Friday, July 25, 2008


Esmé’s mommy here.
I laughed when I saw the title of Reluctant Memsahib’s recent post. “T I A.” “This is Africa.” This has been my mantra since moving here!
You know that joke about the employee who takes time off because he would like to attend his mother-in-law's funeral, only to ask for time off again the next month for the same reason? (The punchline is that she isn’t dead yet.)

Well, in Mozambique I don't think people would get the joke.

For starters, people refer to extended relatives as brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers. So when someone tells you his “sister” has died, it might be his cousin. And his “mother” might be his mother’s cousin. Seems sweet, but it’s a little disconcerting from an employer’s perspective when one tries to be sympathetic and keeps giving time off and funds for employee family funerals.

Remember our gardener, Antonio? The beanless guy? Yesterday he informed me that his wife just died, and he needs 2 weeks off and some travel money to fetch his son.

What? His wife died late last year – he took a month off then. Did he marry again already?

No, no. That wife was his second wife, his Maputo wife. His primary wife lived 3 days travel up north. And his son now has no one to care for him. The grandparents are dead, too.

How many more wives does he have????

Just these two. No more. Now he has no wives left.

My heart grieves for the motherless son. And once again I’m troubled by my lack of sympathy and compassion as an employer.

We (our project) have been getting repeated phone calls from the bank requesting authorization to deduct $20,000 from our account for our cell phone payment.

Normally our monthly bill is about $1,500. So we’re not giving authorization without an explanation.

Now we don’t always get bills from the cell company. Some months we do without any problem, and other months we don’t even if we beg. And we haven’t received a bill since March.

So Eli, our logistics person, uses his Portuguese skills to get the last bill from the cell company. 12 new phone numbers on the bill of which I know nothing. $18,000 for ONE phone alone – with calls all over the world, but primarily to Pakistan.

Did an entrepreneur steal one of our phones (two have been stolen) and start a payphone business because the cell company neglected to cancel our stolen phone accounts?

Is it just the cell company tacking charges to our account and hoping we won’t notice, as I’ve been told they often do?

Is someone trying to frame us as a terrorist cell group?

Explanations please!!! And something other than “This is Africa!”

And theft is a constant problem here. Some of our best and brightest employees are the culprits.

You could say there’s a cultural difference that makes it more acceptable here. Does that make it okay? Even when it’s hard-earned money from little old ladies in the US that is being stolen, ultimately?

Since it is a problem, we try to implement checks and balances. What that means is no one steals alone – there are always witnesses or accomplices.

An ethical question for you – do you fire just the person who stole, or also the people who watched and said nothing?

To cheer things up, here is a photo of Esmé, my poor runny-nosed bebe who put her hat on all by herself – you can’t even tell it’s upside down, can you? Not pictured are the (fake) pink crocs on the wrong feet.


Pam said...

Oh my you have a lot to deal with right now! Yikes! I hope you can get some answers.

My theory on the kid dressing themselves thing- if you are going to do it themselves, I don't care if it matches, is on the wrong feet or way, or what it is. I'm just glad they did it themselves ;) Of course, I have been known to let my child wear a tutu as part of her outfit because she wanted to and she dressed herself.

Pregnantly Plump said...

Such a cute picture! That's crazy about the cell phone company -- I hope it gets settled without costing you guys thousands of dollars!

Hairline Fracture said...

This post was a lesson in cultural education for me! I will be coming back to read more of your trials--I mean adventures in Africa.

Your baby girl is beautiful!

Tammy and Parker said...

Those are some tough calls to make. I hope you get the cell phone stuff figured out.

Andrea said...

Yikes! A $20,000 phone bill!! Let's hope you can get that all straightened out. And this made me realize again how easy we actually do have it over here in

Kelsey said...

YIKES that is crazy!

Kami said...

Wow, there really are huge cultural differences aren't there. That phone bill is outrageous too, something fishy about it no doubt.

good luck, you have a lot on your plate!

kailani said...

I love it when kids dress themselves! You'll never know what you're going to get!

Hope the cell phone thing works out soon!

Sandra said...

The phone bill reminds me off South Africa, we had a couple of those happen to us and it still goes on nowadays.

It's pretty sad what my country has become.

Esme is adorable :)

Laura Ingalls Gunn said...

Oh my! This reminds me of when I lived in Crete and I had no working kitchen and a family to feed. I kept asking when the repair man would come and it was always "tomorrow~tomorrow".
Sending extra patience to you.

Snippety Gibbet said...

Such an exotic life you lead!

Jackie @ Our Moments Our Memories said...

Wow...I never imagined how completely different everything is. You've got a lot going on...I hope you find clarity in everything.

angie said...

Oh boy. When we lived in MA there was a large population of first generation adults from Ghana. They were all "cousins", and every older woman was their mother or grandmother. It took me awhile to figure out they weren't really related.

One time we were having a "cultural" potluck. One of the woman agreed to bring a traditional rice dish. Not meat. Just rice. She asked me for $50.00. What? For $5. worth of food ingredients? I didnt' know what to say. Except sorry, I don't have $50.00. Another women I knew repeatedly asked me for clothing. But then she'd "lose her shoes on the bus". Not malicious, but I think they just have more of a communal sharing traditions, I guess you know more about that than I do though.

And on to the cell bill. I think I would have croaked. Seriously. You don't have to pay it do you?

angie said...

I forgot to say how cute the picture is. :)

La Donna Welter - Vintage Photo-Oil Artist said...

Thank you so very much for visiting my blog, and glad that you loved my new found friend Teddy! : )
You blog is amazing, you are living an experience that I have dreamed of, not the $20,000 cell phone bill, the experience. I have added you to my favorites. P.S. Love the hat! ; )
La Donna

Danielle said...

That sounds very frustrating. It is very intersting that the bean man had two wives. I have a lot of things that need to get doene around the house. Two husbands may be the answer- haha. I hope it works out with the cell phone bill. She is adorable as usual!

Mama's Losin' It said...

A $20,000 PHONE BILL!?! I guess I'll stop complaining about ours. I hope you get some all sounds a little shady if you ask me.

If they were my emplyees I can talk like I'd fire both the thief and the accomplice, but I'm too nice. I'd fire the thief only.

I am Boymom said...

I met a man from Africa when I was in Spain as a missionary. He was the happiest man I had ever met. As we talked, he proceeded to go through each country in the world and tell me about it's cultures weaknesses. He characterized America as "ungrateful" for the blessings we have. (Not entirely untrue.) About his own country, he said "We Africans are thieves. People steal as a way of life. Only nobody calls it stealing, it's more like we need it, so we are going to take it." I laughed at the time, maybe there is some truth to what he says? Funny how every culture has it's own definitions of what is acceptable behavior and what isn't.

Good luck with the phone bill, I will pray that you get that worked out, cell phone companies aren't known for their common sense or willingness to deal with problems, but I will try to stay positive for you and put good feelings out into their cell phone billing universe!!