Getting To Know the Household Staff

Yesterday didn’t really feel like Halloween. As always (in the dry season), it was 72 degrees (21 in celsius) and sunny. There were no fall colors here; no brown, red, yellow and gold leaves crunching under our feet. No children dressed up for trick-or-treating, no jack-o-lanterns decorating front porches.

But it was a lovely day for a picnic in our yard.

20131031-DSC_0295 Our gardener, Gazaw, is wonderful with children, and it’s a good thing he is, because Charlotte loves to play with him.

20131031-DSC_0317I keep telling her not to boss him around, but they seem to have their own language of fun.

20131031-DSC_0339Even Willa loves Gazaw.

20131031-DSC_0370Gazaw showed me around our garden and pointed out all the herbs I can use for cooking. I did some research to find out the English names and to make sure they are safe. One in particular is very pungent and is used to flavor Ethiopian coffee. It’s called rue, but here they call it tena adam (Adam’s health).


20131031-DSC_0358All of the Embassy services guys tell us that we are very lucky to have Gazaw working for us, and I agree. He sort of came with the house (but we pay him, of course!). When Dan showed up, he was here waiting. He’s worked for Americans for years as a gardener and day guard, but he wants to be a driver. He just finished getting a certificate in automotive repair. We will hire a full-time experienced driver (the roads here are beyond crazy–just trust me–I have never seen anything quite like it), but I have a training plan in mind for Gazaw so that he can get some experience as a driver while we’re here. By the time we leave, I really hope Gazaw will be a driver, and Genet (the housekeeper) will be a cook. I believe that when you hire employees in your home, you have a responsibility to help advance their career (if they are willing and eager to learn, of course). Why should it be any different than hiring people at your company?

I worked in people’s homes for several years as a nanny, mother’s helper, and cleaner. I also grew up having household help around in Yemen and Egypt. Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t make me uncomfortable to have people in my house. When I worked in people’s homes, I was in college and then law school, so I never got bummed about being a nanny and cleaner. I was great with kids and always loved the ones I nannied for. I didn’t mind washing, drying, and folding other people’s underwear because I knew it was temporary and I liked the extra cash (until recently, I’ve always held at least 2 or 3 jobs at a time!). But in Africa, the vast majority people do not have the opportunities that I had in the United States. If you want your household staff to be happy, it’s not enough to pay them well (but we do that, too). You need to give them additional skills that will help them grow. It’s capacity building on a small scale, but it’s rewarding when you see real results up close. It gives me great hope when I see our former nanny in South Africa now working as a trainee at an accounting firm. It took her many years of hard work and sacrifice, but she got through college and realized her dream. That kind of success story is rare in this part of the world. I only have so much time on my hands, so I want to do what I can to help the people who work for me. When you consider how much poverty exists here, my small contribution is inadequate, and I am aware of that. As long as we live here, I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling guilty for a moment about being so lucky.



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