Friday, 29 May 2015

Cleaning Party

Being among the ‘haves’ in a country with so many ‘have-nots’ creates tension within me. How do I not hoard my riches but share them? How do I use my resources for my work, but also use them to empower those around me? How do I live with the fact that being white skinned, educated, employed, having travel insurance and Medicare card give me a constant material advantage over many around me? Where is the line between luxury and comfort, or between simplicity and a martyr complex?

One way of redistributing wealth that I make use of is through employing yard and house help. Yes, weeding my garden and cleaning my house are things I am more than capable of, but they are also the only job opportunity or skills that some locals have. By giving this work, and the government set wage, to them I am giving them the opportunity to earn their own way and support their family. I am also gaining the opportunity to build a relationship with locals, to sit and chat over a cuppa and to enjoy getting to know some lovely people who can teach me so much about PNG life and culture.

Recently, when I moved from a rental Ukarumpa home to my own home, I employed a party of cleaning women. They blessed me by making the previous house shine. I blessed them by giving five women a day’s pay to take home to their families*. A small price for a day of being surrounded by hard working women, plus a lot of chatter and laughter. Four women scrubbed every inside surface and one swept away spiders and washed the outside of the house. At morning and afternoon tea we all sat down over a cuppa and a biscuit for a break and a chat. At lunch we shared in food and then rested as they worked on bilums (string bags) and I read a book. The next day I put a mountain of cleaning rags through the wash.

At my new house I met Bina, the lady who has looked after this yard for many years. She did the gardening, I paid her, we chatted and a new relationship was started that I hope will continue for many more years.

At home I would not use my money to pay a team of cleaners or a gardener. Here I consider it a blessing to both me and the women who work for me to be able to do so. Some people sponsor a child, as that is their available avenue to share their wealth. In my situation, I have the privilege of being able to employ a matriarch, and even meet her kids and grandkids.

 Visiting Wamu (my usual house help) and
her family in the village one day.

*I’m not such a grot that it takes five women to clean up after me! Housing policy here is that a house rented more than six months must have every surface – walls, ceilings, drawers, cupboards etc- cleaned when you move to help prevent mould and to keep the house in top form for the next tenant. 

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