“Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.” – Laurence J. Peter
A new housemaid arrived last week. She is 17 and on trial. She has just left school. The old man feels a little guilty about employing someone her but she needs the money as she is financially responsible for her sick mother. Unlike the other workers, she comes to the farm in the morning around 6 am and leaves at 5 pm.
She is super-efficient; too efficient if you ask me! By 9 am she has already finished making breakfast for the old man and all the workers, washed up all the dishes from the previous night, cleaned the kitchen and is halfway through making lunch. I wonder how long this enthusiasm will last? Apparently, housemaids start off this way but when they are sure they have secured the job or they are no longer destitute as they have been paid some wages, they start slacking. The old man has gone through more than seventy employees in the last twelve months! In fact, the last lot disappeared in the middle of the night taking some of the old man’s property with them.
Unfortunately, workers from the village tend to be very unreliable and they don’t last. Either they are sacked for stealing or they work for a few months, make a little money and then disappear. Once they have spent the money they return to ask for work again. Take the carpenter for example. He was employed to put up doors and windows in the guest quarters. After putting up a few doors he disappeared for a week, without a word beforehand to say he would be away from work. He just did not show up. Today he returned to work and explained that he’d gone to his village to plant some crops. One would think he was not being paid for the work that he was employed to do on the farm. I asked him to make some furniture for my bedroom once he’s done with the doors and windows, but I am not holding my breath.
This problem is so common that another carpenter is not likely to be any different. So the old man simply allowed him to carry on from where he left off. There is no such thing as taking pride in one’s work or having career goals or striving to make something of one’s life. I find this lack of ambition puzzling, but the old man keeps reminding me that I am analysing the situation with a Western gaze. He is right of course, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with my perspective. If one of the hundreds of people he has employed had had any ambition they would have been able to work themselves up to a farm manager position by now. And he could afford to take a break without worrying that everything will go to ruin I remind him.
The agricultural workers are paid about sixty thousand shillings a month (about twenty pounds a month) while the skilled workers like builders, carpenters etc. negotiate their own rates depending on what they are working on. Even by Ugandan standards, this is not very much money. But at least they get free accommodation, food and their medical expenses covered as part of their work package. I have heard that on some farms worker are paid even less, and that is without the additional benefits. It is just as well food is relatively cheap in Uganda.
Now that we have a housemaid, my chores have been reduced to sweeping the house, measuring the milk and collecting money from produce sales. I was so looking forward to my first sixty thousand shillings, but alas it is not to be. Still, I get to spend more time in bed so I cannot complain.