Reviews & Profiles
My Maid and I: Understanding the life of a Ugandan maid
Posted Saturday, January 26 2013 at 00:00
A play with only two actors on the cast? Yes, two actors is all that My Maid and I , a play that portrays the life of maids in Uganda has. It reveals the surprisingly good relationship between some Ugandan co-wives.
By Ugandan standards, My Maid and I; Misunderstanding the Understanding of Maids by Kaaya Kagimu Mukasa, was a strange play, featuring only two actresses.
Kaaya is known for Arts Treasure and its dinner-theatre performances, which rarely exceed a cast of six. My Maid and I is the only one, so far, that she has scripted for a cast of two.
Alice Lwanga portrayed ‘I’, the narrator who contextualised the situations which portrayed how as the lady of the house she dealt with various maids.
Kaaya Kagimu portrayed both Janet Namuddu and Mukyala J, polarised representations of the steadfast and nutcase housemaids Kaaya employed over a decade.
It was assembled as a medley of recollections that ‘I’ has about various incidences when the maids were being either exasperating or amusing.
They gave a command performance for students from New York University, who had visited Uganda on a study-abroad programme. Their interaction with the actresses showcased how a play’s meaning and humour translates across the cultural gulf between Ugandan and American life.
Co-wives sharing responsibility
In the play, both maids had co-wives who stayed back in the village to look after their shared husband. The students were stupefied by how such an arrangement worked. In response, Kaaya noted how in practice the woman in employment was more or less responsible for the financial upkeep of the family, while her counterpart stood in for her to bring up the children and make a family worth belonging to.
Co-wives looking out for each other
J asks her employer for leave. Her reason? “Our husband has been nice to me lately, and he is only ever nice when he has done something nasty to my co-wife. I need to return to see that everything is okay with her,” she said. The New Yorkers were puzzled, wasn’t the other woman supposed to be your enemy?
“The women sort of have a pact to keep their husband in check using all manner of means at their disposal. So, if he is nice to Mukyala J because she is responsible for his financial muscle back home in the village, she exploits that to get better treatment for her co-wife, who like her, is a woman married for convenience’s sake,” explained Kaaya.
Love and Food
Alice Lwanga doubled as Pastoli, a city slicker who charms Janet enough for her to bring him gifts of food pilfered from her employer’s kitchen. In turn, his most expressive romantic gesture is promising her a rolex. The two questions were what a rolex is, and if all maid relationships run on food. “You know the adage that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Women take that seriously here. Since Janet could not cook for Pastoli, the next best thing is carrying him food as a token of her love, and he would reciprocate in equivalent terms”, Kaaya explained.
Seven day funeral rites
Namuddu asks for a week’s leave to attend funeral rites back home. By turns, the students were amused at the macabre drama migrant workers carry with them back to their villages, and curious whether funeral rites need to be that elaborate. “Funerals multi-task as family reunions, pacification sessions, and partial holidays. So yes, they can take that long,”Kaaya confirmed.