Saturday, November 10, 2012

Housekeeping in Africa

Most of you who have followed my posts for awhile know that housekeeping is not a huge priority with me.  It's not that I don't like a clean house, it's just that when time is available to do other things and the weather is nice, I prefer being outside or doing something with friends.  I was reminded the other day of how different my life would be if we were living in Africa right now.  Most American women work outside the home and relegate housekeeping tasks to the weekend.  We also eat out more than in any other country on earth, and then wonder how we have health problems from a fast food diet.

A few weeks ago, Abdulhamid's oldest sister moved to Kenya to work as a doctor.  When I talked to her about her living arrangements, she mentioned that she would have someone to do the domestic chores and cooking, so she'd be free to work as much as she was needed.  Lately a few other Somalis from Abdulhamid's circle of friends and family have moved to Kenya and have the same arrangements.  Things are just very different in Africa.  Abdulhamid grew up a very privileged lifestyle in a large house with a housekeeper, chauffeur, nanny, and cook.  He went to a boarding school run by Italian nuns and priests starting at age 6. This was very surprising to me when we first met, because I remember our church youth group collecting money for UNICEF.  You know- those poor starving kids in Africa.  Then I find out our family in the USA was the poor one and he had everything one could imagine.  What a paradigm shifter.  

Several years ago we traveled to Uganda and visited his cousins who own and operate several businesses in Kampala.  They have a tire retreading company, gas stations, and a couple of coffee shops called Cafe Javas.  They are enormously successful by all standards, but their lifestyle doesn't represent most of Africa.  There are still many homes without electricity and running water.  We were invited to eat at their home, and here are a few photos I took.  They had a gardener, who also monitored the gate that allowed traffic into their yard.  There was a chauffeur whom we got to know well because he drove us to Queen Elizabeth National Park and stayed overnight at Mweya Lodge so we could enjoy a safari.  Then there was a housekeeper, nanny, and cook.  I felt very lucky because I was able to spend some time with Abdulhamid and his male cousins so I could ask some questions from a male perspective, like why doesn't your wife work at one of the business, since she is college educated?  His answer was that a woman should enjoy the children and 'manage' the home so that it is a comfortable place for family and friends.  He pointed out that she arranged social engagements for them, and during the day, she could spend time with her friends while the children were looked after by a nanny.  Hmmmm....imagine that.  A home where both husband and wife have time for each other, a clean house, and children who get to play with supervision.  No one is frazzled.  There may be something to this.  I had to learn more.

It seems that in most African countries, there is no social welfare.  If you don't work, you don't get paid.  If you do work, it's your social obligation to hire help so that jobs are provided to those who need them.  And help is cheap by our standards.  For about $100 a month, you can hire someone full time.  We found the same to be true in South Africa when we traveled there.  Even the 'middle class' had at least one person cleaning their home or helping with childcare.  

The house itself was large and comfortable.  Some things were very different than what we are used to in the US.  For example, there was a clothesline where the laundry was hung to dry, but they had to beware of monkeys who would sometimes take the clothing and string it all over the trees.  They had a small kitchen indoors, but for when they entertained, there was a larger kitchen area outdoors for washing pots.  And the dining room had a beautiful table decked out with lace tablecloth and china dishes, but it was for the men on the day we ate there.  The women ate in a back room off the indoor kitchen on a tablecloth.  It is very common that the women and children eat separately from the men when there are unrelated men and women present.  The food and company were wonderful as far as I was concerned.  We talked about children, women's education, travel, and fashion.  My husband said they talked about work, businesses and how to grow them.
Outdoor kitchen area for washing pots
Laundry hung to dry

Lunch- lentil soup, rice, spaghetti, goat meat, chicken, and mango juice



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