Everywhere you walk in Chipata you see white A4 printing papers detached to tree trunks with large headings ”Maids available”. You don’t even need to write down their contact details and give them a call, since they are already there.
The water at our work place is collected from a tab situated outside a building, a corner and few meters from our office door. I have received a sensation that nobody expects me to collect it…One morning when arriving at work before the dawn I decided to make an exception and fill an almost empty plastic pot in the outside tab since I had a terrible urge for my morning coffee and my urge would empty the pot for its next user. When holding the pot and walking towards the water source I felt like I was doing something almost criminal. It didn’t took me long to find out that the outdoor leading to the yard was locked. I stood there a minute just astonished figuring out what to do as I heard the voice that belonged to the car driver of our office behind me saying “What are you doing Anni?” “Trying to get some water but the door is locked”, I responded almost defeated. In a second he had taken the water pot from my hands, leaving me the only option of returning back to my working desk. I opened my laptop and tried to look busy as he rushed back to the office with the pot filled with water. “Here is your water Anni”, he smiles. “Didn’t I leave there any water the last evening?”, he asks with the most polite voice. “Yes, there was water, but I just wanted to fill the pot for others”, I am able to answer. His obvious hurry to fill the pot has left me feeling guilty and I am having second thoughts about my morning coffee with milk.
During a visit to a nearby village, where the organisation that I’m volunteering for was conducting its activities, I received some feedback from a middle-age woman that disturbed me for a long time. I didn’t write it down that time, but it went somehow like this: “We are extremely happy to have a white woman visiting our village. This brings us courage and self-esteem. We feel like our work is worth something since she listens to us.” While speaking she looked at me with a mesmerized look in her eyes.
One night at our house I was starting to prepare myself to wash some clothes. First it means that you go checking if there is water coming from a tab. If not, you wait a day or two. This night I was lucky and was able to fill a large bucket with (ice-cold) water where I added some washing powder. I dropped a dirty shirt into foams and made couple of lazy squeezes with it between my two hands. Couple of more quick movements and I was ready to rinse the shirt with cold running water in a sink and flood another clothe into the bucket. Suddenly there is the maid behind me asking with a stunned voice “But Anni, what are you doing?” “Washing some laundry” I turn to her.
“But that’s not washing, you need some help, I will show you”. She takes the shirt (that I thought I had just washed) from the sink dips it in powder and rubs it with hard force against its own fabric all the way through inch by inch. Then the same treatment the shirt turned the other way around. The water turns deep grey. “Ooh…that’s how you do it”, I lean my arm on my waist. She walks out the bathroom leaving me staring at a pile of clothes in a huge plastic bag.
I kneel the bucket between my legs and continue…