Helping the Help

help

By now we would have had a president – elect/governor -elect/whatever – elect, all things being equal. But no, we had to go and postpone the elections by six weeks (starting February 14) because of Boko Haram. With the security agencies stating they’d defeat the insurgent within that period. I’d like to optimistic about their claim but is it really possible to achieve that? Maybe. Already some good news of the security agencies winning the war are trickling. They’ve reclaimed some of the towns taken over by Boko Haram and have also killed some of their members. Then again, maybe not. Shekarau, the head of BH, declared in a new video recently that they’d disrupt the elections on March 28 and April 11 while children suicide – bombers are doing their thing in every public place they find. So unless the insurgents are totally destroyed, wiped out, chances are their reign of terror would continue unabated and even more at the end of six weeks. God help us in this country! To totally defeat BH. To conduct credible and successful elections. And to experience some semblance of peace after both events. Amen.

In my last post, I mentioned once having a cleaner who came only on Saturdays. She didn’t last more than six months. Why? I couldn’t rely on her and she came in only once a week! In addition, I was distracting her from her earthly journey towards heaven which was invariably tied to her unreliability. How? I’ll let you know in a bit.

When I was in search of a cleaner, I knew I would, most likely, be spared 75% of the drama that came with domestic helps. Even then, I was still wary. The horror stories were still…horror enough to question my decision and put me on my every guard should I go ahead with it. I wondered what she’d bring along with her — her attitude, her beliefs, her habits, her dress sense. Nevertheless, I put the word out to friends and family. I’d never confirm or deny my doubts if I didn’t make an attempt, right?

One of my friends came through for me and sent someone over. Her name was Glory. For starters, she was late for our 2 pm meeting on an agreed Saturday afternoon. I let that slide since she found it a bit difficult locating my house. For seconds, I needn’t have bothered about her outward, adorning choices. Somewhere in the range of 19 – 22 years, it was easy to determine her beliefs once I set eyes on her. Very low, natural hair in no particular style framed a round dark, make – up free face with a rather demure look. Long sleeves of a light blue flowing shirt allowed only her wrists and fingers to peek out. An equally long, ankle – covering, floor – sweeping grey skirt completed the outfit. I looked for the scarf that I was almost certain she had forgotten to tie to truly complete her dressing. No earrings or jewelry further pointed to the sect I was so certain she belonged to. Subsequently, she confirmed my strong suspicions.

We agreed on a wage (N…) and working hours (9 am – 12 noon/1 pm). She began the very next Saturday. Like I wrote earlier, she lasted six months but then that was time enough to get the domestic help experience and realize a few things:

While the house help business seems to be a booming one with some of those involved in it claiming to have trained hands, some of these helps are untrained, unused to hard work, learn on – the-job and are engaged in it because ‘na condition make crayfish bend‘. Glory had never cleaned houses before coming to mine so she basically blundered her way through the process. To be fair to her, I didn’t get her through an agency. Her relative worked for the friend of mine who introduced her to me. However, Pru, my younger sister, who always uses an agency and has helps going through her house like a revolving door (in the last five years, she has had about 9 – 12 helps), says she can count the number of trained ones on three of her fingers. Change your agency, I told her.  Then again, I think employers of domestic workers should take them through an orientation process which will help ease them into their  new working environment. Setting basic rules  and reiterating them constantly as reminders for them to stick. I didn’t do that with Glory because she came only once a week. I should have. It would have helped her adapt quickly into my household. In hindsight, I basically fuelled her blundering.

 

Do not always assume they understand every and anything you tell them.Talk to them the way you would an audience when making a presentation. Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them again. In other words explain, explain, explain until you are sure they understand. And Pru adds this: Tell them to repeat the instruction/statement/message back to you. In time (if they stay with you for that long), they’d come to understand you and your habits enough to know what you’d like, want, prefer and, hopefully, reduce your rate of repeated speech.

Once Glory offered to wash a pile of clothes I had soaked in a bowl of water in the bathroom. Right beside it was T’s green, travelling backpack for washing too. I told Glory not to immerse (of course, I didn’t use that word!) the bag in the water but to use a soft sponge instead to wipe it clean.

‘Yes, ma,’ she answered.

I exited the bathroom and made a U- turn almost immediately. ‘And oh, Glory, please…’ I was talking as I was walking back into the bathroom just in time to see the green backpack (or what was left of it) disappear under very large, very soapy water.  ‘…?!’

Yesterday on my way out, I gave instructions to the cleaner in my beau’s office to collect something from him. She raced me to the gate and asked that I repeat the message. I did, slowly this time. When I returned, she hadn’t done anything about it. Her excuse? My beau was still in his office and was yet to emerge, so she hadn’t seen him to deliver the message.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked, looking at her as if she had just grown two horns on her head. ‘You were supposed to go into the office and meet him.’ Is he in a meeting? No. Does he have a visitor? No. Then why…?!

Apparently, she hadn’t understood my message at all! Even after repeating it! Presentation style, people. Presentation style…and then some.

 

Everyone’s entitled to a better life. My first neighbours as a married woman tell the story of their very first help who is now married with children. She attended sewing classes for the almost six/seven years she was with them thus setting her up on a good path for life.  Now, that’s the thing. I think it is commendable when employers seek to improve the lot of their helps while in their employ through various avenues – furthering their primary/secondary education, engaging in apprenticeship (tailoring, catering, etc) or working as sales personnel in madam or oga’s retail shop. But doesn’t this mean longer hours and more work for the help involved? How does s/he juggle, effectively, the work done outside the home and that which s/he was primarily hired to do? Won’t this put a strain on her/him? Even more so if there are three or more little children in the house to take care of with the house itself resembling a mini – castle? I thought of these when we tossed around the idea of having a domestic help and my beau mentioned the self – advancement option. It is a common situation that quite a number of helps are in or have been and seem to do just cope with, accepting it as part of the deal of their domestic working life. Perhaps their realization that it lasts for only a period of time and, in the end, it is for their benefit motivates them to bear the strain.

My take on this? Put away some money for them every month or so and either pay for their schooling/apprenticeship when they eventually leave your employ(this probably means they won’t serve you for a decade) or two/three years after they’ve been with you when your children would have grown up a little bit and their workload is slightly reduced.

 

Tell him/her what you expect of him/her…all the time. I expected Glory to resume at 9am on Saturdays. If she was going to be late, show up at 7 am or not at all, I expected her to call me ahead of time and let me know.

I expected her to not break or damage any item in my house while doing her work but accidents do happen and if they did, it was all right to tell me and not wait for me to discover it myself or when I did, lie about it.

I expected her to leave only after she was done with all of her duties and not leave half – finished cleaned floors while telling me she had to be somewhere else at 1.30pm.

I expected a lot of things from Glory but only told her during our very first meeting, expecting her to remember, understand and do them all.

Seriously, Idolor? I learned the hard, gravel way. My expectations fell through the roof like a thunder -swept ceiling, leaving me with smoldering anger on several Saturdays.

Remember that orientation I talked about above, it should never, ever stop for helps. Keep at it until it becomes a worn – out mantra.

 

Be fair. When Glory missed two Saturdays in a row without the courtesy of a call to explain, I should have deducted her absences from her wage like my beau advised me to. I didn’t. I paid her in full with the same smoldering anger and it did our employer – employee relationship no good. I’d tell myself ‘the worker is worthy of his pay‘…only if he actually does the work!(in my beau’s voice). Perhaps if I had been fair, it would have improved her work and courtesy ethics not only for her working life but also for her life generally. But I hadn’t and she played on that emotion brazenly. Since her absence didn’t affect her salary, she had just found a way of getting paid without actually working some of the time. Some of her reasons? She went to a vigil the night before. She had some church activity that Saturday morning. Blah,blah,blah. Now that I think about it, I did her no favours and can only hope she’d learn better in her next employment.

Glory finally left when I had enough of her drama and believe me, the above observations were just half of it. I waited until the end of the month, paid her off and told her not to return anymore. Truth be told, I take part of the blame in the way she rendered her services to me. I took quite a lot of things for granted while assuming she was fairly bright and her strong religious orientation would act as a conscience for her.

How wrong I was! And learn from the experience I did!

Domestic helps are meant to make our lives easier. Let’s ensure this by helping them to help us.

 

 

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