the scourge that is artisans and tradesmen around my home – and oba how does the askari not see it?

DECEMBER-January at around this time puts me in dangerously close proximity to a variety of tradesmen, artisans and workers, because it is officially annual maintenance and repair time at my home.

This is the month I find it easiest to stop for a few days to do some serious general repairs to polish off all my D-I-Y projects using supposedly professional help.

I decided long ago (as Whitney Houston once sang) to focus all my work on a limited number of these people, in order to decrease the likelihood that I would one day commit slaughter upon one.

Through a painful and costly process of trial-and-error-and-elimination, I have over the years selected the best of all the tradesmen, artisans and suppliers in each category, and put them to work in bits and pieces.

That means, for instance, that instead of hiring one to do a large job like, “Paint this house” in one sweep, I bring the guy in and assign him about two and a half walls every other week, under close supervision.

The gardening guy cannot be allowed to cut the grass, shape shrubs, trim branches off the larger trees, do pruning and also sweep up the cuttings all in one day.

That way, if anything gets messed up it is not messed up in a major way – like that time the painter used all the wrong colour combinations in different rooms, making the kitchen super calm and the bathrooms blazing hot and vibrant…

It’s generally been a smooth run so far, this time round, except for this one guy.

About four weeks ago a concatenation of events led to the glass top of a patio table shattering into bits late one night in a manner that could only be blamed, if anyone attempted to do so, on me.

It would appear that the domestic staff had a meeting to discuss the likely suspects and worked it out quite easily since, when the crash was heard in the deep quiet of the night, the askari had only recently allowed me in through the gate.

Long story cut short, I commissioned a new table top to be fashioned out of some floor tiles that had stayed over from a long-past job.

The matter was straightforward: 1. Get the left over tiles 2. Arrange them to form a table top 3. Get paid.

The fellow agreed, nodding to indicate that he had understood what I was saying.

I paid him, and left for my holiday, only to return and find this:


(Cue silence.)

I looked at the table top for about two minutes, working up the courage to walk over to it and check whether the tiles had only been perched there temporarily.

They were permanently placed there.

Flabbergasted, I called in my eleven-year old to confirm to me that I had not taken leave of my senses, and he laughed uncontrollably.

I then set about on a search of the perimeter to establish whether we had simply not provided enough tiles for the project.

We had.

He could have done this, instead:


There were so many tiles that he could have laid two layers of them over that table.

Flabbergasted, I called in the askari to ask his opinion.

He stood there, quite blasé, and we both observed the table for a while until I realised I had to break the ice.

“What do you notice is wrong with that?” I asked.

“The glass got broken, sir. But I don’t know for sure who broke it,” he said.

“No. I know it got broken. I mean what do you notice about the table right now?”

“It has those things on top. Those nani…” he left off, waiting for me to say, “Tiles.”

“Not that. I am the one who asked that tiles be put onto the table. Do you not see anything wrong with it?”

“Er…” he started, leaving space for me to give him a hint.


“Well? What do you notice is wrong with that?” I asked again.

“It has…dust?” he asked, clearly worried that the duty of cleaning the table might have been passed on to him without his notice.

“No. You don’t see anything wrong with that table top?”

He gave up.

“No, sir.”

“Don’t you find it awkward that this tile is here like this, for instance?” I asked, pointing at the green tile.

He looked at me to check whether I had lost my mind.

I also gave up, and summoned the fellow who had done the table.

Within minutes, he was there and taking me through the very same conversation I had just had with the askari.

I kept my patience right to the end and couldn’t help asking whether, in all seriousness, he didn’t find the green tile awkward.

He looked at me to check whether I had lost my mind.

“Okay,” I conceded, “at least, why did you make the orange tiles NOT face the same direction?”


I could not get enough of that silenced look.

I still can’t.

(Of course I made him fix the damn table).

6 thoughts on “the scourge that is artisans and tradesmen around my home – and oba how does the askari not see it?

  1. I hear you but if the direction of the tiles was the issue, then the centre tile would be the one to correct, I think!
    What do you think?


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