I recently finished reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun, which included the wonderful character Ugwu, a boy from the bush who becomes houseboy for a Nigerian professor. From day one, Ugwu greatly admires his boss (his “Master”) and tries to anticipate his every need. At one point, he irons the master’s socks. They wind up getting stuck to the iron and the master calls him an ignoramus, but the kid was only trying to be helpful. Ugwu also sometimes listens at doors. Although I loved him as a character in a novel, I was reminded of why I don’t think I could ever deal with household help. I like (no, LOVE) my privacy, what little I have of it, and even a once-a-week housekeeper would intrude.
At times, the one person Ugwu most reminded me of was my mother-in-law. In theory, my mother-in-law has her own chores and her own life, but she has taken it upon herself to do my laundry (even though I’ve asked her not to, even though at one point she told my husband she was exhausted from hanging out and taking down our laundry). My husband said that she just wants to help us. A week or so ago, I didn’t do the laundry and she was very agitated when I came home and asked me do it then (at 5PM) so that she could hang it out. This morning, I didn’t get around to doing my laundry, but when I came home it was hung out on the poles. My mother-in-law told me, in a mildly chiding voice, that she had done the laundry. She came into our quarters and unloaded the laundry basket, in which hand-washables are sort of mixed with machine washables. My bathing suit was ruined in the wash. Oh, well. She was just trying to help.
I’ve decided that I’ve got enough material by now to write a short story with a laundry motif. I think it’ll be entitled, “The Laundry Wars.”