Thursday, October 13, 2005

Boipelo's Story - continued

After I’d been dating Betty for a few months and visiting the Salon on a daily basis throughout this time – I was love-struck what can I say – I noticed that Boipelo was increasingly having time of work. The word was that she had a flu and was resting. Now although Botswana has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world and although the highest risk group for infection are young people between the ages of 14 and 35 I only had a slight concern for Boipelo. After all the is a great danger in concluding that anyone who falls sick in any way in Botswana is HIV positive and of course like anywhere else in the world people catch the flu and are bedridden with curable ailments. Anyway, after Boipelo had been of work for a couple of weeks Betty suggested that we pay her a visit. As it turned out Boipelo only stayed round the corner from where Betty lived. We found her living in servant’s quarters which was accessible by making one’s way around the back of the main property on the plot. Servant’s quarters are very common across Botswana and Southern Africa. Most large houses will include at least one small building for the purpose of housing a maid. It is commonplace across the region to find people on modest income employing a maid. The maid will carry out all the household chores and quite often doubles up as a nanny. It’s not just families who employ maids. Many single mothers – and there are many – employ maids particularly to look after children and thus enable them to work themselves. On average in 2002 one would estimate that a maid in Botswana would have been paid between BWP300 and BWP350 a month. This would probably work out as about a third of the income earned by a woman working in a service industry such as hairdressing, shop work or a restaurant. In Francistown many of the maids, as well as house-boys and gardeners, were Zimbabweans, particularly from Matabeleland, who had fled from desperate poverty into Botswana. The modest sums they could earn in Botswana would at least allow them to feed their families back home. Many of these migrant workers would make trips home at the end of a month laden with Mealie Meal (the staple foodstuff), sugar, flour, salt and cooking oil – commodities that were not available in their local shops.
Boipelo was living a very small dwelling consisting of a modest bedroom, the smallest kitchen and bathroom imaginable. Boipelo stayed in the most modest of places because she wanted to save the bulk of her wages in order to support her family who lived in a small village about 100KM’s south of Francistown. When we visited her the first time we found her sister with her looking after her. Boipelo was weak and certainly looked frail but was still full of hope. She talked about returning to work and about how bored she was stuck in the house all day. The second time we visited we found her alone but she reassured us that she was okay and was being well looked after by family members and friends. She was rather weak but still optimistic. As the weeks passed by Boipelo began to regain her strength and it wasn’t that long before she was back at work.

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