Upon arriving in Gombe, I was introduced to Ashura. “She will be helping you,” is all I was told. No one even implied I should pay her, though I’d heard through the grapevine that I should. In an awkward Swahili conversation I am 94% sure we agreed on a price of 100,000 shillings per month (about 65 dollars), and she happily began cooking and cleaning for me.
Ashura is probably my age, though only 5 feet tall (everyone here, men and women, seems to be 5 feet tall), and is the third daughter of one of the chimpanzee research assistants. Her father is grizzled and small, and like many of the chimp researchers, in his 50’s. I am in awe of all of these men, as I die on a daily basis negotiating the steep inclines of Gombe, and they’ve been doing it for 20 or 30 years, still are doing it. And they do it without water. All day long. Ashura used to work in a hotel after going to school to learn how to cook, but something seedy about being a woman working in a hotel (the explanation has only been painted in broad strokes for me) sent her running home. Now she lives in Gombe and helps the hapless wazungusthat come here to stay.
Ashura and I have set up a system where she cooks my evening meal, which is always enormous, and then I eat the leftovers for lunch. These meals are invariably mind-blowing. And I don’t think it’s just because I’m hungry. Ashura is beyond gifted when it comes to dishes, throwing together consistently awesome concoctions with simple ingredients. The potatoes are always cooked to perfection and her curry and chapatis are to die for. Frankly, the cooking alone is worth 65 dollars a month. I mean, the women even makes a mean French Fry. However, 65 dollars also buys me a laundress (she doesn’t do underwear, though), a housekeeper, and a healthy sense of guilt (because, really, shouldn’t I be able to do this stuff myself?). She also is infinitely patient with my Swahili.
I’m going to be completely helpless when I return home.