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.


We’re home!

We’ve finally settled into our permanent house.  The process has been long, but generally that’s of our own accord.  It’s been a little bit of an adjustment as we learn the ins and outs of this house and having our own things here.  In the interest of avoiding yet another wall of text,  I’ll make this bullet point style.

-We have a 3 bedroom house on a compound of 5 houses exactly like one another.  There are 2 full baths and 2 half baths. The kitchen is smaller than ours from in the states, but somehow we managed to get all the important items in the few cabinets we have. There is a TON of storage in this house.  Each bedroom has floor to ceiling closets and the master has an entire walk in closet with 4 hanging closets plus 3 full floor to ceiling closets with just shelves.  The pantry is larger than our guest bathroom back in DC.  Everything we brought generally has its own place.  There’s plenty of room for visitors 😉

-It’s GLORIOUS having our own things- and all of our own things.  We’re finally able to stop living out of our suitcases and Eric’s co-workers can see that he does, in deed, have more than 2 suits, 5 dress shirts and a dozen ties.  Having splashes of our own things to supplement the fully furnished house helps it feel more familiar here.  I also very much appreciate that we brought our bed and the man-chair.  Both are super comfortable and a break in the same Drexel furniture that you see in all of the Embassy’s houses.   Heck, even having our own laundry basket and trash can is comforting (besides plastics here are SUPER EXPENSIVE).

-Unpacking our consumables was very much “holy crap we brought a bunch of stuff”, but looking at it?  There’s not really anything I see and am like “I can get that here”.  Eric thinks we have too many beans and cans of tomatoes, but I think we’ll use what we have.  And really $0.80/can in the States vs $2.41/can here (if you can find it) does add up!  I think I already mentioned this, but one nuance we’ve quickly caught onto here is that if you see something in the stores that you use often or may want again, buy as much as you can.  There have been numerous times I’ve gone looking for xyz at a store where I’ve seen it carried before (ie: any non-baked, beans) only to see it gone for the next few weeks.  When we went up to Kariba we made a small pit-stop to pick up a few last minute items.  I noticed the store carried chili beans.  They are VERY hard to find here, so I bought 4 cans.  Not at all what we went into the store for, but since they were there, I picked some up.   There’s also some residual guilt I have from having our housekeeper look at our well stocked pantry when she barely has more than bread, butter, and tea on a daily basis.

-There’s not really anything we look back at and think “I wish we would have brought that” (other than perhaps domestic beer– Eric misses that quite a bit).  That’s pretty good.  There are a few things we brought that just aren’t necessary.  Much of our extra baking dishes/corningware comes to mind.  But even all that fits in one box in the garage.  Same could be said for halloween and christmas decorations, but we’ll be able to use some of it, I’m sure.

-We’ve struggled with adjusting to the voltage here.  In the span of a week, we’ve fried our Dyson Vacuum (which almost made me cry), our Monster Surge Protector, and our DVD player.  Thankfully the TVs and game consoles are still working without problem.  We’ve now got surge protectors on all our converter boxes and unplug all the converter boxes after use.  I could barely stomach the Dyson, I really don’t want to lose the TV.

-Our TV access here is generally limited to AFN.  We signed up for DSTV ($85/mo) under the impression that it had ESPN and we would be able to watch college football.  Unfortunately as of July 31st, DSTV and ESPN terminated their agreement- :-/.  Additionally, it sounds like we’d need some sort of converter between the DSTV box and our American TV, so that just further dampers our desire to continue DSTV.  That being said, we have been able to stream both Buckeye games so far, so it doesn’t seem like we’ll need it going forward anyway.

-We don’t really have a great internet connection here.  We’re waiting for a local company to install fiber which should enhance our internet exponentially, but the connection while we wait is brutal.  Often we lose connection and when we call about it, the answer is “move the router around the house until you get a better connection”.  It’s very frustrating when trying to Skype with friends/family.  Gmail is the worst offender in terms of loading.  It just doesn’t load well at all, if ever.

-The dogs have adjusted to this house surprisingly well.  They have reacted to the housekeeper just fine (and by that I mean not at all).  They seem to be OK with the yard, and especially the neighbor dog.  They really only bark as the gardener and his family walk past the house.  The yards here in Zim have a very red “rust” dirt that the pups track in in their paws.  To try and avoid a huge disaster/mess in the house, we’ve bought slipcovers for the couches and added tons of rugs to the door they go in and out of.  It seems to be doing alright for now, but we’ll see how they do during rainy season.  That’ll be fun.

So that’s a little bit of what we’ve been up to and experiencing.  Growing pains of moving into a new house and settling out what works/doesn’t, etc…  We’ve been busy and are excited for things to settle down a little bit.  Again, I’d post pictures, but that would take hours with little success.  Maybe once we get the fiber I’ll be able to upload things- either here or to facebook!