Anyone who has ever employed or supervised anybody in Uganda will find the first bit of this tale familiar:
An employee of mine stopped me on Tuesday morning with the announcement: “Sir, I have lost a Jjajja.”
I must have shot him a look of: ‘You shouldn’t be so careless, but do I look like the manager of your ‘Lost and Found’ department?’, because he quickly updated it to: “They told me yesterday that my Jjajja has died.”
Nothing spectacular there; and those with experience must have spotted the flaw already…Got it?
Yes? Go to the front of the class.
You see, if it had really been one of his grandparents who had died he would have: a) beeped me the night before on getting the news, even using his neighbour’s phone if he didn’t have airtime b) tearfully broken the news to me saying “Jjajja has died! ” in a manner designed to make me think for a few seconds that we are related.
The deceased was therefore probably an old man in his village or one of his father’s aunts, and was only referred to as “a Jjajja” but still warranted burial.
I wasn’t going to stop him, made the relevant noises of commiseration and then asked when he was going to return.
“I think Saturday.”
Again – this is stuff you must have encountered before; he had casually inserted that ‘I think’ as a safeguard so that he could saunter back to his duty station on Monday and claim he hadn’t actually said Saturday.
Now this is where genius came into play – so sit up.
“Alright,” I responded, casually but still in condolences mode, “travel safely. I won’t be paying you for these days off, though. See you around Saturday.”
Yeah! The way his head suddenly jerked up was priceless, and his eyes locked into mine with a sharp focus. We looked at each other for a few seconds during which I did not waver, and eventually he faltered and emitted a faint sound.
“Pardon?” I asked, getting into the car and beginning to turn the key.
“But, Sir!” he panicked a bit, and was totally unprepared for my speedy follow-up.
All these years, I don’t know why I hadn’t implemented this measure much, much earlier. Unlike a corporate organisation that can hire an employee to install and run systems that keep count of staff personal details such as how many children are born, relatives die and illnesses attack, as an individual I have had to rely on memory alone.
I recall being suspicious that one former employee had had one too many scenarios of “My wife gave birth last night, can I go…?” one year, but I had capitulated and contributed to his bus fare since it was likely that he had more than one wife.
One other former maid, for sure, had lost more parents than normal in one year and luckily didn’t return after seeing off the last one. But a lot of money was wasted with all these characters – in wages paid for no work done, contributions to bus fares and even mabugo or gifts for the newborn baby.
It’s not going to be that easy any more – any day off work, I explained to this week’s victim of the new policy, simply won’t be paid for because all money is given in exchange for something of value. If I didn’t show up at work and did nothing of value, I wouldn’t get paid money either.
His incredulous frown made me give him another example: If a soft drinks company handed you an empty bottle, would you pay the price of a full soda for it?
And I left him there to plan his burial arrangements.
He was still there the next morning, and the next, and the next after that – earning his wages. May his ‘jjajja’ rest in peace.