I have spent the last hour giving my maid instructions in the most basic of her duties – cleaning.
Yes, I agonise a lot about my househelp, but that’s because in Uganda we insist on getting people out of their muddy hovels in remote villages and bringing them to the city to help keep our tastefully appointed houses clean and orderly.
We get primary two drop-outs with no considerable history of interaction with electricity and charge them with operating flat irons, microwave ovens, electric cookers and, in extremely misguided cases, vacuum cleaners.
This is our reality.
Which is why my current maid – the first one I have found close to acceptable in decades of actively loathing domestic help – has had me frustrated for the last one hour of my life.
She is close to acceptable because unlike the numskulls I have hitherto employed in this most delicate of positions, she stands still and listens to instructions carefully. More often than not, she will say, “Uncle, I don’t understand.”
I am in no way related to her but these people have a tendency of calling you ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunt’, which I prefer to the first-name basis some people go for with their domestics.
But today I wasn’t taking a ‘me no understand’ from anyone. I emerged from my chambers to inspect the breakfast offering and caught her wiping the fridge door with a dirty rag – to be precise, a tea towel that has probably been in residence for a year or so.
Tea towels cost an average Ushs1,500 each (as low as Ushs500 if you are a sensible shopper but as high as Ushs6,000 if you insist on doing your shopping in high-end ‘malls’), and we have a policy of buying a couple every other week just so the crockery stays clean.
That policy is supposed to be complemented by a disposal system that should rid us of filthy rags such as was wiping the fridge door this morning, but the maids can never seem to get the point of throwing old things away.
Taking the lesson from the very top, I explained (again) the origin of man and disease, the risks associated with the ingestion of germs, the folly of poor hygiene, and the damage to one’s face that could be caused by the rapid acceleration of my hand with the full weight of my arm pivoting outwards as would have resulted if she did not immediately dispose of all tea towels older than three months old.
Thus, she grasped the point.