I’ve never been very comfortable about having servants. I don’t like the use of that word – it sounds part colonial, part racist. In my mind, words – or rather concepts – associated with “servant” (to mean domestic help) are: dignity, respect, equality (the lack of); exploitation, arrogance, even – this is a harsh one – ownership.
So, if you ask me, I’d never say I have two servants. I have domestic help. I have “girls” who come and cook and clean the house. I think of them as employees, and I try to treat them that way. They get Sundays off, one paid holiday a month, pretty much unlimited sick leave provided they inform me beforehand, and one of them even got a couple of months’ unpaid sick leave (that is, I didn’t sack her) which is practically unheard of over here.
But I’m not comfortable about having servants and treating them like servants. I mean, you sometimes see families in clubs, restaurants, even at birthday parties or at the park, with an ayah (child minder) in tow to help with the kids. Sometimes it’s two parents, one child, and an ayah. The ayah sits at the table, eats, feeds the kid, is basically treated like a member of the party, but she is an ayah. I don’t know if the parents are uncomfortable about the presence of an ayah, but usually you can see discomfort written all over the ayah’s attitude at being in an unfamiliar environment.
I am not passing any judgement on people who trail their ayahs around them – I’m only saying that I could never do this. There’s something very weird about treating as an apparent equal someone who you obviously do not think of as an equal in the social sense: “You can sit at our table, you can eat what we order, you can use the cutlery and the napkins, but remember, don’t go getting above yourself, you are just an ayah.”
Another thing that makes me thoroughly uncomfortable is having the domestic help privy to, and part of, all your personal discussions, all your family events, celebrations, and outings. I don’t like the idea of living my life in front of “servants” as though they have eyes that don’t see, ears that don’t hear, and brains that don’t think.
So it’s inevitable that when it comes to taking care of the kids, employing an ayah is not something I’m at all enthusiastic about, even though there are so many practical benefits.
Now that we are applying for admission to school for the twins, we also have to think about how we’re going to manage dropping them to school and picking them up, if we don’t get them into one of the really nearby schools. Send a driver and an ayah in a car? Well, it’s certainly practical and I’ve seen lots of such driver- and ayah-equipped cars arriving at the local school… but I just don’t think I can do that.
So apart from playing driver-cum-ayah myself, which is not a terribly fulfilling role, what else can I do about this?