The "Working in Ghana" Project

Domestic Worker

[Mr. Adomi, who is about twenty-five years old, has worked as a "houseboy" for nearly four years. He has a six-year old child with a young woman who is not married to him. He lives in one of the guest rooms of his employer's house in a suburb of Accra. From the general appearance of the house he appears to do his work well. Philip Awekeya interviewed Mr. Adomi under a tree in front of the house where he works.]

When I finished middle school six years ago I first worked with my father on a farm in a distant region of Ghana. I did not enjoy farm work. It was extremely difficult and I felt deprived of town or city life. While on the farm I prayed for a day that I would work in a town, preferably in a city.

Thanks to God, one of my friends who had returned from the city he told me that he could fix me up as a houseboy with someone he knew if only I was ready to leave the village. I readily agreed and traveled here.

Two days after I arrived he took me to this house and told my master he had finally succeeded in getting him a boy to assist him. As soon as I came to work here, my master's wife would wake me up as early as 5:30 to instruct me as to what I should do in the rooms and in the yard. For the first few weeks I would falter because it was the first time I had seen or handled some of the latest gadgets.

Now that I have been here for some time, I can easily tell anyone what my duties are. I usually wake up at five-thirty in the morning from Sunday to Saturday. When I come out of my bedroom I know at once that the general cleanliness of this house rests on my shoulders. I move into the sitting room with a bucket of water and an old towel to wipe the carpet thoroughly and to dust the furniture and the louvers. I clean the two refrigerators and put water into the bottles inside them. When there are no soft drinks or beer in the refrigerators I make sure I put about three bottles each inside to be served to my master and his friends during the course of the day.

When my master and the madam come out of their bedroom I move in to clean it and also to change the bed sheets for washing if they have been used for more than two days. When I finish work in my master's bedroom I quickly rush out either to wash or dust the car, depending on its state. It does not matter whether I washed it the previous morning because my master's wife repeats daily to my ears that whenever I see that the car is not fit to move out on to the road I have to wash it.

At eight my master and his family leave the house for the city. I continue my duties by sweeping the yard and watering the flowers on the lawns. When I finish with the work outside, I move into my master's bedroom to take all his dirty clothing and that of his wife and the children to wash. At times it takes me three to four hours to complete the washing. As soon as I finish with the washing I begin straight away to iron those that are dry. I never have time to sit down unless I play "lasih-lasih" (choose to loaf about).

At five in the evening I water the flowers for the second time. Sometimes I go to the butcher shop in the afternoon to buy meat for the madam, depending on the instructions she left behind. Apart from the general cleaning of the house, as well as the washing and ironing of laundry and watering of flowers, I also play the role of a day watchman. When my master and the family leave for Accra each morning I attend to the house while I perform my expected duties, in addition to receiving messages from my master's friends and visitors.

To speak honestly, there is no satisfaction in this work. Once you are a houseboy you are more or less a slave. You do all the donkey work in the house. What is annoying is the washing of the bathhouse sinks and toilets every morning, something I will not do in my village. If I say that I enjoy this job then I am telling lies. I will never on earth encourage a friend to take up such work except for a short moment while searching for something better to change to.

Besides the pile of work on me each day I get hurt by the madam's frequent complaints that I do not take time to iron her dresses or that I bring too many people to the house. Whereas I try all the time to iron her dresses properly, she still does not feel satisfied with my work. As for bringing people to the house, it is once in a blue moon that a friend or relative does visit me, yet these occasional visits are enough to send her off stewing.

As for my master I must honestly say that he is a first- class gentleman. For the four years that I have been with him, I can not recollect any occasion when he expressed dissatisfaction with my work. Despite the fact that he pays me very little, even as compared to messengers in public organizations, I like him because he passes on most of his old clothing and sandals to me. On the other hand, my relationship with the madam e is not too good. She finds fault with my work. The one good thing about her is that she is not mean with food. She always serves me a sufficient quantity of whatever she cooks for the family.

The only good thing about his job is that I get an excellent sleeping place. Unlike in the village where I sleep on a mat on the floor, in darkness, with mosquitoes, and no good water to drink, here I do get all the good things of city life such as a bed with a mattress to lie on, a light in my room for twenty-four hours, good water to drink and above all television and videos to watch. I also feel privileged to have the chance to take beer and white men's drinks (imported drinks of gin and whiskey) whenever my master organizes a party and these drinks are all around.

Though I am not pleased with what I doing, I get information from friends from my village that my parents feel happy that I am working as a houseboy, and more importantly, that the person I am serving comes from the same region as I do. They think that if I continue to serve him satisfactorily then he will one day attach me to an experienced artisan to teach me auto mechanics or electrical work. The fact that my parents take delight in what I am doing urges me to hang on in this house in spite of the dissatisfaction I feel.

Many a time it has dawned on me that the longer I remain working as a houseboy, the greater the chance that I will lose most of my friends. As I said earlier, madam hates seeing my friends in this house. She regards them as rogues and suspects them of coming to the house to cause mischief. If madam continues to show open dislike for my friends then I will eventually become Mr. Walk Alone (a man without friends). However, since I can not do without talking to friends, especially to girl friends, I am afraid I will have to defy my parents' wishes and move to the city to join some of my friends who are selling dog chains.