so we gathered in one of the light-filled bedrooms upstairs. Spilling her guts and with tears streaming down her face, she told us that she pays for everything for her children and that the temptation was just too much for her. She told us she had taken the money, she was very sorry, she would pay every bit of it back, and she asked us to forgive her.
It was a heart-wrenching 10 minutes of confession and redemption.
Then she handed us 500 quetzales, worth about $60.
A workable solution
Rosa's personal courage inspired us. Telling her we loved her, we reminded her never to forget that she is a strong, good person and a solid example for her children. It was very tempting to forgive the whole debt right then and there.
If we actually did love her as our own daughter, though, we would want her to learn that stealing is not OK. She must demonstrate to us and to the owners that her word is good and thereby reinstate herself as being trustworthy and reliable.
So we worked out a payment plan.
Each month Rosa will pay toward her debt just like a loan payment. Unbeknownst to her, a certain portion will be held back in reserve for when she completes her promise. As she finishes her commitment, that amount will be given back to her as a gift from us, a reward for her personal discipline and for keeping her word.
Without the cooperation and understanding of the homeowners on this matter, the full circle of this lesson would not be possible. In most circumstances when a maid is found stealing, she is fired and the relationship is severed.
Rosa's authenticity and willingness to engage affected all of us. It took a certain quality of spirit for her to face us, admit to a mistake, and ask to be given another chance.
Sometimes, it is difficult to be both loving and firm. But when we can manage to make it happen, the results can be very powerful.
What would you do?