How Downton Abbey prepared me to live in Africa

downton-abbey-season-4-ftrIf you know Team Osweiler, you know we are not fancy people.  We usually can take care of ourselves and don’t mind if a thing or two around the house is out of place.  However, we are also very obsessed with watching the TV program Downton Abbey.  Perhaps it’s because we enjoy the escapism of another time and place with other problems and complication.  Either that or we miss England terribly and can’t wait to get back there some day.  But whatever it is, I am glad for our obsessions.

You see, at Downton there are rules when it comes to Upstairs life and Downstairs life.  Service is not a position to look down on, it is a job to be respected.  People take great pride in their work and the running of a household.  Of course, the Crawley Family is rather kind and gracious to their staff, which I’m sure was not always the case back in the day, but none the less, there is a lesson to be learned by us in the middle class who find ourselves thrust into an upper class lifestyle.

Here in Niger, Team Osweiler is in the upper class.  No, we don’t have butlers, ladies maids and valets, but we do have house staff.  Even before we moved into our home, it was highly suggested we find domestic help for cleaning, cooking, laundry, gardening, etc. and I was one to be very hesitant.  “I can clean my own house,” I thought, “and cook my own food.”  Little did I know the extent to which these tasks could very easily grow.

However, it’s not just about the cooking and cleaning in this lifestyle.  It’s also about creating jobs in a place that is difficult to find good work.  We hired a housekeeper who works three days a week here and three days at another home.  She cooks the most wonderful meals and works very hard to keep the house in top shape.  Our gardener is here every morning watering our plants, washing the car and taking care of the pool.  They have great pride in their work and I find that it is an honor to be able to afford their service.

At Downton, service is not about working against one’s will, it is about the ability to do one’s job to the best of one’s abilities.  As an employer, if I do not find the respect in that, then I am just another prat who is able to throw some money at a lowly servant.  I learned about the responsibility of the upper class to use money to create jobs for the community, rather than lock it up in a bank account, never to be seen.  Perhaps if we had more wealthy people investing in the working lives of others and not hoarding millions for what reason, to ship it off shore and avoid being taxed?  Maybe the Crawley Family can teach us all a thing or two about what it means to be wealthy.

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3 Responses to How Downton Abbey prepared me to live in Africa

  1. Priscilla says:

    Bravo! If only others had your insight.

  2. AJ says:

    We haven’t hired a maid here in Ecuador. I do believe there are more jobs to be had for local Ecuadorians, so our not hiring anyone doesn’t feel like I’m adding to the unemployment level. But I’ve had very mixed feelings and it has taken a while to come to terms with our decision. On the one hand, the decision is monetary. Though the money to hire someone to do the jobs I already do is not a lot, it is enough to add up at the end of the year. There is also a requirement to pay social security and two extra months of salary a year. And when we leave, we have to pay months of compensation pay.

    On the other hand, our decision has little to do with us and more to do with the local community. Young women hired for menial labor don’t go to school to learn a job that can get them a lifelong salary; they work for Americans for a couple of years and then hope that other Americans will hire them. That doesn’t always happen. Many of them are raising our children while their own children manage without their moms. Because Social Security is a new concept here, many of the older maids do not have savings for any kind of retirement and, unlike Downton Abbey, they don’t have patrons to help take care of them in their old age. It is changing, albeit slowly. There are definite issues with the system that makes service look like the most viable option for many women in Ecuador. That’s when I wonder how I help more – by participating in a system that I think is essentially wrong or by living our easy life in a country where life is anything but easy for so many.

    In Ecuador, there are other solutions than hiring local young women to work. Tourism is growing by leaps and bounds in this nation and there are jobs to be found for young men and women who learn other languages, who know the flora and fauna of their communities, who can tell the history of their community. It’s just finding ways to young women see their further potential.

    Thanks for this piece Katie. You’ve touched on a problem that is obviously still bothering me. I have a feeling I’ll still be bothered after living here a couple of years. But reading about how you’re dealing with it in your new home helps me to see a bigger picture.

  3. Jesse says:

    – A-HA! Thanks to Anda.I like this post, as well as your last one SO SO much I can’t even begin to explain. As I was jamimn’ to some music in my car yesterday and the sun was setting I thought about this and how life is so much better if we notice the things we enjoy, rather than the negatives. Thanks girl.

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