Kenyan househelps are a different and unique breed in their own ways. Despite all the negative stories that fill the newspapers daily and TV prime-time news, those who pledge their loyalty to their employees and give their all.
Okay, we all know how most people in Nairobi find househelps right? If not, here’s how.
One, either your mother back in the village scouts and sends one your way after making a number of calls here and there. “My son. This one is the best I have ever seen. In fact, her mother and I are in the same Chama,” your mother would say.
Or, two, you pop into those househelp agencies around the corner of your estate, a small dingy room with a secretary only.
For my girlfriend, Monica and I, a househelp mattered most. We were always afraid of landing a rogue one. We desired to have a househelp who could be family to us.
As a child, I looked up to our househelps, who played, in some ways, the role of a mother. They were remunerated for being nice to us, looking after us, teaching us some things our parents missed to show us, and taking time out of their day to be with us.
We cannot easily wave aside the roles househelps play in our lives. Do you realise that we trust them with the crucial aspects of our lives, from taking care of our children, cooking our food, and maintaining our houses to taking care of us during illnesses?
I wanted the same for my daughter, Stacy, as Monica and I were a career couple who had their first baby in our last year on campus.
We had known each other for four years on campus and five years after our studies. But she had requested us to wait for baby Stacy to grow before we commit ourselves to marriage officially or even think of having another baby.
We thus sought to have a househelp, and that’s when we met Joyce. A good-hearted woman with a great sense of humour. She also has a peal of hearty laughter and pays attention to detail. This kind is rare to come across.
Joyce, now 37, had been with us since Monica and I moved in together along Thika Road. She arrived on the same day we had just relocated from Moi University.
Joyce was thus a blessing. She was a jack of all trades, having been brought up in Eastlands, Nairobi, where she had lived nearly her entire life. She was also married and had two kids.
She took her days off on Sunday and had her leave when either Monica or I were on leave. Joyce knew everything, from cooking to driving to navigating around Nairobi, as she had the city map at her fingertips.
She would take Stacy to school, the hospital, and church and do all the shopping in the house too. My daughter was so used to her, and sometimes, we even joked that she loved her more than we did.
I had planned to propose to Monica once our baby Stacy was six years old, and I had shared the plan with some of my friends and hers. Up to date, I can’t comprehend how Joyce came to know of it and surprised both Monica and me.
Initially, I had planned to take Monica on a date at a restaurant along CBD and keep it easy. I hired an event planner to coordinate with the restaurant and decorate a hall section where I would propose.
So here’s the twist. On the morning of the Friday, I was to propose, Joyce left without informing us where she had gone. We called her nearly three times, and she was unavailable.
Imagine, on the day I was to propose. I was worried that she had quit or she was up to something, as the last few days, she was into her phone a lot, acting suspicious at times.
I was home alone as my girlfriend had left for an errand because we would meet for dinner later. She, too, couldn’t account for Joyce’s whereabouts. A few hours later, I received a call from a new number.
It was Joyce. She was stranded around the city and couldn’t leave until I picked her up. She also couldn’t narrate her story until I arrived. I asked for her location, and she pinned it on WhatsApp. After leaving Stacy with a neighbour, I jumped into my car and drove off, following the map.
I found myself on Thika Road, into Pangani, and arrived near Pumwani Hospital. Then, I followed my map into Eastleigh to the newest and biggest mall in East Africa, BBS Mall. I had never been to the mall, but I had heard about it from a few friends.
I drove around it for like 2 minutes, just staring at how big it was.
“Will I get a place to park my car, Sir?” I asked the security guard.
“Yes sir. We have over 1,500 parking lots which offer you a lot of convenience. Once you park, you only walk for a minute and into the shops selling electronics, cosmetics, household items like furniture, beds, carpets and kitchen equipment, fashion stalls, banks, thrift shops, and restaurants,” he explained.
Over 1,500 parking slots! Wow. Inside, I navigated into a parking lot and into an escalator, although I had a choice to use lifts or staircases. Once on the ground floor, I stood near the beautiful water fountain and called Joyce.
She asked me to head to the 4th floor, where I would find her. I was quite anxious as I moved up, but that didn’t stop me from noticing how the mall was designed to ensure a smooth traffic flow.
There were two main streets into what appeared to be a town Hall, built on 6.4 acres of land. The two streets came from the ends, allowing one to identify their favourite shop when they visit next time easily.
Unlike other malls where we have had countless stories of how you can walk over 30 minutes in circles trying to locate entry and exit points, here at BBS, you have over 6 entries serving as exits, guarded by special police units. The screening is top-notch.
At BBS Mall, each floor served different purposes. One sold fashion items, others cosmetics, and another household items, from carpets, cosmetics, electronics, furniture and carpets.
There was a section reserved for supermarkets and another for gold traders. I later learnt that BBS Mall has a plan to allow traders to sell authentic gold. One day, I’ll surely buy Monica a gold ring from the store. Soon, Nairobi traders would be allowed to move into the ground floor into stalls through which they would have a gateway to an untapped market. One section of the mall would also host SMEs.
I found Joyce near what she called a Selfie City. Here, I learnt that thousands of Kenyans visit the spot, which has unique BBS Mall photos including an aerial view of the city, to take photos. Some even record TikTok and short videos, a trend witnessed at Nairobi CBD on Saturdays and Sundays.
“Okay, Joyce. What’s up?” I stated, trying to control my breath.
“I have a surprise for you,” she stated as I tried to wrap my head around her words.
“I knew you were planning to propose to Monica and I thought of a better plan. Just listen to me for a minute,” she added, now getting my attention.
“I saw where you had booked and realised it was slightly inconvenient, especially with traffic in the city centre, and I thought about it. I have been shopping at this mall for quite some months, and it offers convenience more than anything.
“So, I reached out to Monica and told her I had a surprise for her and she is at a restaurant here eating her favourite snack, Baklava, prepared by a Turkish chef at Arkam Dinner & Sweets. Your designer is here too. We managed to get you the rooftop where you can see a section of the city and all your friends, workmates and your brother are here too,” she added.
“In fact, we debated where to have her sit. At the Turkish, Indian or Italian restaurants, Ice Cream parlour or fast food shops.”
What a surprise. A surprise inside a surprise. But that was not it.
As I was overwhelmed, she added that she had reached out to Monica’s sister, and they had swapped the ring I had ordered for her.
“You forgot that she loves a touch of silver. Yours was plain,” she added as we walked towards the rooftop. It hit me that on the day I ordered the ring, I did it hastily as I rushed to watch baby Stacy perform at school. What an angel my househelp Joyce had become.
“Why did you do all this?” I wondered as we ascended the stairs higher.
“I love you all as family and next year, as we had agreed, would be my last as I plan to go start my own business. I wanted to leave a mark in your lives,” she added.
But this was more than a mark. It was a lifetime memory. I admit I am not that romantic as much and had even left the flowers I had bought at home. But Joyce and our friends had entered a flower shop at BBS Mall and purchased the largest bouquet available.
The venue was decorated beautifully with Monica’s favourite colour, blue. I stared at my friends and brother and was totally overwhelmed. But when Monica appeared at the entrance and how she broke down when I went on my knee is the best memory of my life.
With beautiful rose flowers from a garden, an unexpected kiss, and a warm hug, I made her mine officially and just waited to seal it at the altar.
“My love will keep you safe always, yours for as long as you will dwell there,” I told her.
And you, too, why wait to visit BBS Mall? The largest mall in East Africa is running an expo from November 30 to December 2, with businesses offering you an opportunity to enjoy their offers, goods and services. In some stalls, you can buy two pieces of clothing and receive two for free, you can also enjoy discounts in restaurants and supermarkets.
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