Or, how dishes and tile floors stay clean.

The Huang family newsletter

march 2020
One of the best parts about living in Africa is having a maid.

Okay, okay — it sounds a bit weird, maybe ostentatious. (Even the word “maid” is not vogue, having been replaced in similar circles by the clumsy but supposedly less condescending “house helper.”)

But let’s face it: two doctors with two small children, trying to find time to work, train African doctors and nurses, read, study, raise children, and cook from scratch every day – how is that all possible?

In short, it’s not — not without help.

On the flip side, regular, gainful employment is an enviable source of economic stability for those local Gabonese who can find it. It is indeed a win-win situation.
Our help is named Maman Bernadette, and she is what we call our ménagère/nounou (house-helper-nanny). We are only the second family she has ever worked for, as we inherited her from the previous family to live in our building; she hadn’t held formal employment prior to that — mostly because she was very busy raising her own children.

At 50 years old, she is surprisingly youthful and spry. Whenever we complain about the chaos, the messes, and the tantrums that two young children bring to our house, Maman Bernadette simply chuckles as she mops the floors or washes the dishes: she herself is a mother of 10, and grandmother to 9 more (with a 10th on the way). Two small children is no big deal to her.
Solène and Nolan participate in smashing cassava leaves to make a local dish called mayaha.
When we first met her, we had the most difficult time understanding her. Unlike the standard Parisian French we had dutifully studied in Albertville, Maman Bernadette’s French had a strong, nearly indecipherable accent, peppered with random words of Nzebi, her mother tongue.

Nonetheless, the kids took to her quickly, which was for us a great answer to prayer. “Mama’dette” was one of Solène’s first words, as she quickly became accustomed to falling asleep on her back. And despite our first aural difficulties, the French influence of “Mama’dette” has taken hold within the house, with both Nolan and Solène quickly switching between English, Mandarin, and Gabonese-accented French, depending on the intended listener.
Whether on her back or her front side, Maman Bernadette is usually very closely linked to Solène at all times of the day.
Hiring, having, and paying a ménagère is not without its hiccups. It is the first time we, as a married couple, have had someone in our direct employ. Being a “boss” is not a natural instinct for us, and the complexities of language, educational differences, money, culture, expectations, and family habits have inevitably led to short periods of confusion, misunderstandings, and downright disappointment.

However, the longer she’s around, the more we’ve adjusted — together. We can understand her French now (well…90% anyways), we’ve come to look forward to her Gabonese lunch menu items (various interpretations of cassava root, cassava leaves, bitter eggplants, and plantains), and, most importantly, she genuinely cares for our children. Maman Bernadette has proven herself to be of inestimable help to our family, and it’s hard to imagine life without her now.

And now...for some family pictures!

We recently visited Maman Bernadette's house, which is about 20-30 minute walk from ours. She lives with her husband of 35 years, along with and 6 other family members.
anDrew celebrated his birthday, and Kim made a surprise rhubarb pie -- anDrew's favourite type of pie!
The preschool recently celebrated Carnaval, a tradition where the kids dress up in costumes and walk around to various municipal buildings in town, singing and dancing (see picture at top of email). Nolan dressed up as a doctor (as did pretty much all the kids coming from Bongolo Hospital station), but he soon grew tired of walking somewhat aimlessly around town. He was happy to be placed in the trailing pickup truck.
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Copyright © 2020 The Huang Dynasty, All rights reserved.

This newsletter is about Andrew, Kimberley, Nolan, Solène and Ewen Huang, and their time in France, Gabon, Australia, and beyond.

The views and opinions expressed here are solely ours, and they do not necessarily represent those of Samaritan's Purse or World Medical Mission.

The Huang Dynasty PO Box 820152 Vancouver, WA 98682 USA
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