Tuesday, November 15, 2022

It Must Be Nice to Have a House Helper

 The issue of having a house helper is one that causes embarrassment and frustration for many missionaries. It feels extravagant to have a maid, especially if she works full-time, as is the case for many missionaries in developing countries. Some missionaries stalwartly refuse to have house help, and others hide their helper's existence from friends and supporters. Those of us who do share that we have a house helper have inevitably gotten the comment at some point that, "it must be nice," implying that we're living it up on the mission field with our maids and easy lives. And while, yes, it is admittedly pretty nice to not have to clean toilets, there's so much more to understand about why most missionaries have house helpers.

First of all, you have house helpers too, yours just aren't human. Your house helpers are the obvious ones like your dishwashers, clothes dryers, microwaves, and robot vacuums. And they're also less obvious ones, like:

1. Reliable water and electricity that you never have to think about, much less stress about things like collecting rain water to fill toilets, spending what feels like half your life on the phone with the electric company, making sure you don't use certain appliances when you're on solar backup for half of every day, and constantly checking the water tank to see if you have enough water to shower that day.

2. Central heating and air so you don't have to keep your windows open all the time, which leaves your entire house covered in dust and bugs, and living in a generally cleaner environment where the streets are paved and grass holds the dirt in place so your house doesn't get as dirty, dusty, and muddy. My entire house in Malawi has to be swept and mopped every single day, and it is still never clean. I never go outside barefoot, and yet my feet are always dirty just from being barefoot inside the house.

3. Quick, easy meal options, whether that is Chick-fil-A, doordash, or canned spaghetti sauce from the grocery store. Most missionaries live in places with few, if any, fast or convenience food options and cook everything from scratch, which takes a lot of time. House helpers often either help with some of the meal prep and cooking, or their assistance with other household tasks frees up the missionary to do all this cooking.

4. Family, friends, or reliable childcare. Many house helpers of missionaries with small kids also work as a sort of nanny and help with the kids. When there are no other reliable childcare options where you live, this help is invaluable.

5. One-stop shopping that is easy to drive to and is in a language you understand. Some house helpers help with shopping because it is easier for a local to navigate the markets and shops. In the markets, foreigners are often charged what I call the "azungu price," or the foreigner price, because in many cultures it is perfectly normal to charge someone more if you think they are able to pay more. Even if the missionary does their own shopping, it takes much longer and is often more stressful than shopping in your own culture.

6. Generally living in a culture that is your own and doesn't require much thought to navigate. You wouldn't believe the amount of time and mental energy that is consumed just from living every day in a different culture. Traditions, expectations, presuppositions, norms, and taboos are all different from what you know, and can be a minefield to navigate. This gets exhausting.

And while a house helper is often invaluable to relieving much of the stress listed above, they also come with some of their own stresses. Having someone in your house all the time is pretty awkward. Many personality types feel unable to relax in their own home until the helper leaves for the day. And as you can imagine would happen with someone in your house all the time and helping with your kids, house helpers often become part of the family. This is a beautiful thing, but it also means that their struggles become your struggles. Yes, you pay them a good wage, but when a child is sick, an uncle dies, fertilizer needs to be bought, or a roof needs to be replaced, they come to you for help. 

You're also an employer, a role that most missionaries have never had experience with before and don't particularly enjoy. You have to deal with them not showing up for work, managing what they're expected to do, having hard conversations when they aren't doing what they should, and all of the things a boss or HR person would usually deal with.

So the next time you hear a missionary mention their house helper and you're tempted to think, "it must be nice," remember that it isn't as simple as it may seem. Do we love our overseas lives and the work we do? Absolutely! Are we complaining about any of it? Not at all. Are we living in luxury with our maids and easy lives? Also not at all.

1 comment:

  1. Friend, your family is important and the things within are important! Well done for getting what you need to help accomplish what the Lord has called your family to! And thanks for sharing your heart so others can have a glimpse into your kingdom work! May the Gospel go forth in Malawi! -Roni Williams