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My Experience Working as a Labourer at a Kenyan Construction Site

Nyamweya is a columnist with a Kenyan print media.He is also a freelance writer with various online and offline media platforms

After hovering around town with no success in getting my ideal job, Idecided to maneuver my way into the “Mjengo” (construction) industry as a manual worker. I managed to secure one after giving the foreman his ‘tea’. As I came to realize, that area is one of its kind among those I had ever come across. Let me give you a taste of my experience.

The first day for me was both hectic and cumbersome .Hectic because I had never worked in a seemingly very busy environment before. As workers were closely monitored by the supervisor in charge. Make a mistake of relaxing in your work and you will receive an instant insult. Or worse you will be told to pack and go. For there are so many people who want to work. If that one cannot be called slavery, then I don’t know what to call it.

Hey ‘engineer’ go and work with that mason ‘said the foreman. That foreman as I came to realize was fond of giving people nicknames. He had given me the nickname ‘engineer’ which stuck on me there and then mainly because I was wearing a suit even in work. I actually had to work in a suit the first day because I had no other cloth to change and I didn’t want to lose the opportunity. I regretted the act after wasting my expensive suit for however much I tried to wash it, the cement and oil plus grease could not be cleansed. Hence the suit became my overall there hence.

Other nicknames that were found in that site include among others, ‘mosquito’ that is somebody who is very slender. “Pig” somebody who is very fat. “Malaria” somebody who is slow in work. “pole” somebody who is silent. “kelele” somebody who is noisy. “Mama” somebody who is like a woman etc. Hence don’t be surprised when you find people being called, mosquito, pig, mama, or even males being called female names.

My first day was also cumbersome because when I was assigned a mason to work with, I had no experience hence it was a difficult time. The problem arose when it was time to mix ballast; first I didn’t know what the ratio of sand is to cement and second I didn’t know the mixing criteria. So I was dumbfounded.

The mason, not realizing my problem gave all manner of insults directed at me. ‘You beach”, don’t you know that you are wasting my time? You go home if you don’t want to work. “Useless man”.

Not able to bear the insult, I told him to his face to insult me again if he is a man enough and he will know why donkeys do not have horns. “Do you think you are a special man?” I retorted, at that the foreman arrived. “What is the matter?” ask him, replied the mason. He doesn’t want to work. “What is the matter young man?” the foreman asked me. I need to be shown on how it is done Sir, I replied. You mean you have never done it before? He inquired. “No, I have never”, I replied. Then go and dig trenches with the others my friend, we have no time to teach people here, this is no school. He concluded. I was directed to the store where I was given a shovel to dig trenches for. I joined the other comrades who welcomed me jokingly “engineer” welcome engineer, inspect our work, have you come to check our work?

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Working in a construction site as I realized is both fascinating and interesting. Fascinating because the main type of discussion does not go outside sexual matters, just women and sex. That is where obscenity is no secret. In fact some objects and tools are named after private parts. A good example is the vibrator which is named after the male organ and the compressor named after the buttocks and so forth

The construction site is also interesting because of the diversity of people therein. It is not surprising to find a graduate working with an illiterate person. People of all calibers working together; but the main setback as I found out is wages. The wages were peanuts compared with the work we were doing.

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