I understand that that’s kind of a weird thing for a person in my particular stage of life (single, no children, not a particularly booming social calendar, a fairly normal/regulated work schedule). But wait, wait. Let me explain.
In February, I moved into a cottage situated just behind a house in town. It’s lovely, has a nice vice of the backyard pool, and comes complete with an incredible number of live-in geckos and lizards. There’s also a young American family living in the main house a few steps away. But by far, the biggest perk is the “house help is a part of this rental” clause. Mary is super kind, has a precious daughter, and works with another ministry in town. She and her husband also actively lead a local church. She also spends 2 days a week in my cottage.
It’s pretty common for expat folks around town to hire any combination of house help, gardeners, security guards, nannies, etc. Lots of microeconomic systems at work. I didn’t really set out to take part in that system, but sometimes, things come together in a glorious way and create beautiful things. Like a hamper full of dirty laundry transformed into a basket full of washed, dried and ironed clothes (everything has to be ironed here.) Or the dishes put away. After a long day, just coming home to a perfectly made bed can put a smile on my face. And then I try to determine the number of hours until an acceptable bedtime, but I digress.
There is a darker side to Mary’s help as well.
I know her days and complete my own duties around her schedule. On Monday nights, I spend time putting away all of the clean clothing nicely folded and sitting in the basket since the last time she was in. I put away dishes and straighten rooms – mostly to make sure she doesn’t just continuously wonder “how can a person be such a mess?” I clean up for the person who comes to clean up. So when her schedule suddenly alters, I find myself second guessing all of my choices “how terrible did my house look when Mary came on Monday instead of Tuesday?”
And then there is the looming question: what will I do without her?
My time in Zambia includes potentially numbered days (sure, we’re looking at another 1.5 years, but still. How much time is that really?). How will I go back to cleaning my bathroom, always washing all of my dishes, washing my clothes? Mary is a bundle of everyday miracles. I’ve never before had such an unwrinkled wardrobe without even a dryer.
Believe you me, I understand the irony of staring first world problems in the face and simultaneously living and working here. It adds another level of inner-struggle to the ever growing list of “ways my life differs from the people who surround me.” I’m forced more now than ever before to examine my life in conjunction with my surroundings. And I haven’t figured out what might need to change or how to go about that. I think it means I have greater responsibilities than maybe I ever considered myself to have. Chances are I will have to wrestle/struggle/come to terms with the implications of this kind of dichotomy. I might even decide I need to change or at least change my mind about some things.
In the meantime, I look forward to the unexpected ways such seemingly opposed things overlap. And I will simultaneously enjoy and struggle with my clean laundry. and dishes. and bedroom. and bathroom. and the list continues…