As I walked the steps that lay between my car and the apartment, I found myself rubbing the silver bracelet that lay upon my left wrist. It was a Pandora piece, one of my favourites with the topaz seahorse charm. It was worth more than money to me and I wondered what would happen if I had lost it instead of the watch I had spent three hours combing my apartment for last night when many were sleeping soundly. I shuddered involuntarily and muttered a soft, “God forbid” under my breath.
Few minutes later, the domestic staff Faridat walks in. She was a dark skinned, wiry little thing but I liked her because she listened to corrections, showed up, did her job and left. She didn’t make unnecessary small talk, and she did not gossip.
As usual, she curtsied as she said, “good morning ma”.
As usual, I cringed before the reply. Really, did she really have to bend her knees?
I poured myself a cup of tea as Faridat busied herself with her duties. At some point last night, after the third hour searching for my favourite watch, I had begun to wonder if indeed Faridat had stolen the piece for it didn’t make any sense. I saw it, she came to clean and then I saw it not. And so I searched harder, desperate to find it. You wouldn’t believe where I found it. Tucked underneath a book on my bed-side table. Turned out she did not take it after-all, but had simply moved the book I kept underneath my pillow to my bed-side table. The book lay on top of the watch the whole time Hurricane De-laVega unearthed everything in every nook and cranny of my home in an insomniac frenzy. I smiled at the memory.
That was how the house became such a mess. I felt bad for her. I picked up some hangers, a broom and a ‘packer’ and went to assist Faridat. We worked in silence. I began to think about our general perception and treatment of our domestic staff and their perceptions of us (their employers). I wondered about Faridat’s life – the one she lived before meeting me. I wondered if she had been a victim of abuse or unjustly accused. I wondered what wondrous things I would learn about her and from her- should I encourage her to share her story…
Once I shared with a friend how uneasy I felt whenever Faridat bent her knees to greet me… that I was thinking of telling her to stop. Oh, the horror on my friend’s face! She said I shouldn’t dare. That most domestic staff didn’t respect boundaries- and that she might see it as weakness on my part and license to disrespect me in future. Hmmmmmmn.
According to her, many of these girls are groomed from their villages by their families to be at first hard-working and seemingly docile where in fact they are “agents of darkness and destruction” whose sole aim is to infiltrate their employers’ homes, bewitch Oga and displace Madam and breast-feed Madam’s baby. (Chineke!) Infact, some go as far as washing their ny*sh in oga’s ogbono soup and spitting in madam’s tea. (Oti o! Say it’s not true!)
“Haaaaa!” she said, “it is very very true.” She asked if I had decided what kind of domestic help I was going to hire in my husband’s house. I said I had not given it much thought. She said to be very careful. Don’t hire a-somebody with gravity-resistant mammary glands, and definitely not one with a rotund ikebe. Apparently, those ones are deadly o. Because, that’s how those ones like moving up and down the house in front of Oga when Madam is out, forming I-want-to-sweep-the-cobwebs-off-the-ceiling-sir.
I laughed. But I am not naïve enough to doubt that such indiscretions exist between the help and the employer (be it male or female). I wondered what the story is from the perspective of domestic staffs and friends of Faridat. Some of them are violated by their Ogas, pursued relentlessly by Oga/Madam, abused and beaten. Some are starved, over-worked and under paid. Some are quite simply used like modern-slaves and seen and treated as less-than-human.
That being said, it would seem that there are ever so many things for the modern woman who hopes to balance a home and a successful career to worry about. After some research and talks with many other wives and madams, I realized how big an issue this actually is. Especially dealing with “helps from hell”. From the help sleeping with spouses, to abusing the kids, to sexually violating the kids (you wouldn’t believe how many people you know who were fondled inappropriately by their maids/cooks/drivers as kids). I heard about a male domestic staff who put his male organ into his employers’ baby’s mouth time and time again and ejaculated into it instead of actually feeding the baby like he was supposed to. (Jesus, why are people so evil?)
I have even heard about the metro-sexual man married to a beautiful woman he constantly frustrated by demanding 100% grooming and etiquette from all the time. The kasala com burst when she walked in on her husband munching the Sambisa forest of their wrapper-tying, armpit-smelling, crooked-teethed house-geh. (Na wa o. Tinz are ‘appunin’ under this our sun o!)
What about the help who was HIV positive and infected her boss’ 4-year old son by lacing his porridge with her menstrual blood? (Yuck, yuck, yuck. This wickedness no get part 2!)
Let us not forget the ones who steal, lie and gossip. What about those who arrange with armed-robbers/kidnappers to come shake-down their employers when they scold them?
Cause and effect…
Because we give strangers unparalled access into our lives, the effect is that they can choose to take advantage of our need and misbehave. Because reality has changed, life has evolved and responsibilities have magnified, more and more mothers are forced to contribute financially to their homes, and trust their children to people they hope will help them domestically. Please, do not take for granted how difficult this decision is to make for these women. Please do not take for granted how exhausting and time consuming it is to manage a marriage, to single-handedly manage a home and every aspect of house-keeping, and to raise a happy family. If you are a man and you have a better alternative for these women, please share. We are all learning.
Abeg o, Madamsies… abeg helep us too o. Save us from “helps from hell” by sharing your stories and lessons. So what do we do? Me, I say have someone come certain days a week, clean and go. Preferably an old, austere woman. No daughter of Eve with bouncing-ikebe shall be staying over with me o… No muscular Adam’s descendant shall be impregnating all the neighbour-hood girls under my roof. Lastly, thank God for mothers and electrical appliances like washing machines. I can’t shout biko.