Saturday, August 19, 2017

How a bar maid worked her way out of poverty



By Jonathan Musa

She has been on duty for more than seven years, serving as a waitress and a barmaid in restaurants and bars in various parts of the country.

She opted for the job as it entailed no credentials or any other educational background apart from health permit, energy, self-confidence and honesty. But at the moment, she runs her own pub, owns rental houses and an M-pesa shop.

Zainab Peter, 34, the waitress in topic, is a widow and a mother of four. Her husband died of stroke in August 2008 and left the family with nothing. What a burden it was by then for the young shy mother. Her late husband had not saved much for the survival of the kids he left fatherless.

Zainab was married to Peter Arufani, a mechanic in a garage at Nyarugusu ward in Geita district in early 2000’s. Her wish to live happily with her husband solemnly vanished following his untimely death.

Preparing for the worst

“After I had the last child in June, 2008, my husband’s condition had now worsened. I began realizing that he might not survive after doctors released him to go back home and try herbal treatment,” she remembered.

She says her first child who was born in 2002 was six years old while the youngest was two months when their dad passed. At such young ages, they all needed to eat, dress well and also go to school.

Her brothers in-law had no capacity to help the widow while back at her home place, nobody had enough money to solve her case.

“I now had to look for a quick option before things ran out of hand. In Geita town, I tried casual jobs like cooking and preparing food in small hotels for little payment, but things still never worked out so well because domestic work such as taking care of my child made me delay to get to work on a daily basis,” she confessed.

She did various casual jobs including sweeping of highways but still the outcome was never a promising one. At such tough times, Zainab would always reminisce of the good times she shared with her late husband.

In December 2010, she left her village (Nyarugusu) and headed to town, Geita. Here, a single cemented room with electricity would go for about Sh40, 000/- to Sh50,000/- a month. This, to her was too much, instead she made an option of going for a simple one single, cemented room but with no power connection.

All she needed was to see her kids eating well, growing healthy and going to school as well like other children.

“I got a room that I paid Sh20, 000 per month and thanks to God, my landlord accepted my financial arrangement and I therefore paid for the first three months (Sh60, 000) contrary to her six months policy,” she says.

Zainab further says the more days passed the more her family needs changed; eating habits changed, there was a change in dressing code and other school requirements became necessity as well.

Meanwhile, working as a cook, and as well as a waitress now in a big restaurant in Geita town, she met many customers of whom some came to know of her status and showed compassion while others just ignored her.

“Others, especially those who knew me from the same village would leave me their ‘change’ which I would keep for myself. The decision to keep the change stemmed from a state of dire need rather than ill motive. I needed money for my children,” she disclosed.

In 2013, Philip Peter, Zainab’s first child completed primary school education and was looking forward to joining secondary school the following year. By this time, things were looking up for the struggling mother; she had a job.

After her child’s school results were out, Zainab was delighted because he had done so well. By this time, she had made some money that would cater for the boy’s admission in Mwanza Secondary School.

“I was working in a big bar as a waiter and I had night shifts with my colleague as a care taker in the guest rooms. There are times when I had to use an unfair advantage so as to make it in life, I regret that at times I had to lie to my boss,” she said, feeling shy.

Using means that border on the line of deceit is a known tactic in the catering industry. Workers, mostly maids, have to resort to ‘other’ means in order to make money. Things like not tallying the actual number of customers in the visitors’ book enables waitresses to make extra cash.

Zainab says she has worked in more than ten restaurants and bars in Mwanza, Geita and Tabora regions, each with its challenges.

“The biggest amount I got paid was Sh60,000 a month and I also never stuck to one working station for a long time – for one, conditions varied at each work place,” she said.

How did you get the capital?

“Working as a bar maid wasn’t something I was passionate about, I had bigger goals in life. I only became a barmaid due to my life’s condition. The little I made I always tried to save ,’’ she says.

She remembered of a day when a fight broke out among the drunkards in bar and unfortunately, one of the men dropped his wallet. Zainab picked the wallet up and kept it for the man who had lost it to come and get it – he was a regular at the pub.

“When he came in the morning, I never hesitated to hand over the wallet to him. He gave me half the amount that it carried, Sh450,000. This was my first time to get such huge amount as mine and at once,” she elaborated.

This gave her a great boost in her life that was much needed.

In September 2016, Zainab decided to stop working in bars and restaurants, and started her own pub at Sengerema. She runs the business on her own because she has full experience owing to her previous jobs.

“You know twirling in the same field for about seven years, one must have had enough of what it takes even if you did not go to school. I now have my own business and at least I can be called the ‘boss’,” she laughs.

The mother also runs M-Pesa shop which she says has enabled her pay some basic needs in school and at times food in the house.

She now has her own piece of land and has managed to build rental houses in Geita suburb with three tenants. She says she is expecting to add more the moment her firstborn completes high school.

“All this success stems from the brain I applied when I was serving mostly men in bars. I had to endure their abusive languages, I had to tolerate and learn the hard way to cope with the situation,” Zainab.

She has now employed a young lady running her M-Pesa shop with other small electrical accessories and four of them in her pub of where she works as the manager.


She says collecting glasses can be a troublesome trial at times, especially when it’s a busy Friday or Saturday night. People treat bar staff like they’re invisible and won’t try to make that job any easier. Whilst one is trying to balance a tower of pint glasses on the other hand she’s trying to dodge a drunk folk.

“For one to do this kind of a job, she should be serious and only concentrate on what has brought her to the job. In this job, you handle different kind of people, others with good and bad intentions, so one has to watch out,” she advised.

Parting shots

First, she congratulates the fifth-phase government for having introduced free primary and secondary education, adding that was it not government’s policy, she would have strained a lot.

“With the free education system, I now have managed to do other businesses and offer support to others,” she explained.

In some places, barmaids are entitled to perform double duties and this does not last for long because at the end of it, fight erupts amongst maids due to the nature of the work they do.

“I hereby urge the community to understand the differences between a prostitute and a bar attendant because we even have male bar attendants,” she concluded.