First world problems

I’ve written before about the particular experience of dealing with infertility whilst living in a third world context…. These issues are not enormously different to dealing with infertility elsewhere in the world, but there is a stark contrast between the lives of them (the poor) and us (the not poor), that hits you in the face at times (or often, depending on your sensitivity), and forces you to appreciate what you have, even when you don’t have what your heart most desires.

In South Africa, most middle class people have a domestic worker because the rate of unemployment is so high that people are prepared to work for a pittance and so most middle class people can afford help. Awful but true. My husband and I have a lady who comes to our house three times a week and goes to my mother in law on the inbetween days. She’s been with us for about two and a half years now and although she sometimes infuriates me (for example, she decided the carpet would be a good place to rest the hot iron), I am very appreciative of the work she does and the many ways in which she makes my life easier.

I am also deeply aware of the stark contrast between her life and mine. It cannot be easy to come into my lovely four bedroom home, which only houses two adults, a dog and a cat, when she can only afford to pay the rent for one room, which she shares with other people. It cannot be easy to see my fridge full of healthy food when she exists on a staple diet of cheap carbs. It must burn her inside to wash and iron my lovely clothes when she has probably never owned a brand new piece of clothing in her life. Many white people in South Africa will never fully appreciate the hardship that black people in general, but black women in particular, have experienced in the past and still do experience today. Anyway, I am starting to ramble.

My domestic worker is in fact Zimbabwean. She has the pleasure of having Robert Mugabe as her president and she and her family are therefore desperately, desperately, poor. She has five children, the youngest of which is 16. None of them are working. She is the sole bread winner for her entire family. To put it into perspective, I earn in one HOUR what it takes her an entire WEEK to earn. 6 months ago one of her sons had a baby. Last week he had another baby… With a different mother. More mouths to feed, more hungry bellies. More pressure on my domestic worker to produce everything from nothing. Zimbabweans are entitled to seek asylum in South Africa and are able to obtain a visa which allows them to work and study here. When she first came to work for us I took a copy of this visa, so I know she had it. In December she asked for a month off to go back to Zimbabwe, renew her passport and renew her visa. She came back two weeks early which we were surprised by, but her explanation… That there was no food at home… Seemed reasonable. It turns out that actually there was a problem getting her passport renewed and she had to leave early to take advantage of an opportunity to pay an enormous bribe to get back to South Africa. How do I know this? Because she was arrested last week whilst walking to work and stayed in jail for a week, phoning and crying and screaming for us to help her. And there was nothing we could do. We were told that we shouldn’t be employing her as she didn’t have her papers and we could be arrested and fined. We were advised to distance ourselves from her. So we sent money and food through a friend of hers and tried to ease her suffering in that way. She managed to get released after a week (I believe she paid another bribe but she denies this). And now she has no money left, no food, and no job because we can’t hire her back until she has her papers sorted out… But she can’t afford her papers because all her money has gone on bribing corrupt officials to allow her to do what she was legitimately supposed to be allowed to do in the first place.

And the worst and most ironic part is that despite my big house and seeming wealth, I have no money to help her as we have spent every last cent on trying to have a baby. I WILL help her, because I absolutely cannot watch her suffer, but I don’t actually have the money… I will draw it out of my credit card and pay it off when I can. And I know if I tried to explain this to her she would never believe me. How can it be possible that I can live in a big house, have someone clean my house, have lovely clothes and a full fridge and yet have no extra money?? As I said, I would never even try to explain it to her as she would simply think I was making it up. But it is true and the answer is simple… We have literally spent our entire savings on trying to have a baby and so although we can afford our day to day lives, we do not have savings for unexpected expenses. And yet because we have different incomes and different financial investments, we still afford a good quality of life…We’re lucky and I am very, very grateful.

13 thoughts on “First world problems

  1. Wow… the disparity is crazy. Both in terms of living standards and the ease of making babies. Yeah I would think that she probably won’t understand why you would need to spend money on making a baby. It just boggles my mind how on her income she could be the sole breadwinner and take care of so many people. I really hope that things will be sorted out for her.

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  2. I feel very uncomfortable paying domestic workers to do the things I don’t want to do. But I try to be friendly and agreeable, and do more than expected (pay gratuity, offer lunch, give them gently used items I don’t need, etc.)
    I don’t envy your position. And I can’t imagine the guilt that my successful African friends (ex: a family from Tanzania) must feel when they live comfortably in America, while the communities they come from live in abject poverty. I haven’t had the courage to ask them about their feelings about their situation in contrast to their family & friends in Africa. XOXO

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    • I know, I find being ‘madam’ as my lady insists on calling me despite numerous requests to use my first name, very uncomfortable. In sa it is a bit different as I do see it as job creation and truthfully, without it, she and many others would be even more destitute. But yes, she gets a lot of food, clothing and other extras to help her over and above her salary!

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  3. Wow, it is fascinating and heartbreaking the disparity that exists. The cost of baby making / adoption is outrageous, and while completely different context as I live in Canada, no-one understands it. Our professional family and friends have no idea how much we are stretching ourselves to afford the adoption bills, so I cannot even begin to imagine how hard it would be for the low income families in SA to understand how much money you guys have spent on treatments.
    I hope she is able to find a way to keep her family afloat, and I admire your desire to help her through this time.

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    • That is so amazingly kind of you… I’m bowled over by your generosity and desire to help a stranger. Thank you. I will not accept on her behalf right now though as she is trying to work things out and I feel she needs to do this on her own in order to empower her and prevent problems for herself down the line. Thank you again though.

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  4. Oh jeez, the poor, poor lady. It breaks my heart to think that there is such injustice and poverty in the world.
    I know what you mean about the money situation – we have a beautiful home and good jobs, but lots and lots of debt thanks to IVF and our wedding (which was WONDERFUL and worth every penny). We go on holiday to places like India where we get locals coming to us with asking for money for their sick relatives, or have charities asking for donations at the doorstep, and you feel like they must think you’re lying when you turn them away!
    But, you’ve just written a wonderful, heartfelt post about this lady’s plight. If only she could read it and know that she has such a caring employer 🙂

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    • Thank you! I sometimes feel so helpless as she is not very fluent in English and so conveying to her how I care is very hard. Aren’t we lucky to be ‘poor’ in the way that we are! My dad has a sign in his kitchen which means some people are rich, and some people have lots of moneyxx

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      • I know this is nowhere near the same thing, but I had a patient in ED, who was the victim of domestic violence and had fled her home and was brought in by the police for a physical. I could barely communicate with her, but, the fact that you actively listen and your body language etc can be enough to convey that you care. She will have picked up on this, and it will probably mean the world to her x

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