My experience with house helps – Part I

mother and son

House helps from my village

Mum had been renting a house in the local shopping center where she was running her groceries business, and I had just deferred from the university to nurse my newborn son. The house was in a plot, not an estate or gated community. This being a remote environment, the tenants shared three bathrooms and several latrines, which was ok because the houses were just a few.

We didn’t have many things, but we lacked nothing

The teen mom who gave birth again and again

I get a teaching job from the nearby Catholic school and need someone to take care of my son as I teach. Of course, I take regular breaks to nurse the baby who is a few months old. My mum has a friend who has a daughter who has a child who needs food. She is young, about 2 years younger than I, and is ready for a 7am-4pm job. I give her the job. She is caring and loves my son. But can be lazy at times, which does not matter as long as she takes good care of my son.

mother and child
She loved my son, and that’s all what mattered

In the evenings, I hear neighbours saying that she helped herself in the bathroom! Never got the opportunity to vet the rumours, but after a while, she started reporting an hour late, then two hours, three hours, skipping a day and finally she stopped coming! Her mother said she got another child.

Sharing is caring: Househelp connives with neighbor to steal from employer

Second house help. I don’t remember very well how mum got this one. She is older and stronger. Dark with a very stout look. But always angry, as if someone poured cold water on her blankets to wake her up in the morning. I am still teaching during the one-year break I had taken to look after my son. We use charcoal fuel for cooking. Things are getting hard with this new house help. Everything we buy on any given day is depleted that same day. Buy 2kg of unga, it will make only one meal despite our sufurias being too small to accommodate a 2-kg mlima worth of ugali. Buy a mkebe of charcoal, it will prepare only one meal.

One day I decide to investigate what is happening. In the morning when the house help came, she lit the jiko and put the charcoal bag on the neighbour’s door. the neighbour, a slender girl who works as a casual in the district hospital nearby grabs it, disappears into her house and comes out with her own charcoal jiko full of charcoal. She puts it near the gate where it is windy so it can light faster. She must hurry up and go to work!

I wore my investigative lens

When evening came, our house help made ugali and slipped the remaining three-quarters packet-full of unga into the neighbour’s door. The neighbor grabbed it and disappeared into the house. Moments later she comes out with a paper bag and calls the neighbour’s son: “Katata, run to the stalls and bring me sukuma ya ten na nyanya mbili.

Never got to know how the house help and hospital worker were related, but one day in the cold month of July I came back home unexpectedly and found my son near the drainage, wearing a vest and playing with dirty water. Alone and shivering. There was nobody else in the compound. I relieved the girl off her duties and mum decided to look after the young boy for me, but not for long.

Boy playing

No more sleep disruption! Nanny gives one-year-old child alcohol so he could stop waking up at night

Time to go back to campus. My one-year break is over and I must return to Eldoret to clear my studies. I cannot stay with my son at the university and must get a trustworthy lady to look after my son. A relative refers me to another girl from the village. She was my little brother’s classmate in primary school. After assurances that she is of good character, I give her the job.

The sudden return

Mum leaves very early to take care of business and comes back late in the evening. However, she gets two or three breaks to come back to check on her grandson and also bite something. I leave for Eldoret but decide to stop in Nairobi for the weekend. After a day, my instincts tell me to go back home and check on my son. The following day I make a u-turn and go back home unannounced. I arrive at 4 in the evening. My son is alone in the house and starving. I make some porridge and feed him. He vomits!

No porridge, a bottle of keg beer will do just fine

Time goes by but the house help is not showing up. At 7 pm, she comes with a keg mug with beer running over, peeps through the door and upon seeing me, drops a bag at the door and without a word makes her way out. A few days later she sends someone to get her belongings. She already resigned! Reason? She had been giving my one-year-old son alcohol for the two nights I was away so he could sleep the entire night without waking up! And since then, the boy never woke up again for the midnight snack.

House help decided to start giving my son beer instead of porridge

Helping hand from my sister

I decide to get a break from hiring house helps and take the boy to my sister who stays a few miles from the university. The cold is unbearable, and the boy is taking longer to adapt; he is in and out of hospital every month. After a year, I realise that it’s time to take him to school. During the long holidays, I enroll him to a kindergarten at home. Mum promises to look after him because she no longer trusts house helps. He is fine spending time with other children in school, and mum is leaving work early so as to cook for him. Things are a little bit easier with mum’s helping hand.

Hell breaks loose! Mum moves, grandpa dies and eviction without notice

Three years later, I have completed my undergraduate studies and am now moving to Nairobi to look for a job. I start with internship then later go into freelance writing. Am the only one supporting my son, and I cannot stay with my son yet. So I find him a good school that has a school bus to take him to school in the morning and drop him home in the evening. But things don’t go as planned. There are a few issues here and there that force mum to move. She comes to visit and I decide now is the time to stay with the boy. With the proceeds from freelancing, I will do just fine.

Sorry please, you can’t live with your son

Am living in a bedsitter. My neighbor keeps warning me that the landlord does not like boys around – she had a son and whenever he comes visiting, the landlord gives her a stern warning that boys are not allowed in the compound because they climb walls, paint multiple colours and break stuff around! Mind you, the landlord has two children, a daughter and a son!

He said boys would cause a mess

Anyway, after a month of peaceful coexistence and happy life with my family of three now, the landlord tells me to leave his premises. No notice and no reason is given. Schools are just about to open and my son has already secured a position at a nearby school! At the same time, my grandpa passes and mum has to go home to help around.

A boy and his cousins

After mum leaves, I take my son to my other sister’s place so he can join the same school as his cousins. I ask a friend to host me as I look for a way forward. My friend advises me against moving from a bedsitter to another bedsitter, which I heed and end up storing my belongings at my brother’s place before moving to my friend’s. My son is doing well at his cousins’ place, and nobody knows that I have been evicted apart from my host!

Sometimes things fall apart, but life must continue

I don’t need a nanny here, just working hard. I receive an interview invite in two months, which lands me to my former workplace. I can now rent a bigger house, get my son and hire a nanny. Grandpa’s funeral is over and mum is preparing for a new phase in her life. I tell her to come and stay with us for a while. The term is over and my son is now staying with me. We stay for a few weeks but the place becomes unbearably cold. I move closer to town, to a place I came to love.

The house help from Western

Schools have opened, mum has returned home and I need a house help to look after my son and help with house chores. After a few calls, someone tells me about a girl in Western called Carol who needs 1,500 shillings fare to come to Nairobi.

To be continued …

 

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