'House-help' just but a title, don't ignore them

I was going to throw away a bunch of bananas that had been in my fridge for a fortnight, but my daughter wanted to bake a cake instead. So, I found myself­­ Googling ‘How to make banana cake’ on a rainy Saturday morning this past weekend. The instructions were pretty straight forward; whisk two eggs, add sugar, mashed bananas, melted butter, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, vanilla essence - then mix and bake 45 minutes.

Simple enough, no? Not when you factor in a five-year-old assistant. The eggs ended up with a bit of shell in them, the bananas were mashed to a syrup, and by the end of it there were almost two cups of sugar in the mix, all of which was fine. We had started out with a trial-run mentality. This was supposed to be a fun, Saturday morning, mother/daughter adventure, with party hats, vuvuzelas, a man on stilts, and the rest of the circus. Well, not really, but we were determined to have fun.

After a lot of back and forth, punctuated by ‘Aki Mama, that’s not fair!’, ‘It’s my turn!’, and ‘Teacher said that sharing is caring’, we finally had our banana cake mix ready to go. I was just about to pop it in the oven when I realised that the Google lady had said something about preheating. Without giving it a second thought, I hit the switch and turned the knob to 180. At this point, my house help joined us in the kitchen. We got to chatting as we waited for the oven to heat up.

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“Mama Kayla, sasa hii mambo ya Huduma Namba, we unaonaje. Hio kitu itakuwa ya nini?”

“Hata mimi sijui. Pengine ni namba ya shetani. Wacha tuone kutaendaje.”

Moved quickly

We continued in that same vein, rehashing the theories and counter-theories around the Huduma registration process unaware that the oven was smoking. Then suddenly sparks went off, followed by a loud bang.

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All three of us turned sharply towards the cooker, by which time the sparks had set off a flame. My daughter was the first one to leg it through the kitchen door into the sitting room, with me closely at her heels.  From the door, I glanced back at our helper who was still in the kitchen.

She was looking at the exploding appliance through a squinted gaze as if deciding whether to fight or flee. She hesitated for a second longer before lunging in the direction of the flames and turning off the cooker.

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Then she moved quickly to the back door and flung it open. By that time, the offending contraption had quieted down, emitting a few final sparks before going silent.

Peering suspiciously

If I said that I was amazed by how brave she was and how quickly she responded, that would be the biggest understatement in the history of the word. With my mouth agape and my daughter on my hip, I walked slowly into the kitchen peering suspiciously at the oven, afraid that there would be a second explosion. There was only silence. Well, apart from the scolding I got from Wonder Woman.

“Aki, Mama Kayla, sijaona mwanamke akikimbia hivo. Hii nyumba ingeshika moto, walai!”

Na mimi sijawai ona mtu akikaribia moto. What if gas ingelipuka?” I retorted.

“Mimi niliona hata kama ni kuchomeka, ningechomeka tu kidogo. Lakini nyumba ichomeke? Hiyo hapana!”

“Sawa, mummy. Pole sana,” I said, tempted to roll my eyes, but genuinely fearing the backlash.

I wanted to throw out the cake mix - given that the bananas had been borderline inedible to begin with - but the superhero was having none of it. She said that her grandmother had been baking cakes on three stones for years.

We angalia tu kwa Internet kama hujui,” she said.

And that, my friends, is how I ended up baking a cake in a sufuria on a gas burner.

I was surprised to find multiple videos of women ‘cooking cakes’ on the stove. It took two saucepans, a bit of water, and a lot of patience as we waited for the thing to rise, but by the end of it we had a bona fide banana cake – which tasted like heaven, if I do say so myself.

As we were cleaning counters, washing dishes and what not, I decided to strike up the Huduma Namba conversation again.

“Hiyo Huduma Namba, aisee … kitaeleweka kweli? Nimesikia ati deadline ime-extendiwa. We unaonaje hio mambo?” I ask.

Ata nisikudanganye, Mama Kayla. Huduma Namba mi-nishachukua.” I had to laugh. Ever since then, I have had no delusions about who the real boss in my house is.

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Huduma Namba