A Thought for Our Domestic Staff

Domestic Staff

By Simbo Olorunfemi
Early morning walk has become a part of my daily routine now, since I made a commitment to it months ago. It is therapeutic for body and mind for many reasons.
But then, not just for the body and mind. Not just for the opportunity to listen to the silence yearning for ears from within but to meditate and dig deep. Not just to be able to listen to music with only minimal distraction, it offers that opportunity to truly be alone even if in the open.
The early morning walk offers the opportunity to see things, see beauty and ugliness, often seated side by side, even as much of that had hitherto been only hidden in plain sight.
It comes with the opportunity to see people one might not ordinarily see, the people we often drive by as we head in and out in pursuit of life, while leaving life behind.
On this walk, I get to see the Security men strategically positioned around the Estate doing their bit to keep us safe. Acknowledging one here, greeting the other there, a small joke atimes has a way of bringing out a bit of life from them as they keep up with the drudgery and anonymity of their task.
I see these women around. They come from the settlements around ‘searching’ for wood and other stuff from construction sites. I see them, and sometimes young children scouting for plastic bottles and cartons from the waste bins. Possibly, other things as well.
I see the women hired by the Facility Managers to sweep the streets. They return everyday to the same spot to pack sand off the tar. I often wonder about this. Is there not a way to prevent the sand from the repeated journey to the tar in the first place? But then I also wonder about what might be the fate of the street sweepers if the sand stay away from the tar. Perhaps, it is better we just keep up with the routine.
I am beginning to think that I see too many things on this walk anyway. I think I wonder about too many things on this walk. I am beginning to wonder about how much I wonder.
I see the domestic staff who cater to Ogas and Madams behind the doors. In the mornings, some are let out for the chores outside. Wash cars, sweep the compound. Water the grass, trees and flowers. I see them, behind the metal fences and gates, peering through the openings that punctuate the barriers.
Once in a while, I catch their eyes. Some quickly look away. Some look into my eyes in a way that I am also forced to look away. With some, I  am able to exchange greetings. Others immediately pull back and the connection is broken.
In their eyes, I would often see a mix of fear, uncertainty and loneliness. I even get to sense a tinge of despair in some instances. Perhaps it is me making too much of what is  actually not there. Perhaps it is me seeing a cage where there is really none or me imagining chains around hands and minds that are indeed free, but I often feel burdened and saddened by what I see.
Perhaps it is the me who has never been comfortable with this idea or concept of domestic staffing in the first place. I see how it is a necessity for some. I see how it has been an avenue for a positive change of fortune in some instances.
But for some reason, I have not just been able to make it to a place where I will be comfortable with the idea of one human being putting his/her life on hold to cater for the domestic needs of another individual or family. We just didn’t see it as an option, in raising a family. Letting go of earning opportunities was only a minor sacrifice compared with seeking for help with domestic chores.
There are exceptional cases where Employers take good care of their domestic staff. Some even redirect the path of domestic staff towards educational attainment or fortune in other areas. But I have seen things. I see things.
We had this neighbour. Owner of a Security Company. Guards come on weekly rotation, working all day, all night for one week. No guardhouse, no toilet facility, no bathroom. A meal a day once in a while. Salary poor and irregular. Yet, you are there indoors, often mostly alone at home in a 4-bedroom house, with your guard battling with the elements, including rain, outside.
There is a new family in the neighborhood. A 3-bedroom house and a detached one-room boys quarters. It’s a family of 3- or 4. Two young men come to help with chores in the house everyday. They report early in the day to close late in the night. They are not able to use any of the 5 toilets in the house, they have to make it to the fields and bushes to relieve themselves multiple times each day. Boys are incredibly so polite, one has had to politely direct them away from around the house a few times. The embarrassment each time they are walking down or coming back from comfort breaks is palpable.
The question is simply ‘Why?’ Why are we like this?  A few places, I have seen really young domestic helps (girls) struggling to wash cars. Why? Why are we like this? This morning I saw a man on the seventh car in a compound. I refuse to believe that he might have been the one who washed the other six that obviously had just been washed. That can’t be so. That can’t be right, I think.
You never really know with these things. One might have to be in some shoes to understand how things are or can be in some of these situations. I struggle to understand what is on the mind of some of our Ogas and Madams in relating with those who work for them at home.
A bit of thought for the conditions of service for the domestic staff is worth having. I do not see how one can possibly justify child labour, irrespective of whatever cultural differences there might be around it. Seeing those young girls peering through the metal openings as they carry on with the morning chores, while our children are in school, is not kind to the heart.