Leaving South Africa, land of colonial privilege for some of us with the wonderful help of housekeeper/s, I eagerly embraced the opportunity to do my own housework, my own way, or so I thought……(wry smile)
Before assuming that ALL white – apologies for the inclusion of race – South Africans are land barons, boasting a virtual Zulu Impi of scurrying slaves/staff, commanding and demanding immediate gratification for every whim, the record needs to be set straight: those colonial days are largely a thing of the past and many South Africans – regardless of colour – either do employ housekeepers or do not, much the same as in many other countries of the world. It so happens that in sunny SA, the numbers of ethnic African women who support their extended families through housekeeping work is larger than anywhere else in the world, hence the perceived privilege.
Without becoming bogged down in the quagmire over political, ethnic, racial, ethical, moral, humanitarian debate, I was one privileged to have had a housekeeper of the highest calibre in our very own domestic-goddess, Sylvestia Ndlovu, a.k.a. Goddess-Sylvi.
Sylvi came to our family 15 years ago when we had recently moved from Johannesburg to the small rural farming community of Nottingham Road in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands.
I had taken on the dream of an established retail outlet on the popular tourist route, The Midlands Meander, and found myself in dire need of help at home with our two young daughters requiring a proper meal each evening after school, along with all the other domestic chores of housekeeping needing to be maintained as my energies were being poured into making a go of the new business venture.
Sylvi was a God-sent through her talented seamstress sister Anatoria, whom I had been to see about a few alterations to various items of clothing. Sylvi was helping her sister as she was then unemployed. Without hesitation, she answered all my questions and presented herself at our home the next week. Sylvi, a mother to an only son, was capable, caring, clumsy, concerned, dedicated & utterly loyal – what a gem! She cooked like a cordon bleu chef, sewed the finest seam, cleaned like a demon, ironed everything that went through the wash, all without being hounded, nagged or lorded-over. She was always respectful and never subservient which in our home was essential since the “colonial-style” was not our style of employment.
In order to get to where I am today, I shall have to skip most of the very best of our Sylvi… so to the last days in our SA home where Sylvi, as always, was totally in control of all sorting, packing, tidying and distributing our worldly possessions (we arrived in NL with 2 suitcases each, leaving everything else behind, either sold or given away, all 23 years of our married life’s accumulations!) Sylvi asked me how I thought that I would be able to manage without a housekeeper “pesheya” overseas? She acknowledged that I was indeed a capable cleaner, strong, able bodied and not in the least bit afraid of hard physical work but SURELY Nkosazane, I would need someone to iron for me? I assured her that our new home was in a town and that we were literally leaving the dust of Africa behind us – dusting was definitely not something I was going to have to contend with in The Kingdom of The Netherlands where, at an average altitude below sea level, more water and rain than we could imagine, no dirt roads and certainly no farm yards within kilometers of our new urban apartment overlooking a peaceful traffic circle; dust was an inconvenience of my past life!
What a rude awakening! I’ve encountered more dust devils in NL than I ever knew existed and my question is this: WHERE DOES ALL THE DUST COME FROM???
(I’m sure that one would imagine that since I had not done my own housekeeping for so many years, I had simply not realised how much dusting had been done in our SA home – not strictly true as I had done my own house work for many years before Sylvi’s arrival and in between other dear housekeepers – so I was very well aware of how dusty homes become, especially with all the animals that shared those homes!)
Thankfully, the Dutch are extremely efficient people and I have discovered many wonderful gadgets, clothes, wipes, brushes, sprays and potions with which to effect the cleaning routines. Suffice to say my two most favourite cleaning items are: “schoonmaak azijn” (cleaning vinegar) – cheap as chips and earth friendly too, along with the “zwiffer” which is the Dutch version of a broom/mop/cloth that attracts dust devils with it’s static pad, swipes and wipes any spills and quietly cleans without generating more dust!
Sylvi was 100% correct when she wailed about me not having anyone to iron for me – I don’t even own an iron, nor an ironing board, as I’ve perfected the art of shaking creases out of damp washing, stretching tight over the clothes rack dryer and wearing creases with as much flair as I can muster!
I DO miss you Sylvi!