I lived in Nigeria when I was young (three to six years of age), but I didn’t have an interest in the topic of house help back then, and I don’t remember anyone around our house who wasn’t family.
My grandmother does not have house help. She has tenants and during our last visit she would ask her grandson or the daughter of one of the tenants to run errands for her. Because she’s such a special lady, most of the tenants seemed happy to help her with tasks that she’s unable to do anymore due to age. One of my aunts (the mom of these twins) has been particularly helpful to her mother-in-law over the years, helping her wash her clothing or do any heavy cleaning, like mopping the floors. The woman is incredibly hardworking.
I associate having house help with having money, probably because on both sides of our family, only one aunt (who is arguably the most well-off of her siblings and whose husband is a judge I think) has house help. If any of my other relatives have house help, I never saw them.
When I learned that some married friends my age (or younger!) in Nigeria have house help, I have to admit being surprised at first, but that was because I was comparing life in Canada to life in Nigeria, which you can’t do: very few people here have to consider washing clothing by hand on a regular basis, for example. Even if you don’t have a washing machine in your house or apartment building, there are laundromats where you can carry your clothing to and pay a fairly affordable amount to get the machine to do the hard work. Whether you decide to dry your clothing with the dryer at the laundromat or hang it to dry in your apartment or home, the hard part is over once you’ve used the washing machine. I’m not saying that washing machines and dryers for clothing (or dishwashers for that matter) don’t exist in Nigeria, but my impression on my last visit (based on the minute I spent in Lagos and the time spent in Ondo state), is that the average Nigerian citizen does not have easy access to these appliances (or do they?). Washing clothing by hand is labourious and exhausting, and I don’t enjoy it. I especially don’t enjoy washing jeans, which I attempted to do in 1994. Two years ago, I was a lot older and stronger, and I think I actually managed to wring a bit of water out of my capri pants and shirts before hanging them out (but you should have seen how much water dripped for a long time during the drying process!). I am seriously considering just bringing my dirty clothes back to Canada the next time I go to Nigeria.
It’s not common where I live to find someone my age with an average salary like mine with house help (or cleaning ladies, which is what most house help here are). My colleague and her fiancÃ© have a cleaning lady who comes in every week or two and does heavy cleaning, and the reaction from most who know is one of surprise, along the line of “what do they need that for; it’s just the two of them and they’re both able-bodied, fit people?” My colleague told me that since she and her fiancÃ© both hate cleaning they decided to put a cleaning lady higher on their list than the average person does. I mean most people wouldn’t turn down a cleaning lady…as long as the lady was reliable and not likely to steal their belongings and as long as they wouldn’t have to pay for the service.
Nannies (live-in ones) are equally uncommon here, except among wealthier folks. Maternity leave is one year here, and the husband can also take parental leave (though it reduces the length of the maternity leave). After that year, most parents put their kids in daycare while they’re at work, but when they come home they become the primary caretaker of their children. Some mothers (and more and more fathers) decide to stay at home until the child starts going to school full time. But maybe the idea of a live-in nanny just isn’t common here, since I know it’s more common in Europe.
But in Nigeria, it seems like many more two-income households have house help, including drivers, nannies and people who do anything from cooking meals to washing clothing. That’s all well and good but when an able-bodied woman my age doesn’t work and has house help, I have to admit it raises my eyebrow. That might just be envy on my part, though.
Did you have house help growing up?
Do you have (or would you get) house help (you have to pay for it!)?
If you have house help (in Nigeria or elsewhere), how did you decide that it was the right choice for you?