Saturday, March 2, 2013


I'm unaccustomed to having servants.  I grew up doing things for myself - I had chores and my mother taught me to cook, clean, do laundry, etc and had strict quality standards.  I'm having a bit of trouble getting used to having servants.

Years ago when I finished my bachelor's degree and was waiting to start my first teaching job in the fall, I got a job as a housekeeper for three Air Force officers.  Nice young guys, who were batching it in a three bedroom house.  Once a week I cleaned for them.  One of the guys was usually home when I was there and it really bothered him to watch me work.  He'd be watching a baseball game when I arrived and then would jump up to help me do dishes, dust, etc.

As much as it made him uncomfortable to relax while I worked, it made me uncomfortable to have him help, since it was my job and I was being paid to do it.

I'm on the other side of the dilemma now.  I'm not completely unaccustomed to hired help.  I pay guys to do my yard work.  I pay someone to take care of my pool.  I pay someone else to make sure I don't have any bugs in the house.  I used to have a cleaning woman who came once a week.

But I don't usually see those people.  They come, do their jobs and leave, usually while I'm working.  Or, currently, while I'm in Malawi.

In the house in Lilongwe there is a driver, housekeeper and chef.  Owners (or renters) of large homes are expected to hire staff.  Unemployment is high and wages are low.  Minimum wage here is $20.  Per month.  I'm told that few people actually pay that much for staff.  Additionally, most staff can't afford the small fares for the local transportation so they walk to and from work.  In the case of at least one staffer, he walks 12 miles each way to work.

The other night the three other consultants and I were in the living room, working on our laptops while the chef worked feverishly to prepare our (delicious) dinner.  I asked if anyone else was a bit troubled while someone older than any of us was working so hard while we sat and didn't offer to help.

One consultant, raised in the UK, said it bothered her a bit at first but she's gotten used to it.  The two Malawians weren't troubled at all.  It's just the way it is.

A woman comes to clean my apartment every morning.  I like to be tidy so I make my own bed and do my own dishes so there's really not a lot for her to do.  She does take my dirty clothes, though, every morning.  She returns them to the proper place in my bedroom later the same day.

I drove to get groceries today.  It was my first time driving in Africa and it was fun to be back on the road with the freedom to go where I want.  The young man collecting carts in the parking lot saw me heading to my van in the rain and rain over.  He said "You rest in your car while I store your groceries for you.  You shouldn't be getting wet."  He did not expect a tip.  I gave him one anyway.

When I arrived back at my apartment, the chef was on the patio of the restaurant.  When he saw I had groceries, he ran over to help me carry them to my apartment.  I thanked him but said it was good exercise for me to carry them.  Again, he was doing it to be of service, not in the hopes of a tip.

How will I survive when I leave Malawi?

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you have found another truly interesting adventure.