An Uncomfortable Shame

“Madame, am I excused now?” my driver, a delightfully polite, hard working, short stature man in his 60s asked me.

I gasped, caught a little off guard.

“Yes, yes of course, please,” I almost pleaded, waves of shame and guilt rushing over me as I gave a man old enough to be my father “permission” to leave work for the day.

There are many things that I do not like about living in Lagos, but having domestic help is definitely in the top three.

Living abroad has taught me that perhaps the rest of the world doesn’t operate on a kind of inherent shame that Americans associate with having domestic help. American mothers attempt to “have it all” by working full time, taking care of children every moment that they’re off work, taking care of their adult babies (aka their husbands or significant others), exercising, eating kale, keeping their eyebrows perfectly arched, the list goes on and on…and so many American mothers do it alone.

I have learned that elsewhere in the world, living such a maxxed out and stressed life would be insane; lots of ladies unapologetically have domestic help. My domestic help, however, comes with apologies just oozing from every pore of my being.

I do not have kids, so I do the housework alone. I am now also taking an online meditation class and pursuing several career and hobby related interests. I still try to make time for the housework, however, but some days kind of get away from me, honestly.

I do not have a maid (here, in Nigeria, they’re called stewardesses), but I do have the required domestic help: a driver. It is not legal for me to drive here in Lagos and even if it were, I would probably never attempt driving here.

My driver is very soft-spoken, hard-working, and seemingly grateful. I save empty water and soda bottles for him to take to his wife, who uses them as containers for her homemade soaps that she sells at the market. He seems like a darling man.

But that doesn’t make me feel any fewer American pangs of both guilt and shame for having domestic help. How dare I, a thirty something, somewhat, or should I say mostly, able bodied woman, ask my driver to sweep and mop occasionally? I mean, what else am I doing? Shouldn’t I hop out of bed every  morning, just eager to go sweep and mop my own floors? Shouldn’t I sleep in my apron, so that I can make biscuits faster as soon as I arise?

The answer to those questions is NO. Aside from cooking, I would not call myself domestic. I like to cook; I hate to clean. I don’t iron; I only buy wrinkle free or polyester clothes. I hate sweeping and mopping. I do enjoy putting the laundry into the washer, but I hate every other part of laundry, especially the part when you have to take the laundry from the basket and put it elsewhere.

But even with that, I am trying my best. My driver seems to enjoy the two domestic tasks I have asked him to do; he now does them without asking. I still go along and do the rest of the domestic tasks, still fighting my own self-judgement for having someone else do literally anything else for me. Even though having domestic help should seem like a dream, I just can’t wait to go back home, full-time, and enjoy my dirty floors and overflowing baskets of clean laundry in unashamed peace.




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