The Story of Grace

As I’ve written before, we had some problems with the initial house keeper we hired which were among the many reasons we let her go.  She’d been coming for about 3 weeks before we let her go, so she’d gotten to interact with our guards, the gardener, and neighboring staff.   I’ve spoken with and received some great advice from many people who are much more experienced with the whole of having house staff.   In conversation, one of our neighbors’ stand-in staff had asked if this initial house keeper was still with us.  I told her things had not worked out and she was not.  The house keeper (who is so very darling) quietly said “lots of very different personalities”, and I’m pretty sure that summed up my experience with the one we let go, so very well.

After multiple new referrals, some calls, emails, and a no-show interviewee, I offered an older lady a trial period of one month.  This is similar to what I did for the previous house keeper.  I drafted up a formal contract essentially laying out expected days, hours, and the monthly rate.  Her English is so good, she understood all of it and did not have a problem with any of it.

And let me say, she’s only been coming for 2 weeks now (a total of 5 days), and I am so much happier with her.  I feel much more comfortable around her– don’t get me wrong, I still very much feel the guilt of white privilege, but she’s so much more friendly, gracious, kind, and seems to know the ropes so much better than the previous one.  She keeps me at ease while I’m here (and not here honestly)- there’s no air of resentment any time we’re in the same room.  I feel like she respects me- even though she’s 34 years my elder.  She does things without being asked (like sweeping the garage floor when she saw a few stray papers and dirt on it); she tells me when she thinks she’s done something wrong (like the vacuum eating the corner of a very old rug while she was vacuuming) because she wants to be the one to tell me, rather than me finding out on my own.

She’s been working with the American Embassy since about when I was born; she’s literally got decades of experience.  She’s worked for so many families and some repeat families.  It seems like she’s mostly worked full-time for these families as a house keeper, nanny, and cook.  One of the families liked her so much, they took her to Pretoria, South Africa with them for their 4 year tour down there.  Another family flew her back to the States with them when the wife was pregnant and scheduled to deliver.  She was in the States for a month and loved (and says she remembers) every day she was there.  She beamed with pride as she spoke of her”children” and getting to see them grown and starting their own families (she’s not married and doesn’t have kids of her own).

While she has no children of her own, she plays a key role in her own family as the sister to a brother with his own children.  In the Shona culture, the Father’s Sister (the children’s paternal aunt) is looked to as a very well respected, honored person to whom the husband’s family goes to for advice and problem solving.  She does have her niece living with her as she works on her education (her family lives outside of Harare).

As I mentioned, she’s historically worked full-time for other families- typically here, that’s a “live-in” position where the staff have their own quarters on the property.  Grace was “live-in” with her previous family, though upon their departure, she was forced to vacate the property- once your employer leaves, you must too.  So now she resides in co-op housing near the city limits and leaves her house between 5:45 and 6:15 each morning to make it to our home by 8:00am.  Her house is somewhere between 8-10 miles from ours, but by the time she’s through with her combi rides, she’s traveled almost double that.

I asked her what she likes to do in her free time.  She said she enjoys gardening and growing anything and everything, but particularly rape (an unfortunate name for a form of lettuce greens perhaps similar to chard?) and squash.  During the rainy season she’ll grow maize (corn) because it grows well with more water and right now their borehole water is very low.  She shares her “very small home” with a friend (who is also looking for work) and their co-op is currently working to bring electricity out to their neighborhood- but they still need to buy 8-10 poles before they can proceed further.

Every day the first thing she asks how I am doing and how Eric is and how the dogs are.  In that order.  Something else about the Shona culture is the importance of the “we” over “me”.  Often times when asking how someone is doing the response is “we are fine”– as in the whole family is fine because if someone in the family is not fine, the entire family is not fine.  She asked about our families and if they’ll be coming to visit.  She smiled brightly and said it was “very nice” when I told her of the size of my extended family (my Mom is one of 10, my Dad one of 6, Eric’s Mom one of 4 and Eric’s Dad one of 5).

She’s helping me learn to speak Shona.  The first work that’s taken that I remember the most, and am trying to incorporate is “tetenda” or “thank you”.

In the few days she’s been here, I’ve really appreciated her and come to like her quite a bit.   I think she’ll be a great fit.  This morning I took her into a local “image group” for a chest x-ray as she’s been coughing some off and on.  We’re hopeful it’s not TB.