Living here has really changed my perspective on a lot of things. One of them is labor (or labour).
We employ quite a few people in and around our home. That may come as sort of a surprise to you, but let me try to explain it with a story from this weekend.
Across from our house is an empty lot. It was a designated common area when the houses were built. Not quite like the common areas around our condo in La Mesa, but the same idea. I have sort of made it a project of mine, slowly making it a better field to play soccer on for the neighborhood boys, including ours.
There is a home owners association where we live. They sprung up all over Nairobi as public streets were gated off for security reasons. Once the gates were in, they needed gate guards to watch and open them. Then some way to pay the guards and maintain the gates. I happen to be on the committee of our association, as the vice-treasurer. (Be careful what meetings you attend…) Even the committee has recognized my part time hobby/project of the field and asked how we can do a better job of taking care of it.
(Interesting side note, the word in Swahili for field is “kiwanja.” “Njaa” means hunger. “Wa” puts it in the plural noun class for people, and “Ki” is a place or thing. So kiwanja is literally “the place of the hungry people”. Most Bantu peoples are farmers, so the field is the place to go for food.)
I have been looking for a way to trim the grass effectively, and using our 10″ shears (scissors) is quite a job to cut so much grass. So this weekend, I went down the the corner Home Depot (well it is a 20′ shipping container, but they have almost everything… really) and bought a “slasher.” Picture a golf club, but much cheaper, and where the “club” would be is a flat blade. Blade in the sheet of metal sense, not the sharp like a knife sense. The sharpening part is the responsibility of the new owner, and that would be me. I took it home and began sharpening it with a stone my father had bought when he was here. About an hour, many sore muscles and a nice blister later, I “slashed” for about 15 minutes. Then I wished I was using the shears…
The next day, I went to a pub to watch the Manchester United-Liverpool match with my friend, Ken Wanyama. On the way home, I was greeted by one of the car wash boys. In East Africa, greeting requires a hand shake. He noticed the “plaster” (aka band-aid) on my hand and asked what happened. I told him and he was really sad. He said, “Mr. Paul, why did you not hire me to cut the grass?”
That little episode explains a lot about labor here. I could hire him to cut the grass, and clean the whole lot. It would probably take 4 or 5 hours. He would be really happy with 400 shillings (~$5.33)
I was raised with a very good work ethic. Those of you who know my father know that he is a hard worker. He is also very resourceful and rarely pays anyone to do anything he can figure out or manage himself. I grew to see the value of hard labor.
However, here, everything is upside down. I am doing more for society by employing these guys who are usually begging me for money. I often hear, “Mr. Paul, how about some chai today?” Or I just get the hand held out, following me for 400 yards or more. There is actually one guy that has 6 fingers on his right hand. I must admit, on more than one occasion I have given him 5 shillings, just so he will put his hand in his pocket. (Yes, I often think of Iñigo Montoya.)