Sunday, August 29, 2010

Meet our Househelpers!

One of the questions we get a lot from friends and family back home is, “What's the deal with having hired help?” So here's a little context and some basic info on what house-help is all about. To many Americans the idea of having this type of help seems strange and even uncomfortable - to hire someone to clean your house or care for your children. After all those are things we are supposed to do for ourselves. America is decidedly DIY. Add that to our squeamishness about acknowledging issues of class, our claims about valuing equality, and our faux-Christian view that “God helps those who help themselves” and we get deep into the paradoxes of the American psyche. Of course lots of middle class folks would love to pay someone to do their chores but they'd probably feel guilty enough to pick up a little before the housecleaner came.

Hiring house-help is a cultural norm in Zambia. While in the U.S. only the very wealthy can afford to have people working in their home, nearly everyone, even relatively poor people, has some sort of household help in Lusaka. It is considered stingy not to provide a job for someone when you have the money to do so, and strange if someone relatively rich (which we are compared to most Zambians!) did her own housework. So culturally, it is expected and desirable that we hire people to help around the house.

In our orientation packet the section on house-help suggests “to think of your workers as extended family, though still employees. You are responsible for them and to some extent for their families, and they are responsible for taking care of you.Workers take pride in being your workers. Treat them with respect and generosity, sharing what you receive.” A household helper is a real bonus in terms of cultural “acquisition” (learning the culture) and helping with decisions regarding guards, drop-ins, requests for help, and so on. And Zambian culture is all about relationships, and relationships are a very real investment. Knowing Zambians who will be honest with you if you are being culturally inappropriate in some way is very precious.

ACTION Zambia has a standard contracted rate for paying house-helpers – it's above the average rate and includes extra money for housing and transportation. However, the rate is not so high as to be exceptional in Lusaka. Zambians have told us that one of the misfortunes of house-helpers working for foreigners is that (if they are payed exceptional rates) they become accustomed to a higher standard of living and rarely save any money. Then when the foreigners return home and the worker is left to find another comparable job in Lusaka, they are “spoiled” and “unemployable” because their expectations have become skewed. Because of all of these complex factors, AZ has carefully considered what fair rates are for house-helpers.

So meet our house-help: Estreeda is a young, Christian, single mom cleaning and washing clothes for our neighbors in the mornings. She was looking for more hours and we were looking for some extra hands. She cleans and dusts our place twice a week. If she finishes up she might also help with laundry or chopping vegetables for dinner. So while it costs us very little to give her 8 hours a week, it's a big help for her family and she is a joy to have around.

We also have a new nanny, Auntie Kathrine, who is coming twice a week to watch Lucas so that Tricia can go to the office, sit in on ministry activities, or run errands around town. Once Lucas is used to her coming and she has finished her orientation around the Huckahome, it will give Tricia the freedom to do ministry part time with ACTION. Kathrine came highly recommended by folks on our team – she used to be a house mother at the Kanyama orphanage and cared for many children. So far so good! If all goes well, we are hoping she will stay on with us when we make the move out to Ciyanjano.

So that's the deal with our house-help. Already these ladies have endeared themselves to us and have helped us with language and cultural learning. It's obvious that house-helpers can be invaluable and we've seen the way other families have developed deep and caring relationships with their employees. One last note, we have also hired a language helper that came highly recommended. He works with new Peace Corps volunteers and seems to really know his stuff. He also gives discounted rates to missionaries. Yes! We will begin meeting with him twice a week in three weeks for some more intense language learning. We are so excited about that!

Please pray for these new relationships to grow with compassion and understanding and patience as we all learn from each other.

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