(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The New Cook


In the last three weeks I've been in five different countries. I am now in Rwanda. I come here monthly for a week at a time (since the country program is part of my responsibilities). So I was here about a month ago and I remember it was the week of Valentines Day. Not only was I not with my wife but I found myself alone in the Greek restaurant near our guesthouse. They'd prepared a special menu for the occasion and were hoping to make some money off of the holiday, commercialization that is reaching deep into Africa. Alas I think they were disappointed. Both the restaurant and I were more lonely than we would have liked.

I then returned to our guesthouse to find a young woman sitting in the compound. I wasn't sure exactly who she was or why she was there but I figured that if the guard let her in then she must belong. It was a bit odd though and it made me think of shady companies that provide ladies for traveling executives. In this case I was relieved to find out that she was the new cook/cleaner.

It was still strange though. She went directly into the kitchen without saying a word. She stayed there for about 45 min. to an hour and then she quietly left though the back door. A bit later when I went to the kitchen to see what culinary delight awaited me, there was nothing. To this day I'm not sure what happened or what she was doing all that time. She doesn't seem to understand French or English very well and communication is a big challenge. 

Nonetheless the next day went ok and I assumed we were off and running. That Friday morning, however, I waited for breakfast a bit longer than normal. I went into the kitchen to see if it was about ready and there was nothing and no evidence that there would be anything. Once again we stared at each other with mutual puzzlement. Since she couldn't communicate I just sighed and left for the office. It's a mystery why a person would wake up at the crack of dawn, travel a long distance to go to work, be on time and then strangely not do anything, even after being in the kitchen for about an hour. I notified the logistics guy before I left for the airport. He said he was going to fire her and I told him to hold off since I know how people are desperate for work. I just suggested that he talk to her in Kinyarwanda to make sure she understood what she was supposed to do.

Now, a month later, I'm back in Kigali. I noticed that my young friend is still around. I was relieved when the logistics guy told me she was still employed, not because she’s good but I felt bad for her and wanted her to have a second chance. For all I know this may be her first real job. So this morning she arrived at the house bright-eyed and obviously a bit nervous since she doesn’t want to make a mistake with the Country Director again.

She arrived at 6am sharp. I know that she comes from far away and the commute is not easy. Soon thereafter my breakfast was on the table. That ordinarily would have been good news except I was blissfully knocking out emails in my room unaware that my eggs and toast lay cooling on the table. Sigh. Fortunately I noticed her misguided eagerness before I showered and I took a break to eat. When I tried to suggest to her that 7am would be a more suitable hour for breakfast, or at least notifying me if otherwise, she nodded. I’ve seen that nod before and it doesn’t mean comprehension. I think it means "stop talking to me".

Come to think of it, I’ve never heard her actually talk other than the word “yes”. Even this morning when I said, “Bonjour, good morning” (since I still don’t know whether English or French works better), she replied, “Yes.”

Of course the real fault lies with me and my lack of ability to speak the local language. I've made very feeble attempts to do so. The one thing in my defense is that I didn’t take this job saying I spoke Kinyarwanda. She apparently claimed to speak English which is how she got the job. Maybe they should have tested her.

Anyway, I'm confident we'll get there. She seems nice and her cooking is pretty good. Both I and others are going to be here a lot in the next few months so I hope so. In any case, one must take this sort of thing with a certain degree of humor.

"A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs -- jolted by every pebble in the road." -Henry Ward Beecher, preacher and writer (1813-1887)

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