Onyinye OyedeleTuesday, April 4, 2006
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Ontario, Canada



he idea of domestic helps is one that is common to everyone. In Africa, America, Europe and Asia, it is a common practice to have someone help out at home with the cleaning, cooking, childcare and laundry. However, the employment approach differs from place to place, and the way these "special" group of people are treated in some cases also differs. Back home a lot people grew up having houseboys and girls, drivers, washerman, cooks, etc. It reminds me of Clarus and Gringory in the New Masquerade, a popular programme on NTA back in the days. Dressed in their shorts and t-shirts, they will run out to answer oka and maram---------Zebrudaya and Ovuleria. Some of these househelps back home, were brought from the village, some from Mile 12 Market in Lagos, some were distant relatives or even close ones. Some of them lived with you from a tender age, they went to school while they still did their house chores, or they learnt a type of trade. At a certain age they left and decided to start life on their own or maybe they got into trouble with Oga or madam and got the sack. I am sure many of us can remember their names and how well some of them took care of us. Some of us can also remember how unfairly they were treated sometimes. I can remember growing up with house helps and from time to time I ask myself where they are now? Some of them are married with their own families and they are doing very well. I pray that they will look back and remember us with good memories. These special people gave some of us part of their lives, they sowed into our homes. I also know that some behaved badly and we had no choice but to let them go.

In the Western world, it is a different approach altogether. Domestic helps are paid per hour, most of them do not live with you, they come each day to do their job and go. One can not even afford to have them daily. Thereby some have adopted and adapted the D.I.Y (Do It Yourself) approach to life. It is very good and it helps you appreciate more the role of house helps and why they should not be treated unfairly no matter how you see them. You may think that out here, with all the domestic appliances like vacuum cleaner, dishwasher and washing machine, that life will be easier! Do they really do the job better? A lot of people understand our traditional methods better. Also, you have got to pay the electricity and water bills abi? It is amazing that with many of us in the Diaspora working more than one job we also maintain a very clean home. When you think of how much you will be charged per hour everyday by a domestic help in Europe or America, you will take up the responsibility to care for your home despite your tight schedule. However, once in a while, it is fine to pay that extra cash for a day or a couple of hours for some help if you can afford it. Give yourself a break sometimes and just relax.

Based on this concept of D.I.Y a lot of families out here understand that to survive, there has to be a certain amount of "division of labour". Everyone at home chips in to run the house smoothly. It is a voluntary and necessary contribution because it is a fact that "mummy is not superwoman". It is another level of 'love in action' when spouses and children realize that they need to work together as a team and appreciate the little or big each person contributes to make life easier. Women enjoy and cherish their role as homemakers, there is certainly no doubt about that. Whether you are a working mum or a stay at home mum, I hope you will agree with me that there are some days that certain things just "pinch" you.

Another aspect of D.I.Y that some women are leaning towards is caring for their hair! It is so expensive to go to the hair salon every week or even every month. Some have adapted some simple approach to hair maintenance. Back home you can afford to change your hairstyles as many times as possible but out here na money dey talk oh! We have also learnt how to do a lot of other things for ourselves because when you ask for such services outside they charge you per hour or "call out fee" which can really be outrageous. Back home you can call "obioma or duorduor" (tailor), "Aboki" (shoemaker), carpenter, plumber etc and their charges are good. But here the amount of money you will use to repair something, you might as well go and buy a new one.

However, the issue of househelps should be treated with caution. It is a different society where things are not overlooked and justice is sought for every individual. I watched a program where some ladies were brought from some parts of Africa and turned into domestic slaves. Their employers before bringing them across the Atlantic promised them that they would continue their education on getting to the United States. But for 3-5 years, these young girls who were teenagers when they came, were not given any opportunity to go to school. Why? If they knew they could not afford to send them to school in America, which we all know is quite expensive, why make such a promise? At the end of the day, the employers were sued and they will be paying these ladies thousands of dollars, which they would have saved if they just followed the D.I.Y approach. Most stories never really end well in this kind of arrangement.

However, if you look back I am sure you will remember one or two domestic helps that were there for you while you were growing up. They were like family members. They served you, washed your clothes, took you to school, plaited your hair, went to the market, cooked your meals, fetched water, cleaned the house, covered up for you when you did something wrong etc. They were there for a lot of us and some of them are still there today. When next you visit home, if you have the opportunity, please do something special for them just to say thank you. You never know how much that will mean to them. They need to feel appreciated. You also may not know how God will lift them up someday. Remember Joseph was once a house- keeper and one day he became the Prime Minister of Egypt. You never know where life will lead you tomorrow. You might have a Joseph in your home.

It will also be good for leaders to surround themselves with some men and women who will not always be saying "yes sir, yes sir" to them. Have some people that can say "oga, dat ya plan get K-leg oh! You definitely need people who can look at you and tell you the truth without fear of repercussions. They will respect you but will also tell you when you are wrong. It helps to create a balance in your office. You need people who are ready to stand up for the truth and set you on track when you are having your inner chamber meetings! Call them advisers, analysts or experts, I will say they are your "backbone".

However one area of personal D.I.Y that we can not implement is living a righteous life. You can not do it on your own. Learning each day that it is by God's grace that you can walk right is a relaxing experience. It takes Him, to help you treat people right. We should try as much as possible to be kind to house helps, they are also God's creatures and we are all equal in His eyes. If you are nice to them, you will be surprised the extra mile they would go for you. May the good lord bless every house help.