Reading the harrowing tales of abuse that Kenyan maids have suffered at the hands of their Saudi masters I’m reminded how shamefully some gay expatriates and well-heeled Kenyans are guilty of employing male domestic workers (gardeners, drivers, house-keepers etc) and also subjecting them to horrendous abuse.
There’s an abundance of unskilled labour here in one of the world’s most unequal countries, so some unscrupulous employers get away with paying salaries as low as KSH 4,000 (around USD 50) per month! for 18 hour–days with no shortage of candidates to exploit. The nightmare for the mwananchi (‘citizen’ but lately used by politicians to mean gullible slum-dwelling hoi polloi or The Great Unwashed) can start when he responds to one of those ads placed on shopping mall noticeboards: ‘Live-in Houseboy Wanted by Expat’.
‘Expat’ in Kenya for many locals conjures up images of better working conditions, Weetabix, evergreen money-growing trees on a well-tended lawn, red Corps Diplomatique licence plates and the chance to dine at the drivers’ canteen when you get taken to the Mara on a working-holiday, wow. Unfortunately there are also cases of some ‘houseboys’ (sometimes married men with families, by the way) being coerced to perform sexual acts as demanded from time to time by the boss. If you thought you had a bad day at the office, think again. This is job mis-description with ass-licking for real!
Sadly a combination of ‘macho society’ and the fear of losing a job means these faceless victims continue to wipe away nightly tears of shame in silence, within plush gated- communities and the over-manicured kei apple hedges grown to keep one set of undesirables from the other. Another irony is that the male employer (saddled with the excessive pay and perks of a business mogul but usually working for NGOs to help the living-on-less-than-a-dollar-a-day Kenyans) is able to buy a veneer of respectability because he hasn’t taken on a female worker. It’s also a fact that Kenyan women form the obvious sexual diet for the majority of predatory employers.
What troubles me still is these are some of the many people here who refer to an adult man as ‘boy’ or grown woman as ‘girl ‘ – 'houseboy', 'shamba-boy' (gardener). Might there be a perverse connection with the apathy that seems to surround the cases of child abuse in this country?