Saturday, January 31, 2015

“We have learned to love and respect our workers, and they return that love and respect.” — Me

Because Karen and I both grew up in a segregated South and fought through the Civil Rights movement, teaching in ghetto schools, and working for desegregation (I was co-chair of the blue ribbon committee to desegregate the schools in Pomona, California—we failed), we have always been very sensitive to the “plantation” mindset as all of our workers (nine full-time and four part-time) are black.  At first, we went overboard trying to make the folks who worked for us feel like family—eating with them, and working alongside them, but that is counter to the culture here.  When the family is eating, the cook steps outsides or does other work so as not to interfere—they are uncomfortable eating alongside us, and we do not eat what they are used to or prefer to eat.  They do like us to teach them to do new things, to cook new kinds of food, to learn new ways to build and repair things—it makes working here more like a vocational school.  We know now we are doing things right because at one staff meeting, a worker said that working here was like a dream come true, and it gave her great status in her neighborhood.  All but two of our staff have been with us for almost the whole ten years we have been here, and one of those two have been with us for four years now.  Rachel, pictured at right, has been with us for about a year and since Tanzanians don't like to smile for pictures, her smile speaks volumes.  Her job became open because Lusi decided to move back to her home village.  We also know we are doing things right (we pay over two to three times the national requirements and pay all of their social security without deducting anything from their salaries) because they have all gained weight, and every single one of them have their children in school, some have even attended our English school here.  We also pay their medical bills and always help when there are funerals.  Another indicator is that early on, the day after payday was always a day when they would be sick or have a distant relative die (one man had his father die four times) and would be out the entire next day.  Not only does that no longer happen, but one man comes in on his day off to make sure the dogs have both the meat and cereal that they eat, or to make sure we have enough petrol for the generator if the power is out.  We hired a teenage girl to come in on Sunday afternoons to do dishwashing, a little cleaning, and to cook the evening meal.  Juliana, our cook of ten years, fired her herself and comes in now to make sure things are done properly (of course, we pay her extra for coming in on Sunday even for just a few hours).  Also, when we return from trips, they all come out to meet us and sing us a welcome-home song.  Tanzanians have a culture-wide fear of dogs, but our workers love our dogs and bathe them and care for them.  Two of them even took puppies who are now members of their own families and watch dogs.  They all love Sissie because they have never seen a cute little dog like that.  Our big dogs are common as watch dogs here and the wild dogs look nothing like Sissie.  They bring their families to meet us and invite us to all of the graduations that occur.  It took us the better part of three years to learn how to be good overseers (as the Apostle Paul calls us to be), and we are still learning, but the amount of laughter and teasing that goes on is a really good indicator of how well things are going.  We also show them movies and videos of our family in the U.S.   We are still learning and still have trouble letting them do things for us that we could do for ourselves, but to insist on doing it ourselves is like saying they don’t know enough to do it or that we don’t trust them.  The women still curtsey when they hand us things, and I am still not used to that—don’t think I ever will be.  We do know that they are happy here and we are happy because they are here.  It’s a good thing.  It’s a God thing.
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