Thieves in the night

There must have been some sort of dark and violent alignment of stars last weekend.  First, Osama is killed.  Then, I hear that friends of ours were peacefully walking their dog along a quiet Lusaka street (with their baby in the stroller) when a pit bull broke through his gate, attacked their dog (named Mosi, same name as the local beer), and wouldn’t let go for 20 minutes despite being sprayed with a hose, beat on the head with a rock and beat with a chain.  Poor Mosi had a ripped-open jaw and got several stitches and her owner had a sprained hand from spending 20 minutes trying to pry the pit bull’s jaws open.

Then, all on the same day mind you, our guard tells me that between 1-2 am some thieves snuck through our outer electric fence by blocking the electrical current with rocks stacked upon each other (grounding the wires) and tried to steal the water pump.  (Apparently water pumps are frequently stolen as there is a hot black market for them.)

Now, these must not be very bright thieves because this water pump is protected like fort knox.  It’s buried, surrounded in concrete, and then surrounded with iron bars buried deep into the ground.

When it became clear to the thieves that they weren’t going to get the water pump, apparently they started up toward the two homes.

If you remember, we live on five acres, and our home is in the very back (surrounded by a block wall with more electric wires) and the landlady’s mother’s home is in front of ours, also surrounded by a block fence.

The photo to the left shows how far up the drive you’d have to go to get to our block wall from the water pump, a good football field length and a half.  The next photo shows that the water pump is immediately to the right of the drive near the front fence.

Now, at this point I need to back up and tell the whole story.  You’ve read before about our neighbors who lived in the block house close to the water pump (in the front of the property), the Phiris.  Well, things did not end well with their stay on the property.

Our landlady’s mother, who everyone calls “Grandma,” caught Mr. Phiri out on the main road with a big bag of tomatoes in one hand and a big bag of eggplants in the other.  She asked him what he was doing and he said Mrs. Phiri had given them to him.  Why? Grandma asked.  I’m supposed to sell them, Mr. Phiri said (he hits the weed a little too often so forgets to filter his responses).  Grandma pointed out that she had hired them to take care of her crops, that she paid them both and she gave them a (and their 3 children) a free place to live.

So, she confiscated the stolen produce and told him to come see her and to bring Mrs. Phiri too as soon as he returned to the property.  Well, about two hours later he came by himself and said Mrs. Phiri would not come.  Grandma went to confront Mrs. Phiri and she refused to come out of the house.  Grandma’s son came and apparently there was a big screaming match between Mrs. Phiri saying she would not be insulted and Grandma’s son saying he’d beat her.  (Somehow I managed to miss all of this but my guard and gardener told me about it, as did Grandma later.)   Grandma packed up her son and sent him home and told the Phiris they’d have to leave, she could not have thieves on the property, but she’d give them until the end of the month.  (She felt bad for the three small children and didn’t want them to be homeless.)

Well, over the ensuing 3 weeks before the end of the month came, Mrs. Phiri became more and more insolent.  She brought people onto the property to the point where there were large groups of people in front of her house (no one is supposed to be on the property).  She also allowed her friends to come all the way up to our block walls to draw water.  And, she refused to acknowledge or speak to Grandma.  This really surprised me because Mrs. Phiri had always been very cheerful and accommodating with me but it was appalling to see all of this transpire, especially since Grandma had frequently bought food and clothes for the family as well, and, instead of asking them to leave immediately like most employers in the area would do, she gave them time to look around and find a place to live.  I stayed out of it and still waved when we went by and Mrs. Phiri pretended that nothing had happened and would wave back.

No one seemed to know where they were going or what their plans were so the day before April 30 (the day they were to leave) I said to Mrs. Phiri, I hear you are moving — where are you moving to?  Mrs. Phiri told me they weren’t moving, not until they received “benefits” from Grandma.  Apparently her friends in the bush had been filling her head with ideas that they should receive benefits in the form of a stipend and help with rent if they were let go from a job.  One of my friends told me that this is often a mistake made by employees, that the rumor mill fills them with all of these ideas of things they are entitled to that aren’t true.  She told me of a story of a friend of hers who had fired a maid for lateness and absenteeism.  The maid went to the labor board thinking she was entitled to a big severance package.  When the labor board came to the employer and gathered the details they ruled that the maid in fact owed the employer money, because the employer had paid her for days not worked.

Anyways, I said to Mrs. Phiri that I was aware there was a big commotion between her and Grandma but that it was important to leave on good terms because future employers might ask for references.  She just nodded and said she’d tell Mr. Phiri.  Well, Saturday April 30th came and went and sure enough, the Phiris refused to leave.  Grandma went and got the police the morning of May 1 and as soon as they drove through the gate the Phiris started to pack up.  Turns out they had found a house to leave in a couple of miles away.  They asked Grandma (in front of the police) if she would let them use her truck to move their things.  The police officer pulled Grandma aside and said it’s best if you just load them up and take them to their new house, then it will be done, so Grandma had her nephews help and she did just that.

While this was going on a little crowd of women had appeared on the other side of the fence.  Mrs. Phiri went over and the entire time her husband, Grandma and Grandma’s nephews loaded the truck, she just chatted and laughed away with this group of women.  I had heard that it was important to end on good terms with employees because they can do damage to your home and/or pets if they leave angry so I gave Mrs. Phiri three t-shirts — one for each child — and said good-bye.

Well, that same night, coincidentally, is when the thieves came to steal the water pump.  They must not have known that Grandma had already hired a friend of our guard to stay in the Phiri’s block house (she’s since invited him to live there).  So, when the thieves weren’t able to get near the water pump, apparently they looked into the window of the block house (see below).  The new guard Stegne ran out, yelled for our guard, and started to chase the two (apparently) young men.  He felt rocks whizzing past him but the thieves managed to escape in the night.  Our night guard Gabriel had immediately called for the emergency armed response, but by the time he raised them the dispatcher said, just keep up your patrol with the other guy and let us know if you see anything.

The only thing Gabriel and Stegne found was this “catapult” — what we call a sling shot.

This was used to try and shoot Stegne with rocks.

Grandma went and got the police that morning, they went and picked up Mr. Phiri, who of course said he knew nothing and who the police said looked like he was on drugs and told Grandma they wouldn’t get any information out of him.  I suspect Mr. Phiri didn’t have anything to do with it and that probably what happened is that Mrs. Phiri was blabbing away so everyone knew the front of the property was now vacant and that there was only a guard inside our block walls.  I don’t think she did it or was even behind it, but I suspect she knows who did it.

Gabriel, our night guard, was rightfully upset that his rapid response back-up blew him off and Thom was furious.  Thom called two supervisors and demanded that they and the dispatcher come out to the property.  Only one supervisor came and he was very apologetic and just agreed with everything Thom said (yes, that was unacceptable, yes, that was wrong, yes, that never every should have happened) and promised that if the night guard called for so much as a bird hitting our electric wires they would send the rapid response out.

The whole thing was sad and unnecessary.  If Mrs. Phiri had gone and apologized right away to Grandma and tried to make amends, I know that Grandma would have given her a stern warning and a second chance.  Instead, pride has cost her and her family a free place to live with water and electricity, a steady income and occasional free food and clothes for her children.  I don’t know how they’ll ever get another job because these things have a way of getting around and there are so many poor people looking for jobs that there’s always someone willing to step in and replace people.  (Stegne, for example, has been living with relatives since his wife died and left him with a small child.  Our guard Bernard said he was desperate for a job and had been looking for more than a year.)

Well, as I was saying, there must have been some strange star alignment May day weekend, 2011, given all of the violent/quasi-violent drama.  Anything like that happen on your side of the world?


About Kimm X Jayne

Gravatar Photograph from the exceptionally talented Ben Heine.
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9 Responses to Thieves in the night

  1. Mikey says:

    That’s an interesting African story. Maybe a bit too interesting…

  2. Amberleigh says:

    Oh my goodness! I’m glad nothing was harmed, but geeze what a lot of drama! I’m glad the guards were there for you guys. It definitely sounds like some bridges were burned unnecessarily which is a very unfortunate thing. I mean, I’ve been looking for a job for over a year, but I’ve been working retail and have had a home so that desperation isn’t there. I hope that’s the most eventful (of that kind, anyway) it gets for you!

  3. Jack Pyle says:

    It is so nice to find your blog, Kim. I look forward to learning more about your time in Africa. I left my house May 1 and moved in with two other guys in one of those big houses on Chimney Oaks, just four miles down the road near the corner of Meridian and Grand River. The house has a pool, hot tub, sauna, bar and pool table. My roommates are seldom seen. I like them a lot – have had dinner with them and their girlfriends. I have been so busy emptying my house, garage and barn that I have not been blogging, but plan to start again in a day or so. My first blog post will be titled: Letting go. (I have been letting go of many, many things; and it feels good.)

    • Kimm X Jayne says:

      Great to hear from you Jack! I checked out your blog and can’t wait to read more. Sound like you have a good thing going in Chimney Hill. It’s a rough life, huh?

  4. Maureen Witte says:

    Good grief, we can’t match that kind of excitement! Such a shame to know that 3 children will suffer because of such foolishness!

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