My African Life II


Writing about how we live is, above all, recognizing that without the help of many other people our life would be a lot more difficult. In Europe, the day-to-day is organized in a similar way, but here it is almost unconceivable not having someone cooking (cozinheiro), someone ironing (mainato) and someone cleaning (criado de dentro), besides the nannies and the guards. Most don’t have so many people helping, but if you live in a detached or semi-detached house it is impossible to survive without guards.


There were times when we had lots of people working for us, but with time we settled that three was a reasonable number. Our personnel work for us since ages, and I like to think that they stay because they are decently treated and not only because the unemployment rate is extremely high.


Tieta does the cooking and the ironing. She started working on July 2003, so she is almost celebrating five years with us! Like a good Mozambican woman, her best feature is her resilience in coping with the hardness of life. Her worst feature is a certain lack of creativity in terms of cooking.


George started with us two years before Tieta. He is the hardworking one of the pack. Besides being guard, he is responsible for the outside of the house and also helps with mechanics, painting, plumbing, gardening and a lot more. In reality, George is a solid prove that Mozambicans are hard working people.


Albert is working for us since World War I. At least it looks like so! As he is a bit slow, nobody wants him around except Seabell. Besides guard, he cleans inside the house and is the one I call whenever I need help.


Over the years we learned to recognize competent work, so when we are satisfied with someone we keep in touch. We have: senhor Pedro for the air conditioners; senhor Mateus for carpentry work; senhor José for plumbing (though I’m starting to think that George is becoming a better plumber than he is); senhor Lisboa, our electricity rescuer; senhor Francisco for domestic appliances emergencies; senhor António, mosquito and cockroaches fighter; senhor Salvador for welding; senhor Abel for tree pruning…


I hope I didn’t forget anybody. What I know is that our small army of workers suffers losses from time to time, remembering us how fragile life is round here. The first to disappear from our group of selected workers was a young man who used to come with senhor António for periodical pest control. I guess he never celebrated his 30th anniversary.


Most of them work for us for more than a decade, in a relationship that I can describe this way: we call when we need help and pay a fair amount for the services rented, and they call when they need our help in case of sickness or other contingencies.


One of my favorite workers was senhor Dove, our painter. When we called him to paint a simple room, a matter of 2 to 3 days of work, he always ended up “camping” for a month. He was a very happy man, very found of ladies and cigarettes. It is evident that we suspect that they both belong to the sad statistic of victims of Aids.


Today I remembered Dove when looking at my veranda door. Houses in Mozambique have usually two doors: one with mosquito’s net and one made of wood or glass. Painter Dove was doing a good job with the wood paneling of the veranda. He was so proud that he called my attention to the following aspect:


“The veranda is so nice! How about changing the net of the door? It is not right to have that old net when the veranda is shinning new…” he said clearing his smoker’s throat, sure that I wouldn’t say no to such evident discrepancy. Here you are witnessing how he was called for a week job and stayed at least for a month.


“What do you suggest?” I asked him.


“I change it for you. Just give me the money to buy the net, and leave the rest with me.” Sometimes he got tired of scraping and brushing, offering his help round the house.


The next day I had a new green net and a very proud Dove. He took the opportunity to point out every single detail of his work: how the colour suited the wood, how the net was expertly mounted…


As I told before, Dove was a chain smoker. Five minutes after showing me the door, he inadvertently produced a huge hole on the net with the cigarette always sticking from the corner of his mouth.


Senhor Dove, look what you have done!” I told him.


Once he was aware of the disaster, he stood looking at the hole for more than an hour.


“Leave it, senhor Dove. I’ll find some way to cover it for some time, and then change it again,” I decided.


The next day he reappeared with a new net and quietly went for the fatidic door. He finished his job in silence and never called me. At the end of the day, I remembered the door. Something had to be wrong. In fact, the net was far from looking neat and the worst is that he had used a different colour from the previous one. As a result, the upper part of the door had a brown net and the lower part of the door a green one. How could I tell him about the lousy job he had done?


Months later I called senhor Mateus to replace the brown for the green. As no green was available in the market, instead we changed the green and Dove’s clumsy job has been part of this house long before he left us. Even today, when I cross that same door, I can’t help smiling with the thought of the cigarette hole right in the middle of the best net senhor Dove has ever stretched.