Sunday, January 11, 2009

Congolese Ladies

When we first got here, it was very nearly a complete sausage fest at the house. Male cook, male motorcycle driver, male errand guy, all male researchers here -- and I definitely felt the need for more of a female presence!

So when we knew Dido, the old cook, would be leaving and we needed someone to do our laundry, I asked specifically if maybe we could have a house lady! Sure, guys might clean the bathroom, but never to a woman’s standards! And our bathroom needed help!

The guys working at the house counseled me against Congolese ladies, but I think really that Congolese ladies get a bad rap!

I was told that we would eat late every day (dinner at 9pm!) and that they would be very lazy, and generally need a lot of prodding. Mind you, I was told this by Congolese men!

I’ve since hired two women -- one refills the water in the bathroom tank and does all the laundry and cleaning, and the other fills in for our cook when he goes on forest expeditions. And they have been GREAT!

Not only do we never eat at 9 pm, but they bring out dinner early, refill the boiled drinking water without us even having to ask, literally search out chores to keep themselves busy, and after we showed them how to make French Fries, they made them the next time even better. I’ve been so impressed, that I almost welcome the forest trips so that I can the replacement cook come in! She never gives me any headaches!

And it’s got me thinking that really, life for Congolese women is quite unfair. They’re expected to do all the cooking, washing, cleaning and care for all the children. They typically don’t get proper jobs and are completely dependent on the income of their husbands. In fact, one of our employees is sort of married to another, and when she first started working for us, he demanded that she be fired or else she’d get “uppity”!

I guess the overall gist is that I’ve been incredibly impressed, and I only wish that the women’s rights movement here had more support or momentum or even, interest. At least I feel like I’m doing my part, paying my female employees the same as the men. I don’t know if life will ever change for the women here either, and, depressingly, the only consolation I have is that they don’t know that it can be any better than this!

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