Salambo discovering Ethiopia
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.