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Week of the Workers

June 15, 2012

Remember when I posted about Alex et Mosengo and I said that some people hire as many people as they can afford and give them various jobs?  That was our life this week.  It was a little crazy, but so much work got done.  I got a very sweet note from my mother-in-law after I posted that blog, reminding me that in cultures in the past, managing a household of workers was part of the job as a housewife.  The ideal Godly woman, highlighted in Proverbs 31, doesn’t do it all herself: she has people for that, and she treats them well.  Apparently, that’s me.  I would not have seen it that way without my mother-in-law’s reminder.  So, this week I accelerated my experience in old school home management.

Our MAF neighbors are on vacation and wanted their part time indoor worker to not be without pay.  So, I agreed to take him on for one day a week, because he makes epic tortillas (as previously mentioned).  But, then I heard that he cleans well, so I agreed to two days per week.  However, his first day here, he did such an amazing and thorough job cleaning that I was blown away.  And I didn’t even need to keep him tasked, he found things to do all by himself.  So, when he asked about working Wednesday, too, I asked Matthew and we agreed he should.

Then I remembered that I always hire Pepe on Wednesdays.  Pepe is a driver, and so he usually takes me grocery shopping.  But he will do anything for work to keep him busy, so if I don’t have any place to go, I recently discovered that he, too, can clean.

So, now I had three workers coming on Wednesday…how could I manage all of them and the kids?  So, I “hired” one of the MAF teenagers who loves the kids to come over, too.

Thus, Wednesday was very eventful.  Mosengo relieved Alex at 7am, just like every morning.  Papa Willy, the epic tortilla-maker, arrived at 7:30.  Pepe showed up around 9am.  I went and walked our sitter down around 10.  Let the work party begin!

Mosengo went about his usual duties in the yard, making it gorgeous.  Willy did the dishes and washed the walls in the kitchen.  Then he set about dusting the living room, pulling out the couches.  Soon he was mopping the whole thing.  Pepe was set to work preparing the porch railings (which are concrete slabs) to be painted, so he began by bleaching them and scraping off old paint.

Meanwhile, I was all ready to get some baking and laundry done (my laundry is being done at the vacant house across the street because my washer is still down)…but then the power went out.  Oh, Congo!  So, I putzed around, helped Matthew with his tasks here at the house that he was working on, got lunch together, etc.

Part of having workers is feeding them.  We told Papa Willy and Pepe all of the food we could offer them and let them choose from what we had.  They settled on fufu, a local favorite that I will talk about in a future food post, and Papa Mosengo set to making it for the group.  It was really fun to see all of the working guys enjoying lunch together.

That afternoon, Pepe took me for a quick grocery run at the closest store (grocery shopping will be featured in our next food post).  After, we went on an errand to pick up a part for Matthew.  Earlier in the day, the spigot on one of the water tanks popped off, sending 500 gallons of water into our driveway at full force.  It was quite entertaining.  And the temporary Congo fix was genius, put together by Papa Willy and Pepe, it was a big stick shoved in the spigot.

This errand took us to the local market, somewhere I really hadn’t had the opportunity to go yet.  They have everything for sale there!  While I waited a few feet away from Pepe for him to make the transaction, one of the other guys at the market greeted me, in English.  So far, anytime a Congolese person greets you English, it’s followed by, “I speak English!”  They are so excited to practice their phrases on you!  I try to encourage them, but then always end with “Merci!” so as not to seem superior.  I hope it’s working.  Ha!

Another stand’s merchant came over to practice his English.  The first one politely offered his chair to me.  They were very pleasant.  We bought a few more needed things and left.  I realized once I left that not one person tried to sell me something and no one tried to ask me for money.  These two things are very common here and I still can’t figure out why it didn’t happen that afternoon.

We drove around a bit more to find something else I remembered I needed, then headed home.  On our way out of the marketplace, I saw a sewing shop with a bunch of foot-pedal-powered Singers in the room.  I simply went “Oooooo” and pointed out my awe to Pepe.  He said his sister does that.  I incredulously asked if she makes dresses.  He enthusiastically (Pepe does everything enthusiastically) said that she does indeed.  I waited until we got home and I had my French/English dictionary before telling him I wanted some dresses made from my fabric.  Once home, Pepe finished cleaning the porch and Papa Willy signed off from all of his work.  Mosengo had spent the day adding to our garden (it’s his garden too).  Meanwhile, inside the house both kids and the sitter were all sleeping.  What a peaceful day for them!

Thursday didn’t start out very well.  Levi began throwing a fit that lasted for five hours.  FIVE. HOURS.  I was exhausted and pretty much out of ideas for dealing with it.  Matthew and his assistant, Nestor, had been working on a vehicle in our driveway, waiting for some people to show up to start work on some issues with the house.  The roof is needing replaced and has gotten progressively worse (as in, collapsing) and there were some cracks in the walls that grew nearly overnight a few weeks ago, so we called the home owners (from whom the family that normally lives here rents) and they hemmed and hawed and the work was finally supposed to start that day.  We weren’t sure on the specifics, but we were about to find out.

So, they showed up and immediately tear down began of the eves on the porch (that had already begun to collapse).  It was loud and messy and very entertaining.  I felt badly that Pepe had cleaned the porch so nicely the day before, but this wouldn’t be hard to sweep and wash away.

Alex jumped right in to help Matthew and Nestor with tear down.  I put both kids down for a nap (Amelia slept through the chaos, Levi did not) and headed across the street to add to my laundry piles in progress.  When I walked back in the gate I noticed that there were about eight or so workers there to work on the house.  Thankfully, Pepe also showed up (originally to finish painting, but instead he helped with the big project).  “Our” guys were able to make sure that “their” guys were not just wandering through the house or yard, keeping us and our things safe.

I remembered to show Pepe my fabric and get that conversation rolling.  Alex heard us talking and was able to translate a little bit.  Then Nestor, who also acts as Matthew’s translator, was able to translate a little more.  Matthew, wondering where all of the guys were, came inside to find us all talking about dresses.  Ha!  I pulled up some pictures and printed them out for Pepe while he called his sister.  He had to drive out to trade a vehicle and would pick her up while out, since she was nearby.  He’d bring her back to our house for measurements and to talk about what I wanted that very night!  Sweet!

Nestor and Pepe were about to leave when they got a brilliant idea: take Levi with them!  They both love talking to and playing with Levi, and he is always happy to go for a ride, so we thought, why not?  So, Levi went!  Matthew continued working with the guys on the porch.  One of them was inside fixing the giant cracks.  Alex was helping with demo and clean up.  I played with Amelia and started this blog, thinking it was only going to be about Wednesday.

I got a text from Pepe a little bit later (the Congolese are great at texting!), all in French of course, that basically translated to, he and Levi were at the park.  They had gone to the American School campus to pick up the other vehicle and found the playground there.  Hilarious!  A few minutes later I got another text, saying that all was well, and about 30 seconds after that I got a phone call.  It was Levi, saying hi, that he was climbing up the ladders and going down the slides and having a good time with Pepe.  Adorable!

Finally they came home, with two ladies in tow.  One was Pepe’s sister-in-law, the seamstress/dressmaker, and the other was Pepe’s fiance.  I was so excited to meet her!  One of the reasons Pepe works so hard is to pay off an unusually high dowry (yep, they still do that here).  The two girls came in and we attempted to talk, as best we could, about the dresses I wanted and she took my measurements.  Pepe got the great idea to go across the street and get Orelik (mentioned in a previous post – he speaks English, Lingala and French) to help translate.  About ten minutes later Matthew walks in to loud, boisterous laughter between Orelik, Pepe, and the girls.  I was just laughing, because I had no idea what was going on, and Amelia just sat there on the floor in the middle, grinning.

It was so fun having them over and, even though I couldn’t understand a word of it, I was, at that moment, so excited to be here and be a part of this experience.

Finally, we talked about price and timeline, and Pepe took the girls home.  Matthew and I got Amelia to bed and finally sat down to have dinner.  While get Levi ready for bed the power went off, so it was early to bed for all of us.

This morning I’m off to another adventure.  Here at the house, the work continues, the kids will have fun with a sitter, and I’m off for my first visit to a Congolese orphanage.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ashley Haden permalink
    June 18, 2012 0829

    Lisa, which orphanage did you visit? FB me if you can. 🙂

  2. Tally permalink
    June 19, 2012 0829

    Oh, I just loved reading all that and could visualize it so easily with your great descriptions. I trained Willy years ago, and then later got him his job with Sandy and Debbie. I miss having him as I invested a lot into him; then taught him to look around and see for himself what needed doing. He’s a great man; we love him. Did you know his 2nd set of twins daughters are named after our girls? Thanks for updating!! P.S. I almost felt like I could hear Pepe talking clear across the ocean!! LOL. Tally

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