Amazing story:Meet our house-help of 33 years
Priscilla Kanini has been working for the Kamaus since she was 18, now 51 and a mother of one,
It is obvious that love flows freely and abundantly in this household. From the warm and easy-going manner Priscilla Kanini interacts with everyone, you would never guess that she is the househelp.
George Kamau, 65, and his wife of 41 years, Veronica Wanjiru, 61, have lived with Priscilla Kanini, 51, for the last 33 years. She started working for them when she was only 18 years old.
The Kamaus have five children: John Mbugua, twins Allan Kamau and Helimah Muchiri, and another set of twins, Susan Otieno and Lawrence Njoroge, though they consider Priscilla’s only child, Martha Mbeke, one of their own. Martha, their ‘adopted’ child, has lived with the Kamaus since she was two years old.
She is now 28 years old, and will be getting married later this year.
This unique story began in 1982 when Veronica was looking for someone to help take care of her last two children, Susan and Lawrence.
By then, she had lost count of the number of househelps she had employed. No one, it seemed, was a match for her family.
In frustration, she approached a friend who managed the Salvation Army hostels in Kariakor, and informed her that she was looking for a live-in help.
Priscilla had just completed a course in cooking, cleaning and other domestic chores, at the Nairobi Girls’ Centre in Kariakor, run by the Salvation Army, and was looking for a job.
“I had prayed to get a job with a family I could get along with. I promised God that if he granted me my prayer, I would work as if working for Him.”
When Veronica met Priscilla, she immediately had a good feeling about her.
“My first impression of her was that she was respectful: after a few days of working for us, I could see that she was also hardworking and loyal, qualities that have not changed for the 33 years she has worked for us,” Veronica says, looking at Priscilla fondly.
George, Veronica’s husband, was also impressed.
“When Priscilla came to live with us, the immediate difference I felt was that my wife quarrelled less – she became calmer and more settled,” he says with a hearty laugh.
Four years later, in 1987, Veronica noticed that Priscilla was behaving in a “strange” manner.
“Priscilla was generally a poor feeder, but then I noticed that she was not eating at all. She would also sweat profusely while working, especially while ironing clothes, something that got me very concerned. I decided to approach the friend who had recommended her to work for me. I wanted to find out whether she had complained of any health complications,” she says.
When her friend came, it did not take her long to diagnose the ‘condition’ Priscilla was suffering from. She was pregnant.
“I can still see my friend laughing at me even now, she laughed so hard, amused that after five children, I could not tell that Priscilla was pregnant.”
Some employers would have dismissed her immediately, but Veronica allowed Priscilla to continue working until the last trimester of her pregnancy, then sent her on maternity leave.
When she gave birth to her baby girl, Martha, Veronica decided to take the young family to her mother’s home in Kiambu, where she felt that mother and child would get better care, until Priscilla was strong enough to start working again.
Priscilla and her daughter lived with Veronica’s mother until Martha turned two, and then they returned to their home in Kambiti, Makuyu.
Meanwhile, Veronica was yet to get a reliable helper. One day, she came back home, only to find her then seven-year-old son, Allan, looking agitated.
“What is happening?” she asked him.
“Auntie wants to beat us,” he replied. As she calmed him down, her mind wandered to Priscilla. She had always had a good rapport with her children, and none had ever complained of being mistreated in anyway by her. She had hardly finished the thought when her son said;
“Mummy, please go and bring Priscilla back, she can live here with her child.”
That simple statement seemed to answer all her problems.
“I took three days off work and drove all the way to Kambiti. When I got there, I was directed to a coffee plantation where Priscilla was working. The only question she had when I told her that I wanted her to come back home with me was where she was going to take all the coffee she had harvested, to which I replied that I was willing to pay for it. We picked Martha and drove back to Nairobi the same day.”
Veronica and her husband had informed their children of the arrival of their new ‘sister’ and they were all looking forward to meet her, as well as welcoming Priscilla back.
“That day, we were all so excited. I was seven years old, and had a brown teddy bear which I was itching to give her. It was our welcome gift for her, but when Martha saw it, she was so terrified, she started to cry,” Helimah, the couple’s second born daughter, recalls.
Mother and child eased into their new life smoothly, especially because the whole family and their friends accepted Martha without any reservations, including the family doctor, James Ndung’u, who insisted on treating Martha for free whenever she fell ill. To date, Martha gets free treatment at his clinic.
The Kamaus have educated Martha up to university – they even took her to the same primary school as their children.
“We all went to Lang’ata West Primary School. Susan and Lawrence (the last born twins) were in upper primary at that time, and I remember them being very protective of me, they always looked out for me.”
Just like she saw her older siblings do, Martha would hand the fees structure and anything school-related to George, who she calls dad, and would go to Veronica with any “girl-related” expenses, while her mother would give her pocket money.
“When we took Martha in, we made a decision to raise her like our own, it is the least we could do because Priscilla has always been good to our children, and loved them unconditionally,” says Veronica, whose special name for Martha is Njoki, named after her younger sister, who she is very fond of.
Martha did not attain the pass mark to join a local university, and disappointed, turned to Helimah for advice. Helimah floated the idea of doing A–levels. Her parents agreed, and they immediately began to look for a school in Uganda. Once they got one, George and his wife travelled to Uganda with Martha and ensured that she was settled in before returning home.
“On that trip, there were so many things she was required to buy, we ended up using up all the money we had carried. Luckily, we had paid for the hotel room, but since we could not afford supper, we slept hungry,” George adds, laughing good-naturedly.
“We were all so happy that Martha was going to start this new life in Uganda, it seemed very exciting,” says Helimah.
Martha passed her examinations, and was admitted to Makerere University, where she graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor of Social Sciences with a major in International Relations.
“On her graduation day, the Kamaus were elated, especially because the promise they had made to themselves that she would get the same opportunities as their biological children had come to pass.
“I did not want a situation where it would look like we had discriminated her, yet we had taken her under our wing.”
Ensuring that Martha got a good education was also a way of rewarding their trusted employee.
“Priscilla is the most trustworthy and loyal house manager I have ever had. We value her, and wanted to give something back in return. We knew that nothing would give her greater joy than seeing her daughter became a successful person able to support herself.”
Today, Martha is employed at a real estate company owned by one of her siblings, and is looking forward to her wedding later this year at the Africa Inland Church.
Priscilla, who calls Veronica mama, says that she is happy here, and considers the Kamaus her second family.
“They accepted, respected and loved me and my daughter, and in return, I made a promise to do my job whole-heartedly and to love them and their children.”
No doubt, there are those who would want to know the secret to this lasting relationship, in a society where house helps and their employers rarely have a kind word for each other.
Mutual respect, they say.
“We respect each other,” says Veronica, adding that Priscilla is very disciplined and hardworking.
“While they were growing up, I never heard or saw her abusing the children in any way. She was very loving and gave them so much attention, we would be forced to point out that she was neglecting her child,” says George.
When they disagree, like adults who live together are wont to, they talk about it amicably.
“Of course we have disagreements from time to time, but through talking openly, we always come to an agreement.
At the moment, this big happy family is busy preparing for Martha’s wedding, George and Veronica at the fore front, after all, their last born daughter is about to turn the next chapter of her life, and they want to sure that the transition will be a memorable one.