Over the middle part of January, my wife and I had to conduct an ‘orientation’ exercise for our new domestic employee. We had to get a new one because the previous help resumed for the first day of work after the Christmas holidays, went about her duties pleasantly (if not thoroughly) enough, closed, took a ride out of the estate with me, dropped off… and then never returned! No phone call, no text message, she wouldn’t take our own calls, just… poof! The only traces left of her, in the kitchen pantry, are a pair of bathroom slippers and one of her work outfits- a raggedy green top and an old black skirt.
So there we were, in the middle of the erratic harmattan weather, in dust-season, handling the first month flurry of attempts to recover from the Christmas bleeding, bent under the weight of January Justice (which stipulates that for every pleasure you bought in December, with money that should have been used for regular upkeep, in January you pay the interest!) and suddenly we had to concern ourselves with sweeping, mopping, bathrooms, toilets, laundry, making beds, trash bags, and dishes- OH, HOW I HATE DISHES (seriously, I mean, we’ve got a washing machine that handles the bulk of the laundry and I suppose a dishwasher may be a reasonable addition to our domestic appliances, but somehow, I don’t see it being up to snuff with the cookware used for the hard stuff- especially the palm-oil-based soups and jollofey, pottagey rices, beanses, and yams)!
I know not all of us grew up with maids and not all of us employ them even now, but I imagine this only really works where there is a full-time mommy on call (personal experience with home management makes me respect these women immensely), but in a case where both mommy and daddy work, the maid becomes quite the necessity. In a situation where you have children of school-going age, this necessity is almost absolute; while both parents are out hustling, someone has to be present to receive children after school, feed them, sanitise them and nudge them through such obligations as homework, chores and attend to the prodigious messes they generate, no? Not all of us have, nor should we wish for, that relative whose sole purpose in life is caring for our homes and children in exchange for room and board.
This leaves us with maids as our last resort and, being the entire premise of this conversation, let me state for the record that I am only familiar with the employment of house helps in Nigeria. I can only give an opinion on what I know, right?
The cheap option, which many of our contemporaries choose, is to find the under-age offspring of a needy family and put her to work in what usually amounts to domestic slavery. This is illegal. It is also wrong; for us, it’s not an option at all.
So now we turn our attention to the adult purveyors of the domestic trade, to whom we offer fair pay in exchange for fair service. I expect we can mostly agree that this is a ‘profession’ of necessity more than choice for most men and women who place themselves in the service of others and the needs of their homes. Still, it remains a choice, and one which should be bound by the rules of civilised, if not professional, conduct; but no, not so in this land- at least, not in my experience.
The issues are numerous, but I am focussing more on simple reliability here. I doubt that we will find one person in a hundred that can tell you truthfully that he/she has ever received TWO WEEKS’, not to mention a month’s notice from a maid that wished to disengage. What you are more likely to have got is the “Ma/Sir-I-wan-go-village-this-weekend-my-daddy-brother-don-die-and-my-mama-say-make-I-come” treatment. This is a conversation that invariably ends with you, 10-days-and-no-house-help later, calling your agent/village cousin/friend to find someone new to come in and carry out their own domestic drive-by.
If one considers the additional elements of malice, dishonesty, security risks, spousal seduction (yes, that!), pregnancy, health risks, and all-around aggravation, it seems to me that, in this one, special case, robots could be the answer to all our worries. With proper maintenance, they will be our efficient surrogate home-makers without all of the attendant irritations;
• Family Emergencies: robots will NEVER need to be granted permission to go off and attend to a suddenly sick mother or sister, or to midwife the birth of a nephew. They are blissfully unattached and don’t even need an ‘off’ day every month.
• “Am ‘aving ‘eadache”: robots are either functioning or they are not. There’s no wondering if you’re being scammed every time someone comes in with a scrunched-up face to tell you about the headache they have in ‘(their) left eye’ or how they spent the whole night crapping and feel weak. I find it especially annoying that they will rarely just come out and say they can’t work because they feel ill, but will outline a catalog of vague symptoms and wait for you to tell them that it would be better if they rested- as if they want plausible deniability or something.
• Diabolical Disappearances: robots will NEVER compete with your family for the food in your pantry/refrigerator and they have no use for your underwear or clothes. You’ll never have to deal with such suspicions when those disappearances occur that are like spiritual mysteries. You can concentrate on your children, your spouse or yourself and leave the maid out of it… and the pastor too, for that matter.
• Salary Negotiations: need any explanation?
• Spousal Suspicion: yes, that’s right! Robots aren’t trying to seduce your spouse behind your back! A whole generation of wives (and a number of husbands) can leave their spouses at home without having nightmares about what temptations they may be facing or, worse yet, succumbing to, with a nice greasy-smelling clunky mechanical maid in charge of domestic chores.
I hear the Japanese have made amazing strides in the area of janitorial robotics and I can only urge them to make even more… and quickly, too! There’s a market right here! I will be your first customer and loyal ambassador, and others will surely follow! Just make sure it doesn’t cost more than the going rate for engaging a maid in these parts, which, ahem, is, umm, about $800 per year.