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Lessons for us from a departing house girl

By Mohamed Guleid | December 12th 2019

Last Sunday, something exciting happened in my home. As I arrived, I heard a chorus of the popular Mwana wa Mberi Luhya song. Apparently, a party had been planned for my house help of 10 years. The sitting room had been invaded by neighbours, mostly women who had come to say goodbye to Tabitha, our house manager and almost a mother to my children.

There were tears and moans from neighbours and my children as they gave gifts and cut a cake to celebrate the 10 years that Tabitha served our home with diligence and love.

After staying with someone for so long, one gets the feeling, the relationship change from one of a worker or employee to that of a family member. The relationship gets elevated to a special association.

A sense of affection is developed. Back to the party last Sunday, the Mwana wa Mberi song and laughter and excitement lasted up to late in the evening. By the time the guests left, it was almost midnight. I was planning to leave for work at 5am the following morning, but that was obviously a challenge. At least I felt gratified that Tabitha slept that night feeling loved by all, including the neigbours

For me, many thoughts went through my mind. How does one repay someone who sacrificed 10 years of her life to work selflessly for my family? It is normally not easy to maintain relationships with domestic workers for so long.

The family

In the news media and neighbourhood gossip forums, you hear stories about domestic workers stealing and going away with valuables from their employers or harming the young ones whom they ought to mind. But Tabitha was instead the mother in the house when my wife passed on two and a half years ago. She made sure food was served, she did the dishes, cleaned the house, put the children to bed and did the laundry. Because of the long period of association, she never felt like an outsider in the family. In fact, the kids fondly referred to her by her first name.

With Tabitha, it was not just a boring and monotonous relationship. We had our light moments as well. I recall the first time she refused to light the gas cooker with a match stick. She found this dangerous. Slowly she adapted to it.

Sending money through her phone number was a challenge. She simply refused to adopt this modern technology, probably not trusting or believing in it. It was only a few years ago that she accepted to be paid through her phone. She offered a peep into the culture of her people. I learnt that among her people - she was from Western Kenya- cultural rites around burial and circumcision are taken very seriously. As a Muslim, burying dead person is not really an intensive activity for us.

Different ethnicity

One day as per the religious edicts, the corpse is expected to be buried the same day without much ceremony. The last 10 years, we have mourned with her. She has been away for up to a week or sometimes two weeks to attend a burial back at home. The cost and the ceremony involved in burying someone from Western Kenya is generally higher than the average cost of burial across Kenya.

She rarely talked politics and when she did, all she cared for was peace and harmony in the country.

Tabitha regaled us with tales from her community. Her strong Luhya accent even rubbed on us, especially my children. The children now say, ‘supagetti’, a luhya version of spaghetti. And of course, our diet in the morning starts with a bowl of porridge. Slowly, our culinary has changed from an enjera eating Somali family to something between Luhya and Somali.

Tabitha did her role in making our communities the melting pot of wonderful cultures of our country. Other than cases of intermarriage and at schools, the only other time where people of different ethnicity meet and mingle so closely- without a care in the world- is at homes where people from different ethnic groups meet.

Tabitha has the best qualities anyone would expect from a good house manager. She has been very kind particularly to kids, she woke them up every morning to prepare them at 5am for prayers and school and she has performed this task without fail for all these years. I am now at loss just wondering where we will get another Tabitha.

I also wonder what magic the politicians do to make us look at people from other communities as enemies.

Mr Guleid is the CEO of Frontier Counties Development Council. [email protected]

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