After a desperate search for a house help, Damalie finally got one from Cyangugu village with the help of a relative. It was a Thursday afternoon when she received a phone call to pick the househelp who was waiting at Nyabugogo car park.
Damalie dashed to Nyabugogo to pick her up. On arrival, the maid was given a brief induction around the home located in Kabeza, a Kigali suburb.
The following morning Damalie left for work and returned in the evening looking forward to find dinner ready.
Little did she know that she was in for a shock? On the dining table she found a dish of steaming water melons. Confused she summoned the house help to explain why she had cooked the water melon which was in the fridge, but the maid had no answer and just stared blankly. From cooking water melons, ironing shoe laces and washing TVs, maids have done it all.
Many busy working people in Kigali prefer getting house helps from the village, and tend to shun what they call the ‘crafty’ town girls trained as professional house helps. But the stress that comes with the simple girl from the village can also be overwhelming. On day one, you ask her to make tea and show her how to use the kettle. You go back and relax waiting for the nice cup of tea she is about to make. The smell of burning plastic soon starts to tug at your nose. ‘What’s that smell?’ you ask.
‘Nothing boss, it’s just the tea,’ she responds. Since when does tea smell like that? You wonder. As the smell thickens, you realise something is not right. So you get up to go and check. You see smoke coming from the kitchen and panic. But shock quickly gets a hold of you when you realise that her idea of making tea using the kettle was to pour water in the kettle and place the kettle directly onto the gas stove!
After putting out what could’ve been a serious tragedy, you turn to look at her and she is in the corner, smiling sheepishly!
Tales about the strange things some housemaids do have always been hot gossip. Many people have spoken about the things their maids do that have left them shaking their heads in disbelief. Whereas some of the things are heartbreaking, others are downright hilarious.
Hannah Kyomugisha, a housewife, says her maid had never set foot outside her village and her transition to town life was more than amusing.
“The girl had a phobia for crossing roads….. I had to hold her hand despite the fact that she was 18 years old. Now trouble set in when she had to use the bathroom, she would step on the toilet and squat, something I discovered after the toilet seat broke,” Kyomugisha says laughing.
34-year-old Umutoni says sometimes you can’t help but laugh at these things. Though after laughing, it is also kind to enlighten them.
“My maid took her love for washing to a whole new level. She told me washing was something she really loved to do and so I was happy knowing that she would make sure she would wash baby clothes every day. On her second day, she told me to forgive as the baby’s nappies seemed to ‘fall apart’ when she would place them in water. My baby didn’t use nappies. So I told her to show me, and couldn’t help but giggle when I realised she had been washing disposable diapers.
“What I loved about her was her ability to laugh at herself. When I told her all she had to do was dispose of the diaper, she looked genuinely confused, like why waste them? So I explained it to her and told her they are not designed to be reused. She laughed and thanked me for explaining it to her,” Umutoni says.
When he came to Rwanda, Billy Christian, a website videographer and photojournalist, was pleased to have a maid since it was unusual to have them in Europe.
“A friend of mine brought me a young man who was in his early 20’s and assured me that though he had no experience, he wouldn’t too take long to catch up,” he narrates.
“It was unbelievable when I found out in the morning that instead of cleaning the car, he had decided to wash the seats, like really wash them. They were literally soaked and I had to take a cab to work for two days before they got dry; it was very strange but funny at the same time,” he adds.
Christian’s boy didn’t stop at that; he would bring food straight from the kitchen to the dinning - still in the saucepans, he recalls.
“In his first week he used to bring saucepans full of food in the dining room, and by the way he did this with a lot of confidence,” he adds.
Whenever Gloria Kanyange shops for food she has to include food stuff suitable for her ‘vegetarian’ maid. The first day she set foot at home the maid said she is allergic to meat and milk.
“She claimed she didn’t eat meat. Then one day, I caught her red-handed devouring hot pieces of meat as she was cooking supper, I was astonished,” Kanyange says.
Kanyange couldn’t help but wonder why a girl she didn’t forbid from eating meat chose to lie and instead steal it.
Three years ago, a friend advised Teresa Kayiranga, a resident of Kicukiro and a mother of two, that it was better to employ a house maid from the village rather than one familiar with the city, arguing that they are humble and hardworking.
She did just that, but it didn’t take her long to regret her decision and only wished she had taken her chances with a town maid.
After showing her around the house, the new maid assured her boss that she was familiar with almost all the house work, but the drama didn’t take that long to unfold.
“The next day when I returned home from work, I opened the fridge to get myself a drink and my eyes couldn’t believe what they saw. The maid had stocked the fridge to the brim with all sorts of things, from unpeeled bananas, Irish potatoes, cassava, foods that should never be in a fridge,” she recalls.
Sometimes, in an effort to please the boss, a maid will do something on intuition, and with good intention. Like Jessica Akaliza’s maid who hopefully now knows that if you’ve not been told to do something, it’s probably best not to do otherwise.
Akaliza, a retail business developer, dreamed of looking stunning at her best friend’s wedding. But sadly for her, this never happened as the maid burned the beautiful dress just an hour before the wedding.
“I used to laugh at the strange things other people’s house maids did but the experience with my own turned out to be not so funny after all. It was so annoying,” Akaliza says.
“After a long day of shopping, I came home with my expensive dress and as I was in the shower my maid decided to ‘help out’ by ironing the chiffon dress, which of course she burnt severely. I almost burst into tears but didn’t get mad because it was a kind gesture that went wrong,” she adds.
Why it’s important to hire a professional maid
Like any other work, maids need some level of training. This helps to avoid such which in some cases turn tragic.
If you must have that maid from the village, don’t expect miracles from her. She needs training to be able to do the work well. There are several agencies that train house helps and these could come in handy. A one day induction for a maid who has never used certain gadgets in your home is not enough.
Lyhotely Ndagijimana is the President and Legal Representative of “Association for the Defense of Human Rights, Lasting Development and well-being family” (ADBEF), an association that advocates for the rights of marginalised people. His organisation also trains housemaids. Ndagijimana says that a maid’s job is just like any other and hence training is essential.
“When a maid comes to your home , especially those from the village, they encounter a lot of new things they are not familiar with. The employer should also learn to be patient and give them enough time to catch up instead of firing them just because they are messing up only a few days into the job.
He says his organisation provides professional training for housemaids which people can take advantage of instead of risking to employ maids without any training.
What are some of the weird things your maid has done?
It’s rare to find a maid who has been in the city for a long time; the majority of them come straight from their villages when they are offered a job opportunity.
This makes their transition a bit challenging and even hilarious.
I remember our maid on her first day in the kitchen, despite the kitchen store having all the food and other cooking requirements; she decided to cook Irish potatoes without peeling them.
I don’t know if that is how they are told to make them but I found it funny.
Can I call it over confidence? Many house maids convince their employers on the first day that they know how to cook very well, and in fact, some even call themselves chefs.
But when you look at the food they bring to the table, you wonder if they have ever set a foot in the kitchen.
From preparing unpeeled bananas, to placing unboiled water in the fridge for drinking, and also washing the utensils with OMO washing detergent.
They are always full of surprises in their first week.
Our maid couldn’t help it during his first week; he decided to wash the sitting room sofas instead of just ‘cleaning’ them.
They were all soaked in water, and it took us almost a week to return to the siting room and enjoy what used to be a comfortable spot.
Also, he used to wash clothes without using soap or any washing detergent; he was unbelievable.