Maids, AIDs and other nasty things.

Kenya, 2011

Between tossing out the new maid, witchcraft, grandmother’s visit, the butchery goings on, searching for a new flat, allergies, usual Kenyan politicians hanky panky, stolen clothes, Jeremy and Jessica’s birthdays and blistering hot weather—quite a normal visit by all counts.

Alleged witchcraft maybe but that is because Gracie saw that Jeremy’s forehead had a small patch of hair missing in the middle of the scalp.

Initially, we didn’t suspect mujibu (witchcraft), but then Gracie wondered why the missing hair then found some hair in nursemaid Daughter’s pocket—why? Turns out that Gracie and the other maid Maureen reckon that Daughter (yes that’s her name) was instructed by her mom back in Homa Bay to carry out this deed.

Gracie and family don’t believe in this nonsense, but there is plenty of it about and it was just on the news last night. The news carried a story about two youths who suffered from distended bellies not from gorging themselves, but as a result of a curse from the local witchdoctor. The two youts had unknowingly stolen a cellphone and clothes from the local witchdoctor, so as payback, the witchdoctor, through his wizardry, cast a spell of these guys and abracadabra— their bloated bellies.

At any rate, back here in Kenya, maid Daughter had been acting strange and I told Gracie I thought the girl was possessed as she acted like a zombie, but Gracie just thought she had a low IQ?

She was a bit of a dullard, but not so stupid because in the end, she managed to nick a few new blouses and cardigans that I had bought from NEXT and Woolworth’s in UAE  for Gracie, but they are gone now as is Daughter.

Gracie had inspected Daughter’s gear before leaving suspecting that she might try to pull some more mischief, even going as far as checking her bags before she left but Daughter may have hidden the new clothes outside somewhere.

Daughter was a bit of a pillock at any rate, whose only duty was to take care of Jeremy. However, she hadn’t been doing her job and while our other maid (Maureen) went to meet Jessy at our bus stop, Daughter fell asleep whilst Jeremy crawled into the bathroom.

Gracie started to suspect Daughter’s usefulness as she found a cut on Jeremy’s head which looked like he had fallen and had cut himself, but Daughter hadn’t told anyone about the accident.

After a brief cross examination or GITMO type interrogation, it was revealed (without water boarding although at this point I would highly recommended it) that Jeremy had fallen during Daughter’s watch—poor baby.

Daughter’s duty at this point was terminated, and she was duly frog marched out of here and put on a bus by one of Gracie’s assistants after I had only been here for two days.

Gracie was wise to any more tricks and thus checked through Daughter’s baggage before she hit the road. Somehow the clever dullard managed to pinch some clothes that I had brought for Gracie.

We only found out about this later as Gracie’s mom had gone to Daughter’s house back in Homa Bay to confront the mom about the witchcraft claim. Grandma Agnes commented on the nice blouse that daughter had on and asked where she got it from.

Daughter replied—“Gracie’s husband gave it to me.”

The truth is, I never said a word to her as she wasn’t conversant in English for starters. Jessy has a better handle on my mother tongue, and she is only five.

The jig was up when Gracie heard this from her mom and then I recounted how many blouses and nice cashmere jumpers I had brought from UAE, but they were nowhere to be found in our flat.

The bad wench had managed to hide them somewhere outside our flat probably with the guard at the gate. At any rate, she had stolen them.

What to do?

In the meantime, Grandmother Agnes brought a new house girl whose name was oddly enough Maureen Otieno, so now we have two Maureen’s as housegirls—such a popular name here in Kenya.

It’s a bit like the two Ronnies of late here and Fawlty Towers thrown in all that’s missing is Manuel the waiter. The ‘new’ Maureen didn’t last the weekend as we noticed she was tardy in her work ethic and after a brief consultation, found out that she didn’t want to do the work and acted as if she was a holiday and left most if not all of the work up to the other Maureen. So, now Grandma Agnes has to take the Maureen Otieno back to the village and try and find a suitable replacement.

While these shenanigans were going on, I leaned across to Gracie and asked—“Does the first Maureen have a sister?

Gracie smiled, looked at me then whispered—

“She’s a prostitute in a bar and probably is HIV+.”

Now some of you might be upset by this comment but in lieu of recent census taken in Kenya, little did I realize what an impact or implications this simple comment would have?

Truth be told, Gracie told me in later conversations that if she was to test every maid for being HIV+ then we probably wouldn’t have a maid at all.

Here are some examples:

Our first maid, Akinyi, apparently died from AIDS in the last year. I hadn’t been told this story before and Gracie had to relay it to me. Akinyi had been one of the best maids that Jessy ever had from birth and she left us over a year ago to go back to the home village of Homa Bay on Lake Victoria where Gracie and kin are from.

Incidentally, the word “homa” means “sickness” in Swahili. At any rate, Akinyi, thinking she had met her man, left to get married and eventually shacked up with him in the Kibera shantytown in Nairobi (the town used in “The English Gardener” scenes). She became pregnant, but not before she found out that she was HIV+. Gracie seems to think that she was already HIV+ when she was with us for whatever reasons and figures Akinyi was able to combat it or not show it because of the good meals and diet we provided whilst she stayed with us.

Neither Gracie nor I have any idea whether Akinyi was on ARV drugs to combat HIV whilst she was with us, but she did appear healthy living here.

Subsequently, Akinyi’s baby died at birth and then she found out that the boyfriend was fooling around and perhaps this is when she found out that she was HIV+.

At any rate, things went downhill from there with Akinyi not being able to support herself or the expensive ARV drugs and her failing health. At some point, Gracie’s mom found Akinyi in the AIDS ward at the local hospital in Homa Bay.

It was too late, and it was only a matter of time before Akinyi succumbed to AIDS. Gracie’s mom went to her family funeral, and I was quite saddened to learn all about this. We still have photos of her in happier times, so I will send them to Gracie and she can give to Akinyi’s family.

Another maid that Grandma Agnes recently brought from Homa Bay only lasted a few days, but this was before I came to Kenya. Apparently she was good looking, but Gracie found out that she too was HIV+. She came from a family of bargirls or prostitutes but Grandma Agnes didn’t know this ahead of time.

Anyways, the girl seemed disinterested with the job of babysitting and slept most of the time maybe owing to the illness. Gracie’s younger sister, Priscilla, had been trying to show her the ropes or duties of the job, but this girl was just plain disinterested.

The girl (only 18) also complained that she felt she was trapped in our compound because of the security guards at the gate, but the truth be told, she used it as an excuse to not pick up her ARV medicine. This went on for a week or so with Gracie finally telling her to pack her bags and instructed her sister Priscilla to escort the girl to the bus station.

I guess a confrontation ensued with the girl not wanting to ride the bus back to Homa Bay and she buggered off to the fleshpots of downtown Nairobi where her sisters also plied their trade in the nightclubs.

Regarding the earlier comment about the Kenyan census, an earlier population census done in 1982 showed that Gracie and Obama’s tribe (the Luos), had the second largest population in Kenya.  A 2008 census showed that the Luos had dropped to third spot behind the Kikuyus and Luhyas—whether this is because the Luos couldn’t afford the ARV drugs or not is open for debate. A more recent 2010 census showed the tribes as following:

1.Kikuyu

2.Luhya

3.Kalenjin

4.Luo

A number of people commented in the local newspapers that this was the result of Luos who had died from complications of being HIV+ and subsequently dying of AIDs.

Gracie also said this might be the result of the traditional Luo practice of “wife inheritance”. “Wife inheritance” occurs when a husband dies and a brother of the husband can ‘inherit’ his wife and family to take care of them.

In the old days, this might have been a wise practice and a way of keeping the family together, but in post-AIDs discovery days, this is tantamount to suicide.

You may recall that I mentioned this “inheritance” in earlier missives with one of Gracie’s uncles wanting to “inherit” Gracie’s mom after the father died unexpectedly from cerebral malaria ten years ago.

In front of tribal elders, the uncle’s request was turned down not by the mom but by Gracie’s younger brother Fred.

The mom had earlier said—“What good am I if I get infected with AIDs and die and leave my nine children behind”.

Such is life in Kenya.

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