Friday, July 25, 2008
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.