21 January 2007

Sunday Morning Parade

I just watched a parade of women workers march past my house this morning. They are protesting labor laws for domestic workers. Domestic laborers, usually women, aren't paid much to do some serious work that we pay a lot for in the US -- childcare, doing laundry, cleaning the house. I recently hired a young woman to come in once a week to wash my laundry and clean my floors and bathroom. I pay her $30 a week for one day a week(5 hours), plus lunch and bus fare, and feel guilty about what seems to me to be low pay. I spoke with Rebecca (another anthropology Fulbright in Moz. from UGA) before hiring Susanna, about what was a fair wage. My $30/week for one day/week is apparently considered a very good wage by local domestic workers. Paying more would be considered too much.

It really feels weird having someone do my housework. It is honest labor, and my own grandma cleaned other people's homes when she first immigrated to the US. But I feel like I am not paying Susanna much to do a lot of heavy work. The bathroom not so much (heavy work), but the floors and doing my laundry (especially)? I do wash my own underwear - having someone else do it creeps me out a bit - but laundry is done by hand in a big cement sink with a scrub board attached. Plus, all the laundry must be ironed just in case mango flies laid their eggs in it (they like to hatch and burrow under the skin). I know I'm getting a good deal because I did my laundry every night in various sinks and buckets the year Chris and I traveled around the world.

Susanna's mom works in the apartment next door. From what I can tell, the resident is a single man with no kids. Sra. Safiera washes his clothes, keeps his house clean, and cooks - she's there every day except Sunday. Other empregadas (domestic workers) in my apartment building watch the kids in addition to their other work. I've had 3 other people ask me about employment since I've hired Susanna. Compared to some I guess I'm easy to work for - plus I have cable. ;-)

Cable makes me smile, not that I particularly like TV, but because Susanna likes to watch Bollywood movies and Brazilian telenovellas during her break and while she is ironing. I didn't realize that I got Bollywood movies during the day. By the time I get time to watch at dinner, all that is playing are Bollywood music videos.

So why does it sit oddly with me to hire a person to do my housework? It frees up my time to pursue my research (Scouts' honor I am not surfing the web while Susanna works. I got a whole lot of data analysis done yesterday). It also provides employment for a local person, which is expected of foreign visitors. I think it really has to do with my personal struggle against gender expectations and being raised to be so freaking independent. Susanna is being paid to do something that I am capable of and normally expected to do - my laundry and house-cleaning. I had a friend in Oregon, a very busy NGO lawyer, who had the same issue when she hired someone to come in and clean her house for her. The first couple of times the cleaning person came, she cleaned her house first. Rationally, I'm paying for a service. Emotionally, I've been raised to do this for myself, and as a woman it is expected that I do these jobs. Living in a foreign country really forces you to examine your own biases - even if they are against yourself.

I don't think that I'd even be able to have this dialog with myself if I hadn't taken a course in Gender and Geography at UGA. I think that class was the first time I've ever really thought about women's roles and women's spaces. I did before, but the class provided a space to talk about it with other people - men and women.

A recommended read:

Domosh, Mona and Joni Seager. 2001. Putting Women In Place: Feminist Geographers Make Sense of the World. The Guilford Press.

The parade carried on down the street. The women workers singing, clapping, and dancing along. Two motorcycle "cops" in the front and a pickup with 3 more "cops" following behind. I counted only 2 men marching with the women (about 100 in all). I'm not sure what that signifies, but I hope that the women get some positive attention for their effort. I gave them mine - a wave and a thumbs up.

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