I’ve been thinking a lot about jealousy, and how it really pulls down the human condition. It seems to be more blatant and in your face here and means you have to be alert to what’s going on around you because things are not always as they seem. There’s usually something operating in the background that needs to come out and then you think, oh, that’s why it took so long, didn’t get fixed, didn’t happen, had hang-ups, etc.
My nice mid-western friends either hide their jealousy well or they’re truly happy for others when something good happens to them. Of course I’m biased and know I’m just a reflection of the community I live in but when a friend or family member or even someone in my community wins an award, has a run of good luck or finds true love, it seems like those all around are happy for that person. (And alternatively, they’re sad and distressed when something terrible happens, like the 10-10-10 accident that killed the three Okemos kids. Our neighbor’s son was the sole survivor and I know his miraculous recovery truly fills our neighborhood with relief and joy.) In the states it seems that people are happy for others when good things happen to them because it means it can happen to you too. No matter what you think of Obama he fulfilled that American dream that anyone can become President and I don’t think there was a dry eye around on his inauguration day. Other people’s success is my success and I get to share it and maybe (probably) one day experience it too. (Lest you think I’m turning all Polly-Anna on you, I do relish in my share of schadenfreude when someone snarky gets what they deserve, like Donald Trump.)
Two examples of this jealousy have occurred here this week (and it’s only Wednesday). First, we asked our day guard if he’d be willing to spend the nights and watch over our dogs while we’re gone on our upcoming trip. This guard makes only $80 a month and has a family of four so it’s also a way to supplement his income a little. (I actually wrote a letter to his company demanding that his salary be brought up to what our gardener made but they never responded to it and probably had a good laugh at it.)
Our gardener, who is close to this guard (they live by each other) and also has a family of four, received a prompt raise from us after our first month here from $120 a month to $150 a month. We felt this was about as high as we could go without tipping the wage scale structure here (basically he went from $4/day to $5/day). ( A friend of ours said that from this point on he could only be hired by a well-off ex-pat family if he expected to continue that level of pay.) So, my thinking was that this was our way to help our day guard a bit since we had already helped our gardener so much (and the gardener told our guard right away about his raise when it happened).
Well, when I was going over the calendar with our guard the gardener came up and said that he and the guard were going to share the nights. I was surprised but said, well, if you guys worked that out I guess it’s okay. Later, the guard came to me and said, my friend is not being fair, he gets almost double what I make and now he wants some of this too. Thom and I knew this had to be handled delicately so what we decided to do was ask them both to stay over each night and split the fee, and then we took the guard aside and told him we would pay him the full amount but that he must keep that to himself. We explained that by doing this we would have two people here to watch over the house and dogs (which we would actually like), plus, he would be able to retain his good relations with his friend the gardener. He was delighted because he truly does like the gardener.
The second bit of jealousy I discovered this week was with our electrician. Jonathan, the guy who’s been coming out and representing himself as an electrician, turns out to be a water pump specialist, not a real electrician. When he couldn’t figure out why our lightbulbs burn out so quickly (14 already in three months) he brought along “another” electrician. That electrician quickly discovered that the circuits were overloaded; that there were 8-10 lights on a circuit when there should have been a maximum of four. He agreed to come back and fix it this past Monday.
Well, Monday came and went so our landlady’s mom (“Grandma”) called Jonathan on Tuesday and he said that he could come but that the other electrician couldn’t because he was at a funeral and away. Grandma called the other electrician and found out that he had been waiting for the call on Monday and never got it and that he was ready to come out any time. And no, he hadn’t gone to a funeral that week and was in town and available. Grandma told me this was common, that someone who is hired covets the job and when they’re out of their element they bring in an expert to tell them what to do and then freeze them out and take all of the pay themselves. As a result, she says, things aren’t fixed right because it took her a while to figure out that (a) Jonathan’s not a real electrician though he portrays himself as one, (b) Jonathan thinks he knows what he’s doing because he had an expert come and tell him what to do, but he doesn’t do it right because he lacks the knowledge and skill of the real electrician, and (c) he likes it when things continue to break down because it means he has to come back repeatedly and gets paid more.
Previously, I would have thought this was a cynical way of viewing things but it all adds up, especially after speaking with the real electrician, so I need to be more cautious and I guess suspicious…er…savvy. And, I should say as a caveat, that this may be more of a class issue than cultural issue because I’ve only experienced it here with the very poor service class; never with the middle or upper classes here (well, except for the bribe to the car inspector), and I never really come into contact with the desperately poor in the U.S.
The daily health advertisements in the newspaper are interesting because they reveal the primary concerns of many Zambians. Here’s one where they promise to solve:
Problems of back ache, marital, genital, court cases, business, chronic disease, abdominal problem, CD4 counting and boosting, and many more.
Though I have no proof of it and have not experienced it myself, many people have told me that jealousy is a primary reason people practice witchcraft here in Zambia (as well as the rest of Eastern/Southern Africa). At least a dozen different people have told me that someone’s success is coveted here and then spells are cast because of the jealousy. (I’ve also been repeatedly told that Africans also believe that spells and witchcraft only work on natives, not mzungus, which I [superstitiously] find to be a good thing.)
Here’s an interesting description of the causes and traditions of witchcraft from this travel blog by David Damberger:
Witchcraft is a major belief here and strongly affects the way people view life here. I’ve had troubles understanding it completely and even when I feel I do, I have even more troubles explaining it to others. It isn’t exactly the hocus pocus pile of fluff that I initially wrote it off as in the beginning. Instead, I would now correlate it much more closely with peoples faith and their need to be able to describe why things happen. So whereas our western societies have religions and science to attempt to explain the unexplainable, the Tongans have witchcraft. It usually can explain why somebody gets sick, why there is a poor harvest and why someone’s house burns down. Witchcraft is often a product of someone else’s jealousy and that jealous person ends up casting a spell on the person they are jealous of. Now I am pretty lucky here because most witchcraft can only be cast within your own family and unless my own family wants to cast a spell on me (Steve, you’ll get a beating when I get home if you do), I’m fairly immune. You can try casting a spell on someone of a different family, however very often that spell gets reversed back to you because you don’t know how strong a witch in another family is compared to you, thus making the venture quite risky. But almost all the occurrences of witchcraft that I’ve been told about have been within ones family.
Now witchcraft isn’t just something you find just with the very rural traditional people. I’ve met many university educated and even Ph D. holding Tongans who are strong Christians and live in the city but who still explain many things using it. Especially when that person gets sick and they don’t get better after going to a regular hospital, they instead go to the local witchdoctor who gives them remedies to remove the spells cast on them and according to them they are all of a sudden cured. I maybe feel that sometimes what I would call “bad luck” or just a strong gut feeling, is exactly the same thing the Tongans feel, but they just term it witchcraft. I feel that with witchcraft, as with many other cultural things here, on the surface it’s pretty easy to dismiss them as being silly or unjustified. But once you start to integrate in a little bit more, you start peeling back layer after layer and discovering that there are usually very intelligent and meaningful reasons for it’s existence.
I could probably go on and on and on talking about this sort of stuff and I know you are all begging to read more because I never seem to write enough…..=^), but I figure if I told you everything, then you would have no reason to write me back with questions or even to come and visit and experience it all for yourself. Because the best way to learn is to do and then to teach. Overall, the Tongan people have been extremely open and welcoming me into their lives and have taught me a tremendous amount about life and about myself. Walking down the streets, almost everyone knows me by my Tongan name Moonga and often people will stop and point at me saying “Ah, this man, he’s a real Tongan man” as we grab each others hands and hold them walking down the path talking of football and the latest Choma town gossip. I know that when I go home, it is going to be these cultural moments that I look back on, cherish and miss. But I also know, that as long as I occasionally boil and pound up some maize meal in a pot every so often, I will never forget them.