My Mum’s Help – A Love-Letter To Houseboys And Housegirls
By Mahbuba Matovu
Before you judge, can I just say that my beloved mother is a very well paying employer who hires willing humans who are of age to work for her. Also, hiring help around the house is a wildly common practice in African households from all financial brackets.
That being said, my mother is a stress-free human, so she’s staffed up. I’m not here to brag, trust me, it’s far from that. She’s got four workers around the house and I thought you all would be quite entertained by what she has to go through on the daily.
Truth be told, we don’t need all four, but the house can get quiet and boring and eventually the workers leave because they have no company. So mum keeps at least two people around the house so they can keep each other company, in addition to keeping the house clean and organized. Two of them are young men, Emma and Ronald, both in their early twenties. Joan, the only woman, is also in her early twenties and the driver, Kato, is probably in his late thirties.
On the morning of my arrival from the States, I woke up to my mum scolding Emma and Ronald. Why you ask? The goats were eating the flowers in the garden. Yes, we have goats at the house. Long story short, my sister got married, the bride-price was paid, and now we own two goats in addition to a life supply of soda, Redbull and sugar, among other things.
My mum’s gardens are her pride and joy, so you can imagine how mad she was when my four-year-old niece (hi Hanni), ran to tell her that the goats were eating the flowers. Emma and Ronald were literally chilling outside watching the goats feeding on the flowers, it did not occur to them to chase the goats away.
Emma does pretty much nothing all day. He’s been here the longest so, in his mind, he’s the senior worker and the others should be the ones to do stuff around the house while he manages them. Case in point, when my mum called him to ask why the night lights were still on at 11am, he sent Ronald to see what my mum needed, after which he sent Joan to switch them off.
Oh, but there’s one thing he insists on doing, serving food. When meals are about to be served and placed on the table, he’s the one in charge. He saves all the biggest and juiciest pieces of chicken for himself and leaves the boney neck for us family members to brawl over.
Ronald is perhaps the most hardworking of them all. His nickname is Pastor. He told my mum that he’s a Pastor, for real. I didn’t bother to ask him why he left the preaching life to pursue a job that wasn’t related to evangelism. I get it, life happens to people. But come on, housekeeper…of a Muslim household at that? He could have at least scored that job of standing at the traffic lights, preaching to people during the red, but who’s judging?
Ronald is the one to ask when you need to get something done ASAP – he has his moments though. Like one Sunday, he told mum that lunch was served. Mum told him we were not ready to eat since we’d just had a huge brunch. According to Ronald, that meant we didn’t want lunch so he and Emma decided to eat all the food. Dinner came and mum asked for the food. They brought her one plate. She asked why the other members of the house hadn’t been served and they told her it was finished. Basically, two people had eaten food for like seven people. That night she cursed them in Luganda, Runyankole and English.
Then you have Kato, the driver. Kato shows up for work at 11am and goes home at 5pm, sometimes 3pm. Most times, mum has to call him to show up, meanwhile he gets paid for a full time job. Also, this is his third chance. He’s been fired twice before but came back pleading to be hired again. The good thing about Kato is he’s a chill guy who minds his business and can wait the entire time while my mum is attending weddings and social events.
I saved the best for last though, our beloved Joan. Joan is the sweetest, most innocent looking girl, until you live with her for three days. When I first got home for my summer vacay, I wondered why my mum asked Joan if she had showered, every morning. A few days in, I discovered that if you didn’t remind Joan to take a bath – she wasn’t going to take one, nope.
My five-year-old nephew and four-year-old niece are home a lot and Joan is mostly in charge of them. They spend most of the day playing by themselves, and only need attention during meals and bath-time.
This one time, my sister bought them a whole big box of biscuits for snacking. Poor biscuits never got to see the light of day as Joan dearest had feasted on the box all night. It was literally empty in the morning.
Then, there’s the time I told mum, who’d wanted a cup of tea, that we’d run out of sugar. She handed me keys and showed me to a kitchen cabinet that she’d specifically had a lock installed on. Apparently, one night when she came to grab a glass of water before going to bed, she found Joan, late in the night, spoon in hand, eating sugar direct from the sugar bowl, by herself, in the dark. I promise y’all, we give these people food.
I thought I’d call this a Love-Letter to Houseboys and Housegirls because anyone that’s living in an African household certainly relates when it comes to “The Help”. As an African that now lives in The States and has to fend for herself, I’ve come to appreciate them more and see the humor in their mistakes.
I dedicate this to them – the ones who knock on your door in the morning with a flask of tea and Katogo, and throw forks and spoons in the trash when emptying the dishes. To the ones who help children get ready for school every morning, and try on our clothes to take pictures in the studio. To the ones who go straight from mopping the floor with the dirtiest rag, to slicing your avocado for your lunch without washing their hands. And finally to the ones who spend all day watching TV at volume 100, while the boss is honking at the gate for hours. Y’all are some crazy-ass mofos, and I just want to let y’all know that when you go home for Christmas, we don’t know what to do with ourselves.
I’d love to hear the crazy stories you’ve witnessed from The Help. Share this article and tag @FabsCulture to let me in on the funnies.