After being stood up by the housekeeper I was supposed to have met on a Saturday afternoon, to talk about her experiences as a helper in one of the households in the capital city, I sighed with despair because it had not been easy to convince her into talking about her experiences. It has not been easy convincing anyone to talk. They all don’t trust, “batho ba dipampiri. They are all not to be trusted because they can cost you your job.”
As I stood there trying to decide which way to go and not to curse the lady for making me get out of bed before the noon on a Saturday afternoon, I spotted a woman and a child sitting not far away from me. As I drew closer to them, my earlier thoughts were confirmed, the lady was the little girl’s nanny.
I watched and listened closely as she chatted away on her cell-phone in her native tongue. Ignoring the child who had an uneasy and puzzled expression on her face.
When she was finally through with her conversation, I psyched myself into asking her for an interview, on the spot, but the hardened expression on her face stopped me and I retraced my steps.
And luckily for the cell-phone technology, I dialed 123. I pretended as if I had changed my mind about leaving and was giving whoever I was waiting for a second chance to show up. Because it was clear that I had been waiting for someone, I pretended to be calling them one last time.
I watched through the corner of my eye as the lady continued to be intrigued by her phone. She seemed to be texting away. The child had a faraway look and she looked like she would rather not be sitting there, but she didn’t say anything. Probably knowing better than to.
The lady finally stood up and the little girl followed suit and took her “aunty’s” hand lovingly into hers and looked up to her and asked, “Where are we going now, aunty?”
The lady did not look at the child. She looked forward. She had a grim expression on her face and said, “We are going where I want.”
I realized my decision to retrace my steps was a wise one.
Speaking to one Motswana who spoke on the basis of anonymity because of the nature and sensitivity of her profession, she said that she was well aware that housekeepers sometimes do despicable things like, beating up children when their parents are at work. And this will be evident by the way the children fear them even in the presence of their parents.
“They won’t even bother to give any love to a child. And some housekeepers go as far as stealing their madam’s husbands/boyfriends.”
She did not blame this entirely on the housekeepers. She said that some women get offended when their housekeepers sashay their assets around when they present food to their husbands/boyfriends.
“They will be offended but what surprises me is that they will not get up and do it themselves. They won’t even bother to make an effort to do it, at least, once in a while.”
She said that some bosses can be horrendous too. They can go as far as belittling or discrediting the contribution of their helpers to the household. Especially in front of visitors.
“’Ke a bo ke ipotsa gore wa bo a apeile ene yo.’ Knowing full well that her helper always does her duties.”
She also mentioned the matter where mothers may be offended by the fact that their children have a closer relationship with their housekeepers.
“But when they come back home from work they won’t spare their time to spend it with their children and bond with them. Some people like making themselves lazy. Not because they are really lazy.”
She did not just talk about the downside of the housekeeping industry—which she said she has been observing and studying for the longest time. Amongst the things that she thinks are the most positive are when the nanny/housekeeper becomes a second mother to the children.
“There are children who grow up knowing that they have two mothers,” she said. I know a woman who refused to leave her job when the children of the family finally outgrew nanny care.
They ended up helping her apply for a plot, acquire it and make something of it and more of herself.”
She said another housekeeper she knew was treated so much like a family. She was even introduced as a child of the family.
“The woman whom she had taken care of before would come and say, ‘This is my younger sister.”
“That same housekeeper is now married to a soldier and has her own housekeeper. She was a maid and now she has her own maid.”
She said that some families might even encourage their helpers to go to church.
“They can get you into activities that can help you find yourself.”
She did not stop short in praising families that help their housekeepers to go back to school.
“Some people will help you go back to school. We know that most maids are poor and uneducated but some families will encourage you to go back to school and get yourself educated. I know someone who went back to do her form 4 and form 5. Other compassionate people will even give away second-hand furniture and clothes to the families of their helpers.”