Money isn’t everything. Money can’t come and work for you. Human relationships are more important. We were made for human connections, you know. That’s what our children need to learn.
Today money is here. Tomorrow it’s somewhere else. So what do you do when you don’t have anyone? Money can be a safety net for only so long before you realize you never made solid friendships with the people around you. Maybe you were too busy chasing after the loot, and you didn’t put time in establishing relationships. Who do you turn to, when the money is gone and you were never nice to people?
I wouldn’t wish money to be a major factor with my workers. I don’t want them to see me as a cash cow because I don’t see them as just another pair of hands. They’re people just like me.
So I strike friendships with them. They tell me about their lives back home. They laugh at my silly jokes. We negotiate about days off. Not everyone is going to come to my house and put up with my large family, so I appreciate them for helping out, and being patient with our family dynamics. I have great respect for my employees. They keep the home running while I’m shaking the bushes. They’re as close to me as a glove to a hand.
I’ve had Oloo for 17 years. He is the day guard/messenger/Shawn’s favorite play buddy. He has a gift of being able to come down to their level and children love him.
Mutheu came six years ago, along with a bossy attitude of her own. She’s hardworking, but her mouth can go off at any minute. She has a crazy temper and makes the meanest chapatis.
Njeri –Mutheu’s initial partner- was scared shit of Mutheu. She tiptoed around her then she got engaged and moved away. She was a wonderful patient nanny. Shawn was so sad to see her go but we wished her the best and we were happy for her as she started a new chapter in her life.
And that’s how Akinyi–a petite, light skinned, and a match for Mutheu’s antics- came into the picture.
Then there is the 3rd girl who is a day scholar and it’s like she is never there. She moves and works quietly but I hear from the rest that she has an amazing sense of humor.
There’s Kimeu, the gardener, who’s been with us for 2 years. Quiet and so clean, never utters any unnecessary words. Only speaks when he is spoken to. Which is a good tactic to avoid colliding with my crazy girls.
Kigen –the askari reliever is a staunch Christian and so loyal although half the time his mind is somewhere else.
Then there’s Lumumba, the night-guard, who, a few months ago upgraded from a black mamba to a motorbike. It made me so proud to see that.
You should have seen the smile on his face the first time he turned up at the house with the bike. He is 32 and a no- nonsense guy so the girls know better than to run their mouths around him.
Most of them have been with us for quite a long time. They’ve seen a lot of what goes on in the house. They listen to my little mother-daughter arguments. They hear me haggling with Shawn to stop making a damn fuss over his broken toy.
One time Akinyi asked me, “Mama how do you do it?” She meant keeping up with all the kids. And my answer was as it has always been: Because they’re my kids.
I realized the other day that Oloo is 43. He was there before I married Mike. He is very reliable and likes to do anything that involves moving away from his post. He runs errands. He doesn’t wear his guard uniform. He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke. But girls are his weakness. He likes them young, 20 something year olds, because –according to him- they’re less troublesome. He’s sort of like Barney from How I Met Your Mother, a player.
I don’t think Oloo was ever made for marriage, although he has 2 big daughters that he sees often. He isn’t the type to settle, and a mature woman would be a pain in his backside.
But Oloo is loyal. He’s been with us from the beginning. He’s seen the kids grow up. He dropped them off at school when Mike and I were away. He’s seen Shawn’s hair grow from small matutas to free-flowing dreadlocks. He gets along nicely with the kids. And he’s had a smile on his face most of the way. Shawn loves him to bits. He wakes up every morning and goes straight outside to look for him.
He makes me laugh, too. He understands my temper. He can tell when I’m pissed off, so he knows when not to engage me in small talk. And he also taught me about Murphy’s Law, which basically says, ‘whatever can go wrong will go wrong.’ It’s something he kept mentioning, until one day I was just like: “Tim what is this Murphy’s Law you keep saying?”
Oloo and I carry each other. He’s probably thinking about retirement now. I wonder what he wants to do next. I’ll ask him the next time he brings around that bright and easy smile of his. We have to come up with a retirement plan for him so we are working on it.
Lumumba has been with us for six years. He’s nocturnal. He watches over my home when the sun goes down. He keeps a vigil in the blackness of starless nights, his torch throwing a feeble light in faraway corners. He braves the frosty air, along with his hot thermos of tea.
And he love his tea and kdf, which he shares with Shawn who is now addicted to them.
He’s always on his phone. He takes care of his 8-member family in the village. From my bedroom I can usually hear the sounds of his radio, belting out endless strings of vernacular music. Am a light sleeper and this sometimes gets to me, but funny enough when he is not on duty I miss waking up to hi his vernacular songs.
Mutheu the one with a mouth, was married, owned a restaurant and even had a car. But the husband was abusive and she usually tells me stories of when the police in their area would solve their family feuds. She is a fighter. She is a mother of 2 adult boys who she loves with her whole heart but they drive her crazy. Their conversations involve a lot of haggling, arguing and sometimes vernacular abuses.
Akinyi is amazing with Shawn as a nanny. She has such a hot body, nice legs and a high metabolism. She eats a lot and barely adds any weigh. She has 2 children, I have no idea how she carried the pregnancies. She is one of those people we used to call kiherehere in school. So I have learnt to manage her otherwise they will kill each other with Mutheu. I solve so many of their fights.
My workers have their positives and negatives just like I do as their boss. They call me madam and we appreciate that we add value to one another. We choose to see the good in each other and understand that this is a symbiotic relationship.
I’m grateful for the relationship I have with my workers. If I’m sick in hospital I know one of them –if not all- will think to come and see me. If I’m unconscious on the side of the road Andrew will lift me up and carry me. If any of them have some trouble back home they wouldn’t hesitate to tell me, and I’d be glad to give a hand.
Still, there are boundaries. There are the normal workplace rules. It’s not like one day I’ll walk in to find Mutheu with her feet on the table, watching Afro-cinema or some such thing. I might be very close with Fred but I wouldn’t, say, share a glass of wine with him. There’s intimacy and then there’s ethics.
I’ve heard of people who’ve slept with their workers. I know that life is not black and white but this is a no no for me.
How the hell does someone get naked with the person who opens his or her door? Where’s the professionalism? The self-respect? How do you expect them to respect you after that? Having sex with your employees is really like opening Pandora’s box. And that’s before we get to the laws against sexual harassment. How do you live with yourself after that?
I always remind my kids to respect the people that work for us. On the other hand I also don’t want them to be spoilt brats so they have to pull their weight around the house. Which is why, when they get to college, I will encourage them to leave the house, to go fend for themselves.
I can’t even begin to imagine my little Shawn in college, with no one to clean up after him. But we’ll talk all about Shawn on the next one.