We are so lucky to employ house staff here in Kenya and we try to make it a good give and take relationship where we help one another – however, I can’t help thinking that often our employees must think we are absolutely crazy.
The main thing that must drive everyone mad is my forgetfulness: ‘Gladys, have you seen my sunglasses?’ I yell as I run out of the door late for the school run again. Or worse: ‘Florence, do you remember that top I wore once, grey with a yellow flower? Well I have looked and I can’t find it anywhere?’ When I get home Gladys says: ‘your sunglasses were where you left them on the dining table, only they were under the newspaper you put on top of them.’ Or she might say: ‘Madam, they are on your head.’ Florence will say: ‘I found your top.’ I will say: ‘where was it?’ She will say: ‘It was in your drawer.’
A couple of weeks ago I trawled around all the drycleaners in the area in search of my daughter’s school blazer that I was convinced I had taken in for cleaning, only to have Florence then find it (dirty) misplaced in my younger daughter’s cupboard at the beginning of the holidays. On consideration, I did have a vague recollection of putting it there.
The gardener will tell me: ‘We need more dog biscuits please’ or ‘fuel for the mower’ and it will strike me like a bolt of lightning a week later that I have totally forgotten to buy them. The night watchman will ask for new light bulbs and I’ll say: ‘OK I’ll get them now’ then get distracted by something and forget entirely leaving him, quite literally, in the dark!
Sometimes I come home with odd things I’ve bought from the antique auction, like very old dirty books, or a funny old chipped mirror, which must seem strange. Other times I buy things like a pretty fabric, then just put it away in a cupboard and never get around to making anything out of it. I horde newspapers inexplicably and the amount of frivolous things that are bought by me at times makes me quite ashamed. My husband spending all his spare time tinkering with his arsenal of motorised toys in the garage, wearing his oldest, shabbiest clothes surrounded by bits of metal, wood, tools and rubbish must be considered odd, especially as he's doing it for pure pleasure. The big birthday parties with food thrown around by small children and a bouncy castle hired just for them must seem the height of indulgence.
The gardener in Dar es Salaam simply could not grasp the concept of composting and when I introduced the system here because I had learned more about it on my gardening course, it was tricky to explain: ‘Add vegetable bits, but nothing cooked, newspaper, but only if it’s shredded, grass clippings and hedge cuttings, but nothing thorny.’ Etc. etc. It also took time to explain that rubbish should not be buried or burned in our garden even though this is how it has always been done, especially not plastics. I guess that sadly, once officially collected, that the rubbish just gets burned elsewhere in Nairobi and creating toxic fumes for someone else to breathe.
Hosting the Hash House Harriers (the drinking club with the running problem), when I lived in Dar es Salaam was the strangest sight for those that worked in our house. Whilst a gang of foreigners setting out for a run at sundown may be nothing particularly unusual, the ritualistic drinking, singing in a circle and excruciating ‘down downs’ when we returned must have looked like we were utterly unhinged. In truth, I think we were.
The party we had in our garden at the end of last year ended at three am with a couple of surly lads getting involved in a drunken brawl (the cause of which is another story). I’ve since heard that only the best parties end in a fight and we blamed it on the Sea Breeze cocktail we’d plied everyone with at the beginning that tasted like pure fruit juice. Anyway, as these lads were enjoying fisticuffs in the garden, I gather that the night watchman was following behind, utterly bemused and picking up shoes and valuables that were flying in the fray. Perhaps he was wondering: ‘Whilst I’m trained to deal with armed intruders, breaking up invited guests who are fighting in the garden is harder to handle?!’