Monday, May 22, 2006

The Papaya Wars

This is our papaya tree. Why, you ask, do I show you a picture of it? Ha. Read on...

I still can't believe I have 'staff'. We aren't the sort of people who have 'staff'. And I surely don't have the emotional maturity necessary to deal with them.

But I can't avoid it here.

We chose to have Mark (who is thankfully a self-starter and one of the hardest working men I've ever met) and aside from the occasional language problems we experience trying to talk to one another, he is easy to have around and great fun.

The company hired guards for my front gate, and although they work for us, they are here whether I want them or not. They come from a local security company in twelve hour shifts of the most boring work you can imagine. They open our gates, they close our gates, they shoo off peddlers, they run to the house to ask if they can admit certain people, they run the house to bring us the electric bill and the water bill and the garbage truck bill (no mail delivery remember). Otherwise they sit and wait and wait and wait. We have a nice little guard house built into the north wall of the front gate, but it's not exactly plush, and the guards have decided to trade fresh air for mosquito protection, so it smells like dirty socks and sweat.

Anyhoo. You all know Stephen, our day guard. He's a pip, he takes his job very seriously, and we love him both for the good job he does and just who he is. He is very protective of us and not shy about telling me when I let someone in the yard that he doesn't think should have been admitted. He works Sunday through Friday, 6AM to 6PM. Our night guards (we have two at night- the theory being one will stay awake...) work Thursday through Tuesday (lately) 6PM to 6AM. On their day off, we have substitute guards- usually the same ones, but there is understandable turnover.

So last week, Thursday morning, I'm laying in bed reading, enjoying the quiet after Ted and Cooper leave the house and I hear Stephen outside speaking sharply to someone. He and Mark are good friends, so this is a puzzle to me, and I peek out the window to see what's up. Stephen is marching toward the house so I scurry out to the front room, trying to smooth my bed hair into something resembling respectability just in time for him to knock smartly on the door.

I open it to an apologetic, "Sorry Madame."

(I am Madame or Mommy, depending on the speaker and their familiarity with me- I'm Mommy to most of the drivers, all the street vendors I buy regularly from, and at least 4 waiters in three different restaurants, but for Stephen I will always be Madame.)

So after apologizing for bothering me, he proceeds to tell me, in his earnest, serious, slightly offended way what the trouble is. In Twinglish- that spectacularly indecipherable language that combines Ashanti Twi with British English. I watch his lips closely and make a fairly good stab at understanding what the issue is, to wit:

The night guard who subbed Wednesday night on the regular guys' day off has taken a papaya from our tree. Apparently this was a papaya that Stephen has had his eye on, so he noticed it missing as soon as he arrived this morning. We are not huge paw paw fans, so I've told Mark to just give us one every once in a while and parcel the rest out to himself, Stephen, and the neighbors. It was apparently Stephen's turn, and he was anticipating the ripening of that papaya.

Sigh. I repeat what I think I've heard to make sure I have it right (in between Stephen and the sub guard yelling at each other in Twi), and Stephen hears how, possibly, petty it sounds. So he proceeds to tell me that paw paws are just the beginning. If the man will steal fruit, then he is capable of stealing one of our bicycles next. Or our pool toys, chair cushions, anything that isn't nailed down.

Well, he has a point there, I suppose. He can tell he almost has me, so he jumps on the opportunity to tell me that he tries very hard to protect us and all our stuff and that he cannot feel safe leaving us in the hands of this thief who might let brigands and ne'er do wells into the gate all night long if left to himself again.

Meanwhile, you wonder, where is Mark during all this? Well, he had decided from the start that it was necessary to mop the porch (where we were all standing for this little drama). Stephen had his back to Mark (which meant I could watch both of them), and the sub guard's view of him was blocked by the porch wall. So I was the only one who could see Mark giggling and snorting through the whole thing, busily mopping the same 5 square feet over and over. Like I wasn't having a hard enough time keeping a straight face as it was.

I get a pad of paper and have Stephen write down exactly what I need to tell the InterCon Supervisor to make sure this man, Danko, never darkens our gateway again, and turn to Danko himself who has been waiting fairly patiently for a turn (sporadic shouting matches with Stephen notwithstanding).

He asks me if he will get a chance to speak his side, and I say "Sure. That's fair." at which point he launches into a difficult to follow tirade that apparently has two main points:

1. he doesn't care if he works at this house so long as he works somewhere- he doesn't think I should try to get him fired.


2. he thinks that Stephen has some sweet deal going and is trying to cut him out of it and that's why he is making such a fuss.

After a while, I stop him and ask, "Did you take the papaya?"

To which he answers, and I quote, "That's not the issue."

HA! Okay, you just made this real easy, buster.

I told him that his non-answer had pretty much made it exactly the issue, and that part of Stephen's "sweet deal" was that we trusted him. I asked him to get his uniform and leave, and that I would be asking InterCon not to assign him here again. He left without a fuss, as Stephen bobbed his head up and down in vindication of his cause.

I got a solemn "Thank you Madame." as he left the porch for a long day of protecting me and my paw paws.