Thursday, July 12, 2012

Singing In Your Underwear And Other Things Not To Do In Front Of The Housekeeper

When we arrived in Ethiopia, one of the things I was nervous about was living in a house with a cook and housekeeper.  At home, I am a meal planner, shopper, and there are lots of chores to be done on our farm.  I don't mind housework, for the most part.  (Except ironing. I despise ironing. Now you know why my children's clothes are always wrinkled.) Even if I could afford to have someone come in and clean my house for me, I wouldn't pay to have that done.  It's my house, and I want to clean it.  It's my family, and I want to cook for them.  That's pretty much my attitude at home. 

Yes, it's weird to have two people here in the house with us during the day.  The housekeeper comes in the morning and leaves in the late afternoon.  The cook comes and prepares lunch and supper Monday through Friday.  In Ethiopia, lunch is the main meal of the day, and supper is small.  It's backwards from how most of America operates.  Each day I am very relieved when the two women leave for the day and we have the house to ourselves.  I'll admit it. 

At first, I declared that if I lived here I would not have a housekeeper or cook.  I figured, if I am perfectly capable of doing those things myself, why in the world would I hire someone else to do them?  To do my jobs? 

Then, I actually learned about the culture and talked to people who live here about hiring employees.  I had to take a step back and examine my self-righteousness.  I was too quick to jump to conclusions. 

What I learned was that here, if you are at all considered middle class, or even upper-lower class, if you can possibly scrounge up a few extra birr a week, you hire help.  There are so few jobs here for so many people that everyone pitches in and tries to employ someone, if you are able.  We, as white foreigners, are looked at as being very wealthy.  And we are.  Compared to 99% of the population here, we are rich.  If we were to live here and NOT employee people, we would be looked at as selfish and snobby.  To be seen as contributing our part to the economy, we would have to hire a housekeeper and cook.  (The ones I am currently speaking of came with the house rental, we didn't personally hire them.)

But it's still a weird feeling.  There are things you just can't do around the housekeeper and cook.  Here are a few:

1) Pick your nose. 
2) Walk around the house with no bra.
3) Leave the door open when you go to the bathroom.
4) Sneak cookies from the kitchen between meals.
5) Sing along with your music at the top of your lungs.
6) Throw away leftovers you didn't like. (They take out the trash!)
7) Leave clothes on the floor, a chair, or really any place other than the closet, because they assume anything not in the closet needs to be washed, so they take it.  We didn't bring many clothes, people.
8) Raise your voice at your children (oh, yeah, good accountability there).

I have no idea what they are saying to each other.  At times I fully believe they are saying things like,
1) Look at that woman on her computer again.  She never works.
2) Look at that woman on her Kindle again.  She never works.
3) Look at that woman doing ________ (you fill it in).  She never works.

And, all the while, I am looking forward to each weekend, when I can cook in the kitchen myself and wash dishes!  (I know, Mom and Ginger, you think I'm crazy, right?)

Seriously, though, our housekeeper and cook are very nice, and the food is good.  I have to watch out that I don't eat too much and override the workouts that Natalie's putting me through.  Sometimes I don't succeed.  Like two nights ago. I was thinking about missing Alan and wallowing in self-pity, just long enough to consume extra helpings of dinner.  Oh well, moving on.  Today is a new day.

So, when you hear we have a housekeeper and cook, and you say, "I don't feel sorry for you one bit", just remember that you may be able to walk from your bathroom to bedroom in your underwear, singing the theme song from, "Footloose", but I can't. 

Speaking of dancing and just for fun, here's a link to Natalie's latest post, which includes embarrassing pictures of us with the cool homemade weights Alan made.  Enjoy yourselves at my expense.  It's alright.  I can handle it. :) 


  1. Great! You're living the Ethiopian Suite Life!?! Too fun! Be free to be on your computer and journal as much of this experience as you can!

  2. I so can relate to the "she never works" looks that you get from the housekeeper and cook, I felt like that everyday we were there too. Who know what they really think and say :)

  3. Checked your link and the workoutslook like work. It must be hard for you to appear busy and working when you have to have help. I'm sure the weekend work seems like joy.
    "You are fre to run, you are free to dance.." Sing the song at the top of your voice whenever you get the chance. Sandy

  4. Soooo I follow the same principle here- providing employment for a college student :) I AM very jealous though- I have tried to get her to move in and cook too but no such luck! The proverbs 31 woman delegates out some responsibilities- must be Biblical... So there you go :)Love, Ginger

  5. I love footlosse and would love to learn the dance. Also, that cultural thing about housekeepers goes for Jamacia and El Salvador and many other places.(have friends from there) I hope your boys/and ya'll bring back and keep some of those wonderful kindness and teach them to Us-- the USA. Their country is rich in so many kindness that we are poor in here. can't wait to see you. Love, Becky

  6. Thank you for sharing the culture differences. It is really neat to learn through your experiences. - Susan