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.

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6 thoughts on “a day in the life of a domestic worker

  1. Kate, This has me in tears. You painted a picture of this woman’s day in a way that is now etched into my mind…and my heart. I hurt that she is raising someone else’s children just to keep hers from starving and she’s not there to raise them herself. I can. not. imagine. What a true example of serving the Lord with all one’s heart. Bless her and bless you for sharing her story. You have opened my eyes tonight…xoxo, Meredith

  2. Kate, This has me in tears. You painted a picture of this woman’s day in a way that is now etched into my mind…and my heart. I hurt that she is raising someone else’s children just to keep hers from starving and she’s not there to raise them herself. I can. not. imagine. What a true example of serving the Lord with all one’s heart. Bless her and bless you for sharing her story. You have opened my eyes tonight…xoxo, Meredith

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