She's got high hopes
Before I moved here and had any semblance of a clue of what life is really like for the typical Kenyan wife, I scoffed at the thought of needing a house girl to help me take care of my home. It would just be the two of us, how hard could it be?
My resolution was further solidified during a visit to Maryland (our future home when we return to the States *woot woot*), when my Aunt Kathy passed on some advice from my late grandmother. My grandma used to get up really early with my grandpa to cook him breakfast before he went to work. Her reasoning: "If I don't cook for my husband, Sally down the street will." There's so much truth to that statement here, it's scary.
The problem with house girls
House girls generally come from financially struggling homes with the hopes of making money to help the family or to become less of a burden to their parents. They're generally teens or young adults and lack formal education. Some work at your home during the day and then go home. Others take on the role of the mother, almost entirely in some cases, and live in the home.
When you allow another woman to care for your children, your home, and your husband, lines start to blur. The husband usually begins to take interest in the woman who is always there taking care of him, and the house girl starts to feel like she has a right to talk back to his wife. It's no surprise then that house girls turn up pregnant all the time and house girl bureaus have to advertise that their girls are "honest".
I trust my husband totally, but I don't want any temptation of blurred lines in my home and I don't need to deal with the suspicions of whether or not her intentions are pure. Truth be told, since I'm home all day and Ray doesn't come home until the evening, I could hire someone part-time, but I'm too dang stubborn. I want to prove to my husband that I can do what Kenyan wives do, so I try to do it all on my own. I'm not sure that this will last forever, especially when we have kids, but for now I'll keep working out my housewife muscles.
The life of a Kenyan housewife
So you're probably wondering what is so difficult about being a housewife here that makes people feel the need to outsource. I'll share some of the things that I've either experienced or seen:
- Most people don't have refrigerators, so every day you have to buy fresh ingredients. There are small shops every 100 yards or so where you can get staple items, or you can go to the smorgasbord of a market and buy in bulk (we'll do a vlog one of the days on the market so you can see for yourself).
- Clothes are all washed by hand, and you need to have them out on the line to dry early enough in the day so you can fold them before nightfall. Right now it's just Ray and I, but can you imagine having to do that for an entire family?
- The shower and bathroom floor are one in the same (see picture in gallery), so you really have to stay on top of keeping the bathroom clean. You don't want guests stepping in your dirty "bathwater" when they use the toilet.
- Speaking of baths, sometimes the water runs out for a day or two. Depending on where you live and how long the water's gone, you may have to lug jugs of water to be used for cooking, cleaning, and bathing. To bathe when there's no water, you boil some and temper it with cold water. Then you wash yourself from a basin.
- If your children or husband get up early, you get up with them, feed them, and see them off. Ray leaves at 5am. Thankfully he's not really into breakfast, so I just wake up long enough to find his lips for a farewell kiss and pray for safe travels before my head becomes too heavy to hold up.
There's a lot more, of course, but I'm sure you'll hear me mention them in upcoming blogs and whatnot. Oh, one more thing... I stay at home so I can focus on writing, but other women typically have some kind of job or side business that they tend to on top of these things. Having a house girl is pretty much essential in their cases.
Creating our own cultural expectations
When we lived in the states for a few months, I knew that my days of lying in bed, eating junk food, and letting dishes pile up would soon become a distant memory. Natural expectations of being a wife required that I keep the house clean, cook meals regularly, and spend my free time with my husband. Living in Kenya has tremendously heightened the expectations I face.
To save us from being over-run by disillusionment, one of our mentors gave us this piece of advice: create your own culture within your home. This is probably the best advice anyone has ever given us and it has helped us adjust to one another regardless of the setting. People around us may expect us to act a different way (I feel the pressure to be a "Kenyan" wife all the time), but my husband never puts that yoke on me. In fact, he does what most Kenyan men would never do. He helps me with laundry when it becomes too much for me and he cooks over the weekend so I can have a break. That's become part of our culture. Adjusting here has happened quite fast for me, and it's really because of him. He truly is a blessing. Some day I'll be able to do a full load of laundry without complaining or quitting halfway through, but until then, I'm so thankful for the grace of God and my husband.