So after two-and-a-half months of living as a lady of leisure, I think I’m JUST starting to get used to the whole maid thing.
Yes, it may be part of the lifestyle here in Zimbabwe, and yes, it may be a moral obligation given unemployment levels, but it is still flipping weird to get used to a stranger in your home, doing your jobs, five-and-a-half days a week for 8 hours a day.
Not only did I clean a two-story house each week in New Zealand, but I also looked after our Airbnb room and bathroom. At one stage I was cleaning my parents’ house weekly, too.
What I’m saying is that I am abundantly familiar with toilet bowls and scrubbing shower floors. For some strange, twisted reason I got a kick out of seeing those grubby little bathrooms transformed into gleaming palaces.
Then we got to Victoria Falls. Suddenly, there was Faith, doing the things I was meant to do. Initially, I felt extremely uncomfortable sitting around doing nothing while she worked. I couldn’t relax. If my staff are working, I should be too, right? Especially if they are doing MY jobs!
Then, there was the fact that a stranger was in my home…in my toilet…washing my UNDIES!
I actually got so uncomfortable with it all a couple of weeks ago that I was nearly in tears. I would have asked Will to cut back Faith’s hours, but given the economic situation that would be tantamount to heartless.
Then I realised what was going on.
Faith had taken my identity. Not actually, and not even on purpose. It’s just that I went from being a stay-at-home mum who got a kick out of cleaning her house, to being…well…a nobody.
I know that sounds terribly ungrateful of me, but it is the honest truth about how I’ve found adjusting to paid help!
Fortunately, for all of us, I’m getting the hang of it all. I’m even getting used to being called “madam” all the time, and having to refer to Will as “sir”. It’s not because it makes us feel comfortable (I’m a Kiwi, it’s quite the opposite), it is in order to make Faith and Emmanuel (her brother and our gardener) feel comfortable.
The culture here is hierarchical. Paying deference to bosses, elders or the like is done without question. For us to try to change that, to move to first names or some other egalitarian Kiwi idea, would simply change our discomfort into theirs. I know because I’ve seen it in their faces a few times when I’ve done something “unmadamly” (like asking Faith for shopping advice. Who knew questions about finding beans could make someone feel so uncomfortable!)
Aside from the whole title thing, I’ve also discovered how much more fun cooking and baking are when you have someone to peel, chop and do the dishes…I will not lie, it’s amazing. Fortunately Faith loves cooking, and wants to learn whatever I can teach her, so we’ve had a few bonding moments over that. I’ve decided not to mention how limited my skills really are at this stage, and I’ve taken on the persona of kindly teacher, gently allowing her into my vast universe of knowledge…it’s working so we’ll roll with it.
So there we are. I now march around my estate giving orders and feedback on how I want jobs done…and pretending to know the solution to a vast array of problems I’m only guessing at. My staff are now getting the feedback and instructions they need to know they are doing the job well, and I can see how much happier they are.
I am, I can confidently and honestly say, a madam. And believe me, that is not a sentence I ever thought I would write in my life.