For the past 18 years, Mr. Wilson Ondieki and his wife, Monica Adhiambo, have been earning their income by digging graves and latrines.
These Kisumu residents have defied societal expectations, endured criticism, and even risked their lives in their efforts to make ends meet.
Their collaboration in this work began one day when Ms. Adhiambo brought lunch to her husband on his second day of digging a 15-foot pit latrine near their home. She found Mr. Ondieki working alone without his usual assistant, known as the “handyman.”
When she asked about the assistant’s whereabouts, her husband explained that he had other commitments. “The next day when she brought me lunch, she said, ‘Baba Achieng’, let me try digging to see if I can do it. I allowed her, and she tried. When I came back home that day, she told me again, ‘Baba Achieng’, if you still don’t have an assistant, I can accompany you and help. Aren’t we looking for money?” Mr. Ondieki explained.
Similarly, Ms. Adhiambo became accustomed to the work of digging latrines, a job traditionally done by men.
“Now I have gained experience. I love this job more because it enables me to earn a living. I use the money to pay school fees, buy food, and clothes. Nowadays, I don’t borrow money from people,” Ms. Adhiambo explained.
As of now, the 45-year-old woman has honed her skills in this job to the point of surpassing her husband, who initially taught her how to dig latrines.
“I was taught for two weeks, and by the third week, I was already used to it,” Ms. Adhiambo happily remarked.
The mother of three revealed that she has had to endure criticism from people for choosing to do a job traditionally reserved for men. Surprisingly, some of the critics were from her own family.
“My brother told me that I’m doing a shameful job. But it was my husband who introduced me to this job, and I love it because it has helped me a lot,” Ms. Adhiambo explained.
Many of the latrines the couple digs are 15 feet deep, but some go as deep as 20 feet. Ms. Adhiambo sometimes encounters large stones, and in such situations, she turns to prayer for intervention.
So, how do they share their earnings from this labor?
“After completing the job, the client pays me, and that money belongs to both of us, my wife and me. We share it, half and half,” Mr. Ondieki explained.
They typically charge between Ksh 500 and Ksh 600 per foot. However, sometimes they lower the price to Ksh 400, depending on the season and their relationship with a particular client.
Aside from digging latrines, Mr. Ondieki and Ms. Adhiambo have also tried their luck in other jobs, such as grave preparation.
“We used to dig graves as well, and the payments were good. But due to cultural and traditional reasons, we decided to stop that job,” Mr. Ondieki said.
Ms. Adhiambo, a respected mother of three in the community, mentioned that besides digging latrines, she also builds houses with mud, a job known locally as “Rwadho ot.”
Her message to fellow women is not to limit themselves to traditionally feminine jobs but to explore various opportunities.
“Don’t stay at home; go out and work, and you will earn money. If you sit at home, waiting for your husband to provide everything, you may have disagreements. Sometimes there’s no flour, no cooking oil, and yet you’re sitting there doing nothing,” she said.
Ms. Adhiambo is a shining example that what a man can do, a woman can do just as well, if not better.