Feeding Vanessa the Kudu breakfast


One of the tribe

Monday, January 4, 2010


I poached Gladys. My fabulous, full-time, fun-loving nanny who has made my life and that of my son’s simply magnificent. The spice to our cookies, the filet in our tagine, the cheese to our cheese ball. She has brought many gifts to our family of two, countless ones. And I’ve never been so happy to have committed a mortal sin, lapsed Catholic that I am.

Gladys was poached. I poached her from neighbors whom I only recently met. And in this neck of the woods when you supposedly steal staff from a household, you might as well have gone out into the Maasai Mara, the famous savannah of the Serengeti that lies north of the Kenya/Tanzania border, hunting elephant for ivory and zebra for pelts and rhino for horns (an aphrodisiac).

At the time, I didn’t really understand that I was thieving; it felt more like the shoplifting you do in junior high school, a little lipstick here, some mascara there. Nothing TOO bad. But when another neighbor offered a full-time job to a local driver, a very deserving chap, he got into a scuffle of sorts with the current part-time employer and desisted, saying, “I don’t want to be accused of stealing people!”

[I am not unaware that this kind of looting smacks of colonialism and ownership of persons, but that’s not why I was out poaching.]

Before arriving in Kenya from Dublin, I heard through the grapevine that Gladys was looking for a job. She came hugely, highly recommended: “She’s gorgeous,” pronounced my Finnish friend, “I’d trust her with my children’s lives.” Another galpal who’s lived her for a decade concurred, and actually put me in touch with Gladys directly. “But you can’t breathe a word of this, not to anyone. I haven’t even told my husband. It’s just not done. And these people used to be friends, but I had to help her.”

Finally I meet THEM. At a small Christmas Eve party down the road. The wife has beautiful long blond hair with a lean, weathered, attractive look, a horsey kind of gal in matchstick jeans who raises donkeys and llamas. The husband: a good-looking charmer with shaggy dark brown hair and eyes that shine. Both possess a warm manner and seem to fit easily into this ex-pat crowd that has so welcomed me (welcomed me (and Tiger) more and more thoughtfully than anywhere else I’ve ever lived). In fact, this couple is extremely popular and well thought of.

Their six-year-old son tugs at the mother’s hand. “Mama, mama,” he exclaims, “Gladys is here!” “Gladys? What is Gladys doing here?” “Because I poached her and she’s with us now!” I mutter. The mother doesn’t hear me; she is busy shaking off her son and pretending she hasn’t heard him either.

On the way home that night, Gladys and I are laughing about the idiocy of their not even acknowledging her. Dead giveaway. But I realize it must still hurt. “She invited me to come round for coffee, to drop in anytime. Ha!” I tell Gladys with my hand on her shoulder; we are navigating mud puddles the size of Lake Baringo while Tiger sloshes through them. “She did!” Gladys barks. “I’m having nothing to do with those people.” And she laughs again. “This has been a blessing,” Gladys adds. “Hmm, I’m not so sure. Maybe a curse?” I mumble delightedly, delighted that she is delighted with us. We laugh again; Tiger splashes. Except for my family, the night is still and silent and so there for us, a sheath of navy blue.

Who wouldn’t want to leave when, after several years, you’ve making just above half the going rate (which, at $200/month, is a total steal)? When the husband-and-wife team of tossing the ball of blame between one another never gives you a raise or a bonus? When they haven’t paid your dues for several years running (a Department of Labor edict that guarantees a staff person at least two weeks of their annual salary/annum)? When you still have to ask permission to use the microwave because you still have to bring your own lunch? When, having raised their daughter since birth and their son since he was two (five years!), they don’t even acknowledge you at the same holiday party, their eyes glazing past, their hearts as hard as cooling bricks?

My friend Dick Galleher makes the perfect poached eggs. “Here’s How To Poach an Egg,” by R. Galleher: Put pan of water on stove -- crack egg into cup or glass (your choice). When water is boiling, slip egg into water. Watch it. When cooked, but before yolk is hard, take off stove -- move to buttered piece of toast in a slotted spoon -- so you don't have any excess water. Enjoy!

In light of poaching in general, I think it is all about how you treat the egg. How lucky to have taken Gladys in hand without hesitation, gently spooning her from the hot waters and fuss of steam, then placing her atop of our favorite crispy toast, right in the kitchen of our souls. “Gladleth,” says Tiger morning, noon and night, which sounds vaguely like Gladless. Gladmore is more like it.

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