Rose has been away for over two weeks on leave in Kenya. First it was Easter and then her daughter was on break from boarding school. It was good for her to go and also good for us that she came back last night. While she was away, we were really busy keeping up with everything she does on top of everything we do, and during all that I had some time to think about our general situation with her (there was time for thinking, but not so much time for blogging!).
If you've been reading this blog since we started our African adventure you might remember that we were not initially comfortable having staff work for us in Kenya. We started off thinking we could do it all ourselves and tried to fight the pressure to employ Kenyans. That is, until reality turned out to be more difficult than we expected.
Because first of all, expats do provide a huge percentage of jobs in developing countries (at least in Kenyan and Tanzania...I am assuming other African countries as well), the absence of which would likely lead to a rise in a whole host of other social and economic problems. Second of all, the expectation that expats will employ local staff is actually fair, when you think about how much most expats benefit professionally and economically from working in a place like Nairobi or Dar AND how little employing domestic help costs. And third of all, it is harder to live in Africa than to live in the US and Europe. It just IS! Not bad or worse (necessarily)…definitely different…definitely harder in many ways (easier in other ways too). I have to boil water before I can hand-wash all of my dishes. Hanging up laundry to dry and taking it down again takes a long time for a family with kids (I know lots of people do this at home too). Cleaning the dirt and grime and African dust...not to mention the gecko poop!...is more labor intensive here than at home. I have to go to 3-5 different stores to get all of the ingredients I need to cook one basic dinner almost every day (because things go bad really quickly even in the working refrigerator). And of course we are also running around paying CASH for all of our bills and trying to acquire diesel and luku (electricity) and all of that. Plus, in Dar at least, it is bloody hot...and I have never met a teenage girl to recruit as a babysitter!
So having domestic staff of any kind definitely feels like a luxury sometimes, but it also definitely feels NECESSARY and PRACTICAL. And, as I think I’ve written about before, when you find the right help – a person, or people, who just fit well with your family and your needs – then it is golden.
The other side to having help is a little bit of guilt that I sometimes feel. Guilt that I should be the one scrubbing my floors and hanging up my laundry, since I am not working at any other paying job. Guilt that I would ever think it is “hard” to have staff (but I am in a management position over here!), which sometimes it is (although mucd less so with only one employee now), when I know most stay-at-home-moms where I come from don’t have additional help and do everything themselves. Guilt that maybe I have help because I couldn’t actually handle everything on my own in the first place.
So Rose’s absence the last two weeks was actually a good reminder for me. We did not wash the floors or clean the bathrooms as often as she normally does, but our house was mostly tidy and our laundry was washed and our dinner was made and we never ran out of luku and Grace did not watch more TV than we normally let her watch. We were exhausted, but we survived. Kristoffer helped a lot in the evenings and I did the best I could during the day to do household chores along with Noah’s nap schedule, Grace’s school schedule, and the normal errands. (I also applied for a job and had a first-stage interview…but that is a story for another blog altogether.) Exhausted. But we did it!
I realized that Rose doesn’t work for us because we can’t work for ourselves. We employ her to make our life here manageable and easier and more pleasant…and we appreciate her hard work so much for those reasons. This realization assuaged my guilt a bit. I also feel that because it is harder to live here, even though we know it is our choice, having help is just a really nice perk that we should enjoy as long as we can (you would too if it was as inexpensive to do so where you live!). I suspect in our future life in the US or Denmark we will have plenty of laundry and dishes and floors to wash all on our own. Right?
So. Grace and Noah had a very happy reunion with Rose today. Grace missed her and we made a calendar to count down the days until she came back. Rose brought them sweet little Nairobi presents and there was a lot of laughter in the house in the wee hours this morning. An outsider might have thought that Grace was the happiest person in our family to see Rose. But an insider will know that is not exactly true.