Challenge: refrain from writing anything before becoming comfortable with the change in situation. (Read further to understand.)
Once upon a time, there lived a house girl. She stayed with and worked for a family in the big city, far away from her village. (The occupation is mutually beneficial, though it is not always clear whether the reason for hiring a house girl is pride, genuine need, or philanthropy.)
The house girl was happy with her job. The family she worked for was respected and there were many visitors. The house girl would always smile, and the guests would always smile back. When beckoned by her employers, the house girl would enthusiastically set to work.
In the evenings, the house girl would sit with the family's Mama, cooking the night's meal over the charcoal-fuelled jikos and absorbing the cooling breeze. In the mornings, the house girl would be the first to wake, ensuring that the men in the house were comfortable on their way out the door to work.
One day, the house girl's mother fell sick. The house girl requested time off from her work to visit her mother. The family she worked for, highly pleased with the house girl's work and spirit, happily granted it. The house girl returned to her village and her mother.
Unfortunately, her mother's health did not improve. Shortly after the house girl's return, her mother passed away. The house girl sent a message to her employers, informing them of the tragedy and asking for more time off work to grieve and set her mother's affairs in order back in the village. The family in the city replied with heartfelt condolences, of the sort that telephones must be proud to convey. The house girl was given as much freedom and time as she saw fit, with a guarantee of work at the end of her leave of absence.
The house girl's brother, who lived in the village, had other plans. In a rare moment of sobriety, he considered his good fortune: his sister was a qualified house girl, available to tend for his house! He sewed some thin excuses together and presented his case to the house girl. The house girl had no choice: family is family, and responsibility is responsibility. She stayed with her brother.
As the weeks pressed on, it became clear to the house girl that she was trapped: trapped in the life of poverty she thought she had overcome; trapped in a house with a drunkard for a roommate; trapped in a world of scrounging for food and money, powerless to stop all spare change from transforming into alcohol.
Back in the big city, a month after the house girl's departure, the house girl's employers received word that she would not be returning. They pleaded with the brother over the telephone to allow her to return, but the brother would not hear of it.
One week later, the employers hired a replacement. They would never see their old house girl again.
My Challenge in writing this entry was to become accustomed to this new house girl. In the past couple of days, I think I finally have. I get the impression that the family as a whole here was reticent to hire a new house girl; and out of loyalty, it was even harder to begin to actually like her.
I would happily write a book of rants on the topic. To save time, I could write a summary—or even more concise, a two-page-long list of chapter titles. I would publish anything on my website; I would do any work for my gender-empowerment NGO employer; I would talk to anybody. Words are my only weapon, and I would break out any artillery that could save our old house girl.
But she is beyond rescue. No well-meaning person can do anything about her situation. In the darkest parts of our hearts, for all our pride of our notions of feminism and gender equality and statistics, we know this. And in the darkest part of your heart, you already know all the stories and statistics and words I can muster.
Pendo, this is your eulogy: more respect than most women ever receive in Africa.