One of the more satisfying things about working among the people is the sense of making a difference that it gives you. It is not something that you can reckon in dollars and cents, but just as satisfying, if not more so. Lying at night, you feel a certain peace. That was certainly the case for me during that period.
One August morning, on a Saturday, I was at the Karoi office charging my cellphone. Oh, by the way, I have not yet introduced you to my very first cellphone, have I now? OK, that’s a story for another day! So here I was, charging my cellphone in Karoi because there was no electricity at my Magunje office, when a certain gentleman knocked and entered the office. He was middle-aged, his greying hair lending a distinguished-looking aura to his otherwise mild demeanour. So he said, “I need help at the farm. I have bought some medication that I want to be given to my cattle. Can I get someone to help me?”
I rather liked the gentleman. I made a quick calculation. It was a weekend, I was rather hungry (I had not eaten breakfast) but was game. So I told the gentleman, basically three things: that it was a weekend and we normally don’t work weekends; that I was willing to help him; but I was hungry and needed to eat first. So he said, “let’s go”.
So I locked up and we went out to his waiting pick-up truck. Inside, there was a military fatigue jacket draped around the front seat. “Oh” , I thought. So he introduced himself as Colonel Gwanetsa, of 2 Brigade. To be honest, his name did not ring a bell, neither did I really grasp the prominence of his rank. One thing that I really liked about the gentleman: he never tried to pull rank. In fact my goodwill went a notch up when he bought sausages, “cascade” and hot dogs for my breakfast. As my mother used to say, I ate and was as full as the sangoma who had treated a king! He was incredibly civil and respectful, even when he began to tell me a bit about about himself and I got to understand his prominent station in life.
His farm was in between Karoi and Magunje, in the southern region. The job was a breeze. It was mostly de-worming and he had plenty of helpers, including his son whom he said he was encouraging to train as a veterinarian. He offered me a patch of land by the dam, if I felt like starting an agricultural project. I was non-committal, but appreciated the offer.
After the job, I told him to drop me off at my Magunje offices. We were quite comfortable with each other by then, and had even realised that we came from the same province! He asked where I lived, and I told him that I had converted one of the storeroom at my offices for my digs! He was astounded, but kept quiet. Then after an awkward silence, he asked: “how much do I owe you for your services?” I shuffled my legs awkwardly, eyeing the rather thick wand of notes he had produced.
“You don’t owe me anything. I was happy helping you, getting acquainted is reward enough”. Words came in a rush. I was feeling rather proud of myself, but nervous too. Nobody refuses earned money! But I felt that I had earned much more by just meeting and getting to know him. So he opened his mouth, about to say something, then kept quiet. Then moments later, he said: “You know what, this is 3 o’clock. There is no way you are killing all this time alone. Lets go to the army camp.”
So we drove to the 43 Infantry Battalion. I had never been saluted in my life, but the alacrity with which soldiers saluted and fawned upon us made me want to change careers! Wow, here I was, waltzing into the Officers Mess and having everyone stand up and salute, and the big guy airily waving everyone to relax. He introduced me as his young brother, and since I did not take alcohol, I enjoy a couple of cold sodas and game meat. And I was offered accommodation at the army camp if I wanted it! It so happened that the army had excess accommodation which they offered to needy government workers. Wow! Just wow!
Years later when I became a lecturer, I always recounted this incident to my students. To me, it showed that being nice sometimes pays as well, maybe more, than being aggressively pushy. The colonel left the army shortly after our encounter to become a prominent political player in his home province.
My prospects were certainly looking up. Did I get to enjoy the benefits of my good relations with people? The plot was certainly thickening, but the crescendo was still yet to come…
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