In this city, we have all, if not most of us interacted with the professionals known as domestic managers or domestic helpers. Our mothers before us were bold and took up the challenge of being co-breadwinners with our fathers. As a result, somebody else had to be left behind to take care of the domestic front. This led to the rise and rise of domestic management as a career option.
From our interactions with these domestic managers, we have come across the good, the bad and the stark raving mad. I will delve deeper into the subject of the stark raving mad domestic managers, not because of any special consideration but for the pure entertainment value their antics present.
Where do I start? There are not many insane domestic managers out there. In fact, most of us go through this life without ever interacting with any. We have bucketfuls of stories about the good domestic managers who sadly had to retire or had to leave and start their own families or who enhanced their education and took on other professions. We also have stories of the bad domestic managers who are dirty, lazy, extremely harsh to the children, rude or kleptomaniac.
Then there are the stories of the stark raving mad domestic managers which are rare to come across but which when you hear, will leave you in shock or in stitches.
When we were in primary school, we had two domestic managers, both of whom were called Rose. One was Rose Auma and the other was Rose Anzushi. To distinguish between the two, we called Rosa Auma ‘Rose A’ and Rose Anzushi ‘Rose B’ simply because Rose Auma was employed a few months before Rose Anzushi. Rose B fell squarely in the category of the good. She was clean and neat, hardworking, kind and friendly to us. Rose A was in the category of the stark raving mad.
Those days, my father was the Director of Veterinary Services in Kenya and would travel all around the country on livestock related issues. He was often given a gift of a goat or sheep by community members. During these occasions, the goat would be slaughtered and dressed and the various cuts of meat kept in the deep freezer to be eaten during the course of the month. We had a dog named Bobby and the off-cuts from the goat were kept in a separate tray in the freezer for his feed.
My parents always were, and still are, very much attached to our rural home where they did a lot of commercial farming and they would travel there every other weekend. On these travels, my mother always left instructions of which foods should be prepared for us by the domestic managers.
One day, my mother left the usual instructions and off they went on their rural sojourn. One of the meals we were to eat for supper was goat stew and ugali. We ate all the meals as instructed and on Sunday my parents returned to find us all happy and healthy.
However, on Monday as we sat at the breakfast table, Rose A who would normally be cleaning the living room came out of the living room and using the mop as a make-believe microphone, started singing loudly and dancing the ‘ndombolo’ style where the knees were bent and arms hang loosely like a monkey.
She was singing in a loud voice “Super amaneche, super amaneche-eh, super amaneche-eh-eh-oh-oh.”
She danced from the living room, through the dining room and disappeared into the kitchen.
My parents were not amused by this display. Amaneche means testicles in the Luhya language. In short, Rose A was singing, “Super testicles, super testicles-eh, super testicles-eh-eh-oh-oh!” Such vulgarity was uncalled for at the breakfast table.
My mother was in a hurry to leave for work and decided to let the incident rest until after dinner when she would address it decidedly. At dinner time, Rose A again started singing the song loudly in kitchen and danced into the dining room carrying bowls of food as she sang.
My mother had heard enough! She asked Rose A if she has gone mad. Rose A said that she had not gone mad but would live to sing of what she had witnessed that weekend. Frightened, that some evil involving testicles had occurred to her children, my mother told Rose A to explain herself immediately.
Rose A said, “Mama, I will never eat meat again in this house. When you told Rose B to cook goat stew for supper on Saturday. Rose B went into the freezer, removed the goat’s amaneche which were kept for feeding Bobby and cooked them for the children!”
“So instead of correcting the situation you decided to keep silent and start singing vulgar songs for us?” my mother admonished.
Rose A said, “I will not cook or even touch meat in this house! If I continue, I will grow super amaneche!”
My mother was, and has always been, very kind and tolerant and she let this incident slide. She did not see the need to terminate Rose A’s services.
From then on, Rose A refused to cook or even eat meat in our house. Then one day, in the wee hours of the morning we heard some clutter in the kitchen, some sizzling sounds and smells of cooking goat meat. A goat had been slaughtered and stored in the usual manner the previous day but no goat meat had been cooked.
My parents went to the kitchen to investigate, but did not see anyone or anything. However, there was a strong aroma of freshly cooked goat meat in the kitchen and the cooker plates were warm. My mother came to our rooms and confirmed that we were still asleep and then went to the domestic managers’ respective rooms. Rose B was sound asleep but Rose A was missing. My mother called and called her name but she got no response. My father went outside and asked the watchmen if they had seen Rose A slipping out but nobody had seen her.
They checked the bathrooms and toilets but no Rose A. And then my mother just thought to look inside the kitchen cabinets. To her shock, she found Rose A squeezed into one of the empty cabinets above the kitchen sink.
My mother screamed in shock and my father came rushing to her side. Rose A remained unperturbed and sat in the cabinet greedily eating goat stew out of a frying pan. The soup was running between her fingers and down to elbow. When she finished the last piece of meat, she licked the pan clean, and then she licked her hand from the elbow upwards towards her fingers and then she licked her fingers clean.
This done, she leaped out of the cabinet agilely and holding the pan like a make-believe microphone, she began dancing ndombolo as she sang “Super amaneche, super amaneche-eh, super amaneche-eh-eh-oh-oh.”
Rose A was sent packing at the crack of dawn!
After Rose A left there came another one known as Manyasa who was also stark raving mad. The word “Manyasa” means a pair of shorts in the Luhya language and living up to her name, Manyasa did not wear panties but wore men’s boxers under her dresses. And she was obsessed with washing the said boxers. She would wake up at two or three o’clock in the morning and embark on a mission to wash just one or two of her boxers. This washing would go on and on beyond our breakfast time. We would go off to school and leave Manyasa washing her boxers and would return in the evening to find her now ironing the boxers.
She used a lot of laundry detergent for this. My mother used to buy 3 kilograms of the laundry powder known as Omo and this used to last for over a month. But with Manyasa, this lasted only one week.
One day my mother confronted her.
“Manyasa,” she said. “How come the Omo gets finished within a week? What is happening to the Omo?”
Manyasa gave a sarcastic response in Luhya, “Khombanga? Fukanga?” Meaning, “Do I lick it? Do I use it to make Ugali?”
As stated earlier, my mother was very patient and tolerant and let this slide.
Rose B was very talented in plaiting hair and plaited us every other weekend. On one such weekend, we sat on the lawn under the Avocado tree as Rose B plaited us in turns. My mother was seated nearby sewing some petticoats and generally keeping an eye on us.
Manyasa appeared on the scene and told my mother, “Even me I know how to plait. Why don’t you let me plait the girls?”
“You have never told me that you know how to plait, and I have never seen you plaiting anybody,” my mother said pointing at Manyasa’s hair. “Not even yourself!”
“I am an expert plaiter,” Manyasa proclaimed. “Just that you cannot see my plaiting because I only plait my pubic hair!”
My mother and Rose B looked at Manyasa alarmed.
“In fact,” Manyasa continued. “I was in my bedroom plaiting my pubic hair. That is why I now have to walk with my legs apart. I think that this time I plaited too tight.”
My mother found this very bizarre and fired Manyasa the very next day.
Some years after this, my parents employed another house manager to assist Rose B, who had been a constant. (Her name remained Rose B even though there was no other Rose). This new house manager was known as Pamela. She told us to call her “Pamzo” and so we always called her Pamzo.
Pamzo was tall and very light skinned. She took her looks and her beauty seriously and is the first person I ever saw shave off all her eyebrows and then replace them with a thin line drawn using eyebrow pencil. She also wore bright red lipstick every day. This lipstick also served as her eye-shadow. The lipstick looked green in its tube, but once applied on the lips or eyelids, it turned bright red!
She told us that she bought this lipstick and learnt how to do her make up in “Vanguva”.
“Where is Vanguva,?” my elder sister asked.
“It is in Canada,” Pamzo responded disdainfully. “Your teacher has not taught you science? Who doesn’t know where Vanguva is?”
“Oh, you mean Vancouver?” my sister asked.
Pamzo sneered and walked away.
Pamzo’s stark raving madness was not in her make up only. It was also in her language. She insisted that she lived in Vanguva for a year had forgotten Swahili and Luo, which was her mother tongue. She only spoke English! Or something akin to English. Whatever she spoke did not make sense and was very difficult to understand.
She had one really funny conversation with one of my mother’s visitors. I will never forget that conversation. My mother had invited four friends from her workplace over for lunch on a Saturday. She worked in an international organisation and one of her friends was from England.
When they arrived and sat down, my mother called Pamzo to come and serve them with refreshments. Pamzo stood by as my mother asked each of them what they would drink. My mother then repeated their drinks to Pamzo.
As Pamzo was leaving to bring the drinks, the English guest stopped her and said, “Perhaps I will take a cup of tea instead. It’s quite chilly outside today. Bring me a cup of tea with two sugars and cream.”
“Yes, yes, yes, short and clear,” Pamzo said nodding.
“Which type of tea do you have?” the English lady proceeded to ask. “I much prefer instant tea.”
“The nearer the bone, the sweeter the meat,” Pamzo said.
We were nearby and broke into deep laughter. The English lady was confused by Pamzo’s response. She just smiled and turned to my mother to interpret what had just happened.
My mother laughed and said, “Pamela is learning English. There are a few phrases she likes to use even though they may not make sense to her listeners.”
Pamzo did not stay long. A few months later, a new caretaker was employed by the neighbourhood association. His name was Okaka Major. Pamzo immediately fell in love with him and they eloped. We missed her broken English.
The other day, I was reminiscing about these stark raving mad helpers with my sisters-in-law. One of my sisters-in-law, informed me that she recently had one like this. The girl was lazy, and my sister-in-law thought that it was because she was idle. My sister-in-law had no children at the time and since the household was small, the work wasn’t much. My sister-in-law then informed her that she would invite a friend over for dinner and they could discuss the helper also working at the friend’s house so that she could earn an extra coin.
The day arrived when the friend came for dinner. The helper had been idling and lazing around the whole day but suddenly at 8 pm when the friend arrived, the helper jumped into action. With mop, broom and duster in hand, she began cleaning the living room, the windows and other areas where she was clearly visible to the guest. She even crawled under the dining table where they were having dinner and began dusting the underside of the table!
My sister-in-law and her husband were surprised at this. When they confronted the helper after the guests had left, the helper said that she was displaying her “mad cleaning skills” to a potential employer.
A few days after this display, my sister-in-law and her husband came home to a smoky house. The helper had fallen asleep on the lawn and left the stew on the cooker. The stew was completely burnt. They decided to go out for dinner instead and took the helper along since it would be unfair to leave her behind with nothing to eat.
They arrived at the restaurant and ate their dinner somewhat uneventfully. After dinner, they went to the hotel lobby to wait for their vehicle. As they stood there waiting, the helper stretched exaggeratedly and yawned loudly. She then held up her right foot with her right hand and started hopping across the lobby on her left foot. She changed feet and hopped across the lobby on her right foot. When she came to a stop she started doing jumping jerks while counting them out loudly. After completing ten jumping jerks, she cartwheeled across the lobby. She was wearing a skirt, so you can imagine what she presented to the hotel guests and staff when she cartwheeled!
This was quite uncalled for and embarrassing to my sister-in-law and her husband. On entering their vehicle, they asked her what the whole act was about.
“It is past my sleeping time,” was the response they received from their helper. “Keep quiet so that I can sleep!”