Saturday, March 3, 2012

Something to Say

Africa is accomplishing something that North America, Asia, and 35 years could not. I am learning to be quiet. My man has the glorious characteristic of only speaking when he has something worthwhile and well thought out to contribute. Whereas my thoughts bypass the reasoning portion of my brain and head straight to my tongue for their immediate release. You can see how this is problematic.
I write blog posts a lot more often than I publish them to you. After the first few lines I can tell whether I really have something to say. If I don't, it disappears into the vast abyss where bad, useless posts are consigned to.

This week is different. I have something to say.

This one my dad taught me:

"Keep it simple. Ask simply. You can always come back with all the fervor and the justifications and reasons. Don't go blaring in with your question or your statement with all your big guns right away. Be patient. Give people a chance. "

This advice has benefited me more than once. This week, I didn't follow it and I turned out to be a big jerk.

I sat outside one afternoon sifting through stacks of applications of local people who desperately want a job...any job. After a while, I had to stop and cry. It was just too much. I read their handwritten requests for work and I was humbled by their description of their skills. The form asked for a photograph if one was available. Many had none, some had what looked like a drivers license picture and some had a photograph where they may not have even been the main subject, but they were in it.
I finally selected one name and made my initial call. Is there an adjective that supersedes "eager"? If I knew one, I would use it now. This gentleman was eager. I asked if he was already employed and he answered, "I work for you!"
Yes, you do.

I called his references and with what little we communicated across the language barrier they vouched for their friend.
I called him next and arranged for him to come to my home for an interview. I made several calls back and forth throughout the day as we worked out where we would meet and how he would find my home. My friend Neena was here helping me and would occasionally take the call so that she could direct him more effectively. At one point she seemed confused and asked if I was sure I knew who I was talking to. Of course, I did.

Finally, the call came that he was at the meeting place. I gave our beautiful domestique his description, a water bottle to refresh him and sent her to meet him and bring him back.
Several minutes later she entered our front gate, not with the young bald man I expected, but with a small older gentleman with long dreadlocks and a beard. (In another circumstance I would have immediately demanded that someone so cool looking be my new best friend.)

I was caught off guard and looked down my front steps at the man and asked, "Are you Henry*?"
"No" he replied.
Arrogant and irritated, I responded, "Then what are you doing here? Why did you tell me you were Henry?"
He patiently answered, "This is my phone number you called".
I had it all figured out by then--he had been pretending to be Henry all day long so that he could get into our house and maybe talk me into a job or something else when he got here. I was too smart to be tricked!
"You need to leave now!" I demanded and then called for my guard to throw the man out.
The man didn't argue or defend himself. He simply turned around and set the water bottle I had given him down on the porch and walked out gracefully.

I went inside and grabbed my phone to check the phone number I had called and to see if I could locate the real Henry. I realized I had called a different number, but when I phoned the correct number, Henry answered and said "Madame, I am coming I am coming the traffic was very bad". Now, I was really confused.

I was trying my best to sort out the situation when my domestique remarked "That man was a teacher".
A teacher?
Why would a teacher want to pretend to be someone else? After a little more sorting I realized that my dreadlocked friend was no stranger at all. He was listed as the reference on Henry's application. Somehow in all my calls to arrange the meeting, I had inadvertently called him back. He thought I intended for him to come by and so he was there to help his friend Henry get a job.
I was humiliated. I don't mean that in the sense that I had damaged my reputation. I cared nothing for that. I was humiliated that I would be so thoughtless, careless and unkind to the very people I adore.
If I'd followed my dad's advice I would have investigated, not interrogated. I would have listened and not accused. I would have given the man a chance to explain who he was and why he thought he was there.
But I was too smart for all that. I was too busy being scared of getting tricked, to see him for who he really was. I was sorry...No, I was sick with sorry.

I wasn't sure if he would answer his phone for the wicked witch of Africa, but I had to try to apologize. So, I dialed his number once again.
When he answered, he immediately began speaking "Madame, I know Henry and I will tell him that you want to speak with him. He will call you. I will tell him".
Even after how abrupt I had been with him, he was still showing me kindness, still trying to help out his friend.
I did my best to explain my confusion and pleaded for his forgiveness. "It is ok!" he assured me.
When the real Henry made his debut several minutes later I told him I had met his friend. "Oh, yes he is a very nice man, a very very nice man" he told me.
I already knew that.
He is also very intelligent, I learned- a professor of physics and math.
Of course he is.

I have to say, I was a tiny bit...and just a tiny bit... relieved that I had insulted someone important instead of someone of low estate. I know my GOD well enough to know that you don't mess with the ones the world sees as weak and helpless. They have a great DEFENDER. Regardless, I was grieved that that he had been mistreated.

So, let my heartbreak be your lesson. Learn this one in the classroom, not on the field trip.
Give people a chance. Don't assume the worst. You can always go there if you have to, but start off simple. You know, like my dad says.

One last lesson--

Forgive fast. (Guess who taught me that?)

1 comment: