February 26, 2008


Here’s something I was not prepared for: I have a cleaning lady.

Hilda comes to my rondavel once a week and cleans the place inside and out. Like many other people here, her English is spotty at best so it has only been in recent weeks, as my Xhosa has improved, that I’ve felt like I’ve really been able to communicate with her. In any event, cleanliness is more or less a universal concept and we don’t need to be able to understand the same language for her to do a great job on my place.

What’s been interesting is how having a cleaning lady has affected me. At first, I was intent that she not have to work that hard and that I neaten things up before she arrive. To an extent, I still do this but I am so used to having her around now that my behaviour changes in advance of her visits. I no longer make my bed on the day she comes, nor wash the dishes, and I frequently do my laundry on days when she is around because I know she’ll bring it in from the line and fold it.
On the other hand, as I’ve gotten to know her better and learn more about her family and life, I’ve become more generous with what I have. I’ve gone from never tipping her to (almost) always tipping her because I’ve realized that an insignificant amount of money to me is huge for her. I also make sure I have part of a loaf of bread that she can take home at the end of the day.