What is it like not to have a maid at home? This was one of the many questions I asked the different women who attended the Full Woman magazine parenting seminar that took place at Hotel Africana on March 29.
One of them, Karen Nakimbugwe Zziwa, narrated how she is always overwhelmed having to do the housework all by herself after leaving office late in the evening. She is usually at home at about 8pm after a strenuous day at work. Tired, she heads straight to the bedroom to change into a more casual outfit before starting on the chores around the house.
“If there are any dirty utensils in the sink that I failed to wash during the morning hours, I clean them, then continue to tidy up the house,” she says. Zziwa will then bath her two children, aged three and five, before helping them out with homework. “Then I can go ahead to prepare a simple meal for my family and take a shower later before retiring to bed. I normally go to bed around midnight, very tired,” she says.
And the cycle continues with her getting up at around 5am to prepare the children for school, and herself for work.
Such is Zziwa’s life almost every day. Her reason for not having any help around the house is that she has failed to find someone trustworthy to entrust her household with, not much different from Stella Wanene’s reason.
Wanene says she cannot hire a maid because she has issues trusting them. “I cannot possibly bring someone that I hardly know to stay in my house. What if she steals my property or even decides to sleep with my husband? I can’t,” Wanene makes her point. She may seem extreme, but Wanene has a point as maids have been reported to do all sorts of things, some worse than stealing or jumping into the madam’s bed.
Hiring a maid may ease the workload at home but it does not come without any pains. Stories abound of maids mistreating babies, not mastering their chores and generally causing as much headache as the help they bring to a woman’s life.
Counselling psychologist, Lois Ochieng, however, believes that these headaches can be minimised by hiring the right maid for your needs and knowing how to handle her.
So, are you choosing the right maids to work for you?
At the hiring stage
Ochieng says there are a number of things homeowners must put into consideration if they want the right kind of person working in their home. “The first thing you must do is carry out an extensive interview with her. Do it as if you are questioning an applicant for a real job,” she advises.
Some of the things to ask include her family and education background, expectations, how long she is willing to do the work, the amount of salary she wants to be paid as well as some details about her previous work place.
“There is always an indication of what to expect from this person during the interview process. If she, for example, bad-mouthes her former employer, you know she will do the same with you,” explains Ochieng.
She adds; “Create a document called a bio data which will contain all these details including her name, a recommendation letter from the LC1 of her home area, age, sex as well as the telephone number of her next of kin.”
The importance of having all these details is that they enable the employer to trace for a maid who runs away from home after committing a crime such as stealing property, child kidnapping and even murder. This will help against incidences of the maid disappearing in thin air. They will think twice if they know you know where they come from.
The medical aspect
During his presentation, Dr Vincent Karuhanga of Friends Polyclinic and Air Ambulance, emphasised the need for home owners to take newly employed house helps for different medical checkups.
“Have them tested for sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and other ailments like tuberculosis, fungal infections, rashes and ringworms, Hepatitis B and pregnancy,” he says.
It is true also that in Uganda, the workplace HIV/Aids policy is a non-discriminatory one given the stigmatisation the disease carries.
This, therefore, means that one’s HIV status should not factor into whether they get the job or not. “But in reality it is dangerous to employ someone whose status you do not know.
It is even worse if this person is unaware of their status too. Think of the incidences where maids have been found to be breastfeeding the children under their care, or the numerous cases of the ones who sexually abuse them,” Dr Karuhanga said.
It is, however, also illegal to test someone without their consent. So, be smart and find a way to have your maid tested for HIV. For instance, ask her about her knowledge of her status, then go on to discuss with her how it would be helpful for her to be aware of her status. “Most of these helpers that people get are aged between 12 and 22.
They are still undergoing puberty and under the influence of raging hormones,” the doctor explained, stressing that the mother should never leave the infant alone with a maid she has any doubts about. “Get a close relative, ask for days off or quit your job if you have to but ensure that your child is safe,” he advised.
Challenging as it is dealing with maids, they are usually necessary in our homes. There are ways to make them work, but do not hold on to one that is not doing a good job either. Let them go before harm is done. That is, do not ignore your instincts when it comes to maids.
How to handle a maid during her employment
At the Full Woman parenting seminar, Counselling psychologist, Lois Ochieng (pic), gave some tips for handling a maid in your service:
Appoint one person in a home to hire, discipline and fire the maid to avoid making them feel attacked or getting contradicting instructions.
Spend the first week teaching her whatever you want her to do. Do not only tell her what she has to do. Get into the details of showing her how each and everything is done; how to do the dishes, clean the bathroom, store away the dishes and the like.
Give her your home schedule, showing her how you like to have your things done and in what order.
The maid is a worker not a learner so you will have to be patient.
Always remember that they are human too, so will experience all human emotions. Treat them considerately.
Do not mistreat or treat them like lesser humans. Let them eat the same food as you eat and allow them time to rest and rejuvenate.
Give them their own place to sleep if possible; do not make them share the room with the children. They are young adults who need some privacy.
Help her out in case the work load in the home becomes too much.
Pay her the agreed salary on time. Teach her how to save and go back a better person. Encourage her to buy her own beddings for starters, and other household items. If you buy them for her, get receipts to show her.
Do not abuse or beat her when she does wrong.
Instead discuss her shortcomings with her, respectfully. Using cruel methods of punishment may force her to revenge by either harming you or any other family member.
Make her feel valued by letting the young children call her either by her name or another respectful title such as “aunt”. Appreciate her when she does well.
Talk to her but maintain the limits by not talking to her for so long or discussing private issues with her.
Agnes Suubi, a children’s book author.
‘Nabirye was our house help for 20 years’
“My aunt, Mrs Margaret Balyejjusa, used to have a maid who worked for her for a period of 20 years. Her name was Mary Nabirye (in set) but we used to call her by the nick name “Meere”. She was tall with a very good posture. I came to know her because I used to have frequent sleepovers at my aunt’s place.
Nabirye came to work for my aunt in 1988 when she was in her early 50s. I was 16 years old at the time.
Meere was deaf. She would talk very well but could not hear anything. We used to whisper whenever we were communicating to her so she could read our lips. The times she could not make out what we were saying, we would write what we wanted to say on a piece of paper.
A clean and composed woman, Nabirye was a very good cook. She had a special technique that she would use in order to prevent the food from burning. She would get an empty tin and place it against the saucepan in order to feel the vibrations. According to her, if the vibrations were low, then it meant the food was getting ready. If they were high, then, it still needed time to cook.
Nabirye did not come without challenges, but they were minor. Since she was older than most people at home, including my aunt who was around 45 years at the time, she at times became bossy and dictated on how some things should be done around the house.
She used to get leave (time off) whenever it was holiday time. Then, my eight cousins (my aunt’s children) and I had to do all the house chores. Nabirye would come back a week before we would report to school.
When she had just started working, she was earning a salary of Shs50,000 a month but this figure was reviewed every other year since she was very hardworking. She left in 2008 because all the children she had been taking care of in the home had left and established their own homes.
Nabirye is now staying in Jinja under the care of her two sons and six daughters. Since we still consider her part of the family, all of us still give her some bit of monetary assistance and whenever we have joint family gatherings, we invite her to join us.”
Min Atek on Surviving without a maid
“I have not had a maid for the past three years. In the past, I have employed the services of three maids. Two of them were non-residential, meaning that they would come just to work and then leave at the end of the day.
The last one I had stayed with us for more than two years and she had become a part of the family. When she suddenly decided to quit, she broke my heart and I decided not to hire any househelp again. It is difficult living without a maid, but I must say that so far, the advantages outnumber the disadvantages.
Everyone in the house, including my 11 and seven-year-old children, has become more independent, responsible and creative because we do everything by ourselves. The expenses on some things have also reduced especially charcoal.”