Living the Expat Life

by Richelle Wright on June 20, 2014

It feels normal and strange all at once – but that’s to be expected.

I have been back in my home country for nearly a year… Another year to go before we head back into the expat life and scene. The routines here are finally comfortably familiar, again! I’m still loving all the things I love about living in Michigan (changing seasons is a biggie) while the flirtatious heat of summer nostalgically hints and reminds me of the overwhelming heat of Niger (and so we refuse to run the AC) while the familiar tide of homesickness floods over me. But? I’m more adept at riding that wave now than even just a few short months ago. I remember how to get to, and more importantly get through, the store – actually handling shopping at a super Walmart without feeling too overwhelmed… as long as I go late at night… with a very specific list… and have a specific time I need to be finished by – like teenage daughter waiting at home for help with her Precalc or a sick preschooler waiting for children’s Tylenol (even though I had adult pills I could have cut and crushed like I did while overseas). I’m once again proficient at swiping credit cards and there’s no longer a temptation to try and bargain down prices for clothing or material. I’m desperately missing friends and loved ones, but that is always a part of life, no matter where I’m living.

And since things are feeling relatively comfortable, this introvert finally wrangled up the courage to try something new.

I attended a meeting for a group of women presently living in this locale, but who have also spent time living abroad. Accents and languages, skin and hair colors, clothing and jewelry styles varied… almost every corner of the world was represented. Some had grown children while others were just starting out. Some freely and lavishly consumed European wine, gourmet sandwiches and fancy finger desserts catered for the occasion; others, practicing vegans, consumed only water and sliced fruit. One even wore a scarf covering her head and upper body. Everyone seemed delighted to be there – with so much different, one thing we all had in common was the experience of packing up and moving to a completely foreign place and trying to build and make a life there.

Each woman in that group has a story – although I was only able to hear a few:  foreign spouse to one working for a large business company with an international division; an immigrant family who pursued and caught their “American dream;” the American gal vacationing in Europe one summer and just happened to meet her life partner; or the student who moved to America to pursue her education, decided to stay and thus began to call this land home.

It was a stretching experience – taking myself all by myself someplace to meet a bunch of strangers cold turkey is normally the kind of thing I avoid like the plague… But the women were gracious, welcoming, kind and oh-so-international – there were even French speakers, although there wasn’t anyone else who’d also lived in Africa. I’m pretty sure I’ll pay the membership dues and plan to attend meetings when I can next year.

Something else totally astonished me.

While there, I listened to the most interesting conversation – about maids and nannies and etc. And I hope no one noticed my chin on the floor as I listened. It might be a bit embarrassing to go back for the next meeting if they did…

Every place I have lived and worked overseas – W Africa and SE Asia, it is common – expected, actually – for expats to hire local men or women to cook, clean, garden, keep the gate and/or sometimes care for their children. I mean, EVERYONE had someone, at least part-time. For two of our years and for many reasons, our family decided to forego a house helper: my fellow expats thought I was a bit batty (I think) and our local friends just didn’t believe that it was true or that we could do all the work as a family ourselves. That meant, however, that we did have house help for almost fifteen years during our West African sojourn. We’d justify it. Everything DID take longer – from bargaining for and then bleaching all of the fresh produce – to dusting and sweeping like mad, and often several times a day – to making everything from scratch all the time because the closest we got to “convenience” food was street food and baguettes wrapped in day old newspaper also covered with a fine layer of street dust. Hiring local workers invested in the local economy. It gave us opportunities to meet people we might not otherwise have the occasion to know as well as consistent, regular practice working on the local languages, not to mention someone close by with insight into all those local cultural practices that seemed so odd and foreign at first.

Behind The Scenes - Tea Ladies ... July 1946

I have never dreamed of hiring house help while living in the States. On second thought, maybe I have dreamed… but I have never seriously considered engaging someone other than bribing a child with a bit of spending money to take care of a job that falls outside of their normally scheduled chores and household responsibilities.

Yet this group, these women… at least every single one at my table… all had house help. Most of them had a nanny, too. In the States??!

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Even more surprising? They listed the exact same reasons/benefits… justifications… for hiring someone that I’ve heard my friends living in the developing world list, the exact same ones that I’ve used myself. You know. Those ones that I’ve just listed above.

All the while I’m listening to this conversation, I’m thinking, “Seriously?” But once I back out of a judgmental mode – which, if I’m being honest was a challenge because I KNOW living here, at least workload wise, is light-years easier than it was living in W Africa, I started asking myself some questions.

I don’t have answers ~ so I thought I’d bring them to you all…

Do people in your area hire local outside help for regular, around-the-house jobs and chores?

Is your locale considered developed or developing?

What is the reasoning for hiring local help in your region? If you have local help, why?

Would you, like me, have been surprised if you’d been listening to the above conversation?

Do you think local help is more of a genuine necessity or is it, in reality, more of a perk of living the expat lifestyle and being a stranger in a foreign land where you are expected to do things differently? Why?

photo credits (in order):

 Luke,Ma via photopin cc

 srv007 via photopin cc

 A.Davey via photopin cc

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About Richelle Wright

Disciple of Jesus, lover of God's Word, wife to one great guy, and mama of eight, Richelle has spent the past 13 years in Niger, West Africa. She and her family are currently in the throes of transition as they begin life and ministry (teaching, audio-visual production) in the Canadian province of Québec. |ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com|
  • My housekeeper is like a part of my family. I live in Honduras, where for generations everyone wants to leave for the US due to the lack of employment and violence. It’s not good manners to not have a housekeeper. For a good meal, a local boy will wash my car when I need it. He needs to eat, and I like a clean vehicle. I don’t feel guilty as I treat him well for other errands he does for me that makes more sense to send a local boy than a lone white woman. In the States in my past life? I would think that’s for rich, spoiled ladies. I am moving back to the US in about 6 weeks. I visit often as I live in the southern US, but I can relate to your stories about air conditioning, credit card machines, and Walmart. I don’t have other work lined up, but I hope to be once again in another soon in a year or two as well.

    • Richelle Wright

      Our housekeeper definitely felt like part of the family and we miss her a lot now that we are back in the States. 🙂

      • Ellen Hargrave

        Besides the fact that I had time for ministry with house help (we lived w/out running water, solar electricity, no washer – well you get the picture) – it was such a wonderful way to build relationships. A big help with language learning and an insider’s eye on local culture. A safe person to ask questions. We also had a time to share Scripture during tea time… and I helped her w/some academic skills. Wound up being maid of honor for our first house workers wedding! Since she saw the good, the bad and the ugly – I was so pleasantly surprised when I visited her home after we moved away to see that she had incorporated some of our best child rearing practices with her children.

        One issue with househelp was the balance of having help where I really needed it – and making sure that our kids did not feel entitled, saw the help as a real person and learned to do their share of the work.

        On a missionary’s income, I could never afford help while in the states, and yes – I would have been shocked to hear the conversation that you heard. But, if I could afford help – I would love to have it here – as long as I used the time that was freed up in a worthwhile way, and treated whoever worked for me w/love, respect and dignity. I think we take too much pride as Americans in doing everything ourselves – : ) Is that truly a biblical value? We are the body of Christ… and oh how I hate to clean… : )

        Whenever I apologized to my worker for “too much work” she always looked at me very puzzled – and said with a local expression what meant – “I have a JOB!!!!!” It is a blessing!

        • Richelle Wright

          We worked to find that same sort of balance, regarding kids and entitlement… One thing that I loved was when my older kids jumped right into work in the kitchen with our house help. I loved listening to the chattering and learning and loving going on especially the relationship that was being formed… or when they’d go work in the yard with the guard for the gate. They learned things that I was learning from our workers, right along with me. I think our workers were amused that our kids would participate, and they genuinely seemed to enjoy the relationships as well.

          I really appreciated your comment: “…if I could afford help – I would love to have it here – as long as I used the time that was freed up in a worthwhile way, and treated whoever worked for me w/love, respect and dignity. I think we take too much pride as Americans in doing everything ourselves – : ) Is that truly a biblical value? We are the body of Christ… and oh how I hate to clean… : )” because that captures my ideas as well. 🙂

          Thanks for adding your two cents to this discussion, Ellen!

  • Kay Bruner

    We always lived in developing nations. We did house help different ways at different times. In a rural village setting, I paid someone to do my laundry, because there were literally not enough hours in the day for everything. I didn’t have indoor help because I felt that would create a perceived huge advantage to that one person in a really small community. I changed laundry helpers on a regular basis to spread the wealth to different families. In a local town setting, I had a daily housekeeper, which was normal by local standards for both expats and nationals. Again, there were not enough hours in the day to do everything. Then later we lived in what was essentially an isolated expat town with outlying national communities. It was normal there for expats to have housekeepers, who walked in from the outlying areas daily. I did that for a while but then I just felt uncomfortable with it. Friends of mine always had house help in that context and felt fine with it. I was definitely weird for not having help. When I let my house helper go (with a giant severance and many apologies) she did not believe we could survive without her. It was a lengthy conversation of me having to reassure her that I was in fact strong enough to do all this stuff myself. 🙂 Ultimately, I think we are all just trying to make it through the day the best way we can. If a house helper reduces your stress to a manageable level, and allows you to maintain your sanity so you can keep doing what you went to do, okay. Even those ladies who live in these weird United States.

    • Kay Bruner

      Oh, I should mention that in the expat town, we had many more amenities than in our previous locations. A school! A medical clinic! A grocery store! Friends! A church! And that ultimately freed me up to do my own thing.

      • Richelle Wright

        I’m so sure. We always lived in town. I can’t imagine village or bush life.

        I feel so lazy here back in the States, compared to all the “just plain surviving, necessary for life” work I used to do when in Niger. It’s almost like I have too much time on my hands, now.

    • Richelle Wright

      Interesting to hear about the different situations in which you lived, Kay. If we hadn’t had a laundry machine, I would have hired someone for that, no doubt about it… but we always had a machine and only had to do the by hand thing a few times when electricity was really bad.

      The two years we didn’t have help, I really, really enjoyed. I loved the gal who worked for us the rest of the time. She’s a dear friend and not an intrusion at all when she’s at the house. At the same time, I loved having my house for me. Always figured that meant I’m truly an introvert!

  • Anna Wegner

    When I lived in the US, I didn’t really have the concept of house help at all. Towards the end of my time there, my life was really crazy, and I hired someone a friend knew to help with some of the heavy cleaning. It was wonderful, and I wondered why I hadn’t done it before! It would have made me less stressed!
    Now (in Congo) I have a whole team of people. It is expected. You are helping someone who needs work. Everything is very relationship and community oriented, and it would be seen as selfish and stingy not to do it. Also I know that for many of the women there are few options to earn money (outside having a husband/man support you or prostitution.) I have laundry washed by hand, someone who cleans, a cook for marketing and cooking 1 meal/ 5-6 days a week. I still do more work for daily life than I would do all by myself in the US.
    I also supervise the people who work at guest housing, which makes 8 ladies total. Sometimes it’s a little crazy, but it’s 8 relationships that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

    • Richelle Wright

      I love how you look at it as 8 relationships. I’ve met some who don’t know anything more than the name of the person who works for them… nothing about families, their past, their dreams for the future, what makes them smile… I used to love working in the kitchen with Safana, our house helper, chatting away – talking about kids, life, husbands and just enjoying each other’s company.

  • Wendy

    I’m an Aussie living in Japan and I don’t know anyone in Japan who has hired help and very few in Australia. So yes, I’d have been surprised to hear that conversation!

    • Richelle Wright

      Relieved to hear that I’m not the only one, Wendy. 🙂 Although that was the first time I’ve ever gone to a gathering of expat women (outside of missos from my own organization) – while in the States… and most of the women there were living my experience elsewhere.

  • Christy

    I keep reading about this topic, and honestly, I think there is no right or wrong answer. I’m in India w two orphan and a partner…and considering hiring a cook. I’ve been killing myself the last month doin everything…and as you mentioned…lots of dust and dirt! Lol. I’m not used to hand washing clothes, dishes, and preparing meals from scratch three times a day…and I have narcolepsy, so I’m already operating on less energy. I think sometimes people, especially missionaries, think they are more hardworking or frugal with funds to not hire anyone…but then you may have less time doing the things you do best and that advance the kingdom. You can also bless someone with a job to feed their family if you hire outside help. In India, majority of families hire outside help for clothes washing, cooking, and cleaning…and you are definitely in the minority if you don’t. I guess in different countries the norm varies. I just read you have 8 kids. How much help are they around the house? My conclusion is…every situation is different and we need to stop judging each other and just pray about these decisions and let God lead.

    • Richelle Wright

      Hey Christy! Thanks for jumping in here. I’d agree 100% that there’s no right or wrong answer on this one. That frugality thing can be hard – and sometimes I think missos might end up feeling pressured either way or both ways at the same time: churches back in the States who don’t want them to “waste” money on house help when they’d never consider house help themselves vs local people who expect missos to invest in the local community, etc.

      It is really fascinating to read everyone’s comments about what their experiences have been.

  • We have always lived in countries where household help is not even considered. I wouldn’t have thought of it, and no one else would either. However, I have known people who hire translation/document/errand help. I was just mentally admiring someone for all the relationships she has because she needs that. We don’t need help like that, and I’m almost jealous. 🙂

    • Richelle Wright

      Another interesting thought – although perhaps one that shouldn’t surprise me – that the type of “help” that is considered typical varies from locale to locale, region to region.

      Do you know why, Phyllis, that house help is not even considered? I’m assuming that is true for local folks as well as for expats? Or do you know if some expats – especially those who’ve been elsewhere in the world where it’s normal – still choose to hire someone?

      • I have heard distant rumors of expats hiring nannies and drivers, never someone like a housekeeper or cook or cleaner, and not anyone I’ve ever seen or known personally. I’ve seen online discussions of the difficulty of finding a nanny; I’ve heard embassy types recommending bringing their own.

        We’re talking about Russia and Ukraine here. Maybe it’s because of the way we live? Small apartments don’t really lend themselves to needing extra help or even being able to fit an extra person in? Or history and culture? As far as culture, everything is centered around extended family. Locals wouldn’t hire someone to watch their children or clean their home, because babushka does that. 🙂 And I don’t know if we count as “developing” or “developed.” We do a lot from scratch or by hand, but we don’t have the struggles of lots of dirt and dust and basic survival, like some others mentioned.

        • Richelle Wright

          Good point!… the size of the homes does make a difference when you are talking the amount of work as well as the comfort level with having another person in the house a lot of the time. Within the middle class Nigerien context, it wasn’t grandmothers, but rather young distant cousins from the village who’d come into the capital or the big city to “work” for family.

  • Amy

    I think part of the equation is that in the United States we are less community oriented. In Haiti for example families all live together(moms, aunts, ect) and help each other do everything. So it’s more of a shared effort. Currently my friend is my husband and I’s roommate. Splitting chores between 3 people makes the load 1,000x easier. You can’t do EVERYTHING all by yourself. So if that looks like living in a community where you share responsibilities, hire help, or get a roommate I think it’s fine. I think we just assume that if a mom pays for help that she is lazy, unnurturing, and is just off having fun. Which is not the reality of many moms. I am a nanny to a very wonderful mom of 2. She and her hubby both work. I’m very close to them. It’s great for me because I love kids, need a job, and really love the whole family. It’s great for them because then they can do what they love, get some extra help, have some more income, and also provide for their children(who the spend a ton of time with).
    Amy

    • Richelle Wright

      Really interesting point, Amy – the difference between community oriented versus individualistic cultures. That thought hadn’t even entered my mind. Thanks for joining in!

  • Joy_F

    Joy_F
    5 minutes ago
    When I was in China I was uneasy as I was a single woman, by myself yet I couldn’t keep up with everything and work the full time job that I had come to do. I tried – I tried for a year and a half before I gave in. But then one of the others in the group pointed out what I didn’t see at the time – that in the US we have invisible servants that we don’t think twice about – and those invisible servants allow us to do things we can’t in other countries.

    Premixed, ready made, precut tomatoes, presliced bread and cheese, prewashed veggies in a precut container. It was all sitting in my refrigerator in the States, bought from the local grocery store and a sandwich took five minutes. No going to the market, bartering for vegetables washing them carefully with bleach water then de washing the bleach water off then slicing the vegetables. Bread often had to be sliced if I could find it all – if not, I’d have to make it. Meat wasn’t neatly packaged in the little sandwich containers. Cheese was a rare delicacy. Quick sandwich meals were not something I had the luxury of making.

    What we don’t see if in the US, some nameless person in a factory has done all that for us to make it easy for us to eat and run. Some nameless farmer grew the food. Some nameless workers sorted it. The nameless, faceless factory workers slice, mix and package it, making it easy for us to live “independently.”

    But is that truly independence? And who is ensuring that those invisible workers that make our lives possible are being paid a fair wage? I met some plastic packaging workers in China. They worked 12 hour days getting only one off a week. That’s just for packaging……what about the farmers, the harvesters, the mixers, the slicers, the truck drivers, the sorters the grocery stockers……a whole crowd of the invisible who does all the legwork from around the world to make the materials so I can throw a hasty sandwich into my bag and think of myself as “independent” do I not, in the US have a whole staff that I just pretend doesn’t exist? Perhaps it’s better to have someone in your house that you see and know. It ensures better treatment?

    • Richelle Wright

      Totally get what you are saying as far as it just takes less time in the US because so much of the “job” is already done if you choose to purchase those convenience items. Not really the topic of this post, but I’ve found that I do a lot less of that after having lived overseas and having had to do so much of that myself. And yes, it does take a lot more time.

      Another interesting perspective, though. Are we really “hiring” someone, when we make use of all those conveniences – it just isn’t a face or a relationship, like it would be if someone came to our house and took care of it for us personally?

  • Thanks so much for this interesting piece, Richelle! When I was an MK living in Bangkok, we had a live-in maid/cook the entire time (her husband and daughter actually lived with us, too), and it was for all the reasons you mentioned above: Cooking and housecleaning are so time-consuming there that my mom would not have had time for ministry. I always felt the need to defend myself when I told people we had a maid. I think I assumed that Americans would think that maids were for rich people only, and why would missionaries, who were supposed to be sacrificing in order to spread the gospel, need maids? Yet I do think it’s part of the culture in many other countries. I don’t think that it was just a luxury there. As for now: I live in the States, making a middle-class income, and I do have a housecleaner that cleans my house once every 3 weeks. I work full-time, so it is a blessing to not have to spend my weekends cleaning my house. I get more family time this way. I actually have several friends (also middle class) who also employ a housecleaner every couple of weeks or so. For me the rub is this: My housecleaner is a former ESL student of mine. She and her mom have a housecleaning business, and I was eager to help an immigrant family. Yet I do feel awkward about it, and in the beginning, we talked about whether or not it was a good idea for us to enter into this relationship. I am painfully aware of class difference, economic difference, stereotypical job/work roles for immigrants, and America’s unspoken “caste” system (because I believe we have one). I honestly don’t know if I am doing the right thing by providing employment to the family, or if I am just perpetuating those “caste-system” boundaries.

    • Richelle Wright

      I’m really loving reading people’s comments, Karissa. My honest reaction when these gals were talking about their maids was, “Seriously?” – but I don’t know how often someone came in. I can think of one friend (also a university prof) who hired a maid for a season. When it was my friend, I was jealous!

      Good questions, too… and good questions to ask about many different things we do: Just because we can, just because it makes life more convenient and simpler… should we, especially when we aren’t sure of those sorts of hidden costs and consequences.

      Thanks for commenting, Karissa!

  • Linda Funke

    I’m actually not surprised about people in the U.S. having house help, because I paid my living expenses through grad school by working for a babysitting agency. For regular families I often would do some household chores as well, or I would meet various house-cleaners who would come while I was
    there. Of all the families I worked for, I can’t think of very many I would describe as lazy. Often they would hire us so that it did free up time for other things in life–most often trying to get more quality time with their kids while balancing careers in medicine or as professors/researchers for universities. I don’t think any of them hired me because of my language or perspective on the world, but with some families we got to know each other pretty well. The relationship was a bonus. However, my grandmother had help for 25 years after my grandfather’s passing. For her, I do think those relationships were essential.

    It did feel a bit strange moving to Tanzania and then changing roles. Now my husband and I are the ones hiring, but I think my experience as “the help” has made me a better employer. Since it is just my
    husband and I, we only have one person who hand-washes the laundry, helps with household chores and errands, and most importantly helps us with our language and understanding of what is going on the community. Every week we give him a salary and put some money away into an education fund. Theoretically we could divide the work among more people, but we would rather pay more to this one
    person (who still isn’t really full-time) so that the money he gets is enough to pay for his education and allow him to dream beyond a life of subsistence. However, sometimes I do wish I had more work to offer, because I know several other people that could use the work. I’m hoping that the Peace Corps volunteer we get later this year will find it agreeable to get some help.

    • Richelle Wright

      Thanks for offering the “other” perspective, Linda. Great observations and input.

  • juliette

    I live in major European country and hired help here is only as common as in the US. I wish I could afford somebody to come and wash our floors and windows, if nothing else, hah! I also supported myself through college via nanny/personal assistant gigs, so I’m more open to it in general. The people I worked for had the financial ability to farm out more of their less desirable tasks, be it childcare so they could run errands more efficiently or have a date night, have a PT or FT job elsewhere, feed animals while they went on school field trips or family vacations, sleep overnight at the grandmother’s house in case she needed help, maintain their garden after a surgery, etc. They had me do all kinds of random jobs, but in doing so, we developed a relationship and sense of trust, enabling them to trust me with their family in general.

    I mean, in ‘developed’ countries it’s basically all about priorities to me. What is anybody willing to pay somebody else to do (esp. if you don’t have friends or family to help you)? My MIL lived in rural developing countries with her own young family and had no problem paying locals to help her with time-consuming tasks. When she came back to Europe, she did things herself, but was also happy when she could afford help with less desirable tasks.

    I don’t think there’s anything shocking about people trying to maintain a lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to. If you’ve done something in the past, you usually have good reasons for it, so why would they necessarily change if you have the resources to continue those practices -and the reasons still basically hold true?

    • Richelle Wright

      More great points – especially the priorities one. I wonder, at least from my perspective, if part of the pressure on missionaries whose salaries come from the charitable giving of others (and often those others feel they then can designate how you use or do not use those monies). I know we’ve often made our choice to prioritize either following “guidelines” some of our supporters have suggested for us or a fear of unintentionally offending someone with a particular choice. The trick is that now those choices do clearly color my priorities – right, wrong or somewhere in between, eh?

      I really appreciate your contribution to this discussion, Juliette. Thanks for chiming in.

      • juliette

        Yes, this basically opens up a whole other can of worms: Giving and missions and missionaries and what exactly does good stewardship look like (to anybody anywhere)? I’d love to see this blog explore this topic. Maybe not so much the grief that it can cause, but situations and methods where fund management and communication about funding works well.

        • Richelle Wright

          I’ve written about it a bit before (http://www.alifeoverseas.com/approximately-how-many-times-a-month-do-you-go-out-to-eat/); there were some really good suggestions in the comments.

          I love the idea of accountability to those who are partnering with us. It just seems that sometimes they demand accountability without an accurate knowledge of constraints/realities in the missos’ places of service or flexibility to recognize that something like house help in one place might not signify the same thing in another locale. Sometimes, I think a good discussion is dependent or realizing that we are all working towards the same goal – and not getting offended by either what the missionary is deeming important or the partners trying to understand why… if that makes sense.

        • Richelle Wright

          another link that addresses this question – somewhat – http://paracletos.org/blog/article/12-questions-you-can-ask-a-missionary-that-will-help-them-stay-on-the-field/

          and the same guy that wrote this blog also had some good ideas regarding questions for partners to ask: “Please explain how your ministry achieves our (church’s) objectives. What outcomes do you expect this next year? Do you have a written plan? How much time would you say you spend, on average, doing the following: Bible study, prayer, evangelism, teaching, recreation…”

  • mgrace

    I live in Kenya and have done for the last year and for the foreseeable future. I wouldn’t dream of having a house helper as I want to live like the average Kenyan and also I don’t have help in England so why here? I don’t want to be seen as the ‘typical European’ who many here (missionaries and non missionaries) live in big houses with big pretty gardens and more than one house worker! I don’t ever picture my self living like that. Maybe I think this because my husband to be (august 2014) is Kenyan?
    The only reason I would hire someone would be to keep watch over my house whilst at work but at the moment I live somewhere that I do not need that. All big compounds here have security men watching the gates, but currently I live on the outside of the village and it is not needed.
    I know a missionary couple here do have hired house help but for many years they did not. Their reason for having house help is simply because it has created a job for someone! Which is great if you have the money, and I think is a great reason to hire someone if you know them well enough and know they need a job.
    The area I live is definitely developing.

    • Richelle Wright

      I imagine your husband to be probably influences greatly your decision. I know in our area of W Africa, our local neighbors often had someone come work in their homes, even when they were terribly poor. Often, it would be a niece or a younger extended family member who worked in exchange for room and board so that they could go to school in a bigger city vs a village school, or some other benefit – so house helpers are not just a foreign thing. If it was, I think I would have felt more awkward having a helper. There’s also the reality that many of our Nigerien friends thought I was nuts when I didn’t have a house helper for several years.

      I really appreciate how you can see both sides of this issue.

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