Wednesday, January 24, 2007

You can't get the staff these days...

Now you people over there in the developed world might have drinkable water from your tap and powercuts only as distant foggy memories, but at least we in the developing world don't have to do the washing up - there's always someone who needs that job. Expats and repats and middle-class Nigerians of all hues share the same problem: hiring maids and drivers who will do a good job and not steal too much. Whenever we congregate, there are always colourful stories to swap as human resource catharsis.

Our latest woe is our increasingly desperate maid/cook situation. We have had a whole series of maids who have come, stolen, and gone: Augusta, Augustina, Hassana etc. Hassana was actually good at her work and didn't steal but she kept disappearing for days on end (we suspect she was pregnant). Our latest one comes from Osogbo - I met her on a trip there before Christmas. I raved on and on about her to Bibi while in India - waxing lyrical about how we would be woken up with hot lemon juice, smoothies would proceed throughout the morning, followed by creatively colourful salads. We would teach her how to cook Thai and Indian etc etc. Bibi drank all my culinary poetry down while on the beach in Goa. Talk about raising expectations..

And then Frederika arrived and it turned out she could only cook pounded yam and stew but didn't like cleaning (there was a communication balls-up on her job description). So now, Frederika is leaving, which is a shame because she is honest and hard-working and is slowly learning 'our food'. So, I interviewed another young man who came recommended from an American expat last week. It turns out he only works Mon-Friday (the whole weekend is spent in Church) and when he says he can 'wash clothes', it means he knows how to put them in the washing machine. Now, a posh American diplomat type may have a washing machine in Abuja, but hardly anyone else has, least of all we. We asked the young Beninoise man if he wouldn't mind washing by hand. He gave us a pained look and then studied his fingernails. 'I don't like to wash with my hands. It will damage my fingernails.' Quel wuss. When it came to questions about his prowess in the kitchen, he told us he could cook chicken and fish. We asked him what recipes he knew. His mind drew a blank. The Americans, we fear, have spoiled him. The search continues..


lm,  1:29 pm  

You don't even want to hear stories about the devilish antics of nannies and the brazen rudeness of househelps!

Coupled with stealing and if you are most unfortunate, occultic tendencies, choosing domestic staff who have access to your rooms is not to be taken lightly. In the case of nannies, prayers are seriously needed. I kid you not!

A tip is always to be careful, keep temptation of stealing at bay by locking up cash and not taking money in full view of the domestics, as well as being observant. A little test now and again of "forgetting" money in certain places would be wise if suspiciosn has been raised.....

uknaija 3:24 pm  

I know- on my recent trip to Naija when I watched all the headache and drama my parents endured with their various household staff I marvelled that they don't both have high blood pressure-

RJ 11:41 pm  

LOl! It would spoil his nail? Surely he was jesting...
I remember one of my aunt’s maids (Amina) stole 15 thousand pounds and it wasn't even funny. My aunty had just come back from Jand and had money some people had told her to give their relatives, and some of her own money too. She got in really late, and ended up sleeping in the kid’s room (same room the maid stayed in) because they wanted her to. Next day she opened her bag and the money had disappeared. She looked in her suitcase, under the bed.... well u get the idea. She asked the 2 maids, they swore they hadn't seen it. She didn't say anything after that; she waited a couple days and the money still didn't resurface.
Later that night, plain clothed cops showed up at the door, took the 2 maids away for “interrogation”. It didn’t take the younger one too much time to confess…apparently the older lady stole it and gave the younger one 50buckks to keep quiet. Now the 50bucks she gave her was in naira, she didn’t even have the decency to bribe her in pounds.
But she was one of the best cooks we ever had though; we had lured her away from the then perm sec of finance – less work, more pay, she couldn’t resist. But all that GREED caught up with her – I felt sorry for her though ‘cos she had a kid in college and all. Last we heard, she ended up marrying the washer man, who was way younger than her and very uncorrupted (as of then).

Anonymous,  12:36 am  

LMAO @ the Beninois wuss! Our current cook has been enrolled in a cooking school because his menu doesn't go beyond jollof rice and fried rice and yam and jollof rice and... the cycle continues.

Its all about finding the honest hardworkers like Frederika and being patient enough to train them. My mother told me that ages ago, and she worked miracles with some seriously irritating village kids. The sad thing is that they eventually fly the nest - they get married or go and run businesses, and one of ours has even made it all the way to university now. The good thing is that she comes back during the holidays and whilst she's in town (which is only ever when I'm there), everything runs like clockwork and my mum can stand back and watching like a proud mama xxxx

PS I posted an answer to what you said on my blog. Thanks for the comment

Bisi,  1:10 am  

My how times have changed. One one hand, it's great to see staff empowering themselves and standing their ground. In the seventies the staff would do everything from plucking chickens, looking after the kids, running errands, cooking a variety of meals, babysitting to scrubbing the house from top to bottom and catering for large parties, all without time off and crap pay! They didn't dare complain and didn't even protest to being called house boy and house girl. As a child I actually thought that was an official job title!
By the way Jeremy, why don't you have a washing machine?

Anonymous,  5:29 am  

You are so hilarious!!! I can't seem to go a day without reading your blog.

:) Yewie

Anonymous,  6:39 am  

LOL...Isnt that just so funny! I cry for my mum every time I talk to her and she never stop complaining/yelling about the maids! I am always wondering she must be so good not to have high blood pressure.

The maids technically dont want to do anything, funny enough she's like I cant hire you and cook for you. Omg! Its so funny!!

Its a no-no! Maids dont have access to the personal rooms, keep most things at bay else you dont want to regret them coming some day!

Anonymous,  11:28 am  

LMAO!! How can a maid/cook be so meticulous.. hehehe he must be deceiving himself.
I think it happens everywhere.. At least the few good maids here in China can cook but to clean ??? bad news..
One can only be lucky to find good staff these days..

Anonymous,  11:46 am  

Pls don't get me started about my Driver...

sennyb,  2:32 pm  

methinks if they were as intelligent/resourceful/motivated/hardworking honest and loyal as we would all like hired help to be they would not be looking for work as domestic help at all or using it only as a stepping stone to a better future for themselves.

Anonymous,  3:01 pm  

Jeremy, I am sure you found him from the abuja expat list. As an expat who is not part of the embassy crew, i have stopped using recommendations from that list. Many that comes through them are over-pampered and expect so much in return for providing very little. I remember interviewing one steward who came highly recommended from a fellow American. He said he has two afternoons off a week (for personal stuff), plus he only works half -day saturday and no sundays. Anywork after 6.30 is over-time and he expects to collect N35k. I thought he was kidding me so I called the person who had recommended him and they confirmed that those were his hours and rates. Needless to say I didn't take him. For months and months, there was an advert up for his service. I figured that no one wanted to take him on. 4 months later, i recieved a call from him asking me if I still need a steward. The cheek of him.

I am sorry but I don't expect to pay more for a steward than a graduate. where am coming from cleaners don't get graduate wages. I know wages for graduates in Nigeria is abysmal, but paying that for a cleaner is just maddness.

It is nice to read your comment. Ask among your Nigerian friends. You won't find any hardworking ones from the Abuja list. So don't bother yourself. Imagine, expecting a washing machine. where to get water from, especially if you live in a place like Maitama?

Gbemi's Piece 4:30 pm  

Domestic staff as we know them might soon be a thing of the past. It's tough getting people to do the dirty work and that may not be such a bad thing. Maybe someone could take the initiative to train people to work in modern homes and ensure that in return domestic staff are not abused or overworked as is the case today.

Anonymous,  10:44 pm  

having visited the bakareweate household, I think they are perhaps a touch too liberal with their staff. J you know your staff are just plain rude especially your stream of drivers. you guys give them too much liberties (thats why they don't last).
try the naija way with them and see what happens.

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