Wednesday, 24 April 2013
Part of life as an expat in PNG is negotiating the expectation that you will have house and/or garden help (haus meri and yad man/meri). Paying someone to do my housework or gardening for me does not come naturally. At home, to pay someone to do these things generally means you have a lot of money. Paying someone as the expat in a developing nation feels like neo-colonialism, something I generally want to avoid.
From a local perspective though, paying someone to do these tasks is a way of connecting with local people, supporting the local economy and sharing my comparative wealth with those around me. To not hire someone is seen as a very selfish act.
The house I am living in came with a highly recommended yad meri, Wamu. In the months I’ve been here, I have enjoyed getting to know her as we share lunch one day a week. It has been my primary time to practice speaking Tok Pisin and a good way to learn more about the Valley where we live. PNG culture is relationship based, so our sitting and chatting is an important part of the day. Yes, the power differential of employer-employee remains, but it is made less important over a cuppa.
I understand that in some countries, the help are people who you do not relate to, a lower class who work but are not known. That is certainly not the case here. I would truly struggle with having paid help in those circumstances. Rather, people are pleased to have work and be able to provide for their families. Here, I am slowly coming to terms with yard and house help as a part of life that also comes with a weekly hug.
As yard and garden help are all casual employees, their income is precarious in this transient community. As I value Wamu and do not want her to be suddenly without income, I find myself negotiating ways for her to still work when I am away by giving the shed keys to my neighbours. This is in return for having their shed and house keys while they were away recently and unlocking for their haus meri and yard man. I’ve also been looking after the keys for another friend who is away, another garden where Wamu works, to keep her with two days of employment in a week.
As we build a relationship, I am finding other small ways to support Wamu. When I want to buy a chicken for roasting, I try to purchase it from someone in her family. When I have some local craft I’d like to purchase to send home as a gift, I prefer to do so from Wamu. In these little ways I can support one person and her family a little more.
At this point I do not have house help. I live in a small house and can keep up with the housework myself. As it is generally known I don’t have a haus meri (this sort of detail really is generally known!) I often have local women angling for the job. Several of them are recommended by friends that they work for, but garden help is enough for now.
Wamu ensures that when I get home, the jungle has not reclaimed my yard and I ensure that Wamu goes home with pay to help support her family, and so it is that we can support each other.