Month: July 2017

4.

Image Sourced from African Paintings on Pinterest

These Nigerians are such good actors, so I had come to realize. I also like how loud and dramatic they usually get. It makes their movies livelier.

Recently, I was watching a Nigerian movie where the main character was an orphan. She was living with a relative who really mistreated her, called her unsavory names and made her do all the house chores.

I could definitely relate with the doing of the house chores part.

In the end, this girl met a wealthy man, who fell in love with her and married her eventually.

I could not help wondering if I would also meet a wealthy man eventually, who would love me and marry me.

You see, I have never had a boyfriend in my life. I know nothing much about love matters.

There is a girl who keeps coming to the house to see Ken over the weekends.

I think she lives within the neighborhood and goes to the same school as him.

She always comes when both parents are not around. They then go upstairs to Ken’s room or sometimes, stay within the living room watching something on TV.

I wish I had the courage to ask Ken if she is his girlfriend.

He is only two years younger than me but being my employer’s son, I always get tongue tied around him.

But then, it is really none of my business so I don’t really dwell on it.

Ken once made me promise never to tell his mother about the girl’s visits.

So far, I have kept my promise.

The last time I spoke to mother on the phone which was a few days back, she mentioned that my village best friend Priscilla is expectant. Priscilla had never mentioned anything about having a boyfriend to me in the past. But in the village, once a man noticed how resourceful you were as a woman, he never hesitated in making you his wife. Mother added that Priscilla was already married and that her parents had received her dowry too.

I wish I had Priscilla’s number to call her and congratulate her on the good news. So much seems to have happened back home, the year I have been away. I wonder what else new I will find.

However, sometimes I could not help getting worried about Ken and that girl. If anything happened, I knew Mama Ken would have automatically blamed me for keeping quiet about it. I may be clueless on love matters, but I surely know what goes on between a man and a woman behind closed doors. In this case, a girl and a boy. I simply hoped that was not what was going on with Ken and that girl.

The news about Priscilla had made me somewhat envious. She was a lucky one, that girl. Books may have failed her but life certainly had not failed her. I know people in the village would have concluded that I was way luckier than Priscilla, working in the city. They hardly knew just how difficult it was.

Uncle called regularly to find out how I was faring on. I never told him just how mean Mama Ken could get. I never mentioned how hard I worked in this house. I never disclosed how they always left me behind whenever they went out for family outings, either in an Uber Taxi  that Mama Ken had hired or in Baba Ken’s range rover. I never said how I always felt like the “odd one out” sitting in the church pew on Sundays with the family.

How everyone dressed better than me, whose Sunday Best was a kitenge outfit that the village tailor had made for me, to attend a relative’s wedding. And that the kitenge skirt had become too tight over time and the zipper could not be zipped all the way up. It always left an ugly bulge of my colored petticoat at the top, which I expertly covered with the kitenge top being of good length.

Whenever uncle called, I always made it a point to act cheerful. I knew uncle had my best interests at heart. Him and mother were the only reasons I persevered.

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3.

African Village Painting – Village Chores by Jane Wanjeri

People look out for each other in the village, unlike here where someone can even pass you in the morning without as much as a greeting.

If father was still alive, I’m sure things would have been different for us as a family. I would have finished my secondary school education and probably trained to be a teacher. Teachers are greatly admired in our village. I’m sure both of my parents would have supported my decision.

Father had passed on when I was 12 and our youngest 2. It was a bad case of malaria. There was nothing more that could be done for him at the village dispensary. When the doctor had delivered the terrible news to mother and I that fateful evening, mother had let out a piercing scream as she collapsed to her knees. I was too stunned myself to know how to react.

That day, we had rushed father to the dispensary, when we could not get his fever down. The news that he was now no more was indeed difficult for us to take.

In the days that followed, mourners flocked to our home to condole with us. We were truly grateful for their support but it was not completely lost on us that, with an influx of visitors, so did we have to spend more on food. Whenever there is a funeral in the village, mourners expect to be fed when they come visiting to offer their condolences. It is just one of the inconveniences of losing a loved one, which we had to put up with in the days leading to father’s burial.

Luckily, father’s family is not the greedy type. They let us keep the piece of land that was father’s after the burial. For other families in the village that I know of, it was not all rosy for them. Some relatives could just decide to kick you out of the property you thought yours, claiming that it belonged to their son. It was just how things go in these parts.

But the piece of land was barely a quarter of an acre. With 5 mouths to feed, it was definitely a struggle for mother. Mother had taken to working on other people’s farms to make some extra money whenever things were tight. I helped with looking after my siblings. But when it was school season and they spent a full day at the village public primary school, I had much more time to myself.

It was during those periods that I had taught myself how to plait hair in neat cornrows, thanks to my best friend Priscilla. Priscilla’s father could afford to take her through secondary school, but we all knew that Priscilla had much difficulty with grasping anything in class. After being required to repeat Form 1, Priscilla had declined to show up at school at the beginning of the following year. She now spent her days, plaiting the hair of the village girls at a fee.

Having dropped out of school in second term of Form 1 myself, I kind of admired Priscilla’s skill and ability to make some money. That is why I always headed to her home, whenever I had some free time to learn the art of hairdressing. By the time uncle had secured me employment in the city, I could comfortably make cornrows in different styles. I even plaited mother’s and my sisters’ hair sometimes! But of course my employer knew nothing about it.

These are some of the things I really missed about the village. The ability to be free and to do what you liked whenever you wanted to. Sometimes, when nobody was home, I would switch on the television set and watch a program or two. My spoken English could certainly not match up to the one that Ken and Angie spoke in the house. It is for this reason, that I avoided those American programs where even comprehending what was being said in English, was a struggle for me.

But I had discovered the Nigerian movies which were funnier with story lines I could relate to, in the course of my employment. Only that I had to be very discreet with my TV watching stints. I’m sure Mama Ken would not have hesitated in firing me if she found out that I watched her TV during the day.

2.

African Women Painting – Kenyan Kitchen by Tilly Willis

Perhaps the best thing about my employment was having a bed all to myself in one of the spare rooms. However, the only time I got to spend in that room was at bedtime. I would mostly be too exhausted, to enjoy this personal space.

My mornings start every day at 4;30am. I first make breakfast for the family. By 5 am, everyone including the lazy Angie, is usually awake. Baba Ken leaves for work at exactly 6 am.

The teenagers leave at 6;30 am with the school van being day scholars. Mama Ken is usually the last to leave at 7 am with the employee van from her place of work.

It has never been Mama Ken’s nature to leave without issuing instructions. The strong scent of her perfume always gives me the allergies.

But I would not dare show my employer that I’m affected by it, every time she is addressing me in the mornings, when the scent is at its strongest.

I must admit that it often puzzles me how unaffected she seems by it. I have never seen the need before, to use anything on my armpits. But that’s because nobody required me to do so back in the village.

In this house, even Angie uses a perfume. Baba Ken and Ken use colognes. Truly, I have learnt a lot this past year while living with my employers.

The other day, as Mama Ken was instructing me to do a thorough cleaning of the kitchen, I could not help letting out a sneeze.

“Coretta, are you feeling unwell?!” She immediately asked, rather sternly.

“No, Mama Ken.” I apologetically mumbled.

“Then what is it? If you are coming down with the flu, you better say it now, I get you some medicine.” She added.

“Not at all Mama Ken. I’m perfectly fine.” I emphasized.

You see, Mama Ken cannot stand my being unwell because that would mean her house chores would come to a standstill. Whenever I have been unwell, she has always made sure I got prompt medical attention.

Meaning, I could only be unwell for 2 days maximum. The 3rd day, she would be raising hell if I still seemed slow and sickly, despite being on medication.

When you decide to become a domestic worker, nothing prepares you for the challenge of slaving away in the houses, of previously total strangers to you.

Once my employer is done with the day’s instructions and leaves for work, I now have the house to myself. It can be doing the laundry, mopping the tiled floors, sweeping the living room carpet, picking up after the teenagers, washing utensils, emptying the rubbish bin, making beds, folding clothes, cooking…there’s always something to do.

Mama Ken does not like seeing me interacting with other house helps in the neighborhood. She is quick to always remind me to do what brought me to her home and that is to work, no excuses. I have followed her instructions fully and done my work diligently most of the time, but still that does not seem to appease this woman.

Perhaps, it could be the reason why her husband prefers to stay away working rather than being in the same environment with her, who knows? Uncle also warned me to keep off the marital affairs of my employers. I’m beginning to conclude that my uncle must be very wise. No wonder he has lived in the city for many years.

My monthly salary is 7,000kshs. I send most of it home to mother who needs it more than me with 4 children to raise by herself. I have no off days so I cannot say I’m very conversant with Nairobi.

Jesca, the help next door has her off days on Sundays. On those rare occasions I get to interact with her over the hedge, she has told me a lot of exciting things about the city.

There was a time she offered to get me a job elsewhere, when I happened to let it slip that, my employer was a hard one to please. She mentioned that the job paid better. However, I feared what uncle would say.

I knew he would probably be very annoyed. He brought me to Mama Ken’s specifically to work and send money home to help mother. If I suddenly quit, it would seem ungrateful. This I had told Jesca to which she had scoffed and mocked my decision to stay.

Jesca is answerable to nobody. She was married once and has kids back in her village. I’m still answerable to mother and uncle and have no desire to ruin the relationship with my misdeeds.

Nowadays, Jesca and I do not talk much. But whenever I get an opportunity to leave the house on an errand, I sometimes buy myself something from the vendors.

That way, I still get to experience the city life through purchasing city merchandise. I even got myself a deodorant recently. A mild, scented one. I’m yet to start using it.

These new things take some time to get accustomed to. However, I do not think I’m still that typical bush girl, that Jesca would sometimes make it seem to me.

If I had a choice though, I would not have settled for domestic work. Many are the times when I desperately miss my home and family.

Village life used to be such fun. It was less complicated than city life where there’s a routine for everything and to everything. In the village, you just woke up and life happened.

 

DOMESTIC PAINS: Diary of a HouseHelp

The following is the first part of a serialized novel in form of blog posts, “DOMESTIC PAINS; Diary of a Househelp”, by Lorna Likiza, otherwise known as Definitely Lorna. The story told in first person, will follow the journey of a teenage househelp, and her coming of age, in a society that is often unappreciative of the role of domestic workers, in their households. All characters depicted are fictitious.

When you are living with people you are not closely related with, expect to be occasionally aggrieved. Expect some statements aimed at getting a reaction from you or simply, to remind you of your place in the household.

I know my place. I am the help, employed by a middle class family.

A bespectacled husband with a good job, who drives a dark blue range rover and is always working. I mean, he seems to have no other choice but to slave away to support a wife who obviously loves spending.

She is a beautiful woman. Sometimes, I find myself admiring her. However, the downside is that she is always irritable. I can’t even begin to count the number of times, she has berated me for ruining her new clothes, with my ignorance. I mean, what does a village girl such as I know?

She may sometimes say all these mean things to me, but I have an inkling that this woman cannot do without me. That is why she has not fired me yet.

Finally, there are two teenagers to complete the family. A boisterous 16 year old son and a rather lazy 14 year old daughter who can barely do anything for herself.

I have never understood how these urban dwellers function. At her age, I could comfortably do all the house chores. I already knew that my mother could not afford my secondary school education. She had not hidden that fact from me. I had also been sent home severally for school fee arrears that the reality of my situation had deeply sunk in.

As a matter of fact, being employed as a house help in Nairobi, had equally started to sound very appealing to me by then. But mother had my 4 younger siblings. She still needed my help around the homestead until uncle, one of my deceased father’s brothers, had convinced her to allow me to come to the city to be employed by Mama Ken. I have no idea how uncle knew of Mama Ken.

All I know is that she is my current employer. Ken is her oldest, followed by Angie, who has a terrible obsession with her phone. I doubt this girl can survive a day without that thing.

I’m only 18 years old myself. I have been here a year already, but I still remember the day I arrived like it was just yesterday.

The humiliation I was subjected to when Mama Ken ordered me to open my small, battered suitcase, that she thoroughly inspected as if I was a common thief. Uncle had previously emphasized that I should never say anything, no matter what my employer did to provoke me.

So when two of my old, nylon panties fell out in full view of everyone present, as Mama Ken roughly turned everything upside down in my suitcase, I said nothing. I said nothing even when Ken, who had seen them fall out got obviously embarrassed and left the room. I didn’t know then who was supposed to be more embarrassed. Me or him?

I also said nothing, when she disdainfully questioned my hygiene standards and inquired whether, she could trust that I had not carried bedbugs with me to her home. I’m sure by then she had concluded my silence to mean, I was either stupid or experiencing a culture shock of sorts.

Uncle had advised that this was the best way to interact with employers. Make them think you are stupid. That way, you would be safer.

However, with the kind of welcome I had received at my employer’s house, I immediately knew that my days of enjoying  personal privacy, would soon be long gone.