The pandemic has made me my family’s breadwinner

Caroline Wangari, who is six months pregnant and her family's breadwinner.

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Before the first cessation of movements was announced, the children and I travelled to the village and my husband, a taxi driver remained in the city.
  • Occasionally, he would tell me that the business had been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. However, he still maintained a calm voice so I thought those were just the occasional bad days in the business.

Early this year, I decided to take a three months leave, two of which were unpaid. I am a pastry chef working in the Mara and we had just come from the high season. January marks the beginning of the low period so it was the right time to take time off work.

When I took the break, I didn’t expect that these two things would happen – get pregnant (I am excited about this) and two I would become the family’s breadwinner.

The pandemic also saw me lose my job as the hotel business was not doing well.

For the last nine years since I got married, my husband always provided. He has paid school fees for our two children and taken care of utilities like groceries and rent. Essentially, he has been the gatekeeper of the family’s tangible dreams and hopes.

How it all turned out

All that took a turn one day. Before the first cessation of movements was announced, the children and I travelled to the village and my husband, a taxi driver remained in the city.

Occasionally, he would tell me that the business had been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. However, he still maintained a calm voice so I thought those were just the occasional bad days in the business. After two months upcountry, we came back to the city.

That evening, he asked how we were doing then slumped on the couch. He did not speak about the business but his demoralised face told the story.

Business in the taxi sector

My husband has been a taxi driver for all our married life. The entry of app hailing cab services upset his source of income as he operates in the traditional taxi business model but even then, he still managed to get some clients. With the pandemic, the business crumbled.

And not just that. Since that day, he became aloof. I have been hearing people say how joblessness has impacted on their relationship but until lately, I did not understand the extremes of such a scenario. The thing is, it fuels anxiety and quarrels, disorders plans and widens the distance between spouses.

Working my networks

Things have been tough and this is a period that I will never forget. It is a test whose outcome we still don't know.

Without money, household necessities and communication between us, it dawned on me two months ago that if I did not find a job, we were going to starve. I had depleted all my savings and here we were with a third baby on the way. Things had become so bad that at one point, I had to ask members of a WhatsApp group for help. Also, I networked like crazy and informed people in my circle that I was looking for a job. That is how I got to know about my current opportunity as a pastry chef. I applied, attended an interview and after two days, I got an offer.

After two weeks of daily commute, I realised that I was spending too much on transport so I sent my children to stay with my maternal parents and my house help got a job elsewhere.

I moved close to work to cut on the daily fare which was amounting to Sh300 daily.

Although my parents are taking care of our eight and seven years old children, I still support them. I have also been responsible for the baby’s needs- clothes, clinics and saving for the maternity costs. I am currently the family's breadwinner.

Silver lining

It’s not been easy. Sometimes fear overwhelms me that I break down in tears especially, when I remember that I am just a few weeks from delivery, there is school fees that needs to be paid when schools resume and there is a communication breakdown between us.

However, amid all that has happened, there is a silver lining. The last few months have opened my eyes on the role of a sole income earner. When you are receiving money, you might downplay the weight until you shoulder the responsibilities. Further, it has given me a new look on life and myself. Before, I couldn’t have imagined myself job hunting while in my third semester of pregnancy.

“How can you live in such a house and have no food?” some of my friends asked and judged me when I reached out to them.

Looking back, my help has mostly come from people I have not met, something else that I had not expected. The last five months have upended my life but at the same time, I have learnt about my strengths.

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