Househelp Chronicles: The bad and the ugly

Jackline Auma. [Standard]

The hearing of a case in which a Ugandan house help was accused of murdering her employer and her child failed to take place on January 29.

Jackline Auma is accused of killing Elizabeth Achieng and her son Benedict Okoth on June 6 last year at Shauri Yako in Muhoroni town, Kisumu County.

Besides her, another house help in Migori County was on June 17 sentenced to life in prison for defiling a six-year-old boy.

The woman, identified only as Aunty, also infected the boy with an STI on March 30. The boy is on medication.

These are just a few mentions of the disturbing experiences mothers have endured at the hands of househelps.

Working mums have suffered the most, as they have to work and have someone watch the baby or babies while they are out.

Some prefer live-in nannies as they will be more efficient, others would have them come in the morning and leave in the evening. They are referred to as 'Day Scholars'.

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Each househelp will come with their fair share of what many mothers refer to as 'drama'. Others have dubbed their experiences 'The Nanny Chronicles'.

Interviewed mothers said they are at the mercy of the househelps as with the current economic times, many households may not survive on a single source of income.

Today, many homes are headed by women, making househleps the only option.

Some orgaisations have set up daycares for staff, but even those only watch the baby until a certain hour. Many go only as late as 7pm.

Business people have taken up daycares as a source of income, where they will open up their homes and watch the children.

The downside is that there isn't professional help. One would worry about what would happen if a child would fall sick or what steps would be taken in case of an emergency.

Since they are informal, there is little monitoring and checks by the Health Department or the Children's Office.

For mums who work nighshift like security officers, journalists, doctors and nurses, a daycare centre that closes at 7pm is close to no help.

The househelps seem to know how much mothers cannot live without them, if what they say is anything to go by.

Sharon Chebo said her househelp once told her, "I am a working class, kazi yako ni kukaa tu hapo na kutoa instructions. Huna hata haya wewe ni jobless."

Loosely translated, the statement says the househelp is a 'working woman' and her employer, a housewife, shouldn't simply issue instructions. In fact, she should be embarassed as she is jobless.

Chebo added that a second one once said, "Usinipande kichwani, jua mimi ndo nampanguza mtoto wako nyuma." [Don't give me a hard time, remember I am the one who wipes your child's butt].

The women who spoke to Standard Digital said the most disturbing statements were those that seemed to threaten the child's welfare.

Hazel Miriam said her nanny once said, "ntachoma nywele yake na kibiriti". [I will burn his hair with a match stick].

Hazel Miriam, whose son is five years old. [Standard]

She says she let go of the nanny the following day.

Journalist Rose Wangari said she was in the living room while the househelp was feeding the baby.

At the age of two, some children do not enjoy eating and require a little extra patience, something Wangari's househelp perhaps did not have because when the baby refused to eat, she shouted, "Ntakuchinja". [I will slaughter you].

But it's not all gloom. Some of the statements the househelps have let slip out of their mouth are laughable, if one chooses to take it as dark humour.

Violet Khalayi says her househelp was a big bodied woman while she is petite.

Many breastfeeding mothers will have engorged breasts, but that was not Khalayi's experience. Her cup size did not change much, to which her househelp quipped, "why are your breasts smaller than mine yet you are the one who just had a baby?"

She says she ignored it, but felt disturbed later about the statement.

Ignorance and moving on seem to be the only way around househelp statements that could either be disrespectful, disturbing or plain hurtful.

Muthoni Rose was told, "Kwa nini ulifuatanisha watoto hivyo? Kwani hukuwa unajua family planning?" [Why did you not space out your children, do you not know about family planning?"]

Rose said, "That's the day I realised I am a very patient person. She is still working for me."

In another incident, Linda Akinyi says she questioned why the baby's diaper seemed full and unchanged, to which the househelp said, "Utajua aje wewe ni mama mtoto asipokukojolea?" [How will you know you are a mother if your child does not pee on you?]

But househelps are not the only villains in the story. Some employers are said to give the women a hard time.

In October last year, Penina Awuor shared her story about being asked to clean a corpse that was wrapped in a rag and kept under the bed in a secluded room.

When Awuor landed a job in Pangani, a middle-class estate in the capital, she believed her life would improve. Armed with only a primary school certificate under her arm, she was grateful for the Sh6,500 salary promised by her employer Mohammed Noor.

Washing the corpse and sometimes being asked to sleep with it were not the only hardships Awuor had to face. She is accusing her employer of refusing to pay her salary accumulated to Sh13,000, hitting her, as well as sexual assault.

The case is still in court.

For Centrin Ochako, other than being blocked from going to church, she was not allowed to take a hot shower.

"She said I do not contribute to the electricity bill payment," Ochako added.

Housegirls placement agent Rachel Mwangi said there are no (im)perfect employees. She added all experiences are a result of what both parties put in.

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