Monday, 26 September 2011

Housekeeper - Exclusive Third World Luxury

Before we had decided on coming to Nairobi, I was sure that Aamir should look for an opening only in “growth markets”. I was not ready for first world life without housekeeper - NO in absolute terms to bring down my quality of life. After all who would not like to outsource washing and cleaning? So when it was time to move to a rented apartment in Nairobi, I sent word to three people in my network. And since there is no dearth of people looking for a job, all three sent one each. I had only one job opening, I had to turn down two of them.

My housekeeper (whom I selected and still serving) is very young; she had to drop out of college. Her salary is the only income for her family in Kisumu. Father consumed by HIV, mother battling with AIDS, elder brother still in college, two younger siblings in teens with no knowledge of the deadly virus they are carrying. She walks one and a half hours one way to get to my house from Kibera slum where she stays. She is now planning to join evening school. (I am tempted to have a digression here: She sends money to her family through mobile money transfer, live example of how technology touches people. And guess what – in Nairobi I pay my cable TV/internet, electricity and water bills through mobile money transfer, Wow!).

First day at work and I asked her to put all the now empty suitcases inside the lofts above almirahs. I showed her where the ladder was, but she said no need. I watched her in awe as she put the suitcases inside the lofts standing on the ground. After that I had to repeatedly tell her how to keep things in upper kitchen shelves so that I could access with my height (she was oblivious to my difficulty of course). Although our house is at three and half floors (floor is not a whole number since the area is hilly), we have had no problems so far of things being carried upstairs – we have somebody at hand always who can lift every thing from pram to pots with plants to filled cylinders to sofa sets for us – be it driver, housekeeper or the askaris. In Adi’s school, I happened to once witness Friday play time race for each class: as you would expect the locals won by far, with Wachina (not sure if Koreans and Japanese are clubbed here but I am referring to them), Waarabu and Wahindi being the distant followers.

Some desis, especially newly arrived ones, have some kind of paranoia about local workers – about being cheated and duped by them (sometimes even extreme imaginations like food poisoning by house keeper). Well in Nairobi like many urban cities (Delhi is a name that immediately comes to mind), crime is a problem. But we can take some practical steps to avoid and control it. From my stand point, it is not possible for me to live my life looking at my back every time to see if my housekeeper is about to cheat me. I can only take certain reasonable measures and go on with life.

Being an employer of a housekeeper or house maid here is a luxury. Far cry from “parwarta nahin” in India. It is a common practice to call house keepers at seven in the morning (I do not do that yet since I am job less). Eight hours work usually mean eight hours dedicated work without hesitation at any kind of work – in fact I have to stop my maid some times from going over board at cleaning or ironing. There is a weekly off (usually Sunday), but again I can call my maid on holidays as well at a very affordable price. So far there has been no need for me to call her on Sundays except for one occasion when I had invited guests. Unlike in Pune, we do not do much socializing here - prime focus being the places to see check list.

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful and well written too. Africa seems to have inspired the writer and chronicler in you! Keep them coming:)