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The festive season - which extends from December 21 to January 1 - will end in a few days with you staring in shock at the ceiling on January 2 of 2019.
If you remember the song, The 12 Days of Christmas, the true love gives a present from the first till the twelfth day of Christmas; one drummer drumming (Dec 21), two pipers piping (Dec 22), three lords a-leaping (Dec 23), four ladies dancing (Dec 24), five maids a-milking (Dec 25) and so on till New Year – when someone gets a dozen partridges on a pear tree.
What the song does not say, but Beryl Itindi knows, is that of those five maids a-milking, one asked for a week’s leave to go for Christmas upcountry.
You agreed, because you are not just humane, but it is required by the Labour Laws of Kenya.
Now, you are waiting for Milka the maid to return on January 2. As promised. Third, fourth, fifth. On Sunday the sixth, it will finally hit you. Milka is never coming back. And you have work. And the kids are opening school, for First Term, the very next day!
I never ever thought I’d ever, ever write an article about domestic workers on this ‘manly’ space here. But the good maid who made the Mochama house run like clockwork left at the end of November. Her daughter has cleared boarding school (Form Four), and since it would have been difficult to invite her daughter to be part of the household, the painful decision was made to let the mother go to be with her 18-year-old daughter (who she got when she was in school, and the reason she dropped out in 2000 without sitting her exams).
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Anyway, in the last three weeks, the household has gone through three househelps, the way a combine harvester goes through wheat in Kitale. Get the popcorn, pull up a stool, open your ears!
Week One - Nancy
Nancy is 20, has just done her KCSE and is a very distant relative of the house missus. The plan is for her to spend 2019 as a domestic engineer in Nairobi, be paid Sh10,000 a month (direct to her folks), so that come 2020, she has fees for the salon course she wishes to pursue. So far so good, and Nancy is put on a shuttle and received in Nairobi. The problem is that Nancy has NEVER handled a toddler in her life, contrary to the lies of her folks. All day, we hear wails of ‘wewe Leooo, si ukule tafadhali?’ and ‘wewe Leo, si ulale tafadhali?’ She cannot change diapers, does not know how to blend baby food, or play with a toddler.
Week Two – Tecla
Tecla is from the bureau, seems sharp and fast, and can handle Boy Leo well. But you will soon find out why I came to nickname her ‘Tequila’, in her week of stay. In the morning, this 25-year-old from Western would wake up with the muezzin, cook, clean, wash, and be done with housework by noon, then take Leo out to play till almost 2pm. So far, excellent! But once she laid him in for his nap, Tecla would disappear, and Tequila would come out. Radio blasting! Early week when we were not around, a male photographer in the house for two hours (the downstairs security guard snitched, perhaps out of jealousy). Getting totally smashed on my bottle of Belvedere Vodka on Jamhuri Day, and acting openly (drunkenly) weird around ‘house massa.’ Then sneaking downstairs in the missus’s nice dress next day, not knowing I’d return earlier. Oh Tequila!
Week Three – Naomi
Nancy did not look hard-working at first sight, what with her slow strides. Turns out she was lazy as hell, had difficulty getting out of bed, was slow and slovenly in her movements; yet she managed to exude a rancid sweaty smell.
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But like a naughty 10-year-old, instead of a woman in her 30s, resisted the shower.
She also made horrid meals, with lumpen ugali, salty rice, like a cook in a Chinese gulag. Then she had these hostile moods when reproached, you got scared for your child.