Person who lives in U.S.: Wow! Great Pili-Pili. Who did you say made this?
Me: Mama Vida made it. She's our...Lou Lou's...the woman...the person...
Usually, I end up saying that she's "the person who watches Lou Lou", and often, "our nanny" but it usually takes me a bit to get around to it. Do I define her using the possessive "our"? Does "the person who watches Lou Lou" give her anywhere near the credit she deserves? She's one of the people who knows us best, but do I call her a "friend"? We love her, but does she love us? Is this business or relationship?
(This article touches on these feelings. Reading about "The Other Mothers of Manhattan" is what got me writing this post...)
Mama Vida is an essential and central person to our life in the Congo and I want to give a proper description when I talk about her. I just almost always do a bad job. I worry that people will think that if I casually throw around "our nanny" that I sound impossibly privileged (which I am). I used to secretly think that my third-culture-kid friends were kind of awful when they mentioned the slew of housekeepers, nannies, and guards that surrounded their childhoods. Especially the former missionary kids. Really? Missionaries who have house help?
Now, I don't judge so much on this topic.
Mamas Vida and YouYou have helped me get over any qualms that I might have identifying as an employer. When a TASOK resident chooses not to hire a gardener, housekeeper, nanny, or other possible house worker, they are all over that situation. They want to know why. They know the perfect person for the job. Why would someone at the American school not want to provide a job if they have the opportunity?
For us, we consider worker salaries the best money we spend each month.
When we left Kinshasa for the summer, Mama NouNou pulled me aside to tell me how the income she makes working at our house has changed the way her family lives. Not dramatically, but enough to allow them to stop just figuring out how to just get through the day and start thinking about the future.
NouNou (a trained chef/caterer) told me all about how she wants to start a system of portable lunch trucks. She noted that many of the mass employers don't provide lunch options to the workers. And because the factories are self-contained, it isn't easy to just walk somewhere to purchase a quick meal. She explained how this would be a woman-owned, woman-run business, giving jobs to some of the most-vulnerable, least-employable populations: the older women and mothers. Because it would be lunch-only, mothers could be home in time to meet their kids after school. Older women could watch the babies while the younger women cooked, served, and washed up. They would serve a simple menu of old favorites: fufu, pondu, baguettes, and beans.
Basically, NouNou has re-imagined the food truck scene for Kinshasa:
|Original logo from the Philadelphia Food Truck Association.|
I think Sarah and I will help her write up her idea into a proposal this Fall and submit it to Le Fonds Pour Les Femmes Congolaises for business support and funding.
She would rock the Kinshasa lunch scene.
I sort of hate myself for writing this piece. I hate to imagine painting myself as the wealthy benefactor, waxing eloquent about how I've made life better for "my workers". Ugh.
But, I also want to crazily appreciate everyone who helps us in Kinshasa. Yes, it's a business arrangement. Yes, there are power imbalances. No, I don't know how to exactly define our relationships. But, I really hope it's good for everyone involved.