Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Social Dilemma

By now it is fairly obvious that we are not "from around here."  For a while, when we first moved to Chingola I was trying to think in Spanish to converse with those we ran into.  Don't ask me why, but I did.  It was also disconcerting to realize that we were not incognito.

When we are shopping we were early on targets for not just street vendors, but the professional beggars.  One fellow we met very early offered "Christmas cards" and oil paintings.  We did tell him we would like to purchase a painting, but just didn't have money just then.  It was obvious he didn't believe us (though it was quite the truth), but each time he saw us, he would ask again.

He was very much a gentleman, never pushy, but always "available."  Finally, Tom told him we would be able to purchase in 1 week's time.  The moment that time period was up, he reappeared.  As soon as we completed our transaction two more vendors were trying to sell us coasters, carvings, and other odd items.  We were tapped out of funds, but they did not take "no" for an answer.

Every now and then a "new" vendor will approach us, but for the most part we are now recognized as locals and not tourists, easy to touch for funds.

That cannot be said for the beggars outside of the Shoprite here in Chingola.  They stand outside the store, actually, literally on the exit/entry way, and aggressively try to grab your shopping cart to "help" you to your car.  Even after staring hard, telling them "no" some are very, very persistent.  When it is just Mary and me, I don't have a problem now.  The shopping tour that Lattisha did with us clued me in.

Unfortunately, Tom is not so fortunate.  He gets really, really upset by the persistence.  Last Sunday we needed to get a few items that were gone earlier in the week.  It turned out not to be just a few items, but a cart load.  Tom had been going to the store by himself after work to spare me the ordeal.  I went with him, and apparently one beggar has decided that Tom is his particular target.

We parked quite a way from the store, as that can dissuade most offers to "help."  But this young man, sporting a rather expensive haircut and well-fed cheeks, just kept on trying to grab the cart.  Finally he stood by us at the rear of the vehicle as we were loading the groceries.  (Actually, Tom was loading and I was keeping my eye on the cart contents.)  The young man started to tell us, after we said we did not need his help, and that we were not paying him to go away, that we had "too much food for Africa."  That didn't work, so he proceeded to tell us to "go back to South Africa.  We don't want South Africa here."

Well, no, we are not from South Africa.  That was a stumper for him.  He ended by delivering us what my adult children tell me was an F-bomb.  Sheesh.  Though it did sound odd coming from someone for whom that phrase is not common.

It is very hard. believe me.  There are children used by these street beggars to weedle money.  The problem is that if any kind heart gives them money, the children get beat up, and it is taken away from them.  They grow up in a very harsh culture, and the folks who might do something to stop it only defend their "right" to beg.

The other aspect of social dilemma comes from the perception that because we are white we are rich.  Yes, I agree, by the standard wages of those who actually work here, we are.   Tom was approached by a janitor his first month on the job, requesting a "loan." However, just because we are "rich" does not mean that we are a banking institution.

One recent example was our gardener needing pay advances.  We understood it was out of necessity because first his father was ill, and then when his father died he had a lot of expenses for the funeral.  So we advanced, but only one month.  But one last request was for an outright gift, and that had to be "no."

It isn't that we can't afford it.  The trouble is that it creates a situation where we become known as the local soft touch.  I have no idea how many folks that would draw to our back door.  Mary is freaked out enough as it is!

Our last encounter (and I am certain it will not be the last) involved our housekeeper.  She wanted us to finance a knitting machine for her to knit up school jerseys (uniform vests).  When I interviewed her at the very beginning I had made it abundantly clear that we were not going to loan money.  We would pay a fair wage, but we would not go beyond that.

It didn't detour her, and after working for us for less than a month the request came.  She only wanted 2 million Kwacha, and was willing to have 100,000 per month of her wages deducted to pay us back.  Problem?  You betcha.  First of all, that would take almost 2 years to repay, and we might not be here that long.  Second, she was not even past her probationary term and who knows if she will be retained after such a short trial.   Third, there was no guarantee that she would not just quit.  Fourth ... the objections just keep coming.  In the end I told her I would discuss it with Tom, but not to expect it.

Nothing more was said until last week.  Again the request, but this time only for 750,000, as she had arranged (somehow) to raise 1,000,000.  I told her "no."  Not in a mean way, but a very quiet, simple "no."  That was the beginning of last week, and at the end, she again asked when I paid her the salary.

She said something to the effect that "could I not afford to lend her the money as it was not that much?"  I said that was not the point.  The point was that we do not lend money and I had made that clear when I interviewed her for the position.  Nothing had changed on our side.   Then I did point out that we had also hired her to clean our vehicle, paying over and above her monthly wages.  We did not have to do that, but did it to help her raise money.  I refrained from mentioning that we had not deducted anything from her wages when she had recently been unable to work for a week because she had malaria.

I also pointed out that as long as her work was completed each day, to my satisfaction, she was allowed to go home early.  Plus, going against the normal here, we did not require her to work late into the evening, nor work on Saturday.  This should give her plenty of opportunity to find other ways to raise the funds. (legal of course.)

Apparently that helped.  Today she literally zoomed through the house, doing a very good job, and by 11:30 asked if it was okay if she went home for the day.  She said there was a woman who wanted her to help with laundry, and she wanted to verify it was okay with me.  Of course!!!  That is exactly what we wanted.

Sometimes it is good to borrow money, though with age I can see too many times when we justify it for not so great reasons.  However, for a poor person to borrow money, even for a good thing, it more often than not lands them into a mess much deeper and quicker than they anticipated.

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry."  Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3   (Shakespeare)

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