Friday, July 21, 2006

Stephen, Professional Guard

Our day guard, Stephen, was sick this week.

We didn't know this. All we knew was that he didn't come to work on Sunday or the next three days. The substitutes sent by InterCon were perfectly nice guys, and good at their job, but they weren't Stephen. We love Stephen.

We love that he tells us when we screw up and don't do things "the African way". He is professional to a fault, kind to Elliot and protective of Cooper. He takes his job very seriously and would never let anyone harm us or even wish us harm if he could stop it.

A good illustration of our Stephen is the day I came home from the store with three cases of water. When he saw that I carried my groceries inside but didn't close the hatch on the station wagon, he came to see if he could help. I gratefully loaded him up with a case of water, took one myself (which drove him batty!) and headed for the house. I was already in the kitchen when I realized Stephen wasn't behind me. I turned and saw him waiting on the porch at the front door, and when he saw me he said,

"Please Madame, may I enter?

Gah! Yesyesyesyesyes! You silly wonderful man. You are standing there holding fifty pounds of water and still trying to make sure you don't overstep your boundaries.

That's just a tiny example of why we love Stephen. Remember back to this time last year when he was insisting to me that picking up dog poop was NOT a job the "little Sir" should be doing, and remember how proud he was of me for knowing that Brazil was totally offsides in their match with Ghana?
You start to get the bigger picture, right?

So to have him gone was disturbing at first and upsetting as the days went by. Wednesday morning Ted and I talked. We knew that Stephen would never leave us voluntarily without at least telling us. Which meant he was either sick or hijacked to some other less deserving Obroni house where he wouldn't be appreciated.

But it wasn't like he could call us and tell us where he was. He doesn't own a phone. We could call InterCon, but getting through to a person who would actually be able to shed some light on the situation is never a winning proposition- too may layers, too large a language barrier, and a tendency for them to take all phone calls as complaints rather than people just seeking information ("Is there a problem with the substitute guard?"). Which would start a whole round of supervisors showing up at our house demanding the subs explain why we are unhappy (which we aren't) and asking us what we would like them to do (Nothing- just find Stephen!). So we were definitely trying to avoid a call to InterCon.

Finally though, on Wednesday, we were feeling desperate and a little worried, and making plans for tracking him down when Mark knocked on the front door. When I answered, he said Stephen had been sick and was here to talk to me. I looked out to the driveway and still didn't see Stephen. Mark said he was outside the gate.

You see, Stephen wasn't on duty, and he didn't feel he was entitled to enter the property any other way, so he was standing outside, on the street, hoping Madame would deign to come and talk with him.

I ran down the driveway and dragged him through the pedestrian gate, gave him a big sloppy American hug and told him how happy I was to see him and how much we had missed him and how glad I was to know that he was okay.

Okay being a relative term.

His face was all swollen and lumpy and his right eye was very bloodshot and angry looking. He had indeed been ill and was finally feeling well enough to get on a tro-tro and schlep clear across town just to make sure he still had a job at our house.

Sigh. I just kept jabbering at him while he stood there looking embarrassed (but relieved) and finally I managed to convey to him we would be looking forward to his return as soon as he felt up to it and that he would be our guard for as long as he wanted the job.

Yesterday morning, he returned to work, resuming his 12 hour day, six day week, hurry up and wait job. His eye is still a little puffy and he has a few odd lumps near his chin, but he is in uniform, he is chipper and he is back with us where he belongs.

I guarantee InterCon doesn't pay for sick days. I also guarantee that if we tried to help him with his lost days' wages he would decline with embarrassment. So Ted and I are already planning a special bonus payment for his Christmas envelope this year.

We want him to stay with us always, and we aren't afraid to buy his love. ;-)