Monday, July 7, 2014

My Thoughts on Having a Housekeeper/Nanny - Traveling With Kids in Kenya

 I remember last year when my friend Bridget was working on her master and teaching and needed house help.  I was exceptionally poke her eyes out jealous and to be honest I was a little shocked when after a year when her life settled down she was relieved to be letting that contract go.  Don't get me wrong, I love being with my kids but there are sometimes when I'd definitely like a little break (like when I'm going to the grocery store) and there is no way I like repetitive jobs like laundry or ironing, or putting clean dishes away.  Interestingly enough I don't mind cleaning bathrooms or yard work or even washing dishes, but putting dry dishes away so I can wash dirty dishes, that I hate.  So the idea of having someone in my house whose job it would be to keep the floors clean or the toys picked up or all of Dr. J's shirts ironed, well that seemed almost like heaven, but while we were out here we've had the opportunity to have a Housekeeper, almost all my meals are cooked for me, and I've spent a lot of time with nannies and I realize the whole thing makes me super uncomfortable.  So even though I'm an extrovert having house help is probably still not for me.  

So every Monday-Friday Nancy comes and cleans all the main rooms of the house.  She does the bathrooms, she sweeps and mops all the floors, she picks up the living room, the dinning room, washes any dishes that are in the sink, wipes off the counters, mops the kitchen floor and then any day I want her to clean my room or the kids/change the sheets/bring new towels I just put this little sign up on my door and she'll make sure everything is spic and span.  I was seriously unprepared for how uncomfortable this would make me.  When I do need clean sheets I actually find myself cleaning up the whole room before I put the sign up to have her come in.  I know I'm not the only one.  Jill and I were joking one morning about how we'd cleaned up our rooms before we'd let Nancy in to clean. I guess maybe I think it's embarrassing for her to see how messy I am.  I mean seriously, I'm super messy.  I wish you could see my counter infront of my mirror.  There is a drawer underneath where I could put things to keep them out of sight but instead pretty much every medicine and toiletry I brought it thrown out on the counter.  It looks like a Walgreen's exploded.  I'm also uncomfortable with someone cleaning for me while I'm just sitting around.  A lot of times Nancy is here while we are doing indoor time so I'll be on the couch reading to the kids or helping them with their summer packet work or I'll just be spacing and they'll be playing.  It makes me seriously so anxious to have her cleaning around me.  Often I'll jump up and start sweeping up the living room or doing dishes while she is here.  I just feel super lazy sitting around while someone else is cleaning up my children and my messes.  I wonder what she thinks about that.  I wonder if I lived in a place like this long term if I would just get used to having someone work around me or if I would always be jumping up to pitch in.  I sort of suspect that the later for me would always be true.

I don't think I'd ever be any good at having an employee because these woman always end up becoming my friends.  I can't help it.  Every time we travel overseas I have such a limited pool of people to interact with that my extrovert ways always see these woman as an opportunity for friendship.  I spend a lot of time just chatting with Nancy and I think if you read over my post it's pretty obvious that Josie, the nanny from next door, is my bestie here.  I don't know if it is possible for me to sit watching my "friends" work.  I like when we work together.  The work get's done faster and it is nice to have someone to keep you company.  I wonder if they think I'm weird.

I also am extremely uncomfortable with the price of labor in this country.  Do you remember how I said that the unemployment rate is over 40%?  That kind of joblessness leads to a real low working wage.  I mean there is always someone willing to work for you so if you think someone is charging too much you can easily just find someone else.  Just this Saturday when we went to town we had two men approach Dr. J and walk with us for ten or so minutes trying to get a job from him doing pretty much anything, driving, gardening, guarding, just general handyman.  It happens every time we walk around town.  Every expat family I know here has a housekeeper/nanny and also at least one, but sometimes two men who just do all the around the house heavy work.  The cost of this labor is extremely cheap.  Let me put it in perspective.  Last Friday I last minute asked Nancy to babysit for me.  I have four children, one of which was puking, it was last minute and I was gone for three hours.  When I got home I asked Nancy how much I owed her.  "Oh, whatever you want to pay.  It is no problem."  I had just been to the bank so I had 500 and 1000 shilling notes with me.  "Nancy are you happy with 500 shilling or would you like more?  Is this fair?" I asked as I pulled the 500 shilling note out of my pocket.  She snatched it up fast and said, "It was no problem.  If you ever want me to watch them again just let me know."  I felt extremely guilty about that 500 shilling note. Five hundred shillings is the equivalent of about 6 US dollars.  Lets think about this again...four kids, three hours, short notice, one was throwing up, 6 dollars and she was happy.  This is because in general the people living here that I know, these are the American Physicians and Pharmacist working for the different Universities that run this program (IU, Purdue, Mt. Sinai, and U of U), I'm sure they aren't raking in the necessarily top physician money, but I'm sure they are doing ok , they pay 600 shillings a day for their nanny/housekeepers.  That covers all their childcare and cleaning.  It is about $7 a day.  It is just mind boggling for me.  I paid my 14 year old babysitter $25 the Saturday before I left to watch the kids while Dr. J and I went out dinner.  We were probably gone 3 hours and she just watched movies with the kids and popped popcorn and she's a kid.  It makes me uncomfortable.  It is might be a fair wage for here but I really don't know how fair it is in the general scheme of things...have I mentioned how much food cost?  Well it cost the same as what you would get at home.  Gasoline is 5 dollars a gallon.  Most people don't have cars, most people walk, most people live in one room, but they still have to pay for cooking oil and oil to light their homes and heat their water.  So imagine trying to feed your family at home and take care of rent and pay school fees and all that jaz on $7 a day.  I'd like to see a budget blogger in the US do it.  I mean no wonder Nancy jumped at my 6 dollars.  It nearly doubled her pay for the day.  I'm not an economist, I don't know what the repercussions would be of paying a little better, but I do know that I'm definitely uncomfortable with what I'm paying now.  So maybe I'm with Bridget a little bit after all, because I'm definitely not enjoying having a house keeper like I thought I would.  Mainly it has just me with a lot of guilt.  My sister says I need to just let it go, enjoy not cleaning up after the kid and be happy to be providing a job for someone else.  I'm trying...but it isn't nearly as easy as I thought it would be.


  1. There is something about Americans that makes it hard for us to hire housekeepers. Like you, I felt like I needed to treat our housekeeper as a friend instead of an employee. And that leads to all sorts of problems. There is so much to say on this subject. Next time we see each other. :)

  2. Well, it can be a bit uncomfortable when someone does the chores for you. However, you don’t have to feel bad about it, especially when your house companion enjoys her job. The most rewarding part of the job is being able to be friends with their client. The tips they get is just an added bonus.

    Mary Hughes @ Sorted-PA



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