Lesotho: House help

Date: September 9, 2014
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I am a 24 year old domestic worker. A huge chunk of my work load comprises being a child minder. Many times I find my mind wandering off to my childhood when I see the happy free spirits enjoying their youth, and rightfully so. I try to suppress most of my memories albeit I paint the envy I feel for their happiness on my face. Besides, it might be misinterpreted by my madam.

I did not always aspire to be a house help. I had high hopes.  I had dreams of living ‘la’vida loka.’ Yes, living my life like it was golden as Jill Scott says in one of her songs. I was a normal happy, loving child who had loving parents. However, all that changed after my parents died of HIV and AIDS. My father might have caught the virus while stationed far from home and passed it on to my mother, I suppose. This did not mean their status was ever a stumbling block between us and our happiness while they still lived. Oh death! But death did.

Death the leveler. I remember a poem we recited in secondary school, where the writer spoke of his thoughts on death and the sorrows it brings along with it. If only for me it was just that: a story that one parted with the moment you close a book. The agony that my life story brings, however, just strengthens the poet’s convictions.

From the day the last of my parents was buried six feet below in the earth’s belly, my siblings and I did not know a restful, uneventful day. First it was my uncle who insisted that he keep my father’s herd at his place since we were only girls and could not enter kraals as our tradition dictates. That was the last we heard from him concerning our family wealth.
Upon the reopening of schools our fees were pending and when we sought assistance from our uncle he poured cold water on us with the news that he had his own kids to see to and that he did not have any money. When we asked him to sell some of the livestock to pay our bills he scolded us for being ungrateful and shooed us off his property.

Then there was another relation (I still do not know how we are related) who moved in with us. We were happy, for we would finally have an adult to lighten the load on our shoulders. Litttle did we know that she was there to make our lives a living hell. She made sure we completely understood the meaning of being orphaned. Food was no longer a basic need but something we could be rewarded with if we were good.The last straw was the time we spent an entire week without food, sleeping outside our own home.She was angry that the 5 kg pap meal she had bought the previous two weeks was finished. Mind you, she always had visitors around and we would be scolded if we did not dish out for them during meal times.

Some concerned neighbours finally took action and the lady went back to wherever she came from. The child support social department grant helped for a while but waiting for M900 every three months could not sustain us. I had to exchange my labour for money by being a baby sitter. At first that did not go well as my boss would go for months without paying me. I had to quit. While back at home, I joined a group of girls on a job hunt in the Republic of South Africa and had to illegally enter the country. By so doing, I put myself at risk of being the target of foul play. I had to sleep around with different men for a roof over my head and food on the table. When I finally got a job, it paid peanuts because I did not have the right documents, but it was better than back at home.

Sometimes the police undertook patrols and if they found any illegal immigrants, they deported them back to their original homelands. Word got around and we would dodge them. However, on one such occassion, some got away but I was delivered right back to the motherland, Lesotho. That was the day I stopped dreaming and embraced my fate. I am a domestic worker and my hopes and wishes go as far as finding a good employer and feeding my siblings. What of the childhood which I was robbed? “Limeme, bring the kids inside and run their baths.” That is my boss, duty calls. I have to snap out of this day dreaming.

*Not her real name
This story is part of the “I” Stories series produced by the Gender Links News Service encouraging the view that speaking out can set you free.

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