a day in the life of a domestic worker

She rises before the sun, shifting about quietly in her one-roomed shanty, careful not to disturb the three children sleeping on mats on the floor.  She slips on her plakkies, fumbles around for the bucket and opens the door slowly, to minimize the volume of the creaky hinge.  

She pauses, giving her mocha eyes time to adjust to the pre-dawn darkness.  Inhaling deeply, she notes the freshness of the morning air and thanks God for another day.  Making her way to the community tap, she bends to fill her bucket with water.  Lifting the full container to her head, she walks back to her shack, smiling and greeting groggy neighbors along the way.

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And so the morning routine begins: bathing in the large plastic basin with a cloth and a bar of soap; stirring pap over the paraffin stove; wrapping one of her late husband’s t-shirts around her hair in a way that makes it look like a work of art.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShe packs her uniform in a backpack, says a silent prayer over her sleeping children, and walks out the door.  It will be over an hour before she gets to work, sometimes ninety minutes depending on the taxis and trains.  She steps into the first available white minibus kombi and squishes in between the other early morning passengers, some talking on cell phones, others smoking.  She smiles politely at a woman about her age, and they form an unspoken bond.  

The bond of two South African widows, trying to make enough of a living for their children to attend school and not go to sleep hungry.

The sun rises, and she smiles a thank-you as she steps out of the taxi, the kombi pulling away with the driver’s right hand man still hanging his torso out of the sliding door, yelling, “Mowbray, Mowbray!  Kaapstad!”

She glances at the clock on her cell phone, careful that no one sees her tucking it back into her bosom, for fear it may be stolen.  If she picks up her pace, she’ll make it to work on time.

Pressing a finger to the doorbell, she waits outside the gate until a voice is heard through the intercom.  “Hello?”

“Hello, Mma.  It’s Zola.”

Click, and the gate is unlocked.

Two flights of stairs and a long passageway, and then, “Auntie Zola, Auntie Zola!” the two toddlers exclaim, skipping with glee to greet her.  She is at work, her twentieth year as a domestic worker, and she wonders whether her own children have eaten and dressed in time for school.

The next ten hours are spent feeding the twins, sweeping the floors, ironing during the children’s naptime.  She wipes her brow with the back of her chocolate brown hand, and doesn’t think twice about pressing her employer’s work shirts, changing his kids’ nappies or washing his breakfast dishes.

It’s the same work her mother did, and her grandmother before her, too.  

As she scrubs the toilet, she recites in her mind the verses that her grandmother had her memorize when she was a young girl:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:22-24).

    She knows she is not a slave, but she also knows these verses apply to any work situation.  So she bends lower on her hands and knees to wash the floor, and she works at it with all her heart, for she knows it is the Lord Jesus Christ that she serves.

This post was written for The High Calling, on the theme, “Your Work Matters to God.”  Read more stories on this same topic, or link up your own story here.


best vacation stories

The High Calling is looking for your best vacation stories!

Click here to read about how you can share yours (by the June 28 deadline).

In the meantime, here’s one of my best stories — or, at least the one that seems to get repeated most frequently at family get-togethers.  🙂  For those who follow this blog, it’s a re-run from one of my Memoir Monday posts.

Whitewater rafting 1


It’s the closest I’ve ever come to dying.

The setting:  The Kern River of Southern California, Class III/IV whitewater rapids.

I was in high school, and it was spring break. It was my first time rafting, and I basically held on for dear life as we weaved through protruding boulders, the nose of the raft diving down in despair, then lurching up in redemption and me, constantly praying I would stay in the boat.

God chose not to answer that prayer.  Correction: He did answer that prayer, the answer was just “No.”

It happened after I succumbed to a dumb group decision.  There were six of us in the raft, plus a guide, and my younger sister was the only one with any common sense.  The only one brave enough to get out.

It went something like this:

Guide: “So, who wants to go back and surf that hole?”

My dad: “Who wants to what?”

Guide: “Surf the hole.  We turn the raft around, paddle like crazy upstream until we hit that hole in the rapids where it’s swirling into a tight spiral, and if we hit it just right, we’ll float on top for a while, without moving anywhere.”

General, wavering nods indicated an almost unanimous consensus.  “No, thanks.  I don’t want to,” my younger sister stated boldly.

“Okay, that’s cool,” said the guide.  “We’ll just drop you off on the shore over there, and pick you up afterwards.”

We paddled over to a little inlet, my sister jumped out, and the rest of us headed for the hole.

My dad had been sitting opposite me, and the next thing I remember was seeing his full, six-foot frame lunging over me, hurling me backwards off the raft’s edge into the raging river.

Like an ice cube dropped into a glass of Coke, I was plunged downward before my lifejacket raised me up toward the surface.  But instead of finding oxygen, my head bumped against something hard at the top.

The raft.

I was directly under the raft.

All the safety precautions announced at the beginning of the trip went rushing downstream with the current.

I swam to the left.

I swam to the right.

More raft.

I felt around in every direction, and couldn’t find an escape route.

Well, this is it, I resigned.  I’ve always wondered how I was going to die, and now I have my answer.

Oddly enough, I felt a strange calmness.  A peace, as if it would be okay if I did die in that moment.

After contemplating death while fully submerged, my wits came about me, and I realized I had to stop floundering, pick a direction, and just swim.  I gripped the bottom of the raft, hurled myself to the left, and

found air.

“There you are!!” was the first exclamation I heard before the guide grabbed the shoulders of my life jacket and flung me into the raft.

I lay there, heaving, gasping.

Glad to be alive.

My younger sister was on the shore sobbing, convinced that she would have to tell Mom that I had drowned in the Kern River.

Even the guide was surprised to see me.  He later confessed that he was thisclose to jumping into the rapids to look for me — and apparently guides never do that.

The peace I felt when I was sure I was going to die remains inexplicable.  It had to have been supernatural.  God could have let me get swept away that day, but

“The Lord is gracious and righteous;
Our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the simplehearted;
When I was in great need, he saved me.

Be at rest once more, O my soul,
For the Lord has been good to you.”

~ Psalm 116:5-7, NIV


Photo credits: David Berkowitz and Gabriel Amadeus (photo edited)