Maid to Perfection

I hate handwashing clothes. Hate it. Despise it. Can’t stand it.

Any romantic notions I had about living free of the decadent luxury of a washing machine and finding a soulful pleasure in the act of scrubbing away a days grime from my shirt under the bright blue African skies were destroyed on about the third occasion I had to do it.

Hand scrubbing (especially when you get as dirty as me) is damn hard work. Extra hard if you want to do it well, actually end up with consistently clean garments (without a streak of dust still down the back) and avoid the horror of not sufficient rinsing with the consequence of turning into a bubble bath when you get sweaty or rained on.

In fact I hate it so much that when a good friend of mine invited me to come to Caprivi (about 2.7 billion miles from Opuwo) for three weeks of work my first question wasn’t “what work?” or even “you don’t want me to do that on film again do you?” (because I’m not – I don’t care how artistically necessary the director says it is), it was “does your washing machine still work?”. A select few volunteers have washing machines in their houses provided by their employer or VSO. Strangely they are always very popular people for other volunteers to visit for a few days.

So to avoid this and allow more time for lazing around working as well as empowering the local community I have always tried to find a washer-person. This has had mixed results.

The first couple that my office buddy H found for me only turned up once or at best twice (I think the horror of my socks was too much for them).

Eventually I was put in touch with L, who was one of the Red Cross and MoHSS volunteer councillors for HIV. Not only did she usually turn up within two days of the arranged time but was also good fun and happy to eat the lunch I would prepare on days I was there without throwing up. One day she found N$ 100 in a pocket I had totally forgotten about (more than her daily wage) and it was on my desk when I got home from work.

Unfortunately I shot myself in the foot by helping her apply for a full-time job as a Community Councillor at a clinic outside of Opuwo. Which of course she got. To be fair all I really did was help her be clear what they wanted on the application and with a bit of the English. By the time I was able to put in a good word for her with the boss two offices down she had already been accepted.

So sadly L was no more and was off to bigger and better things with much less to do with my socks which I’m sure she is eternally grateful for.

Thus began another round of searching in vain for someone who would actually turn up.

And as if by magic I found out that another friend of mine has an actual maid who is reliable and he trusts totally. So just a week after trying to arrange it A turned up at my office.

Unlike L she speaks almost no English. Unlike more dedicated and/or skilled volunteers I speak even less Otjiherero.

Through the medium of sign language and expressive posturing (thank you VSO training) I was able to show her where the washing was as well as all the other necessary odds and ends like baisins and soap powder.

What I was not able to do was in any way discuss what she was to do other than the washing. I assumed she would just do that and at N$ 50 (about £4) for a “day” this would in fact be cheaper than L.

But no – not only was my washing all done but the floors were scrubbed, the worktops (those not covered in boxes of crap, books and broken bits of computers) all wiped down and two particularly horrific unwashed saucepans I had left until I gathered the strength were gleaming as new.

When she came into the office to give back my keys there was some confusion about her comingthe next day as well. Luckily someone was passing who could translate. She wanted to come back because she now had to be off (about 3.30pm) and hadn’t had time to do the floors of the bedrooms! I said there really was no need but she was persistent and explained she did not want any more money. In the end I managed to convince her there really was no need and everything was better than fine.

We’ve now left it that when I’m back in a week from the great volunteer conference in Windhoek we will arrange (with a translator present) a day every week for her to come which she seemed extremely pleased with (maybe my socks are loosing their potency?).

On the back of this I was taking a well earned break from serious toil (and for once I was actually toiling if maybe not in a serious manner) and admiring my clean floors whilst trying not to fall asleep on the sofa when the Matron came round with a notice for hospital tenants and I could actually invite him in without the shame of squalor.

Letting from Housing Committee

A compulsory meeting for all tenants and written in caps? That can’t be good.

Maybe they have had too much of my crazy late night parties or my livestock. Luckily the Matron is someone I “built bridges” with (thanks again VSO training) using both of my people skills so I was able to ask him if I was being evicted. He said “you should be ok on your side”. I think that means as a VSO volunteer.

Anika (my Peace Corps volunteer neighbour) is foolishly away on holiday and won’t be attending. I will therefore be responsible for representing all volunteers at this meeting. So I should be annexing Anika’s house sometime next week if all goes well.


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