It was about 5am that cold morning. It was in December, and the Harmattan had set in in all earnestness. I walked out of my room in a pair of sweat pants, a t-shirt, a pull-over and a hoodie on top of all that. My head was covered with a kente headgear and my feet, in a pair of sneakers. I was protecting myself from the North-east trade winds. As soon as I stepped out of my door, the cold Harmattan wind kissed my face and I pulled my hoodie over my head and tucked my hands into my pockets to keep warm. Being a Catholic, leaving home at 5am to attend Mass was a daily routine. As I descended the stairs, I saw an object bundled in the corner of the staircase. Not sure what it was, I turned on my phone lights and walked cautiously towards it. As I drew closer, I could hear some noise from the object, I thought it was a dog because some of my neighbours keep dogs in the house so I became more careful (I love dogs but I am also afraid of them).
Guess what I found when I got closer! A 14 year-old girl in a knee long skirt and a sleeveless blouse! She had a cloth which she spread on the floor and used part to cover herself because of the cold. I went closer and shook her. She jumped up, startled.
I asked her what she was doing there at that time and she started crying. I offered to take her to my room to stay while I go to church but she said no. She said she didn’t want to put me in trouble and that she would be fine. Even though I have been seeing her on the compound, I didn’t know much about her, I just knew she was the nanny/house-help of one of my neighbours. We have met a couple of times on the staircase or by the bins in which we dumped our borla. On a few occasions, she has taken my clothes from the dry line while I was away, or emptied my bin when the borla-man came around in my absence. I liked her but her madam was one wild woman, and because I didn’t want to have trouble with her madam, I usually kept my distance. The greetings we exchanged were all the ‘conversations’ we had had and from them, I had gleaned her name.
That was all I knew about her. I also heard her crying on many occasions when her madam was reprimanding her. I insisted and took her to my room, gave her warm water to bath and some oversized clothes to wear. She said she was hungry and hadn’t eaten for almost 4 days so I warmed some food for her to eat. When she began eating, I asked her why she was sleeping outside and between mouthfuls she explained. She was cooking rice 5 days ago and her madam’s daughter told her she wanted some fanice, a popular ice-cream sold here. So she asked the madam’s daughter to watch over the rice while she goes to get her the ice-cream. Upon her return, the rice was burnt and madam was back. Her madam told her to throw the burnt rice away and cook some to replace what got burnt. Madam said the rice she threw away was her meal for the week so she should not eat any food from the house for a week. The day before I found her, she was so hungry she fetched some gari to eat and was beaten soundly for attempting to ‘disobey’ madam, and that was what brought her to sleep outside.
Being a house-help is like living a paradox; it’s one of the easiest yet difficult jobs to do. A lot of children have run away from their roles back to their families for various reasons. But should that always be the case? Some people have children whose character is nothing to write home about yet they never correct them even when they are wrong. But let it be a house-help, they will beat the hell out of him/her. Most of the house-helps we have are females who are taken away from their poor families to serve in a rich home. They suffer domestic violence and sometimes
sexual abuse from the husbands and sons of their madam, as well as their colleague male workers in the house. It is true that some people are naturally stubborn and recalcitrant but there are also those that are given punishments for accidents. For instance, why beat a child or a house-help because they mistakenly dropped a glass and it got broken? Only Heaven knows how they survive such ordeals. I find it hard to understand why people will treat their children well and treat other people’s children who live with them like borla. For adults who are in this house-help business, they are able to adjust and manage things better, but what about the children who are in this? Remember that being wicked is not the same as reprimanding someone. You can always correct people without being wicked to them.
Sometimes these children do not even get the right grooming, they go into puberty without the right socialisation and it is not uncommon to find out that they contract diseases that are easily
preventable diseases or develop offensive body odour among other things. Some of the children are deprived of their right to education and many other rights as well. Some in this kind of situation are so overwhelmed with house chores that time to sleep at night is a luxury for them. They often are the last to go to bed and first to rise in the morning. Their mistakes, borne out of good intentions are misinterpreted and they are punished for them. They grow up with so much fear and panic that many of them live in fear; fear of being reprimanded and of punishment. In their fear, they try to be careful and in trying to be too careful they make mistakes.
These days, some agencies have taken up the responsibility to get house-helps for homes who require their services. What is unclear however is what they do should there be a reported case of abuse from the house-help. It is also unclear if they give any form of training to the people they take as house-helps. One
challenge with this house-help business is that their roles are not defined, especially for those who are brought from the villages. They are just told to come and assist an aunty in keeping her home and taking care of children. Because their roles are not well defined, they perform all kinds of tasks including washing the underwear of their foster parents, bathing children, fixing food, dressing beds, going to the market, fetching water if there are no water taps in the house, sweeping, cleaning, doing dishes and probably any other duties that may be assigned them. So if you do not have any clear cut job description, how are you going to perform your duties well? Your guess is as right as mine!!!
While one would expect a house-help to fulfill her duties well, and be hardworking, truthful, humble, kind-hearted, diligent, and pleasant, those who engage their services are also expected to be caring, loyal, flexible, attentive and empathetic. They should
also be kind enough to pay whatever agreements they have with their house-helps, and just like they would tip other people who provide them with goods and services, house-helps could also be tipped occasionally. If you think your house-help is proving difficult or being stubborn, being hard on him/her will not necessarily solve the problem. It’s okay to reprimand him/her, but don’t over-do it. Don’t also punish them harshly or put them in situations that may threaten their future and their lives like putting their fingers in fire or hot water, or denying them food. It is also good to communicate with them after reprimanding them. Explain to them why you took that action and let them understand why they should not have done that or what they should have done. Also, make sure that you always give clear instructions to avoid misunderstanding. It is advisable to break down chores and have them do them one after the other. When chores are lumped together, they may forget some.
If you cannot treat a house-help with respect and be humane in reprimanding them when they go wrong, then please just learn to do your chores by yourself. One day, the maltreatment may go bad and you’ll find yourself wanting when you least expect it. House-helps are human too. House-helps deserve love too. People don’t choose their conditions, treat a house-help with respect. And sometimes, check and be sure if the house really needs help before you employ the services of an innocent person, and abuse them. CHEERS!!!