About 5 months ago a neighbor gardener showed up at the front gate with his cousin, Paul, vouching for him and saying he’d be a good worker. Yvonne, our landlady’s mom and the person who lives out front decided to give him a chance. She farms corn, tomatoes, guinea fowl and quail on the front 3 acres of the property and needs help. So, Paul, his wife, their 3 year old daughter and their 6 month old baby girl moved onto the property, in the shack (for lack of a better term) out front.
Paul and his family were thrilled because since moving from the village to Lusaka a month previous, they had been squatting in this half-built house with no roof, and rainy season had just started.
This is what they moved into, which doesn’t look like much, but it had a roof with a tarp so it was dry inside, it had a door and a window, and Yvonne gave them a mattress to sleep on. Compared to camping out on cement without a roof, it was the lap of luxury.
All started out well. Paul worked very hard and was paid about what our guard gets, was given free lodging, and his pay was often topped up each week when he did extra work (so at the end of the month he earned at least another 50% of his base pay). Within a few weeks, Yvonne was able to convince her daughter and son-in-law that a proper home was needed for Paul and his family, with electricity, a toilet and a sink. Within a month Paul’s family was able to move into this finished small home with two rooms (instead of one), electricity (complete with hotplate, provided by Yvonne), an indoor toilet, and an outside sink to wash dishes and clothes. This family’s fortunes had improved drastically from just two months previous. Our guards and gardener don’t have electricity in their homes – Paul’s family had it better than they did!
Because Yvonne’s a single woman living alone, she often shared meals and gave her leftovers to Paul’s family. She also bought clothes for the children.
So, how did Paul repay her? He and our new night guard George started a racket where they’d steal 2-3 of Yvonne’s quail at a time and sell them in Bauleni (the densely populated low income compound where most of the service workers in our area live, including our gardener and our guards). This went on for a month. Paul kept telling Yvonne that the quail died and because dozens were being hatched and at various stages of development every day, she skeptically believed him.
Then, early last week, two mirrors Yvonne had stored out in the old shack where Paul used to live went missing. Then, later in the week Paul came and told Yvonne that a mattress had gone missing over the night. (And, mind you, Paul is the only one other than Yvonne with a key.) Yvonne came and talked with us and she and Thom decided to get to the bottom of the situation.
Thom confronted our night guard George and caught him in several lies regarding the quail. Thom called the guard service and the supervisor came and picked George up right away and took him to jail. The next morning the supervisor called and said George confessed to selling the quail he said Paul had given him, and that Paul was the one who approached him about carrying the quail to Bauleni (about a 40 minute walk) and splitting the proceeds. George said he had nothing to do with the mattress and mirrors being stolen.
Yesterday, the police came and got Paul and he was held in a jail cell for 24 hours. He lied about everything they said, constantly changed his story, and in the end, with a begrudged confession of sorts from Paul (“I only took five quail,” “she wasn’t using that stuff”), everyone concluded that he had not only fenced the quail, but the mattress and mirrors too. Yvonne calculated she lost more than 60 quail. Of course, Paul’s family had to go (George had already been replaced over the weekend).
It was quite sad. I went out for an evening walk with the dogs and Paul’s wife and her daughters were sitting there on the ground, asking to come in. I didn’t know what to do so I let them in while I went on my walk. When I got back I texted Yvonne and she said do NOT let them in, she had just found out that they had been stealing her maize (corn) too and selling that. She said, ‘They’re horrible people with no conscience or morals, they cannot come in.’
So, I had to go get our new guard, Chris, and have him escort them out. Paul’s wife said they had no food and no where to go. I told her I was very sorry, but that I also was shocked, why did they steal when they had a good thing going? Why did they steal when surely they would have earned more in terms of money and food and comfort over a couple of years than they would selling a few quail and some furniture? She told our guard she was innocent, and that it was her husband. I just kept asking, didn’t you see how improved your life was since arriving? You had food, running water, a flush toilet, electricity, a hot plate, and even a small television (that Yvonne had lent to them)? Why would you steal to add just a few kwatcha to your household?
I was really bummed. I told the guard that Yvonne was adamant, they had to go. (And Yvonne didn’t buy it that the wife didn’t know what was going on.) I went and got half a loaf of bread and some leftover potatoes and roast beef and gave it to them and said I was sorry, but they would have to go, and again, I asked, why would you do this when you had to know you had a good thing going? (By this point Paul’s wife had stopped proclaiming her innocence and I got the sense that she felt equal parts guilt and defiance – a strange mixture but one you sometimes see here – that people think it’s okay to steal and wonder why those stolen from get so upset over it.)
I really can’t understand why a family that had gone from having absolutely nothing (no food, shelter, clothes) to having it better off than 95% of those working the same kind of job they did would ruin it over what couldn’t have been more than a full day’s pay over a month – especially given the fact that Yvonne gave them extra food and clothes throughout the month. The only thing that makes any sense to me is that Paul must have thought Yvonne was very stupid, or that she wouldn’t know it was unusual for so many quail to “die” a day, or he thought he could just plain get away with it (arrogance?).
If you have any ideas as to why someone would do this I’d love to hear them. I honestly can’t understand it. Now, that poor family is probably out in some dirt field, back where they started, with no shelter, no clothes, no food, and no means of making money.