Sunday, 28 March 2010


Yaani it’s been long since I blogged. Nsaba munisonyiwe bambi (Mtajuaje? Naringa). Wacha I see if I can do a post a week. Also look out for one of mine over at Raymond Chepkwony’s place. Hebu we see if I can do stuff his style.

Leo I want to talk about ‘servants’. It’s in quotes because am referring to actual employees, some at the places where we work, others that are employed at home. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have any when I was growing up, but the whole arrangement does not sit well with me most of the time.
Let’s start with the time I was working as a ‘servant’. I’ve written on this blog that I at one point would baby-sit some neighbours’ and friends of friends kiddos, do laundry, and clean house while doing an unpaid internship that gave me the kind of experience I was looking to put on my CV. And, I consider myself lucky as I had more indirect financial support than anyone I can think of. While job-hunting post-grad school, I waited on wealthy folks who paid top dollar for the smallest portions I’d ever seen people pay for. The point here is not to tell you nilipitia njia mrefu. Let’s just say that I have been in the ‘service’ industry, but with a better package than most locals here. Case in point: If I worked more than 40 hours a week, I was paid 1.5 times my hourly rate.

When I eventually started working my desk job, there were no servants. I would often bump into the president of our organization toasting his bread or microwaving his lunch at work. At one point when it was apparent that the economy was headed south (even though I believe these were actually not bad times for the firm), they announced budget cuts, sending an email that you needed to clean after yourself in the kitchen because those services were not being paid for any more. Some guys would only come by after everybody had left to clean office and pick up the trash.
Fast forward to here and now; I’m talking E. Africa. Thanks to the high official unemployment rate, there are plenty of ‘servants’. With it, the class thing is alive and well. I bet you, you can walk into any office and get a general idea of who’s ‘big’ depending on how waited on they are. I’ve been to places where the biggest person gets served tea with spices in a special flask with a colourful cup, the big people are served in special flasks at their desks, and the rest fetch their tea in a common room or in a kitchen somewhere. It all seems totally acceptable, almost expected.

Let’s starting with the day I was seated in an office with a big person. She sends the cleaning guy for a plastic cup of water from the water cooler. The guy initially gives her an odd look, but then proceeds to go fetch the water anyway. But not before she has specified her order ‘wait! I want a mixture of hot and cold water. No, wait! Bring it in two separate cups, one hot, one cold” The guy goes, comes back with one cup, saying it was the last at the cooler-plastic cups. She hands him the one she had been drinking from, asking him to go get another one. The guy obliges. We stay for been about 10 minutes and she hasn’t touched the water, eventually going out the door. I’m thinking, the water cooler is in the general direction of the door, ma’am.

There are those tea people and cleaning people. These guys do more physical work than most of us in a day. More often than not, they are the first to get to work, and the last to leave, and most likely the least paid. Halafu people give them the most mundane tasks. ‘J.,take my food to the fridge. G., go get my food from the fridge and warm it up for me. Go get me lunch. No, I said I wanted groundnut paste, not beans’ –which is offered in only one restaurant that is like a15 minute walk, sometimes in the sun. It’s pretty sad when you realise they are buying and warming everyone’s lunch but their own-because hawana. ‘Buy me air-time’. I asked one why they do all this when clearly, it’s not in their job description, and they said that their JD clearly describes their duties and states that they are to run any other errands assigned to them. Talk of going an extra mile.


I won’t repeat what Shiko from Msa said about domestic servants. But banange, if some made my entire family's food and I had to leave them with my child/ren all day, I’d handle them with care. I onceI carried out an informal survey-if you call asking one question repeatedly a survey- about how much maids are paid. The mode was UGX 30,000 (like Ksh 1,200) per month. Answer to ‘why, that’s kidogo!’? ‘That’s the market rate’. Free markets at best? Yeah, you could also argue that there are market rates for slaves. Even more amusing is when the ‘employers’ will be ‘poverty professionals’: apparently when you need a domestic servant, gender balance, women empowerment, education, making poverty history yada yada yada don’t start at home.


Ssembonge said...

Having lived outside Kenya for a while, I have come to dislike being packed for groceries or the grocery cart being pushed to the car. Once at a petrol station in Nairobi, I almost fueled the car for myself to the disbelief of the attendants. If I had house-help, there some things I would not ask them to do.

mrembo said...

heh! you have touched a very sensitive topic which most people never want to discuss cause when it comes to how they treat thier maids ama the messenger at work thier evil will be in full evidence.

Let me not lie, it is only til I came to Europe, moreso when I came to Denmark and had to run my own home with child in tow that I learned and realised how BADLY and POORLY most , dare I say MAJORITY middle class people back home treat thier housemaids or those in thier employ. Halafu, Sunday wako kanisani singing the Lord's praise, huku maid haja lipwa miezi mitano!!!

Don't get me wrong, I am in no way ANTI-MAIDS or watchman or messenger for that matter. What I am against is he inhumane treatment of those under us.

One of the things I keep dreaming of having is a maid. God knows how many times I have said to hubby that the one thing (among others) about Africa / developing world that trumps western world is cheap labour and believe me you if we were to move home or to another developing nation, I am number one in line for a maid, shamba boy etc.

It's about how one treats them and do you see them as a person? A person just like you who has dreams, hopes and aspirations of being in a better station in life, just like you and me.

I have learned this lesson the hard when from having to work blue collar despite all my papers that say I can be my boss'boss. I have learned it from having to run my own home in DK. Its me and hubby to have our home looking cleaning and operating. It's us two who have to raise our son, feed him, bath him, put him to bed, clean house, do laundry, clean car, do the garden etc.

Doing all that has opened my eyes to the point I believe I would be the best employer to any person working in my HOME!

let me stop... I could write a book.
In ending I have to say that I had the best example of how to treat your maid from my mother.