“Look At Us”

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She confronted her daughter one evening after she had cleared the dinner plates. Her daughter had leaned back in the creaky wooden chair she had sat on, away from the light and truth and she denied it. She couldn’t see the lie on her face but she could hear it. You would know your daughter’s lies because like everything that comes from her, they come from you. “I’m a mother,” she told her firmly, leaning forward to have a better look at her face. “I have had three children; don’t you think I’d know if you are pregnant?” Her other children – 9 and 11 – sat silently squeezed next to her in the worn two-seater, a hand-me-down from a former employer.

When her daughter finally started throwing up in the morning, she came clean. She was past the disappointed phase because she had processed her daughter’s pregnancy before she even confessed to it. Now she was in the mourning stage, mourning the loss of her child’s childhood. Every waking day she demanded to know which boy had done this to her. Her daughter had told her that it didn’t matter, it wasn’t the boy’s fault. She persisted – and she could persist.

When she finally got a name out she entered the anger phase. She would get headaches just thinking about the man. She would lie in bed at night and think of macabre things that could possibly happen to that man: him getting a cancer that makes his penis fall off; him losing all his teeth in a fight; him swallowing his tongue in his sleep and not being able to talk again, him not being able to pass stool for the rest of his life, a swarm of bees making a home in his arse. Often, dawn would find her still staring into the musky-smelling darkness. One day she tied her leso tight around her ample torso (for she was a big-boned woman, before she fell sick) and marched over to the kiosk where she confronted the man. She called him a leech. She called him scum. She called him a name in Luhya to mean, a bastard. She told him she hoped he got a cancer that made his penis fall off. “She’s 15 years old! A mere child! ” She seethed. “You are my age! Have you no shame?!” From behind the grill, the man went about his business of looking at his books, unperturbed by her ruckus and righteousness. “Come out here, if you are a man!” She dared him. He never came out. He wasn’t man. Not that man, at least.

Eventually the chief – a dinosaur with one shorter leg- couldn’t do much. Or refused to do much. He said her daughter “looked like an adult.” (For she took her mommy’s body). And that’s how that saga ended, the law, indeed, is an ass. She then stumbled into the phase of guilt: maybe she should have done more to prevent it. Maybe she should have sought justice for her daughter and for herself. Maybe if she wasn’t so poor, all this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe if she had a husband, a manly figure in the house, all this would have been averted. Or the least he would have done would have been to knock all the teeth off that man’s face.

The baby is 3 years old and she feels like a new mother at 35 because her daughter prefers to spend more time on her phone than taking care of the baby. The small one-bed-roomed mabati house is suddenly strangely crowded with noise, with a crying baby and the loud clutter of the cheap plastic toys that he drives around. The small grocery business she had set up for her daughter to run, now that school was out of the question, collapsed, sinking with her savings of Sh,4000. A year ago, she got fired from her casual job in Industrial Area where she packed boxes in a warehouse. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, she fell sick. Her period would keep her in bed for many days, excruciating pain in her pelvic region and she’d often borrow money to buy sanitary pads due to her excessive bleeding. She was so weak and anaemic, dragging herself outside to bask in the sun and listlessly watch her grandson play. She had Endometriosis, though she didn’t know it at that time. A friend of hers told her that she knew someone who had the same problem and whose husband had sold cows back in the village to raise the 45K needed to do the surgery. She laughed; “I can barely feed myself and my children, where can I ever get 45,000 shillings?” She told her she would tough it out like she had toughed out everything else in her life. She would pray to God to heal her body, not to let her die and leave her children alone. “Lord, don’t turn my children into orphans.”

Her husband was a good man, a very quiet man; never drunk like the other men in the plot. He fixed bicycles from a small shade in the market but no matter how hard he worked, no matter how many bicycles he fixed, nothing seemed to work for him. He was a man running at the same spot. One day he left for work and never came back. Just like that, he disappeared, abandoning the struggle and the pressure of being a husband and a father. That was the most bizarre phase of her life. Bizarre and embarrassing for she became fodder for the plot gossip. Granted, husbands around were not model husbands, but they stayed. None abandoned their families no matter how tough things got. The rumours were that she was the problem, she must have brought it on herself and for a long time it seemed like her whole identity shrunk to his departure. That no matter who she was, who she was trying to become, she was the woman who was abandoned by her husband. The children needed answers of his whereabouts, as she did.

Even through all this, she was distinctly aware that he was not dead and that he was alive somewhere. And indeed he was, rumours finally got to her that he was living in Malaba and had taken another young girl as a wife. And he still repaired bicycles. She never bothered to get into a bus to Malaba to confirm these rumours. It was easier to think of herself as a widow, well, until five years later when word reached her that he had died, and she officially became one. The same grapevine said that he had died in the most bizarre of ways; by falling off a tree. There was no mention what type of tree that was (not that it would have helped) or what on earth he was doing up there. She couldn’t muster tears for a man who had died a long time ago in her heart. The afternoon he was buried she was plugging a hole in one of her bathing basins with molten plastic.

The warehouse never called her back and – on advice of one of her friends – she resorted to join her in the leafy parts of the city to sit with a group of women and wait for house-work. She said it paid well; sometimes 500 shillings – if you were lucky. “You can’t dress like you are poor,” her friend advised her, “or nobody will pick you.” So she wore her only dress that she liked to wear to church. It was green with white small lilies on it. Nobody picked her that day. “Don’t look too miserable, either,” her friend told her. “Nobody wants to take misery back to their house.” So the next day she tried to wear her smile as cars slowed down, and the occupant gazed out at them like you would a livestock for sale in a market. Nobody picked her the second day either and she went back home empty handed. She learnt great patience and hope and the power of prayer seated in that ditch. She also learnt that being chosen wasn’t entirely up to how you dressed or if you smiled. It was things you couldn’t control, like where you were seated, which direction the client came from, the sensibilities of the client, their preferences, and the connection you two had when your eyes met. It was fate. It was God, not the dress.

It’s been six months and most days are good, but some days she goes home without work. The trick of being picked again as a repeat client is to go beyond the call of duty. If you are told to clean the house, you should clean the house but also offer to water the plants and wipe the windows. If it’s clothes you are to clean, ask if you can also clean that rug. The other trick is to say little. Also, if there is a child in that house, be friendly to them; she realized. Even if they are little entitled shits. And wear a roll-on. “These people have sensitive noses.” Her friend once told her. Also, don’t touch their food unless offered. Don’t eat a banana or an apple no matter how hungry you are, unless they tell you to.

Another thing, the earlier you got there the better your chances are to be picked. You never know who would stop their cars or come pick you up. She has seen all sorts. The strange bachelor who told her, “whatever you do in this house, do not open this door,” pointing at a door. There was a house that had like ten strange looking immigrants in one bungalow. She’s experienced the ones who locked their fridges with keys. The ones who asked her to stand by the door when she’s done and went about the house making sure she didn’t steal anything. She’s also met the kind ones who gave her their old dresses and shoes. Who talked to her like she was human. Who corrected her gently when she washed the disposable paper plates. She’s seen the eccentrics; like the lady who walked around the house naked as she cleaned. She has experienced the verbally abusive ones with harsh words. She has cleaned men’s boxers with skid marks. She has cleaned dogs and cats that made her sneeze. She has been conned, told money would be Mpesad later only for the client not to come through. She has been to massive houses that echoed with sadness and small houses that felt like a mansion. She has walked into warm homes with laughter and kindness and very familiar homes she truly believed she lived in her past life. She has seen a bed so big it could sleep her whole family. And a dog that had its own bed. She has seen an overweight three-legged cat with an attitude of the owner.

The job hurts your back – you always stay bent for hours. Often she’s not offered food, so she has to make do from water from the tap. God forbid should you break something; a vase, a plate, a glass. Some people would shrug and say it’s fine, but others would fly off the handle and suggest that they get it off your pay.

Mostly, she’s just invisible. Nobody notices her. Nobody talks to her. Nobody asks who she is, how she’s doing. She’s a shadow. A nobody. But it pays the rent – barely – and buys food for the children. She wishes she had a new shoe or a new dress. She wishes she could afford lotion. She has never painted her nails in her life. Or owned a television set. Or sat under a drier. Never heard the sound of waves. A beach is not even a dream, it doesn’t register on the radar.

Lately things have taken a worse turn. Nobody is allowing them in their homes to clean because of this virus. So they don’t sit at their spot anymore. She took a small loan from her chama and started a mandazi business but competition is insane and she doesn’t see her business lasting another month. They have had to adjust as a family; they are down to one meal a day. They all agreed that the baby is a priority so they have largely sacrificed for her. Hunger has now moved into their house and hunger strips you off dignity. She can no longer afford to look at her hungry children in the eye because she sees her own failure as a mother in them. But it’s not just her, it’s most of the households in their plot who are supported by boda-boda riders, office messengers, gardeners, clerks and whatnot. Misery loves company. When you ask her what’s the one thing she would want the people she works for to know she says, in many words, “to look at us.”

And when we look at them we will see people with the same aspirations like ours. They love and fear for their children. They sometimes watch them sleep. They have reckless dreams of fortune and happiness. Their feelings get hurt. They wonder how they will die. Or if they will ever find love. They have allergies. They also love the smell of petrol.

But unlike us, most of them don’t save for the rainy days because there is nothing to save. These are not fictitious characters of a book of fiction; we all know one. They clean for us. They raise our children. They fuel our cars. They run quick errands for us. They open the gate for us. They clean the lifts we get into and the toilets we enter. And we can help them with the little we have. And that help is right in our phones, sitting unused. We all have Bonga points, which are just points for us but which is now food for them thanks to Safaricom’s Bonga For Food. So send it to one person you know who might need it. It will help them more than it will help you.

The trick is not to do it after you have washed the dishes or made your smoothie, or done your yoga this morning. Do it right now, after you finish reading this article. Here is how:

Dial *126#
Select Transfer Bonga points
Enter phone number to transfer to
Enter Bonga points
Enter Bonga PIN
Confirm details and send

And tell me if it doesn’t make you feel happy, to extend a helping hand to someone who has much less than you have.

And, thank you.

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190 Comments
  1. The struggle is real…who denies a cleaner food? Chakula? Endagera? If you can afford a cleaner,you surely can spare a cup of tea! To the ninjas that fail to Mpesa…

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  2. Thanks Biko for this nudge. I’ve been thinking of sending my mama Safi some cash but this just gave me a sense of urgency. Asante Sanah

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  3. Thanks Biko for coming across for this group. Interestingly, it is this wretched _of_the _earth class that epitomises the good in humanity
    May the burger that put the young girl in the family way vomit and choke on that vomit. To his death!

    Nobody is commenting today? Have we lost it…the will to live? Hey, come on guys now…

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    1. It’s not just the woman in the story going through this. A whole lot of people out here are. You could just identify one person in your neighborhood and help them.
      During these times, a little goes a long way.

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    2. Thank you for the wake up call Biko..my mama fua is still coming and i feel for those that have nowhere to go…is it possible for you to give us her number,?i would have sent mine to my mama fua but this one on your story needs it more…

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  4. Too much sadness on one planet! God knows the sad stories I have in my heart. One day I will write them. As for now, let me dial *126# and continue writing about foody stuff.

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  5. The things we take for granted are a struggle for majority of the populace. Thank you Biko, for this enlightenment.

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  6. Send her number here. Please. I have a mama fua, I felt accomplished when I sorted her out, but now I feel empty all over again

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  7. My heart….. I don’t even know what i feel….My momma went through alot to see us reach here.These moms are an inspiration……
    I don’t think i have much. But i want to share with her.please send me her number,i can Mpesa……Thanks

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    1. Come on people. Don’t just ask for this lady’s number to send your contribution. It’s nice to go that route but you know what’s also better, is to send it to that house help or that person who you know is in need. I’d think Biko can agree with me on that especially with the way he has ended today’s blog. He has mentioned to send it to “smn who has much less than you have”

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  8. Oh my God…this is heartbreaking. When i think of the things that occupied my morning….
    Thank you Biko for reminding us how fortunate some of us are and that we can so easily make someone else’s life just a little better.

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  9. Thanks for the article and highlighting this. Very sad beyond words.
    Wish there was a coordinated group where such ladies can access help and people contribute as able to in this season.
    Otherwise now will try be stopping and give when able to even if not to ask them to come due to other arrangements in place.
    God bless

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  10. so sad but we shall all get through this through the Grace of our God, Biko is it possible for you to give me her number? i would like to buy her family food for a week or something. kindly?

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  11. Sad…it is worse when you have a family that rejects you. Praying that people will come through for her.
    We need to pray for those who have gotten into depression due to rejection when they sought refuge from their family……
    Am one of them.

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  12. The power in your writing is amazing. Serious reflection into things we take for granted. Thanks for reminding us to show and share love to those serving us. Her contacts.? I can buy her some food.

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  13. This one though… It touched me.
    “…She has seen all sorts… She’s experienced the ones who locked their fridges with keys… She’s also met the kind ones who gave her their old dresses and shoes. Who talked to her like she was human. Who corrected her gently when she washed the disposable paper plates…”
    God bless the kind ones—May we strive to be kind always.
    Y’all know what it’s like going to work not sure if you’ll even make enough for the fare back home.
    God remember such people, give them everyday their daily bread.

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  14. Its a tough world out here man, you learn to suck it up even if all you want to do is to whoop their asses
    “…The trick of being picked again as a repeat client is to go beyond the call of duty…if there is a child in that house, be friendly to them even if they are little entitled shits…”
    you learn to suck it up even if all you want to do is to whoop their asses.

  15. Hi Biko,

    Very touching article. Please send me the ladies phone number i support in my own little way.

    Regards,

    Kimani

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  16. Hi Biko, what a sad story. I teared. May God bless you for bringing to life these stories. Please send me her number

  17. Let’s be sympathetic for our brothers and sisters.
    Sharing is caring. Be kind to anyone who runs any errands for you, that’s the highest form of Humility.

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  18. Hi Biko, Thanks for this.. I actually sent my laundry lady some money for support last week. She has worked for me for over 6 years… She was so encouraged.. I sent her the money first then followed with a call to confirm she has received the it.. she was like ” nimesikia message ikiingia nikajua tu ni zile za ministry of health.” They also have families.. Let’s support them.

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  19. The trick of being picked again as a repeat mehn…washing diposables and doing a roll-on….don’t just see people, look at them….know people’s names and greet them by their names.

  20. Justice in Kenya is repressed,the ruling class
    will always have an upper hand.Eeiy ,where did humanity go?
    My heart bleeds

  21. The trick of being picked again as a repeat mehn…washing diposables and doing a roll-on….don’t just see people, look at them….know people’s names and greet them by their names.

  22. Yes,please let us know her number or a number we can send her a meal or even two…And God to deal with those a****** who don’t mpesa peanuts za kufua.

  23. And wear a roll-on. “These people have sensitive noses.” Her friend once told her.
    That sentence reads like an excerpt from the movie Parasite. Everyone should watch it.

    Great initiative by Safaricom!

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  24. I told my wife to let it be part us that our Slasher and other helpers do not ask for lunch but always put them in the family programme. That cup of tea my be her only meal, dont deny them

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  25. I blessed someone today , our work cleaning lady and her gratitude made me teary! People are having it tough out there…Such a touching narration! But the underwear with skid marks though

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  26. Hi Biko, am touched by her story, I saw an arrangement dubbed adopt-a-family in kibera. I dont mind sending something small every week to this family to cushion them for a while through you.

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  27. So sad. How do we out here help?

    I will ask my siblings there if they can do something. It’s a very hard period more so for those out of work or those with informal work. This pandemic has turned the world upside down literally.

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  28. Imagine that everyone could give as much as they’d like to get
    And imagine if everyone could learn to show each other respect, yah, yah yah. Oh what a wonderful world it would be for you and me.
    #Yourworldandmine#

  29. “Don’t eat a banana or an apple no matter how hungry you are, unless they tell you to”…this is very sad,

    Our nanny lives with us. She is excellent- the best. She has her own kids, Her youngest is 4. The other day, she was on the phone a lot. So, as usual, I asked her- how are the kids? She broke down. She had just received a call- her kids were fighting. Fistfights with knives in the picture. And the 4-year-old had to be taken away by neighbors (he wasn’t fighting, but he was witnessing bad things). The things that people go through are heart-wrenching. I am still traumatized by her helplessness and her inability to be home with her kids cos she needs this job. Let’s just say we managed the situation- together, from afar.

    If you have someone that helps you at home, SEE them. Ask them how they and their kin are. Because these are tough times for everyone.

    Dialing *126#

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  30. Just when you feel like you know everything, here comes grand ol’ Biko with a story that truly breaks your heart reminding you of the sage saying that in a world in which you can be anything just be kind.
    Blessings Baba Tamima.

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  31. Look at us. ..A very simple phrase yet loaded with a lot of pain, despair and hopelessness.
    May we always be kind and generous with the little we have. It goes a long way.

    Woi… I can only imagine how hard it must be for her and her neighbors.

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  32. Heey person scrolling and reading some of the comments,

    I know it is good to ask for the lady’s details to help out in your own way however it is also better to help out that person who has less than you have(quoting Biko here) as you are thinking of helping this lday out in whichever way you are thinking.

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  33. Lord forgive me for being ungrateful….this is just too much.May God be with all those people lacking essential things like food.

  34. Thank you for this Biko. Kenyans let’s be kind to our brothers, sisters, mothers, daughters. Let’s treat each other with dignity. ‘ look at them and offer them food, share what you have.

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  35. Yes, I see my mum in her, a go getter. Striving to find what’s best for her children. O have grown up In such surroundings where food was not a guarantee and talk of clothes? Another story for another day!
    But not this once did she ever give up! And one thing I’ll live to say, treat people as if it were you in there shoes.. What if it was the other way around? What if what you did for the less fortunate is a ticket to heaven? Would you have qualified?
    My dad left us one day, no rent, no food, we were chased out, we became a laughing stock and you know what my. Mum had to do for survival? Remarry yes, remarry.
    Life pushed us to the wall, slapped us, name them all
    I sometimes blame her for that buy who I’m I to make the choice?
    I wish I could go back a little bit and maybe talk to God one on one… Maybe it would have been different by now…

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  36. Last week I noticed that the number of mama safi had doubled at the ditch where they wait for work. Then it dawned on me that people are not giving them work. I pray that this phase of the virus passes fast.

  37. BIko you’re heaven sent. I always assume this advert but nowhere has it made more sense than here. Thanks again for the heads up. A relative, a widow living in Mukuru does this to feed her family, son and 2 daughters, one who has two kids. Shida! Ni Mungu tu

  38. This is current reality, I say if your pay is coming through, pay your mama fua even though she is not coming. It will come back to you a good measure. And even though no pay is coming if you can share a meal please do.

  39. Biko, you have expressed the heart and soul of this campaign, better than we ever ever imagined. Please let’s all lend a hand NOW….not later…Right NOW. Thank you. PS:You have a gift.

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  40. This is so touching Biko and thanks for giving us the story and life behind our cleaners these people really go through a lot.

  41. Biko kindly share her contacts God has answered my prayer I had asked Him to show me who He wants me to help out and this here is an answer. Sharing the little we have will go along way in lightening up her burden. If someone is cleaning for you hata mkate na soda yawa it doesn’t cost much to give them energy to do the work just water? Wah I hardly know why we are selfish yet its all vanity i hope after Covid 19 some of or all of us will extend true love to our neighbor because no one knows about tomorrow. I mean who could tell 2020 could begin like this…..Christlike Love is priceless lets love one another and learn to put ourselves in another persons shoe.

  42. https://youtu.be/uzKZt-FEVs8

    Invisible people are all around us. They work in our homes, they serve us coffee and meals, they teach our children. We perhaps do not see them either because we do not know how it feels to be invisible or we have never paid any thought to their existence, their feelings, their being.

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  43. True, generosity is a real virtue…
    Such vulnerable guys are everywhere… we interact with them on a daily basis and is our God given duty to reach out and put a smile on them…coz they are human too.

  44. Look at us… nonchalantly strutting past those women, men … winding up the car window as that dirty, hungry boy approaches with a palm outstretched… staring (or pretending to) straight ahead, ignoring the beggars’ bowl thrust towards us… preferring a coin and stashing away wands of crisp notes… look at us…

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  45. It is such behavior and mannerisms that has God so mad at mankind that the punishment is changed behavior or die from Homa ya kifua ehhh. We often abuse people calling them cows, goats and dogs, tag me when you spot a goat wearing mask, or a cow under qurantine. What if convid 19 is about changed behavior and until our mannerisms are changed it is here to stay?
    Punguza madtharau nani, na kwa wale wa mpesa na wa kureverse wewe na maombi ya huyo mama mtoto wake alipata ball at 15yrs one side.

  46. Buy them a roll on. Make them your regular Daily Mama Fua. Register them on NHIF and support their smalldream. It only costs 5k most times and give them financial literacy classes to move on from there. My personal mantra. Never leave someone the same when they work for you. Change Kenya 1 employee at a time.

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  47. Thank you for airing out what most of our friends, family, neighbors etc go through. It’s my desire that people will change how they “Look At Us”.
    Besides the money you pay to that house help, that cleaner, that gardener etc, look at them as human beings who are trying to make ends meet.
    Time to help is now.

  48. Two weeks ago my dad told me to never deny someone a meal. if its only a single bean i have to cut it into pieces and share. I pray things get better we go back to our normal stuff.

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  49. Great article Biko, I will help in every way I can. Caring is sharing. I just wish people could see every person as a human being.

  50. This is really touching, people think they are going through hell not until you read this article. People out here go through alot but don’t share, smiles cover every year and sadness just to make employers and friends feel comfortable but deep down they are hurting and no idea on the next meal. Thanks for this

  51. Potent…don’t just steal a glance. Please look at us…it’s sad how we often tend to think that the less fortunate deserve being in their situation just because we assume we’ve achieved everything we have by our own might, yet ni Mungu tu. As we help our less fortunate friends, let’s not give coz we have much and are looking for more blessings but let’s give coz God has blessed us and kept us for such a time as this

  52. Well written biko. Sometimes we fuss about a lot, missing the much needed promotion-forgetting we have that dream job, we are over privileged. This breaks me to tears…. I will be better I’ll be more humane. Thank you

  53. The struggle is real.
    I felt hurt when the husband and father left them… Then it became heartbreaking that years later her family is still struggling to make ends meet, it’s harder playing both parenting roles in such economic and pandemic times.. All we got to do is help that neighbor, and TIP those momma mbogas please. It’s not about being financially rich but having a rich heart.

  54. I could not bring myself to finish reading first when I reached after reading…. “she looked like an adult..” (she took her mom’s body).. There is no freaking law like that. As a gender champion and an advocate for an end to SGBV, I feel violated. Thus girl was violated and I pray somewhere along the story justice would be served…. while hot!!
    The nerve.

    Let me get to finishing this

  55. This story just made me feel guilty of not acknowledging casual workers like guards, gardeners, cleaners and many others. They are human beings like us. From today I will be saying hi and ask them how they are doing.

    1. Hello there! The lady received a lot of help since I wrote about her. We can however, keep spreading the love by extending kindness to others just like her around us.

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    1. Hello Betty, the lady received a lot of help since I wrote about her. We can however, keep spreading the love by extending kindness to others just like her around us.

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  56. so true – She also learnt that being chosen wasn’t entirely up to how you dressed or if you smiled. It was things you couldn’t control, like where you were seated, which direction the client came from, the sensibilities of the client, their preferences, and the connection you two had when your eyes met. It was fate. It was God, not the dress.

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  57. Coincidentally, I had halted my mamafua this week and the last coz I din’t have much laundry to do but on reading this,
    I’m calling her tomorrow just to “look and her and hers” even without any laundry to do for me.

    She does the most for me and that’s the only way I can show humanity back.
    Thank you very much Biko, anxiety got me here at 1 in the night.

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  58. For those people who come here and say ‘am no 1 to comment’ I was expecting those comments saying….am no 1 to mpesa

  59. Biko kindly assist me with her contact. I may assist a little. I am not well off but i can make a difference for a day.

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  60. I once forgot to serve a mama Nguo food at lunch time at my moms place she came back home Ile slap nilipewa aisee I was 25years old nkaambiwa kwenye nilitoa iyo uchoyo nirudishe

  61. This is heartbreaking. The covid situation is a crisis. It has made many people lack food to bring to the table. I wish I could help this mama in any way I can.