We are all familiar with them and maybe once in a while have employed their services. Popularly known as Mama Nguo or Mama fua, these women walk around estates looking for cleaning jobs as a way to earn a living.
In the process, they get to see and learn a lot about peoples’ indoor matters. I recently met two and they shared their experiences while on the job. The two women have been housemaids in Nairobi for a combined 14 years now.
Mama Purity, who has been married for three years and with one child, has worked for six years while Stacy Warunge has been in the business for almost eight years. She’s also married with three children.
How do you get your clients?
Mama Purity: Mostly through word-of-mouth especially when a client is happy with your work. Referrals are usually the best and that’s how I have been surviving for the past six years.
Warunge: I have also been getting my clients in the exact same way.
Have you ever been called for a job and felt it’s too much regardless of the pay?
Mama Purity: Of course that happens not only in our field but in other jobs too. Sometimes you get calls and when you finally arrive at the house you’re left speechless. Too much to be done yet the pay isn’t what you’d expect. Women can be the worst. They want everything cleaned yet they don’t want to pay as much.
Warunge: Yes, I have been in such situations a few times. But there’s nothing you can do. You just work and leave unless you want unnecessary drama. You take the money but promise yourself never to work for the person again.
You have been in so many houses in Nairobi. What are some of the shocking things/ behaviour you have seen?
Warunge: I have seen a few weird people and things but not so much. I remember nine months ago, there’s this rich client I had who has a huge bungalow in Dagoretti. He was never there so I used to have the keys to the house and whenever I’d go to clean his bedroom, there were these funny sounds….like guys whispering. It’s like someone was there and they were discussing something. Always. That house used to really scare me.
I also know this married man who used to excuse himself to go for a long-call whenever I’m working in the bathroom and then intentionally leave the toilet unflushed. He’d then come out and ask me to do it. I have no clue why but I felt like he was demeaning me.
Mama Purity: I have never been in such situations. I just hear the tales when my workmates share their encounters. Like there was this friend of mine who told me how she went to Mimosa Estate along Ngong Road for a job and when she knocked on the gate, something like a tortoise came to open. She couldn’t believe it. The animal then motioned her to follow and took her straight to the house.
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What are some of the shocking items you have been instructed to clean so far?
Mama Purity: I once worked for this funny guy who relocated to Italy. He always instructed me to clean his girlfriend’s panties together with his boxers. Some of the panties had blood stains but you know, you can’t say ‘NO’ because you need the cash. In this job, we see so much stuff but you just keep going.
Warunge: Weeee! I think she has just mentioned our worst fear.
If you are offered another job, would you switch?
Warunge: I hate this job. I wouldn’t even think twice.
Mama Purity: Definitely! This job is very frustrating. Very few can say they love it.
Have you ever been in a position where a client wants to get intimate with you?
Mama Purity: Of course. This is a thing that happens very often. I, however, have encountered only two guys who really wanted to undress me and one even locked me in the house hoping that it will happen eventually. It didn’t..just to make things clear.
Others just keep dropping hints and you pretend you didn’t get what they implied. Some you just ignore completely.
Married men are the worst. It’s better to clean a bachelor’s house while he’s around than doing it for a married man when the wife is away. Married men demand sex and they don’t even give you a chance to explain yourself. They behave like it’s their right.
There’s this lady I used to work for and she called me one day and was like ‘Mama Purity, just go to the house it’s OK mzee ako kwa nyumba.’ So I get there and meet the husband in a gown. After cleaning, just before I leave, he comes and starts touching me inappropriately, trying to undress me. He even locked the house to ensure I don’t leave.
I had to sweet talk him to be freed.
I told him I have been working the whole day and I need to be at least fresh when we are doing it. He finally agreed to let me go but tried getting my number to call me later. He has never seen me again. The wife must have suspected something happened because I stopped picking her calls.
I also had this other client who she’d call and then leave me with her husband. She did it intentionally. Every time. As soon as I entered the house, she’d give me the job then announce she’s going to town or just somewhere. Her man would then immediately jump on me after she left to ‘try his luck’. It happened several times until it hit me those two were up to something. The wife either wanted to frame me, the man or she was just coercing him to cheat with me. I’m not sure but I have never returned to that house.
Warunge: I have experienced several cases but there’s this one which surprised me most because I never expected it. I went to work for one of my long-time clients on a Saturday as usual but the wife wasn’t around. It was only me and the mzee. After work, it started raining and I couldn’t leave. Plus it was getting dark.
So the husband instructed me to join him in the house until the weather clears up. I thought he was just concerned so I joined him but was shocked when he started touching me inappropriately, telling me his wife is out of town and that I should spend the night there.
I was very shocked. Very very shocked.
This is a person who never even says “hi” to me when the wife is around and now wants us to spend a night in their matrimonial bed. Men are animals. We always fear married men. Bachelors are way better because they don’t bother us. Not as much.
Do you tell, or at least hint, to these women that their husbands are seducing you?
Warunge: Never. Because women can be very stupid at times. The wife will say it’s you trying to seduce her hubby. Word will then spread that if you leave Warunge at home with your husband; just know she’ll try to steal him. And within no time, you’re jobless.
Mama Purity: It’s better to shut up. We have seen ladies try to expose these type of men and ended up creating a bad reputation for themselves.
And at home? Do you share some of these things with your husband?
Mama Purity: [Laughing] Are you serious? If male clients calling me when with my husband can become a big issue, can you even mention such a thing? That will be your last day to leave for work. Or worse.
Warunge: Sometimes I come home late and my husband questions me, curious if I’m out there working or doing some sinister things in those houses. I can only imagine telling him a man with money tried sleeping with me on Thursday. Cheeeiii!
Have you ever stolen anything from your client?
Mama Purity: Never. In this business, word spreads very fast. Do that and your career is done. I know ladies who stole just a few pegs or even took a fruit in the kitchen and it ruined them.
Warunge: Never ever.
How about being accused of stealing?
Mama Purity: Never.
Warunge: Twice. You remember that Dagoretti house I told you about? Since I used stay there alone, the wife accused me two or three times of stealing money. She once claimed I stole 10,000 so I stopped working for her only for her to call me several months later to apologize after finding the cash stashed somewhere in her room.
Any last words?
Mama Purity: If you are thinking of joining this business, just be prepared for the worst. But you can also get lucky. There are people we know who joined the business and a client gives them the house or cars etc because of their superb job or even they fall in love.
Warunge: What she’s saying is true. Some get lucky, many don’t but it’s a tough job.
*Names have been changed to protect identity.