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.


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