The slavery in our midst
There is much I could say about modern-day slavery in Mauritania, Niger and Sudan. But let me instead turn to the dirty little secret that so many of us Africans know but maintain a studied silence about.
Yes, I am talking about the lot of the 'mboch', omo-odo, the housie, the maid, in good old Nairobi. Substitute Nairobi for Lagos, Accra, Kampala or Johannesburg and the story is the same.
It is common knowledge that many housemaids in genteel middle class Nairobi are never paid a wage; it is their parents, or ‘auntie’ who receives the pittance that they are owed every month.
Anyone who has lived or visited an African city for any length of time also knows that it is not uncommon to have ten-year olds doing the washing, cleaning and cooking for an entire family while enduring a steady diet of slaps and kicks.
And I do not exaggerate when I point to the high frequency of maid rape in many households. If you ask your typical Nairobi ‘babi’ or middle class boy what his first sexual encounter was, he will spin a tall tale about the ‘older girl who lived just up the road’.
The first encounter, and the second and the third, is more often than not with the maid. She is shared among the boys in the house, their friends in the neighbourhood sometimes and very often the man of the house who after dropping off the kids and wife to school in the mornings, will sneak back for a quick one.
This sexual access is usually procured forcefully with the implicit threat that for the maid to resist will result in instant dismissal. Here's a little clue for HIV/AIDS health workers who decry the transmission of the disease from philandering husband to wife: it is the maid who is at the centre of a domestic sexual web that runs through the sons and their father, not to mention any other lovers she may take.
Middle class Kenyan boys at a rugby game in Nairobi
This is of course not to blame her, it is to recognise that the helplessness that attends many maids – relentlessly mistreated, isolated from friends and family, and economically disempowered – exposes them to the malign actions of a class of people whose upward aspiration is often marked with a immense contempt for their ‘inferiors’.
What dirty little secrets I am airing, and it is the most delicious post I have written in a while. When I have levelled contempt at the babi – a category that I unfortunately fall into though in traitorous fashion – I have only spoken about the public arena.
But it is in the home that the moral contracts that underlie Kenyan life can be seen most clearly. Observe and recognise the pervasive violence, the disregard for the rights of the individual and the abiding conviction that might makes right.
It is the oppressions in our homes that have made it impossible for us to consistently and successfully fight the oppressions of the dictators who have sat at State House or the injustices of the state. We moan and groan about the burdens of colonialism when right in our homes, or those of our friends, we have a cosy little ‘memsahib and bwana mkubwa’ system on the go.
To extend this washing of Kenya's and Africa's dirty laundry in public where it belongs, here is a chat room exchange on this issue. I will share just a few of the disgusting entries:
"nani hapa ashaimanga mboch wao cause it was so sweet mpaka even though i lost my uvirgo to her." (who here has eaten (had sex with) a maid cause it was so sweet even though I lost my virginity to her)
"Am sure the rest of the people who did what you did aren't as proud...how did u even start...yaani how did u even get hard in the first place....mboch....have integrity bana.Ama u can't vibe a gal? Sweetie hebu mweleze huyu ndugu asiwe kama dude..."
"Lets cut to the chase people...how many here have done their mboches? (pop, is that ur hand i see raising?)"
"hehehehe...i think it is sweety! i think it is!"
Main picture: Coral Spencer Domijan's Maid in Africa (oil on board painting)
MMK is a Kenyan writer. He blogs as African Bullets and Honey
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