In Nairobi’s middle-class neighborhoods, there are some areas where women wait for cleaning jobs from ‘lazy’ bachelors and working-class women. These job seekers are usually young, and a good number of them are mostly mothers. A lot of them live in the city’s slums that flourish in high-end surroundings. Have you ever stopped to wonder what the lives of these given women are like? What they have learned so far about the men and women they have worked for? What they are occasionally given to clean or wash? What the men and women they do work for put them through? We decided to find out what exactly their world is all about and here is the report.
Ladies who want their underpants to be washed
It is really quite vexing if not dehumanizing that some men and women actually give out their most intimate pieces of clothing to be cleaned by these ‘washing women’. “What is really most annoying is the habit where men and women give out their underwear or boxers and assume it is just normal that we should wash them as well,” Karen Khaemba says. And what does she do with them when that moment comes? “Initially I would just soak them in soap and just rinse them, but now I separate them and leave them there in the water. I don’t care whether they will call me for the next cleaning job or they won’t,” the 29-year-old mother of one says.
Karen has been cleaning houses for more than five years now in Donholm, Nairobi. And Karen believes she has for real seen it all. “At one point a woman kicked me out of the house claiming that I was there eyeing her husband.” But Karen says she was not even thinking about such. “It so happened that when we were negotiating my pay, the husband agreed to pay more than what she had recommended and she suspected something.”
“The wife complained that her man, the husband was giving me too much as expected. The guy said that I had done an excellent job. But the wife thought that I had not,” Karen remembers. Karen and her friends have seen so much – there is never a dull moment in their lives, as they wait for the next job daily.
Walked in on two men making love
One of the women we interviewed also claims to have once walked in two men making love and she was indeed shocked. The two men were equally dumbfounded. But they quickly went ahead composed themselves, and she decided to blackmail them. She was given a lot of cash to never mention what she saw to anyone. She has kept part of the bargain, given she will not mention which neighborhood it was or happened in. But some cleaning ladies offer extra services to these men too, especially bachelors in the city. James Okumu a 28-year old chap who works in the media and PR industry does not shy away from the fact that he has slept with his cleaning women, both young and some old in his bachelor pad. And goes on to accuse many bachelors of doing the same things. “I think it is the norm, not the exception, especially for us guys on Thika Road, specifically in Zimmerman, Kahawa, Kasarani, Roysambu, Githurai, and areas around” he reels off matter-of-factly. However, bachelors and married women in these estates do not necessarily agree with his assertion. “It is fairly common, but not as widespread as Okumu would want you to believe,” his friend counters though during the same interview.
Cleaning lady and amorous lover
Take Mercy a mother of two, for instance. Every given morning, she wakes up and heads to a particular spot along Elgeyo Marakwet Road in Kilimani in Nairobi, where she and other women look for clients at that point. One day, a man driving a heavy-range car stopped and signaled her. “At first the man looked like someone who was just wanted to ask for directions maybe because here it is very rare for a man to ask for a cleaning woman. I went to him and he asked me how much I charge for cleaning,” she begins. “It depends on the number of work to done, as in clothes to be cleaned,” she told him. The man said that she only had just a few clothes but was indeed willing to pay Sh1,000. This is a good offer since she was used to getting about Sh200 to Sh300. She quickly jumped onto the back seat of the car and they drove to Jamhuri. The man who she says looked to be in his 40 gave her some clothes, mostly jeans, and some tee shirts. She was done washing in less than 2 hours. Later, instead of the agreed Sh1000, the man gave her Sh2000.
As the man thanked her for her seen good work, he pulled her close and touched her inappropriately, as she explained. She did not know what to do, given that she had already taken the money, Sh2,000. She added, “What came to mind was the 2k he’d given me. I had not worked for it.” The man kissed her and said his name was Ken. She recalls him saying, ‘Pole, but you are indeed beautiful’. He asked her if she would come again if chance be. She agreed. Mercy walked to Ngong Road and took a matatu to Kawangware where she resides. She explains that she wasn’t sure if that man was married, but the house looked disorganized, a good indication there wasn’t a woman around. While the experience is tantamount to s3xual harassment though, the incident did not startle her.
Fellow women who offer washing services have been enticed into s3x and made good money in that given process. “In fact, when we sit waiting for these clients, these are the same stories we discuss and laugh about them. We say that as long as the men agree to safe s3x, and there is good money that comes with it, we will play the game well,” she discloses in addition. Indeed, after a week, Mercy called Ken to ask if there was some work to do. He told her to go to his house after some 3 days. And when Mercy went, there were only two pairs of trousers and three shirts to be washed. Most of the clothes had been washed as seen. The given man was upbeat and went ahead engaged her in lively chit-chat. After that she washed those given clothes, he went ahead asked her to prepare lunch- rice and beef stew.
After lunch, Ken seduced her.
“He gives me really good money,” She says. Mercy still works at the house, but Ken’s wife has no idea what is going on between them. “For a moment, I didn’t know what to really do. But having heard about it from my other friends, I knew it was a matter of time,” she added, saying “I would have avoided it that first time but I thought about the money and the current situation then.” By agreeing to sleep with him, she left 3k richer. And that has been her story for the greater part of the year. Mercy claims to have been pushed into moonlighting as a s3x worker because her husband has neglected her and her family and taken her to drink in Kawangware. Mercy also claims she’s the one paying fees for her two children, one in Class Two and the other in nursery.
Be my wife briefly
Atieno cleans her boss’s house in Lavington, Nairobi, twice a week. The man has another live-in house help though. One day as usual she arrived to find that the woman of the house had traveled to upcountry, Eldoret with the kids and their regular house help as well. She found the compound unusually silent and when she knocked, it was the man of the house who came up to open the main door for her. She inquired where the others were and the man told her that they had traveled the previous day. The man went back to his bedroom where he was while Atieno went ahead washed the utensils they had used the previous night. Since there wasn’t a lot of work to be done, Atieno decided to go back to their ‘waiting area’ and try her luck elsewhere before the day ends. But before she left, she knocked on the man’s door and asked for her day’s pay as she was to leave. The man opened the door in a nightgown and asked her how much she wanted. She told him it was only Sh200. Atieno says the man seemed to hesitate a bit though. He then went ahead promised to pay Atieno more if she agreed to be his wife briefly. Atieno was shocked and was lost for words to respond. “We stood at the door to the man’s bedroom for almost 30 minutes or so as he pleaded with her to ‘keep him warm’.
Then the man went ahead took his phone and started searching for something. He asked her to give him her number. She did. Then out of the blue, an MPESA message showed up on Atieno’s phone. The man had sent her a whop Sh1,500. “Your problem is that you are not telling me how much you want now. I would have given you exactly what you want or asked,” he said. “Add me Sh1,000, or Sh2,000, or any amount you feel suits me then,” Atieno went ahead found herself answering. This time, the man now went for his wallet and fished out 2k in cash, and gave it all to her. She gave in. The man did not stop there as expected maybe. Since then he’s been inviting her often to his house whenever his wife is not home. At one time, he took her to lodging when his wife was at home. Atieno, a single mother of a 5-year-old son says she doesn’t regret at all having an affair with the rich man. “He gives me really good money,” says Atieno. She still works at the house though, but the wife has no idea what is going on between her and the man of the house.” The two women promise to go on with these given affairs as long as the men continue to pay them as agreed.
Some bachelors however have paid for their shameless ways when their cleaning women cum lovers pilfer valuables from their houses and vanish never to be seen again anywhere. “One once stole almost 14K from me. I would never have known given that the money was in my coat,” one bachelor who declined to be named explains. “You cannot just trust them entirely. They have a habit of stealing some small but valuable things, so you must be extremely cautious whenever dealing with them,” he warns.