Salambo in Addis

Salambo discovering Ethiopia

Job not permitted

There are days I really have no inspiration to write so limited my life in Addis feels. If I didn’t constantly make an effort to get out to expose myself to the city, facing the stress of the erratic traffic, my life would be reduced to a triangle of places: home, school and the Hilton swimming-pool (maybe four places if I include the Alliance ethio-française, and that’s it!). Especially now that we’ve visited all the places we had planned to visit this school year, I feel a bit of a void: nothing to discover, nothing fun to keep my mind occupied, no cinema or other cultural distraction to take my mind away, only the very monotonous daily routine of the expat life in Addis. I need to specify that I am not allowed to take employment while living in Ethiopia. It is stamped on my residence card.

To add to it, I had once again to deal with domestic staff issues. One of the maids I let go a few months ago after we encountered problems of theft in our house, asked me her job back. I was in a bit of  a dilemma as I still believed she wasn’t responsible but because I didn’t know who was to blame, everybody working inside the house (mainly the maids) had to go — that’s the way it works here. Unfortunately, we found out later that one of the guards was the culprit, so he consequently lost his job. Only one member of staff stayed with us: the babysitter because she was on maternity leave when it happened and couldn’t have been involved. She has been back at work since and got one of her friends to help her. As it turned out, the arrangement didn’t work out for me in terms of efficiency at work and communication (the new maid only spoke amharic which was difficult for me to manage). So when the former maid, Alem, asked for her job back, I was yet again in a dilemma: she is very competent and organised in her job and speaks reasonable english so I was happy to take her back, but in order to give her back her job, I had to ask the newcomer to leave. What I didn’t know but learnt then was that she had left her job to come to my house, so more to the dilemma! On the advice of an Ethiopian friend who helped me with the translation, we had a big staff meeting where everybody could give their opinion on what had happened and decide if it was fair that Alem had lost her job. As it happened, they liked the idea of an open meeting where they could discuss their respective issues. They all agreed that she should get her job back. I also took into account the fact that she has four children as well as other members of her family to support. In Ethiopia, it is a big stigma to be fired from a job, even with a payout as was the case here. They care as much about their reputation as the money received. The whole community knows about it, the person can be ostracised and never find another job because of community pressure and talk. I didn’t realise that at the time, I came to understand it in the course of our meeting.

I did find this constant shuffling of people and energy in the house emotionally tiring. I still find it difficult to adapt to the reality of my social status here. By moving from Europe to Africa, we jump social class overnight, becoming the local equivalent of a wealthy uptown family with a myriad of domestic helpers, driver, gardener and so on….but we don’t know how to fit into this new status because we haven’t grown with it…..or maybe it is just me, feeling really uncomfortable with it; it could also be that I focus too much on it, because my horizon is so limited here, no matter how hard I try. With all the restrictions I have, I am still trying to figure out a way of turning this experience into an opportunity. Not easy.


7 comments on “Job not permitted

  1. oeildecat
    May 22, 2013

    Bon courage. Ne pensez pas à ce que vous avez perdu (votre job, la possibilité de multiples activités), seulement à ce que vous avez gagné ou pouvez gagner (nouveaux horizons, enrichissement culturel, etc.). Vous êtes écrivain/journaliste, alors lancez-vous dans le vide, écrivez le roman que vous n’avez jamais eu le temps d’écrire, ou que vous rêviez d’écrire lorsque que vous aviez quinze ans. Jamais une telle occasion ne se représentera et avant même que vous ayez le temps de dire ouf, la vie, certes captivante, mais avant tout éreintante, du monde occidental vous aura reprise.
    On the other hand, what do I know?
    Bon courage et continuez à nous envoyer vos billets: ils sont passionnants!

    • Salambo
      May 23, 2013

      Merci, oeildecat, c’est toujours bien d’entendre (ou lire dans ce cas) une vue extérieure!! Bien sur, le grand roman, ça fait vingt ans que j’y pense (et j’avais bien plus que 15 ans il y a 20 ans :))…mais il faut se mettre au travail!! Ma grande difficulté ici, c’est de me laisser envahir mentalement par tous les problèmes du quotidien, qu’il faut bien sur gérer, mais qui m’empechent d’avoir l’esprit libre. Je sais bien que j’ai devant moi une occasion unique, mais je dois changer quelque chose dans ma façon d’appréhender les choses pour en faire une véritable opportunité……en attendant, je m’échappe souvent en Italie sur votre blog!!

  2. Ariane
    May 22, 2013

    Sorry to hear that you are feeling down. When you will be looking back on this experience, you will realise how lucky you have been and how much this has enriched you as a person. You are lucky but I suppose it’s not always easy to look at the bigger picture when it’s a daily routine. We look forward to seeing you soon!!! Ariane+family

  3. Bitania
    May 23, 2013

    Yedelaw muk Yanikal …ale ye hagere sew. Ask one of your Ethiopian friends to translate this to you. Think about your position.
    You’re an expat in Ethiopia. How many people are afforded to live the way you do? You get to frequent Hilton hotel and Alliance when you want. You don’t have to work. yet you complain.
    Think about Alem Your maid and family. How would their lives be changed if they had half of the opportunities you have.

    • Salambo
      May 23, 2013

      Thank you very much for your comment Bitania, I appreciate what you say. Firstly, to answer your point, I do think about Alem and her family, I have written a few posts on the topic if you look back on the blog.That’s why the whole story was such a dilemma for me. I am also helping her daughter with her university studies (in Jimma), hoping that she will be able to graduate and get a much better job than her mother. I am myself the grand-daughter of immigrants, my grand-mother could hardly read, so I am very sensitive to the issue of social positioning.

      Having said that, your view of the expat life is somewhat pre-conceived, yes we do have a comfortable life not having to think about the next dinner and going to the Hilton whenever we want, and we are aware of it, but that’s not the point. I was raising the issue of being restricted in one’s life because of circumstances. This is a consequence of globalisation and a problem that many couples face today, whereby one of the spouses’s job takes over, the whole family has to move around the globe and in order to do that the other spouse (the woman in 90% of the cases) has to sacrifice her own career and personal fulfilment to provide the backup to the main earner’s job and the whole family. Of course, it is a question of choice, a couple can decide to stay put in one place or live separate lives so both can work, but this is not always possible due to corporate pressure to be mobile. Here, I am talking about the void it creates on a personal level, when suddenly, one’s horizon is limited to a house, a school and a pool. Most of us, spouses, have spent 20 years studying hard at university to get the best degrees, working hard to build up a career while at the same time bearing children and raising them, so of course it is painful to suddenly have to adapt to a life void of all sorts of outside stimulus. It requires a lot energy and a change of mindset to turn it into an opportunity, and that is the challenge I was trying to describe. It is too easy to say that we shouldn’t complain about our life just because it is materially comfortable. I believe that to be complete as a human being, we shouldn’t ignore our personal development just because of material ease and the fact that we are lucky to have a family. On the contrary, we should use this opportunity to aim higher. I realise also that we represent a tiny proportion of the global population, maybe not even worth mentioning, however, it remains an issue especially in the aftermath of the women liberation movement. I have daughters myself, what am supposed to teach them and show them as an example: study hard at school so you can go to a good university, do your best there and complete with extra-curriculum activities and languages so you’re in good position to get a good job you will enjoy, put in all these efforts, and then when you’re a mum yourself you’ll have to give it all up because your spouse’s job will take over and you will have to raise your children? NO, that shouldn’t be a 21st century view!

      Finally, to set the record straight: I do continue with my work but in order to do that I have to get out of Ethiopia on a regular basis, leaving behind my children…needless to say that when I do that, everything slips: homework, activity, etc (things which cannot be easily delegated)….as their father (my spouse), who is already doing a lot on top of his demanding job, cannot do everything either.

      • oeildecat
        May 27, 2013

        You are very much expressing what most of the wives feel when they follow their husband in a developing country where they are not allowed to work. I have known the exact same situation, I was younger and it was very hard for me to cope with it, all the most that I had chosen myself an expat profession that I had to give up. I should admit that I was not mature enough to take the best side of the chance I had and saw only the difficulties. Without entering into unnecessary details, I think it costed my marriage. So, I really appreciate your answer.

  4. Salambo
    May 27, 2013

    Thank you for your precious comment, Oeildecat, and thanks for your prospective on the situation…It takes a lot of energy and openmindedness to change one’s way of seeing things…I think that’s one of the biggest challenges we face in an expat life: to reinvent oneself and find a new identity, and above all to look at the opportunity rather than the difficulties….not easy as you know!

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