Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Domestic Bliss

Like most South Africans, we have a maid…well we call her our Domestic Worker. We’ve always had a Domestic Worker, as far back as I can remember, mainly because they acted like Nannies too and my parents would leave us with the DW while they worked in the city. We’ve only had 5 DW’s over the span of 25 years, and most of them were with us for long periods of time, essentially becoming part of the family.

I can remember days in my childhood, when Mother had to leave at 5am to go to work, only returning around 6pm at night. My Dad was responsible for breakfast before he left for work, and for bath-time when he returned…and on the odd occasion he even cooked Dinner. But the hours in between were spent with the DW at the time, her name was Pearl.

Prior to staying with my parents, I spent most of the first three years of my life with my Grandmother, which meant that I only saw my parents on the weekends. My mother couldn’t live like that any longer and decided that she’d rather get a DW to take care of us during the day so that she could be with us in the evenings. The weekends, actually every Sunday was family lunch day when my Mother with her eight brothers and sisters and their kids, gathered at my Grandmother’s home for a grand lunch. It remains a tradition until today, long after my Grandmother passed away.

Pearl was very nurturing, and regretfully, I drove her nuts. Once, I set the two-seater couch on fire and after battling with the flames for an hour, she sat on the floor crying. I felt as terrible as a five year old would feel, not comprehending the scope of the act or the consequences that would follow. I spent the next three months sitting on the floor watching old Lionel Ritchie music videos.

I can remember when we moved into our new house. I was barely 7 years old when Talita moved in with us. She stayed in the servants quarters, built especially for her. My sister was a 4 year old temperamental child who loved her tantrums and Talita’s anecdote was to reach for the handle of the broom, tap loudly on the trap door in the ceiling and call the boogey man. It was always enough to get us to shut up. I have the fondest memories of her. She took care of us, cooked and cleaned for us too. Then one of her children passed away in an accident and she had to leave for her home in Lesotho to attend the funeral. She never returned.

Anna joined us soon after that. She was with us for the longest period of time, 13 years. She came when my little sister Birdy was born. So in essence, Birdy grew up with her and whenever Anna left to go home for her three week break around Christmas, Birdy would cry her eyes out. When Anna returned, she would run into her arms, glad that she was back.

Maria came to work for us about 8 years ago. She’s a short, stocky, feisty, 54 year old woman. She doesn’t have to work, but she does to keep herself busy, and to earn a little extra money for herself. She chose not to live with us, well it’s not necessary since she works for 4 days a week. She has her own home too, not too far away, and 4 grandchildren who live with her. Maria is also a Preacher at her local Methodist Church and her weekends are filled with all kinds of Church activities. From all the DW’s we’ve had, she’s certainly the most inspirational, most independant and the most entertaining.

Maria says that she was called to the Church two decades ago. She taught herself to read and write and decided to go to college to study preaching. Two years later she graduated and began her mission. Unfortunately, preaching doesn’t pay, so she had to become a DW to pay the bills. Now she does both, and together with her natural wisdom that comes with age, and her preaching prowess, we have a force to reckon with in our household. Maria is a fountain of knowledge, from times old, and she has no qualms about sharing her opinion.

She is curious
Maria: Haai, what is that?
Azra: It’s the Internet, this is Twitter. I can talk to my friends here.
Maria: Why they don’t come visit you, then you talk like the normal people?

She is informed
Maria: What’s this?
Birdy: It’s a movie called ‘It’s a boy/girl thing’. See that boy’s soul is in the girl’s body, and the girl’s soul is in the boy’s body.
Maria: Oh, it’s a Caster!
Birdy: (Laughs) No, it’s not like Caster Semenya, but similar.

She is demanding
Maria: Hey, wake up, I want to clean the room.

She is concerned
Maria: Ay, Azra. Why you sitting here. Go put on your nice dress and take a walk. Walk in the streets so the men can see you and you will find a husband quick.

She is faithful
Maria: Azra, come here, lets pray. Then you find a good job.

She is naïve
(While watching Bad Boys)
Maria: (Screaming) HEY! WHAT! HAAAI! NO man. NOOO! He kill that man. HOOO. JESUS. HAAI man!
Birdy: (Laughing) Maria, it’s just a movie.
Maria: No man, it’s a nonsense.

She is insightful
Maria: You see that man there, he wears all the chains on his neck? That man is not a good man. He likes the women. Look, see how he walks. And he is old man, but he wants the girls, the school girls. He walks with money. Sies man.

She is supportive
Maria: Hey, I see your sister, she got a boyfriend.
Azra: It’s not her boyfriend Maria, it’s just her friend from University, he’s lending her book.
Maria: Haai, I tell your Mother she must make wedding, then book live with him.

She is wise
Maria: You see my culture, my culture and my religion is not the same. But I’m a preacher. God comes first. So I must know my culture, but I can’t follow it. Because the Methodist Church, we don’t have the ancestors. It’s just the God. The ancestors is what you call this…erm Blasphemy.

She is righteous
Maria: I tell the people, you see God, He is watching you. You cheat, you lie. You will never be orite. Never.

She is conscientious
Maria: This Government, they like too much money. We suffer. The people, we suffer. There by the township, they have no water. But the government, they eat. They eat every day because they only worry about their stomachs.

She is outspoken
Maria: Come, take me home now. I’m tired.

Needless to say, Maria’s presence in our lives is an endless source of entertainment and amusement for us all. In retrospect, every one of the Domestic Workers that were a part of our lives contributed to it significantly. They were our substitute Mothers, leaving their own families and children, to take care of us. Not only did they take care of us, but they took care of our home, property and possessions, until our parents came home. They were the ones keeping the fort together. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.


  1. Wow, that's awesome! We need our own version of Maria...or you could just send her here to us! Hehehehe...

  2. that maria, she seems to be a keeper.

    and your experiences with all the DWs is very touching, heart warming in fact.

  3. oh an imagine what she would say if she had to read this post?! im sure it would be a cracker of a line!

  4. Meatbag - LOL, she'll eat your head up. Very independant, she has her schedule for everything. We dont need to tell her to do anything, she'll even polish my shoes without being asked. But it has to be in her time. She hates being told what to do :P

    Prixie - They have been as much a part of my life as most of my family members. And whatever we experience or go through - the good and the bad - they share with us too. Maria is a Feisty gem. She once asked me what was this...I told her about my blog, I explained it to her as a free newspaper, anyone can come and read my things. She was very impressed and howling when she saw my profile picture LOL!

  5. As always Azra, this is inspiring :) Thank you for this lovely post!

  6. Why does evryone have a Maria?...lol

    Well my favourite was our Gloria(who is now late.-Bless her soul)

    The best part was watching my middle sis and her fight....She would take out the dish cloth and wack my sis on her behind

  7. oh oh oh!! i liked this post.
    It made me think of Hester, who noticed my contact lenses and asked 'what wrong with your eyes, they're green. Are u sick?"

    and another who was from Cape Town. Her husband needed money for alcohol and sold her false teeth (which had lots of gold on it)

  8. Princess - Thank You :)

    Mini - Its not only Maria...its Anna and Elizabeth too :P

    Hasina - LOL. Once my little sis was sick, curled up on the floor from a tummy ache and Maria made some concoction from Dutch medicines and shoved it down her throat. She says she was half unconscious and just felt something very bitter go down her throat, bitter enough to wake her up and pull her face. But she was fine soon after that :)

  9. I love how she Maria said, "talk like THE normal people" when she saw you online. Brilliant.
    This post made me lol a few times :)

    But really Azra, setting the couch on fire?? LOL!

    My friend's DW was awesome She gave us a lot of advice leading up to our nuptials and used to tell us, while we watched Days of our Lives together, 'Don't get a man like Stephano.'

    Haha, my mum's ex-DW made me laugh after I got engaged.

    Me: Elise, what you think of men?
    Elise: They rubbish. They make you pregnant and leave you with the babies. We must shoot them I think.

    Elise left to fill an awesome job at a sweet factory.

  10. I am making way too many typo's nowadays and forget to read before clicking on 'submit'.

    I apologise Azra :)

  11. Fatima - No apologies necessary :) What can I say? I was a curious child and that specific day, I was curious to know what would happen if the flame caught on the couch :P

  12. looooll she sounds fab! Same as our domestic worker Sana- i gave her so much trouble whilst i lived with my inlaws.. kinda really miss her sometimes. She calls Abdullah, "The Noise." looll- but she loves him to bits!