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Speaking up for house helps

By | August 21st 2011

EVA KASAYA suffered when she worked as a house help. Even with limited education, she penned her experiences in the Tales of Kasaya, memoirs everyone should read and think twice before mistreating their domestic help. She spoke to KIUNDU WAWERU

Coming from a poor family, Eva escaped her Kerongo Village home in Western Kenya with one dream –– to get a job in Nairobi and elevate her family from poverty.

Left: Eva (second right) with Ngugi wa Thiongo (right) and other guests at a past literary event.

She was 16 years old, having just completed primary school but lacking fees for secondary education.

Eva had grand plans and expectations of Nairobi, a place where dreams were achieved, as painted by her friends who had grown up in the village with her.

After an exciting train ride, Eva eventually got to the city of lights. Her first job was with a kind family in Donholm. However, she had to leave the job after she was summoned back home.

She was thus expecting to work in such a household on her return, but was shocked when she ended up in Kibera. The village girl couldn’t understand how there was such an unkempt informal settlement in Nairobi. She lived with a couple in their single room and she slept on a seat near the couple’s bed.

One night, the man of the house crawled to her ‘bed’ and attempted to rape her, as his wife slept. Eva shouted him off.

Later, the man physically abused her. After two months of harsh treatment and no pay, Eva decided to leave. But her troubles had just begun.

Her next port of call was Kawangware, working for a rude woman who lived with her two teenage sisters. Eva would wash clothes for all three. When they went to bed at 9pm, Eva would go out to fetch water until 2am. She was always up at 5.30am. For three months, she worked, again without pay.

She then worked for a kind-hearted single mother who paid her promptly. But this woman soon started coming home late. Threatened by criminals, Eva ran for her life, straight to the arms of another heartless employer who would lock in everything, including food and TV. Eva and the employer’s daughter would spend all day in the house locked in.

In her memoir, Eva recounts how one time she worked at a home whose owners she suspected to be witches. Eerily, the sink would always have “black messy frogs”, which would appear the following day even after thorough washing. All this while, Eva contemplated about independence. She thought of training in tailoring.

The tide moved in her favour when she found a job with a kind but struggling family of fresh graduates. They paid her on time and when their circumstances improved, they increased her pay and even opened for her a bank account. Eva started a tailoring course at Don Bosco in Karen, Nairobi.

Around that time, she became friends with a neighbour, Renate Ritter, a German woman married to a Kenyan. When Renate heard Eva’s story, she was surprised and asked her to write it down.

“At first I was reluctant but then I started writing my story in an exercise book,” says Eva.

The more she wrote, the easier the memories flooded her mind.

She started writing the book in 2005 and it was published last year by Kwani?, a remarkable feat seeing Eva only reached Class Eight. She now wants to enroll for private secondary school education.

Since the book was published, Eva has been invited to many forums including Story Moja’s Hay Festival and Kwani’s Lit Fest and when she reads her work, people get touched and congratulate her for her courage.

“Once at Wasanii, a nicely dressed woman shocked me when she said she was also once a housegirl but she did not share the tribulations she underwent,” says Eva.


On that note, Eva believes she can be the voice of the often voiceless women who go with the tags of ‘maid’ and mboch.

“These girls go through a lot and through my work, they have realised that they don’t have to live in the shadows, being abused in silence,” Eva says.

She adds that the house helps who have had a chance to read the book are inspired and view it as a beacon of hope.

Eva now lives with her son in Mbale, Vihiga, and works with Kuwesa Widows, an organisation that trains widows and families affected by HIV and Aids in handiwork, making tablemats, blankets and jackets.

She is working on another book though her days are pre-occupied with work.

For someone who was always at the mercy of others, never making her own decisions, every day has become a learning experience.

“When my last employers told me I can get by on my own, that I didn’t need to be a house help any longer, I was afraid of the future. And indeed, I found that the world was unforgiving. I partnered with a man at the Maasai market and he conned me of my initial garments,” says Eva.

She then started a small tailouring business in Kangemi, which she abandoned during the post election violence, but she is now courageously moving on.

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