In Cairo, a lively debate was had amongst a group of expat ladies about what we called our, well, housekeepers/live in nannies come housekeepers/cleaners/or, gasp, the word English speaking Egyptians use: maid. Straight off the bat let me say that it is considered downright stingy to the point of rudeness to be able to afford um, a woman-what-does, and not employ one. That’s right. If you can afford a [insert here your term], then, socially, you must. This not a relic of colonial times dragged out by the modern Western expatriate community reliving some former glory (that they mostly weren’t part of in the first place), but an informally formal social system that functions in place of a governmental welfare system. If you do not employ the widowed cleaner, she will have a very hard time feeding her family.
Never mind the never ending nightmare of Cairo dust exacerbated by ill-fitting windows…
Having lived within this social norm for the whole of my life since graduation, I am back in “The Real World” as Mr S (I would almost say that stands for Smug here..) likes to say. I am not a stranger to a dustpan and brush, nor a ghastly toilet brush. Not at all – and for that very reason, I delighted in the fact that if I planned a dinner correctly, I could leave everything in the kitchen and the next day, by about 9.30am it would all be either in the dishwasher (yes, I’m that lazy) or (if I wasn’t that lazy) back in the cupboards. I revelled in the joy that is neither washing nor ironing my clothes, even if that did mean a shrunken cashmere sweater and whites turned pink on the odd occasions, precisely because I knew what what an annoyance it is to do it myself.
So, now in The Real World, I find that in order to keep our modest apartment clean, it takes at least an hour a day. There is DUST. Shocking really that wet, cold midwinter, with our windows almost always closed and the nearest desert about 1000 miles away, that there should be so much of the bloody stuff.
And then there’s the ironing…
What I cannot quite get my shrunken-from-the-cold-head around is how people actually manage to have a reasonably clean house AND work AND have kids (and not have any form of outside help). So, inside my temple of delight (aka a library with books in English) I found my Christmas reading: