Jecinta Wahu has worked as a barmaid for 15 years. This job, she says, is like any other. “True, it has its challenges, but with time and experience, it gets easier,” she says.
Now 34, Ms Wahu was 19 when she got her first bar attendant job. It’s an experience she would like to erase from her memory.
“On my first day at work, I was asked to wear a short dress, which was so uncomfortable. Seeing my naivety, a customer grabbed my breasts as I served him. Thankfully, co-workers came to my rescue. I was so scared that day, I cried the whole night,” Ms Wahu recalls.
That was then. Today, she demands respect from her customers in return for the professionalism she serves them with. This job, she points out, enabled her build her mother, who has since died, a house back in Nakuru, where she comes from, and buy cows for her farm.
Additionally, she has educated two of her siblings and supported them until they got jobs. She has also solely raised her son, who is a Form Two student. Moreover, she has taken herself through college, and now holds a diploma in business management.
She also has certificates in public relations and crisis management and owns a retail liquor store in Nairobi. “Would you then say that this is a dishonourable job?” she poses, adding that this profession has countless morally upright women whose sole aim is to earn a decent living.
Raised by a single mother of eight, life was not easy for Wahu. With such a big family, money was never enough as she grew. Her mother was also uncompromising.
“My mother, a staunch Christian, was very strict on us. I feared her and couldn’t seek her help when I needed guidance,” she says.
With no understanding adult to guide her as a teen, she resorted to taking advice from peers. With pressure from friends, the little freedom she got when she visited a sister in Nairobi during the April holidays while in Form Four ended up in pregnancy.
She says: “I met a man who offered me attention which I didn’t resist as I wanted to emulate my peers.”
Four months later, her actions caught up with her.
“When I missed my menses for four months, I knew something was amiss. I sought medical attention and tests proved I was pregnant. I was in serious trouble, but didn’t have the courage to face my mother. My only option was to hide my pregnancy for as long as it took,” she says.
Although she thought she could cover her tracks, her plan was doomed as her mother soon noticed the pregnancy.
“My mother noted the behavioural changes in me and forcibly took me to the hospital, where it was reconfirmed that I was pregnant,” she says.
Overwhelmed with anger and bitterness, her mother took her to Nairobi to identify the man responsible, only for the man to deny responsibility. Ms Wahu was forced to live with her sister after her mother disowned her. She was 19 when she gave birth to her son.
Even though she found relief living with her sister, away from her disappointed mother, the solace did not last long.
“My sister fell sick and couldn’t work. With a baby to raise and bills to pay, I had to find a job to support us. With no education qualifications, my options were limited. When I got a chance to work as a waiter in a nightclub, I was so desperate, I took up the offer.”
But that was then. Now, Ms Wahu is quite at home in a career that has made it possible for her to accomplish a lot. She has also grown in her career. Currently, she is a manager at the Four Horsemen Bar and Grill on Lang’ata Road, opposite Uhuru Gardens.
Her teenage son knows what she does for a living and the only concern he has is that of her security, because she works late.
With years of experience in an industry that preys on women, her secret is being responsible and staying focused. To reap in this kind of job, she says, it is advisable not to get “involved” with customers. “There are employers who don’t condone such behaviour, and would not think twice about sacking you. Additionally you put your life at risk.”
She calls for reforms in this industry that has employed many youth, and longs for the day when there will be a strong body that champions for their rights.