Experience with housemaids could be likened to the octopus, a marine animal that has curly arms, embedded with suckers which enable it to firmly hold on to objects. The octopus is a stealthy predator that creeps up on its prey, pounces and curls its arms around it, and then pulls it with surprising speed and force. Just as there are numerous suckers on each of the eight arms, so also is the variety of the encounters which both men and women have had with housemaids.
Having had unpleasant experiences with housemaids, many people now treat them with disdain and keep a healthy distance from them. But at the other end of the spectrum, there are people who are very comfortable with or just tolerant of their housemaids (who they see as necessary evils.). But I am a typical example of somebody who has benefited from the experience I had with my housemaid.
This piece was prompted by a beautiful post I read on social media, where a woman took a photograph with her ex-housemaid who had just matriculated, to celebrate her day. It was a beautiful sight to behold! What a glorious day! What a magnanimous woman with the heart of gold! A commendable feat! I know so many would pour scorn on this, claiming it was just one case in a million relationships. Clearly, both families have created a long lasting bond between them. Will this housemaid ever call her madam unprintable names or plan to kidnap her children? No. The madam who supported her husband to put their maid through university education, is a noble woman. Joy, peace and happiness have been created in the hearts of all concerned. However, I give it more to the woman because she made it happen. She closed her eyes to all manner of complaints and chaotic situations, because the housemaid would not have been a saint, and allowed God to use her as a vessel to bless the maid. Hence, today, both families are rejoicing and celebrating.
Well, there have been recorded cases where housemaids have saved lives and situations; there are many grown adults who cannot complete their biography without including the names of their housemaids at a particular stage in life. A certain man included the name of a housemaid in his ‘Will’ and his children respected their father’s wish. The housemaid got what was due to her from her late Master. It sounds incredible, but it’s a true life story. Though some ‘bad belle’ people would want to know what both had in common for her to benefit from the man’s last act of benevolence.
Interestingly, when the issue of housemaid is being discussed, people who have not had a pleasant experience in the hands of maids, often refuse to accept that they themselves could be the cause of the bad experience. It is at such times that you hear words like, “No matter what you do, a house-help will never appreciate you.” And I have always asked why not? Is it because they are not human enough to know when good is being done to them or their minds are closed up simply knowing they are maids or strangers who would definitely take their leave one day?
Now, the big question is: why do most women panic and lose focus at the sight of a housemaid? They start by accusing the innocent girl of suspicious strategy, to snatch husband. That suspicion is strengthened when the housemaid has appealing physical looks, fresher and, of course, younger than madam. Some who are insecure and have no confidence in themselves and credibility create unnecessary fear of the housemaid for no just reason. Some would not give the house-help a breathing space, they just continue to reinforce their ‘madamship’ in the home. Such women bring themselves to the level of a housemaid unknowingly and lose the grip of the ownership. What do I mean? When it becomes the duty of the maid to practically run the home, sweep and dress the bed where marital oil-exploration had just been done; cook and serve every meal, while Madam becomes a ‘painted sepulchre’ whose words must be obeyed, then she would be yielding her place to the housemaid gradually. It is as bad as hearing some women who cannot wake up to prepare breakfast for their children and see them off to school. Women should know that such bonding moments do not come every day and when they are gone, they are gone for life. Then you have nursing mothers who just breastfeed their babies and hand them over to the maid, who carries the baby all day long. Yes, a trained and trusted maid can act in the capacity of her madam in the event that she takes ill. The role of the maid should be limited else she sees her madam as ‘good-for-nothing’.
Again, the man of the house and his lady, should be responsible and fair in the way they handle issues pertaining to the housemaid’s wrong behaviour. Often-times housemaids take revenge on the children when they believe that they have been maltreated by ill-tempered bosses. Not too long ago, it was reported in the media that a certain businessman was barking at his apprentice who helped him; instead of helping to set up the young man in business, after the end of his long apprenticeship, he just sent him away. So, the ex-apprentice took the horrible step of kidnapping the seven-year-old son of the master as he was returning from school and held him for two weeks before the bubble burst. The money he was reluctant to give to the young man, was deployed to secure the boy’s release. Some couples with heart of stone would take their children to the hospital, when they are sick, but only send their housemaids to get some drugs from the patent medicine shop in the area. Such double standard is reprehensible. There are some schools meant for housemaids while ‘real’ children go to more expensive schools.
I salute a certain couple that do not want to be identified in print, who pay a whopping N250,000 each for their maid and their children in the same school, here in Lagos State. Giving is a thing of the mind; it is not about who can afford it or not. So many people in affluence cannot do it for another person’s child. In so many homes, housemaids sleep on the floor; eat the remnants after the whole family is done at each meal. Some teenage housemaids are not provided sanitary towels, to handle the hygiene challenge posed by their monthly cycle. Rather, they are cajoled to use tissue paper. A maid watches television from the kitchen door; she wakes up at 4:30a.m and would still be busy till midnight.
We have had cases where housemaids were accused of practicing witchcraft and then taken to all manner of spiritual houses for where several pastors tried to cast out the ‘demon’ from the hapless girl. She fed the housemaid with a tablespoon of salt; starved her for three days in the name of ‘dry fasting’. The madam also threatened to pour hot water on the housemaid while trying to force her to confess, but the maid was rescued before much damage could be done to her.
In one instance, women gathered in solidarity over an allegation made by a woman that her housemaid was secretly admiring her husband. With the allegation not yet proven, they tried to force her to drink toilet water! Can you imagine such horrendous act of wickedness.
Do we talk about women who beat their maids (who are other women’s children) to stupor and inflict injuries on them and lock them up. In a particular case, the man provided money and the maid was returned to her parents without the wife’s consent, to save the poor girl from abuse.
Case is not being made for irresponsible, rascal housemaids or male servants/apprentices, but we all need to know that they are equally humans who should be treated rightly. There have been some extreme cases where maids turned around to manipulate and sexually abuse the children they are supposed to care of, undermine their madams, show disrespect, create fear in the children and share gossip and steal.
Dear Nigerian women, if you discover an erring maid, do your best and correct her with love or send her back to her parents. Do not take laws into your hands. Again, no maid snatches a husband; an irresponsible husband should be dealt with accordingly.