A person who performs domestic duties in your house to ensure that your home runs smoothly, efficiently, and without stress. Who are we talking about here: a wife maybe (down, feminists, down); an unemployed relative; a professional? Hardly. No: househelp.
Okay, seriously, the above statement is just for window dressing. We have, over the last year or thereabouts, gone through the process of replacing househelp, a very good and much-loved househelp, and once again it turns out that Satan still has major representation here on earth. Some call househelp a necessary evil. That's harsh, but unfortunately, I can see how that might seem like a suitable label.
Would you agree that househelp perform largely unskilled labour? Cleaning, washing, maybe cooking, etc.? So how come the majority of househelp develop an attitude? Where is the attitude from? Especially from a collective that displays a lack of memory that is almost medical. How can you have an attitude based on nothing unique? And when the sentence you uttermost is "I forgot"? Still, a lot of us need househelp. Allow me to share some of my thoughts and experiences with these wonderful people.
Would I be wrong in saying that some people prefer their househelp to be of a particular tribe in Ghana? That's just good employment strategy really if you ask me. You get on better with a particular tribe, you employ them. End of.
And gender? That can be a pretty big issue you know, sometimes literally (if the female househelp is the 'big' size). A female is usual, but some prefer to employ male househelp. Which is better? We've never had a male one; the one guy we took as a temporary assistant relieved me of some of my DVDs through an open window. By the way, I've heard of married women who pick a househelp based on how pretty or sexy they are: if they are pretty or sexy, NO WAY! Wise?
Education? We recently had one who was straight out of SHS. Apart from the fact that she liked to read (when prompted), I'm sorry to say that I didn't see any difference from one who was barely literate. Does that say something about our SHS? I wonder. Educated? To what level? We've had first-degree holders apply for a position. Personally, I prefer literate but not anyone above the SHS level. A graduate probably will not stay for long and will have a major attitude (that word again). But at least the ability to read, write, and reason, is necessary. And this is a wildly optimistic statement.
What about the language barrier? And believe me, it can be a real barrier! Let househelp speak vernacular with you and your children; if they try English they are almost certain to corrupt your children's vocabulary. And you'll spend too much time laughing at them. Hopefully, your child will pick up another language, and that can only be a good thing.
By the by, it is quite possible for househelp to intimidate your children. You would do well to keep an eye on how your children and househelp relate. If your child keeps avoiding the househelp wherever possible you might have to perform a quick dismissal. Sometimes a child may take advantage of this if they don't like the househelp for no discernible reason.
Oftentimes age is an issue. Older or younger? Some prefer the experience of an older person, but they might not have the energy necessary for the job. Some prefer them younger, but then they can be very flighty, prone to leave at any time (because of marriage or pregnancy), and quite restless. Do you prefer a househelp who is a parent or not? That will probably be affected by whether you have children of your own or not, and how old your children are.
We had one who seemed to be hard of hearing. Her mistakes started out as very irritating and then became so ludicrous that we considered sending her for a test. She claimed that she left her last job because they were always "shouting at me", and we found out why soon enough. The one who came after her has a sleeping problem, as in sleeping the sleep of the dead. We are thinking of adding more power and volume to our bell at the gate...
The ones who leave with no notice? Pure evil if you ask me (I know, you're not asking). But I guess since we treat them as casual labour they can afford to treat us the same way.
The total lack of time awareness is typically Ghanaian I know, but still....when you have to remind a human being of a daily schedule according to timelines, and you have to do this EVERY DAY, and sometimes several times in a day....I'm sorry, but that's not normal.
They can drive you to distraction, and I'm being polite. Do you know I've only recently discovered that it is actually possible for househelp to regress, to become worse? I didn't think that could happen! But somehow I didn't think that we would be teaching someone how to use a refrigerator in this day and age. Or how not to put empty containers back into a freezer.
When you have to explain the difference between half a slice and a full slice....and did I tell you about the one who put a tin of sardine in the fridge? It had not been opened yet. Or the congenital liar? She lied for absolutely no reason, and in situations where she would not have gained from the lie. If only I had the time and resources to take her to a psychologist. Or the day a pot of tea was well presented on a tray....and turned out to be empty.
Househelp also use everything you provide in excess. Is this a poverty thing or is it a cultural thing? If you and your family can use a bottle of washing-up liquid for two weeks, a househelp will finish it in five days flat, no shaking! And then will wonder why you are complaining.
What about a househelp's attire? The easiest way around this is probably a uniform. It's designed by you, provided by you, and it ensures that you control appearance in terms of clothing. This sense of control will only become apparent when you have a househelp who is 'fashion conscious'. Please do not ask me how to define fashion. But when you get upset over a househelp's radical body exposure which is put down to 'fashion' you might remember this post.
And of course, this extends to hair. Do you really need a househelp who spends all her time on her hair, to the detriment of her work? There's also the aspect of hair running wild and free in your kitchen. When you start to find hair in your soup that doesn't belong to anyone in your family, it just might start to grate. Especially when it doesn't improve the taste...
Househelp almost inevitably become part of your family. In some cases, they are with you 24 hours a day and this leads to some form of familial intimacy, whether planned or not. I mention this because sometimes decisions have to be taken which impinge on a person’s life. For example, ever have a househelp who got pregnant? Unplanned? Unsure of who the father is?? You see what I mean. We've had a couple (that we were aware of) undergo abortions. We found out after the fact in both cases, one being almost fatal. Aren't these situations where parents should be involved? And yet we found ourselves taking decisions as employers. Meanwhile, the first reaction in a lot of cases is for the househelp to hide the pregnancy. Please, why?
Househelp improves your language. You need to work very hard at speaking in a temperate and edifying way. If you don't....what you will come up with may be grounds for excommunication from your church. But househelp generally bring you closer to God because you will not stop praying. I keep thinking that as I grow older I will become more tolerant. But househelps are proving me wrong.
We did a count the other day and concluded that we have had 34 househelp since we got married. We were lucky to survive a couple of them, literally. From the young women who turned out to be really good thieves, to the one who slept uncovered in her birthday suit (don't ask) and run away, to the young twit who locked up and refused to let us in, to the one who wanted to share our wine occasionally, to the one who wanted to go for 'trotting', to the one who spent the day practicing her gospel voice at full volume, we've had all types. Unfortunately, the gems were few and far between, but they were real gems. The fact that we are still very much in touch with these gems, who all left to get married, by the way, says a lot for them as incredible human beings.
The worst househelp, as with any employee, is the one who doesn't care. You cannot be a good househelp and not care. It doesn't work. A househelp is so close to the family that they have to care.
There are those people who have children and believe that the children should do every single job in the house. I don't have a problem with that. And when the children grow up and leave? In my old age, I should now start sweeping, mopping, and pounding fufu?
The overwhelming feeling when dealing with househelp is one of frustration. Everyone in Ghana must have horror stories about househelp. The prevailing hope amongst employers of househelp is, "Surely, a modicum of common sense would have been enough in this situation."
A lot of the things I have moaned about are true of Ghanaians, and not necessarily only of househelp, and that's just horribly sad in this day and age. But if literacy, educational, and employment, levels, were all higher, what would be the situation concerning househelp? An interesting thought.
My wife and I have unconsciously adopted a new habit when moaning about yet another househelp misdemeanour. We always start with, "I gave her very specific instructions!" As if that is enough.
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