Hiring Help in Hot Aden: The Amahs of Yesteryear

Welcome to a snapshot of Aden back in the good ol' mid-1800s—a British hub that was all about trade, military might, and a sun that didn't know when to quit. Those stationed here braved the relentless heat, and to make their lives a tad easier, they often turned to the help of amahs, domestic helpers largely hailing from Somali communities.

Here's the thing: hiring amahs wasn't just about getting some extra hands on deck. It was wrapped up in the colonial fabric, tangled with all sorts of power plays, racial divides, and gender roles. The amahs, who were often from marginalised backgrounds, faced tough gigs with not much in the way of rights. But despite the challenges, they were the cogs that kept the day-to-day life chugging along, allowing the Brits to hold onto their lifestyle in this far-flung outpost.

Now, the amahs weren’t alone in their toil. They were part of a broader tapestry of local staff that British households, military personnel, and businesses relied on. Picture this: cooks working magic in the kitchens, housekeepers banishing the desert dust, gardeners coaxing life out of arid soil, drivers navigating the sandy thoroughfares, and guards keeping a vigilant eye out. Each played a pivotal role in the grand theatre of colonial life, often on wages that would have you doing a double-take today.

About those wages—let's just say the amahs and their fellow workers weren't banking big bucks. They were usually paid in kind, which meant a roof over their heads, meals, and a bit of cash. But the cash was meagre, we're talking two to three rupees a month, which didn't go far even by those days' standards.

Despite the scant pay, working for the British in Aden was a sought-after job. It was a chance to earn a living when options were slim, especially for women. The soldiers and expats, meanwhile, leaned heavily on this local workforce to manage the daily grind. The British way of living, with its stiff upper lip and all, might've wilted under the Arabian sun if not for the dedication of these unsung heroes.

As for the amahs, their work was far from easy. A typical day might involve lugging water from wells, scrubbing floors until they shone, and hand-washing laundry till their fingers pruned. And once the sun dipped below the horizon, they'd retire to their own quarters, likely exhausted but ready to do it all over again the next day.

The rest of the staff roster painted a similar picture of hard work and resilience. And let’s not forget the overall setting they were working in—a British colony trying to carve out a sense of normalcy in an unforgiving desert landscape. The local workers' efforts went beyond mere job descriptions; they were bridging cultural gaps and sewing the social fabric of a community in flux.

While the likes of the amahs, cooks, and gardeners were tending to their tasks, there were also the less sung-about roles. Like the clerks and assistants in the business offices ensuring that the wheels of commerce kept turning, or the nannies and tutors shaping the minds of the young expat children, ensuring the cultural handover from one generation to the next.

Indeed, Aden was a melting pot of duties and daily routines, each contributing to the larger story of a colonial city humming with the buzz of global trade and the whispers of a society in the making. And at the heart of it all were the local workers—the true backbone of Aden’s everyday colonial life.