Having Staff

So, my good friend (she writes under her own first name) wrote a blog post about having, basically, a nanny as an adult.  I can’t do justice to her whole post (seriously, read it–Kate has a fantastic sense of humor), but it made me realize I’ve never addressed one of the oddest parts of living in Togo–having staff.

That’s right, we have people who work for us on a regular basis.  We don’t have anyone full time like Kate does, but we do have two people who work part time and we plan to hire a full time person.  And…it’s weird.

Just about anyone who knows me has heard plenty of the stories of my family, or about my growing up.  Needless to say, I never thought as a child that real people had servants, or hired people to clean for them, or anything like that.  When I finally met people who hired someone to come over for a few hours once a week to clean, I thought they had to be fabulously wealthy.

Now we have someone who spends two whole days a week cleaning and cooking for us.  She does the laundry, mops, dishes, everything.  It’s amazing.  It’s also completely disconcerting.

(And, since she doesn’t know about this blog, or that I’m talking about her, I’m not going to use her name.  However, in this case, I can’t use my normal type of pseudonym, because I think it would be demeaning to just refer to her as “Housekeeper,” so she’ll be E, for now.)

There were adjustments that had to be made on both sides.  For us, the biggest adjustment was letting go of some tasks and letting E take care of them.  The biggest two were the laundry and the cooking.  (I put up a small fight on cleaning the catbox as well, because it just didn’t seem right to have someone else do that.  It didn’t last long.)

The biggest adjustment on her end was, I think, linguistic.  E speaks VERY good English, but some words and phrases, I think, have different connotations.  As a white boy from the South, having a black lady call me “Master”, particularly in a phrase like “Would Master like a beer?”, gave me the heebie  jeebies.  (Now, she just calls me “Boss,” which I can deal with, though I’d still rather she called me by my  name.)

But it is amazing how much good it does us to have her here.  She knows how to take care of stuff that would leave us stumped, including a lot of the shopping.  She cooks when we’re too tired to.  (And she cooks really well.)  And, in the end, I know we’re helping support her family.

And if you worry about the fact that she’s only part-time with us, never fear.  She works two days a week at each of three houses.  She’s doing very well for herself, by Togolese standards.

The same is true of our gardener.  Personally, I hate yard work, so it was less of a struggle to convince me to hire someone for that.  And he does a fantastic job; all the plants are in bloom and our yard is beautiful.

Next, we have to hire a driver, if only because the Teacher’s schedule and mine do not mesh well.  He’ll also be able to help the other two out with errands, so that’s a bonus.

This is definitely teaching me something about privilege, though, because it’s quickly easy to forget how one lived before having these advantages.  How much easier it would be to never notice them if one always had them.  Part of me will be sad to leave Togo, and go back to the States where we have to do all of this ourselves.  But we’ll enjoy it while we can.

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3 responses to “Having Staff

  1. I so hear you on the Master and Madame thing. White southerner here, too, and we got sort of stuck with a housekeeper and family of eight living in a little house on the (enormous) property when we moved to Zambia. It was really, really weird and I never could get comfortable with it. I’ve pretty much done my best to avoid that kind of housing/staff situation ever since. Glad you could eventually make it work for you–this is certainly an important FS skill!

    • “Madame” doesn’t seem to bother the Teacher, but then again in a Francophone country that’s just saying “Ma’am.” Everyone calls her that. I call a thousand people that a day myself. But Master? *shudder*

  2. Hope she is taking good care of my kids