ALEXANDRIA: When walking in sports clubs in Alexandria and Cairo, where members of Egypt’s “high society usually take their children for fresh air and sun, it is not odd to see women and girls of all ages and nationalities wearing white coats tailing the young kids.
These women are called nannies, in reference to their job of taking care of the children. They can also be called maids, because they clean and help around the house. The distinction is made through various aspects; whether they spend the night or not, their level of education and their salaries.
A recent ad in a newspaper called for a bilingual nanny who can work six days a week including Fridays. The nanny should be between 40 to 50 years old and the salary offered was LE 1,300.
The person who put out the ad is a businessman who has been raising his children on his own since his wife died giving birth to his last child.
The nanny, however, is not restricted to the homes of working mothers or single fathers. Although the role of a nanny is not the same in all homes, many consider it an essential luxury. They differ, of course, over the nanny s degree of involvement in the children s lives and their paycheck.
Sherine El-Dib, mother of five-year-old Yassin and four-year-old Jaylan, says a nanny is an important part of her household that she completely relies on. “If I do not have someone helping me I feel things are going out of control, she says.
The average salary she pays for a nanny falls in the LE 300- 400 range. El-Dib, a stay-home mother, says she once paid LE 600 for a nanny who was supposed to be more educated and more experienced with children. She turned out to be just like any other maid, El-Dib recalls.
But bigger paychecks do not only mean more time on balancing the monthly budget; they also evoke concerns over the degree of the nanny s involvement in the children s life.
“To pay a lot of money to a nanny means I will not be in my child’s life at all, says Lobna Hassanein, housewife and mother of three. She says the more you pay someone is based on the level of involvement with the children, their education and their role around the house. The more they are involved with the children and the more they do, the bigger the paycheck.
Hassanein, who raised her three children for some time in England and then moved back to Alexandria, says, “life in Egypt needs a nanny to help with things such as running after the children if they are out or carrying things up the stairs when returning home from an outing.
In England, she notes, the way of life is different and less hectic, so she did not need the help.
When explaining the type of jobs she would need help with, Hassanein basically described a maid with the extra job of running after the child when needed. She says, “A maid should be around to do things like cooking and cleaning so the mother has more time to stay with the children, giving the children the freedom to play wherever they want and however they want, [without] tying them down to one place because the mother has chores she has to finish.
Rasha Tarek, mother of four-year-old Omar and one-year-old Sarah, has a live-in maid. She said she always knew she would need the help around the house but she never lets the maid stay alone with her children if they are awake.
“If I do leave them alone, the maid has to have some supervision, she says. Tarek, also a housewife, finds it necessary to have the help because it gives her freedom to go out while her children are asleep. She said she only uses the maid as a babysitter.
Tarek and El-Dib say they were only comfortable leaving their children alone with the nannies when the children were old enough to talk and complain if the nanny did anything inappropriate, so they would know what went on when they weren’t around. Even so, they are only left alone if they are asleep.
Other housewives prefer to do without a nanny altogether. Yasmine Sherif, mother of one-year-old Abdullah, says that the presence of a nanny in Egyptian homes is a growing phenomenon. She and her husband, however, prefer not to have a nanny at home. She says she would not trust a stranger with her child.
“With the stories I hear about what some nannies do, I would never feel that my child is safe if I leave him with a nanny, she explains. As for the house chores, a maid comes once a week to help Sherif with the cleaning.