19 February 2013

Uganda: Maids - Can't Live With Them, Can't Live Without Them

The media is awash with stories of maids who have either killed, tortured or kidnapped children they are supposed to protect, writes Norah Chandiru.

The story of baby Kham Kakama, the 18-month-old baby who was handed over to his killers by a maid is still fresh in our minds. Kakama's body was discovered in a Kampala swamp on June 13, 2010, after he was kidnapped from his parents' home in the city suburb of Bugolobi on June 8.

It is alleged that the maid, Mellon Nabaasa, handed over the child to her lover, who then kidnapped him. Nabaasa, together with the killers, Brian Sejjaji and Gordon Tumusiime, are in Luzira serving a sentence of over 50 years. Many parents wondered what the maid was thinking to trust anyone with the child. But in many a home, parents are grappling with untold stress because of their maids. They could start by doing their duties properly, then change suddenly.

Heart-rending stories

Michael, a communications expert was at work one morning when he received a call from his wife. There was an emergency at home. He drove back home like an insane man. Guess what he found?

His nine-month-old daughter with burns all over her legs. The maid had poured boiling water into a basin. And she allegedly forgot (yes, you read right. She forgot) to mix it with cold water, before bathing the baby. So she put the poor girl in steaming water. Today the girl is five years old, but her legs are full of scars.

Genevieve, a banker in Kampala, says her maid wears a very distinct perfume. She did not have any problem with it, until she smelt the perfume in her marital bed. Returning unusually early from work one day, Genevieve found the maid with her bodaboda boyfriend cozily lying on their bed. "She was also wearing my dress! I fired her immediately," says Genevieve.

Another woman says her maid was always moody to the extent that she did not know when her maid was happy or unhappy. Although she was hard working, clean and a great caretaker, her moody nature made it hard for anyone to understand her. But when her bosses were away, she was a different person. She enjoyed gossiping with neighbours. She would even steal sugar and soap and give them away freely to her friends.

There are also stories of maids who are perpetual thieves. You come back from work one evening and your house has been robbed clean. Others are painfully slow. They cannot do any light housework in time. Something as simple at folding clothes takes them years. They want to watch Agataliiko Nfuufu. They will not out of bed until you shake them up.

Why do they behave this way?

The peak of the drama is when you have to fire a maid barely a week after hiring her. Hire one the next day, and in a month or two, she is already giving you headache! Roseline Kyogabirwe (not real name) says it is stressful to work for anyone who does not pay her on time. "I want my salary on time. When you delay, I also do as I please."

Kyogabirwe, 23, has worked for about seven years as a maid. She says while some bosses are good, others do not care. "When you are at home, help me bathe your baby or clean the potty. We are also human beings. We get tired," she says.

Kyogabirwe thinks some deliberately do bad things to hurt their rude bosses. Others, she acknowledges, are infl uenced by bad peers, while still others yearn for a better life. "When you are a maid who is not paid well, what do you expect when a man offers you better life? Your boss' demands cease to matter."

Sylvia Munube, a family counsellor at the Infectious Diseases Institute, Mulago, says all of us grow up in different backgrounds so it depends on the homes these maids come from. Munube adds that there are some good things maids do but we forget to say "thank you" because we are paying them.

Dealing with the bad maids

Firing will not always be an option, because they are necessary evils. Munube says before you send her packing, try appreciating er. "For example instead of buying other people clothes, why not give them to her? Or when you go shopping for children or for yourself, why not buy something for her? This makes them feel appreciated and part of the family and with time, you will see them changing." Munube says

Beatrice Langarit, a family and marriage counsellor, says the way forward is to talk to them in a way that does not make them defensive before you reach a conclusion. Langarit adds that there are maids who are redeemable so it is best to talk to them and be specifi c about what to expect from them and how soon you want them to change and what will happen if they do not.

She, however, says if someone constantly behaves the way they want, like coming home late or doing things without explanation, it is best to let them go. She says a lot of people end up with bad mannered maids because they do not take them through any orientation or training. "They need to be given time for you to decide whether or not to keep them," she says.

How do you get a good maid?

Munube says it is good to use friends and Catholic nuns since they usually have good and disciplined girls who have worked for them. Giving her own experience, Munube says she takes her new maids to her mother's house for training for about a week. Her mother helps to gauge if the maid can work well or not. "You need to know that getting a maid is a gamble and there are chances of getting a good or bad one, so you really have to be patient," says Langarit.

She adds that a good maid is clean, trustworthy, a good time manager and teachable. Langarit says one should be ready to tolerate maids. "It is good to pick about two of them and try them for about two months and pay them a commission. It will help you identify a good one," she says.

Langarit emphasises that maids are human beings like everyone else. "They have strengths and weaknesses which we need to understand and try to help them because sometimes we ourselves are the cause of their bad behaviour."

Health and hygiene

Betty recently took her daughter for an HIV test after suspecting her housemaid was breastfeeding her baby in her absence. She heard rumours from neighbours that they usually see her maid breastfeeding the child while she is away for work. She did not believe it but later the child started developing some unusual sicknesses coupled with changes in the skin. The child was constantly ill, making her worried. The baby tested HIV-positive. There are also stories of house helps abusing children.

Rueben Pariyo, a doctor at Nsambya Hospital, says it is wise to have your maid tested for HIV before hiring her. Moreover, with stories of children being abused sexually, Pariya adds that she might maliciously want to transmit the virus to your child, especially if you annoy her.

"For breastfeeding, it might be out of ignorance to keep the child from crying," he explains, adding that hormones will automatically release breast milk when you place the baby on the nipple. Pariyo says breastfeeding by a woman living with HIV increases the chances of HIV transmission.

Pariyo says housemaids usually come from rural areas where health services are very limited. He adds that since they have a lot of time, they tend to engage in sexual practices with several partners whose status is not known. However, Pariyo adds not all maids are as bad as they say. "Testing should not be forced. It should be encouraged. Some maids live responsibly and are clean when treated well in a home."

Tips on how to manage maids

*Before your maid arrives, prepare a list of house rules. Be as specific as possible. This will help your maid understand your expectations better.

*Counsel your maid the first day she arrives at your house. Let her ask as many questions as possible.

*Having a maid does not mean that she must do everything, and you must not do anything at all. If you like things done in a certain way, then you should still do it yourself

*Give detailed Instructions. Do not expect the maid to know how you want things to be done. For example, tell her exactly how much washing detergent to use or how many times you want her to rinse the clothes.

*If the maid is taking care of new born babies, or very young children who cannot talk, you must make sure that there is someone to supervise the maid at all times. Every maid will act like they love your baby very much in front of you, but you will never know what they do behind your back.

*You should treat the maid in the same way that your boss treats you. Always allow feedback.

*Give her a day off. No one can work every day for years without any rest.

*Many employers do not like their maid to keep any cash. Keeping their maid's salary until the maid finishes the contract and goes back home is bad. They have personal needs.

*Do not cut off communication completely. She is allowed to call her family. Besides, when you are at work, you need to call

her. Only she may not call in the middle of chores.

*If she gets pregnant, or steals, or runs away, do not panic. Call the person who recommended her and forge a way forward.

*So you wake up and the maid tells you: "I am leaving.' Keep calm, talk to your boss and ask for some days off. Talk to friends or relatives. Two heads are better than one.

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