A noun with a name.

I have taken an extra week to build some “fodder” for my post as I began a new work position at the beginning of this month, that of a carer, hence the choice of the title. 

The Oxford dictionary states that a carer is: “A noun. A family member or paid helper who regularly looks after a child or a sick, elderly or disabled person… ‘The main carers are family members and friends and they require adequate support.’”

One could well assume that the role of “carer” is something that is an integral part of the blueprint of humankind. Not entirely true as some are naturally drawn towards the caring of others, mostly occupied in the vocation of nursing, whilst for some folks, caring is more of a learned process, usually through necessity.

Many carers are women, for whom the role is perhaps a little more expected and perhaps a little less conventional for men. That too is not necessarily true as there are many men around the world, who carry the title of carer, often those who have sacrificed their own life dreams for the care of a family member, or who are the most exceptional professional nurses.

Family members who take on the caring role are a special sort of human being. One would assume that it is easier to care for our nearest and dearest but, that too is not always the case. All too often the role of carer for a family member is fraught with tension, irritation, expectation and resentment. Much of the negative emotion, I believe, is wrought from a place of subconscious fear: the fear of losing the beloved family member. 

Nonetheless, a carer’s role is to relieve the stress, tension and pressure for the client in the comfort of their own home. This is often extended to the other members of the family by default.

For me, and many others, this is paid work, sometimes offering compensation for those more challenging clients; however, there is most often a benefit enjoyed by the carer, unwittingly provided by the client. In my case, being an “anonymous” buitenlander, I have no history with my clients, making my task a little easier, than for those with a longer association, in that my investment is more on a professional level which, in my case does not make it any less of an emotional one!

To say that my initial nervousness and trepidations have been laid to rest over these first two weeks, is mostly true. Not only are the clients delightful, gracious and grateful for my time and presence but they are equally generous with their compliments on the meals that I provide and the effort that I make with my best version of conversational Dutch!

The flip side benefit is that the clients are able to help me in return: they are happy to serve as my personal tutors with my quest to improve my Nederlands, which gives them a sense of purpose and a certain pride in still being made to feel useful.

The reason for my hesitance and reluctance to blog about this new occupation of mine, is that there is a certain guilt over the fact that I am not able to provide the caring service for my own family members, back home in South Africa.

This is due to the fact that we have the opportunity to live a new life in a new country, something that not all members of our families are either able to do, or want to do.

With this in mind, it is interesting to note that there are many South African women who, due to family and financial circumstances, have had to leave their families behind in order to take up the valuable role of caring abroad, mostly in England, from whence their ancestors left in order to explore a new life in a new and exciting “exotic world” of Africa.

Mostly, England is the country of choice for rendering their caring services as it is more familiar, not only in language, but also in culture, custom and food preferences. Many are able to obtain ancestral visas, allowing them to work legally, which also helps to ease the stresses of working so far away from home.

The lure of the strength of the British Pound, against the weak ZARand, these women are compelled to venture abroad, usually for three months at a time, to enter the private homes of the wealthy elderly who are in need of personal attention for their most basic needs, much of which is either unable, or unwilling, to be done by their own family members.

It was a recent post on social media, where a friend announced her departure from South Africa, to take up a position as a private carer in the UK, that elicited a response by a fellow South African saying that all the best carers are lost to their own because of the financial lure of a stronger, first world currency.

This leaves a serious vacuum where the elderly South Africans are mostly cared for in private care facilities, if their families can afford the fees. The fees are thus generated by the carers who leave the family in order to be paid a decent wage abroad, leaving their beloved family member in the care of others, less handsomely compensated, back home. And so the vicious cycle continues…

“… and they require adequate support.” is the part of the family member carer, in particular, that ought not to be overlooked. Once the carer is stretched too far, the wheels fall off and the whole carefully constructed system implodes. I have seen, first hand, the strain on a family member carer when fatigue sets in and the associated guilt when they are rended incapacitated and unable to perform the role that they have galantly taken on. Love and devotion is one thing, but self care is more important in order to continue as a caregiver.

The circumstances are what they are and we all make the best of them.

I am enjoying my new role, under the guidance and care of my dear friend and owner of the caring agency. I’m enjoying the interaction with the wisdom of the elderly and I’m rapidly becoming fond of the kind and gracious characters that have been placed in my path.

Some days are bright and others less so; some days are melancholic and others more cheerful; the best days are the ones where the earliest memories are triggered and tales of yesteryear are told as if only a day or so before, as is the “gift” of the ageing mind, one small delight to grab hold of on the arduous path of ageing.

I am now a noun, known by my name!

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