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Morgue attendant: I don’t regret my career choice

By Willie Khaemba | February 5th 2021
Jackline Masinde in a cold room at the Lugulu mission hospital mortuary. [Willie Khaemba]

She has handled bodies in a morgue for eight years and is not about to quit.

Jackline Masinde, 34, began the journey beautifying and embalming the dearly departed at the Bungoma County Referral Hospital while working as a security guard.

Jackline is currently working at the Lugulu Mission Hospital Mortuary where she has been for two years, having worked at the Bungoma County Referral Hospital Mortuary for three years and later to the Lumboka Hospital Mortuary.

She also rendered her services to LifeCare Hospital Mortuary for three years.

" I developed interest while I was working as a supervisor of a security company manning the Bungoma County Referral Hospital.

That is where I volunteered to assist mortuary attendants in moving bodies from the hospital wards to the mortuary," says Jackline.

So, what was the motivation?

"One time I admired the work and the mortuary attendant directed me to the Hospital administrator who allowed the mortuary attendant to train me," she recalls.

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Her first assignment was to attend a post-mortem session of a child who had died of poisoning.

"I was asked to attend the post-mortem session of a child who had died of poisoning.  This was to help me develop the courage to handle such cases. It was tough and at some point I felt like running out of the room in the process but I had to hold on," she remembers.

People around her were, however, not amused by her career choice which was was not only considered unpopular but also as a taboo in Luhya culture.

"My decision to quit the security job and take up the mortuary attendant was never welcome,” she says adding that her family rejected her. 

"That was the most trying moment in my life. My family and friends rejected me and  kept away from me saying that it was against our culture for a young woman to be a mortuary attendant which was a job for old people and outcasts in the community. I was left alone and lonely," she recounts.

The mother of three however, remains humbled to her husband who was the only person that stood with her when she chose to take up the unpopular job.

"When everyone turned their back on me, my husband gave me a shoulder to lean on. He encouraged me and our kids also have learnt to embrace my job. I openly share with our kids what I do for a living and we're all comfortable with it," she says.

In her daily duties, Jacklines' prayer has always been not to handle cases of young children.

"It pains me when I see lifeless bodies of young children being brought to the mortuary, I feel the pain of a young life cut short."

She is, however, addicted to her work to the extent that she feels bad if a dead body is not brought to the mortuary.

"I feel bad if I don’t see a dead body because I earn my daily bread from that.”

She says that she will handle bodies until she is old enough to retire since she has been able to cater for her young family and initiate some projects including buying a piece of land through the job.

It is generally believed that one must be a drug addict to handle bodies but Jackline is as sober as a judge. She instead says it’s the passion for her work that drives her knowing that at one time she will also die.

"People should not fear the dead knowing that at one time they will also die”.

She says treating mutilated and decomposed bodies  has been one of the greatest challenges in her career.

Ms Masinde says that people should not fear the dead since everyone will one time die.

Her career is similar to that of Kenya’s Grace Kisira who is believed to be among the country’s long serving female morgue attendants.

Ms Kisira took up the job in early 2008 at the City Mortuary.

The job has been the preserve of men but an increasing number of women  are embracing it.

In 2011, Ms Kisira was joined by three other women who also worked as morgue attendants at the City Mortuary.

The mortuary attendant’s job was not Ms Kisira’s first experience in handling the dead. She had worked at Lang’ata cemetery where she helped with digging graves and burying the dead.

The job entails: washing, treating and helping in the disposal of unclaimed bodies.

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