- Silent Lives of Kenyan Domestic Workers
“Employers know very little about their servants’ lives, their families, their dreams and hopes. Their servants have no authority but carry a large burden of responsibility. These people who are banished to small rooms at the bottom of the garden when night has fallen are, during the day, stewards of power. The nannies nurture their employers’ children and help to shape their perception of the world. The chauffeurs take the children to school and back, driving in a way that will keep them out of harm’s way from not only car accidents but carjackers and kidnappers. The night watchmen guard the property at night with only a club, or perhaps a bow and arrows. It is not uncommon to read that a night watchman has been shot dead by gun-bearing thugs. All these people see much and say little. And they never betray the trust that has been bestowed on them. When their charges grow up and become employers themselves, will they remember who looked after them?”
- Guillaume Bonn
For a large number of Kenyans,employment as a domestic servant underlines the seismic disparities of a country in which over 50% of the population survives on less then 1 dollar a day while others reside in palatial homes. Whether it be the leafy suburbs of Nairobi, vast private game ranches or safari lodges, domestic staff bear intimate witness to a world so far removed from their own as to be incomprehensible.
To many of their employers they remain peripheral accessories to a lifestyle which in many ways demands an intimate complicity of their employees as they guard their gates, trim their hedges and ultimately ensure that any alternative reality be kept far at bay
Phylis is 23 years old works as a maid in Naivasha on a family estate, she was also born and raised in the area. she is not married and has no children.
David came from the north west part of Kenya to the city of Nairobi to find a job as a watchman. He is 40 years old, married with 6 children.
Joseph comes from Samburu district , he is 38 years old and is married with 2 children. He came to Nairobi hoping to find some work. He is an “askari” or watchman in a residential part of Nairobi. His family remained in Samburu and he plans to marry a second wife.
Lucas was born sometimes in 1966 in Oldonyioro,not far from isiolo town, he is married and has 5 children. He works as a night “askari” or watchman in Nairobi. He is resting on his bed in his 3 by 3 metres servant quarters provided by his employer.
Caroline is a single mother of 41 years old, she comes from Nyanza province in the western part of kenya and has been working for the same family for over 20 years. She was a nanny for the children posing with her in the photograph and then became a housemaid but she also sometimes works as a cook.
Kavina (left) is a grandmother of 50 years old and works as a maid.
She came to Kenya as a refugee from Uganda, her entire family was killed during the Idi Amin regime. Florence is 47 years old and is also a maid,she comes from Kakamega town. She is planning to get married in church for her daughter to be allowed to have a religious marriage. Her husband works in an hotel in Nairobi
Karyiuki comes from the town of Nyeri, he is 68 years old and has worked as a driver in Nairobi for the same family for nearly two decades.He is married and has 8 children, his employer is in the car waiting to be driven to the local supermarket.
A maid cleans in an old colonial house set on a farm an hour’s drive from Nakuru, a Rift Valley market town, It is owned by black Kenyans and rented to white Kenyans.