While certainly much more comfortable in my "employer" skin than I used to be, having household staff remains one of the most interesting parts of living the expat life. We have definitely become completely dependent on having staff - especially when pregnant! - because they do make our life here so much less difficult and stressful than it would be without them. And they also make it really tempting to never go home again, where we will most certainly have to do our own laundry, iron our own clothes, wash our own dishes (in the dishwasher, at least) and clean our own toilets!
Discussing things like contract and salary terms and conditions, over-time and vacation days, etc. always feel totally awkward to me because we are in our house - not in a place of business! I always end up feeling horrible during these discussions, even though I know I have learned a lot and gotten better at them. It is a delicate balance for sure, communicating these things with East Africans who have very different cultural perceptions and understandings than we do.
But I do really like our staff, Rose and Christopher, and especially enjoy moments when we are together in the house laughing about something or trying to "teach" (maybe just explain?) some cultural differences to each other. That part of having staff is great. It is also very educational because sometimes I overhear or am told things that really remind me of how different our two worlds really are. They never cease to surprise me! This week there were two surprises.
First - Rose's daughter traveled back to her boarding school on Tuesday. She had to be there by 2 pm and her aunt took her on a bus, which was late. So that Karen, Rose's daughter, arrived at school 20 minutes later than she was supposed to be there. Not only would the teachers not let her in the gate of the school's compound, they told her she had to return the next day with an adult, or sleep outside the gate until the next day. Her aunt was no longer with her and the teachers would not let her use one of their phones to call anyone. Karen somehow got an askari (guard) to let her use a phone to message Rose, who called back to hear the story and could then try to get through to her sister or the school. I think Rose harassed the school enough that they eventually - though several hours later - let Karen in, but they told her she would punished. This would most likely mean that she would be woken up at 4 am to tend to the school's crops before breakfast. CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE THAT THEY WERE ACTUALLY GOING TO MAKE A TEENAGE GIRL SLEEP OUTSIDE THE GATE BY HERSELF OVER NIGHT! No security risk there! AHHHH! The whole thing was maddening. Rose was really upset, understandably, and frustrated (at the school and at her sister, who would not go back to the school to help sort the situation out) and I kept telling her: Don't stop calling! Just keep bothering them! Don't let it go! They will give in! Crazy strict Kenyans.
Next - Christopher tells me at the same time as the Karen situation is going on, that he has malaria. Now granted, he didn't know this. But he felt like he had a fever (as he prepared our dinner. I told him: put down the veggies! Please!) and to all East Africans a fever = malaria. They just assume. I told him to go right to a clinic for a malaria test. Often here people are incorrectly diagnosed and treated for malaria because it is just "easy" for clinics to do that. But I hoped he would get an accurate result. He didn't come to work yesterday but he did come today. He said it was not malaria but some other kind of infection which they could see in his blood work. So he was getting antibiotic injections and painkillers for a bad headache yesterday, and was starting to feel better today. He worked half of the day before I got home from work and sent him BACK home because I was not convinced that should be working yet. I am happy that he doesn't have malaria of course, but also that he did not get a false positive malaria test and, therefore, medication he doesn't need. That is a really big problem here from what I have heard.
There is always something interesting to learn or hear about from our staff. In an otherwise totally expat/cushy environment where we are not at all faced with the "real" life of Africans, we do get some understanding of their realities this way.