‘Housemaid’, or ‘House Manager’? Re-Thinking the Relationship with Domestic Workers

One of the essentials  of living in a modern African home is having ‘house-help’ or domestic workers, commonly known as maids or abakozi in Kinyarwanda.

These are people who tirelessly work and manage all the house activities and needs. They cook, do laundry, clean, carry out grocery shopping (guhaha) and instantaneously act as messengers for small, unnecessary things like buying credit (Me2u) now and then, sometimes electricity units that require walking long distances.

All these are heavy responsibilities that are fully expected to be met by one human being in a household of mature, and sometimes, huge number of people.

At the age of twenty five, I moved out from my father’s house to stay with my younger cousins as roommates. We thought we definitely had everything under control. No one had indeed prepared us for the frustrations and trust violations of our house-help –  but then again no one had prepared her for our endless, unnecessary demands and responsibilities.

Weekends must have been the worst work days for her—we had friends over almost all the time, so that meant having back and forth purchases from the kiosks that are located a bit further from our house; it meant a whole week of scrutinizing and use of violent words due to one abrupt mistake. Most mornings, we would leave for work without expending a thought of whether she would eat at all that day, just because we knew at the end of the day, we were going to order take-out from a restaurant. In return, we obviously received misuse, damage and stealing of our properties. This definitely went on with a series of other house-helps within a short span of time working for us.

“….When we intentionally strive to make our homes places where we are ready to give and receive love, every object and action we place there enhances our well- being and harmony”. –Bell Hooks.

It was only recently that I realized how frustrated I was with this repetitive behavior from our maids, and that I was completely oblivious to how selfish I was with my own demands and needs. Somehow, I’d blissfully ignored the fact that this was another human being who didn’t afford as many privileges as I did. In order to create a safe and harmonic environment for all of us, I gradually began with being able to recognize and understand that out-rightly naming them abakozi or maids and other sorts of names was belittling their worth as human beings, who do a lot of tiring and risky work. We then started calling her a ‘house manager’.

If a person is cleaning your home, watching your babies and cooking for you, they are significantly contributing to improving the quality of your life and ultimately molding what kind of person your child will grow into. They play such an important role in how the house functions and survives, and that for their worth and value, should be so much more appreciated than the, sadly more prevalent, slave-madam relationship.

In the book “All About Love” by Bell Hooks, she says “….No wonder then that we have become a nation where so many workers feel bad. Jobs depress the spirit. Rather than enhancing self-esteem. Bringing love and kindness into the work environment can create the necessity transformation that can make any work we do a place that nurtures growth. It’s not what you do but how you do it”.

Innately, we should all have principles of not treating people as inferior to another just because of their  socio-economic statuses. Treating people the same way you’d love to be treated in different situations should be a core value in the way we live with our house-helps (or manager).

Several verified maid service companies and organizations have started to establish themselves in Rwanda. Albeit, one has to understand that the use of a maid service company comes in only as half the solution—maintaining a good relationship with our house-helps requires us to permit ourselves to practice gestures of love, like forgiveness and care toward people with whom we may not share the same social class and privileges, but definitely share an intimate space.

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