Before coming to Zimbabwe, the only maid I had heard of was the orange-pineapple minute maid juice. I now drink Mazoe while questioning the necessity of having a maid at home.
Of course I have always known about cleaners but having a maid has slightly different implications. Cleaners do not live with you or in a small house hidden in your oversized garden. You never hear one say that their cleaner is part of the family. Cleaners’ working conditions, including their job description, working hours, leave days and wages are thoroughly defined in a written contract. Where I come from, most people cannot afford a cleaner. Being a cleaner actually helped me pay my university fees. Having a maid seems more like a social gratification. It seems rewarding to have power over someone. Maids are present in our lives but expected to be invisible. A maid will be expected to do all tedious ungrateful tasks and will undeniably be blamed if something happens to disappear. Some of my friends are helpless when their maids are not around. They then have to rely on take-aways!
Households’ power relations are also completely skewed. We already knew that gender dynamics were at stake in homes . . . but so are class dynamics. How to relate to someone at an intimate level, someone who lives in your house and takes care of your kids but still have an employer/employee relation? Doesn’t to be treated as a Madam or a Baas necessarily imply treating one’s staff as a kitchen “girl” or a garden “boy”? Even more surprising, my friend who proudly claims to be a Madam also expects to be respected as such by her friends’ maids. Is being a Madam intrinsic? Is being a maid solely a job or a natural condition?
I am being critical but of course, the idea of having a maid is tempting.
Having a spotless house without any effort, fresh orange juice squeezed every morning and my dinner ready in the oven every evening seems like a dream life. I could then spend all my free time doing all the meaningful things.
But again, the same questions would be haunting me: What is a fair wage? What are expected good working conditions? Is it spiteful to give maids our leftovers?
Are expats spoiling their maids when offering them extra cooking or sewing lessons as my Madam friend suggested? Are we forever patronising or are we actually considerate?
Are we just compensating for a deep white/expat guilt?
The bottom line is that living in Zimbabwe is my lifetime opportunity to have a bourgeois lifestyle. I will probably agree to have a maid. I will however make sure that my house is clean before she comes . . . once a week.
Expatriado is an expatriate working in Zimbabwe and all views expressed in this column are personal