How would your behavior change if your insurance policies, savings accounts and retirement funds were entirely dependent on the people you knew, favors you could call and strangers you could cajole? I’d like to think it would make me a nicer, more sacrificial and persuasive person, as unrealistic as that might be. However, we all know about those times when the person who accepts adversity with dignity, patience and graciousness to fellow humans is simply left there while the squeaky, even rude and selfish, wheel gets put on the next plane to their desired destination. Even the scriptures speak of the virtue of a nagging widow who relentlessly asks for justice. So, whether it be through virtue or depravity, a little bit of drama paired with repetitiveness increases the likelihood a request will be granted. The Karimojong fully understand this gamble.
Part of our work here entails paying wages to our fifty-some workers. The mission has intentionally been creating employment in Nakaale to as many people as we can since its beginning. Our workers maintain the grounds around our houses, teach at our pre-primary school, take care of our ducks and chickens, act as guards during the night, cook food for other staff, clean houses, teach us the language, translate bible lessons and teach them in the local villages (and work at the clinic, but I am not involved in their pay). Employment is a way to expose people to how living like Christ looks in every day life, gives us a way to form relationships and boosts the local economy. It is the gospel with feet.
We recently made some adjustments to when and how we pay our employees, in the hopes of making it easier for us to balance payroll and an infant. We gathered all of the employees together to inform them of the changes and answer questions. The resulting two meetings were filled with speeches about how we needed to pay them more and how other NGOs in the area pay more and what about these other benefits etc. I will admit that my initial reaction was frustration since most everything we were suggesting was also to their benefit (like a bonus). Then Christopher pointed out to me who it was that spoke. All of them are seen as “big men” in the community. In essence, they were culturally bound to get up and say something or receive a taint on their reputation. Since they had to make a speech, why not ask for more money to see if they might get it. Why not? It might just be that request that would increase the yield on their investments.
The next payday came and similar shows of displeasure were bountiful. It is true that some originated from not understanding all of the changes. It took us days to discuss and agree on the changes among the mission staff, so it was no surprise to me that it would take some time for the Karimojong also to understand, even without the cultural barrier. However, my patience soon wore thin and my sin nature boiled in vexation, as I listened to Christopher explain again how we weren’t cheating them. Another payday has come and gone. The smiling faces of friends have returned. The gamble is finished and it did not pay.
What have I learned from this experience? That my husband has way more grace and understanding of the culture than I do. That a complaint, a petty show of displeasure, and the incessant request for more money is a way of survival. These acts are not offensive or immature to them. An honest look at myself in their tire sandals would result in similar behavior. That if you want to make true friends, you must be willing to give of what you have and ask of them in return. That to ask for money is like checking the interest rates on another credit union’s certificate of deposits, no harm done and no offense when you walk out the door without depositing money. That I still have so much to learn in grace. May we find our security in Him!