The Neighbor’s Son
“So, what have you been doing before now?” he asked with a broad smile on his face, maneuvering the corner at an abnormal speed. For a 64 year old man, he could drive crazily fast. My heart skipped a beat and I prayed hard that we do not cause an accident.
“Well, I’ve done quite a lot,” I begun with a slight smile. “I started as an office helper immediately after high school. I didn’t do it for long though. After a while I had become a customer care officer. By then the place I was working in was a small hospital, and we were just five staff plus two doctors.”
I paused for a while, remembering how hard I had labored in that hospital. I had been an extremely hard working employee who did her work wholeheartedly. I remembered the long hours, the holidays which never had an off and I smiled. Those were the experiences that made me who I am today, that got me to where I am. Yes, of women who were having miscarriages and would start bleeding as soon as they got to our centre and I, with a smile on my face, would clean up their mess without a fuss. Our diagnosis centre was directly opposite the Coast Province General Hospital and we got all kinds of crazy diagnosis to work on. The cervical cancers who dint even know they had cancer, the aborting women who pretended they were having miscarriages, the duodenal ulcers that had burst to the skin and looked horrendous and patients who had multi drug resistant TB. (those ones you handled with extra care, lest it gets transmitted to you).We had seen a lot, and as a young girl fresh from high school, those early images made me strong to handle any weird case that came along. I later became a secretary. Abit of a relief as all I now did was handle patient reports.
Our centre expanded and before long we had thirty staff. Plus we had opened three other branches, with the biggest one at the town centre. All this time I was studying for my project management course.
Two years of hard work which soon paid off. I was promoted to an administrator / financial director for all the branches. I remember kneeling down and saying a long prayer to GOD and telling thank you. Working at MDIC was a good experience because after a while, I had known all the leading doctors at the coast plus the nurses and C.O’s. I would be treated for free in any hospital I went to. Someone would stop me at the supermarket with a broad smile and tell me they were grateful for the attention we gave them at the hospital sometime back, and that the appendix diagnosis we gave them was the correct one. And I would ask them if the old mzee was now better? No, no, they would say laughing. It was the young boy max, don’t you remember him? I would nod my head and say of course, how could I forget? All the while not knowing who they were talking about. It wasn’t that I was mean; it’s just that we handled too many damned people. Some would try giving me something small as a token of appreciation but I would refuse politely. I had handled a lot of pressure and I could pretty well handle anything no matter how difficult. Or so I thought.
I quickly summarized to engineer Mwachofi of my various roles and he looked at me strangely.
“How old are you?” he asked again
“21” I answered honestly, not sure where this was heading.
“Interesting. You are very young. How you ever done construction work before?”
I shook my head. “And they gave you the project manager’s position?” he asked disbelievingly.
I nodded, trying hard not to show my nervousness. It was a tough call and I knew what awaited me. My former CEO DR. Atari had given me some hints. Little did I know.
“Well,” the engineer begun, looking me over. “You look like a tough little thing. I’m sure you’ll manage quite nicely. I have to warn you though, the people we are working with are a bit wild and need a total reign. Do not be merciful on them. They hate change and they will try fighting you. You have to be prepared.”
He kept quiet and I dint say anything either. I looked outside the window as the trees and buildings passed by, trying to digest his words. I knew I would miss Mombasa as I headed to watamu, I also knew this was going to be a whole new experience. We drove on in silence, neither of us speaking till the time we got to watamu where my friend Justine was waiting for me. I would stay at her place for the time being.
Engineer Mwachofi picked med at 6;30 the following morning.
On our way to the site offices we came across a young man siphoning fuel from a tipper with the company’s logo on it. The engineer stopped next to him.
“Hey you, what do you think you are doing?” he barked.
“Our vehicle has a problem. Trying to repair it.”
“I see. So why are you siphoning its diesel?” the engineer asked, abit agitated.
The young man shrugged disinterestedly and said nothing. Angry, the engineer drove off. “Why dint you do anything?” I asked him bewildered.
“What could I do? I’m an old man, they hardly listen to me. Mine is the technical part. To make sure the road is constructed to the required standard.”
I said nothing. After a while, he looked up, his face brightened considerably.
“On a brighter side, that’s why you were brought here. I believe you are going to change things around here.”
I asked him a question that had been nagging me since receiving the appointment letter.
“Why did the previous administrator leave?”
“Oh him. He couldn’t handle the pressure. He ran away in the middle of the night. It was too much stress for him. Unlike him, some of us have perfected the art of seeing nothing and hearing nothing. It works. Unless you want to develop ulcers.”
I stared at him, thinking hard.
We reached the offices and I saw the casuals walking around, the drivers who slept in that camp brushing their teeth and generally laughing and talking. I alighted from the vehicle and headed to the office, saying a tiny hallo. In the office, I found another lady by the name Meg.
I greeted her cheerfully and she answered with a fake smile and eyes as cold as a snake.
I pulled a chair and sat down, trying hard to stay calm.
“Winnie, we have mechanical problems with almost all the vehicles, yet they are supposed to go and collect murram today.” My heart skipped a bit as I wondered how she knew my name.
“I have just arrived, at least give me a few minutes to learn my surroundings and know what is going on, okay?” I tried hard to be cheerful, still she did not reply.
I put my bag in the drawers and the engineer took me on a trip to the compound showing a few essential things like where the bitumen was put, the store, chippings etc etc.
When I went back to the office, I found Meg ransacking my bag with a few items strewn all over. I crossed my arms and stood there patiently as my mind fled briefly to the kshs 100,000 petty cash that I had been given to use in the office.
She sensed my presence rather than saw it. She turned slowly with a sheepish smile on her face.
“I was looking for the calculator.” She said quickly.
I smiled at her sweetly. “No problem Meg. No problem at all.” I continued smiling and she walked away with a click. I relayed the incident to eng a few minutes later and he stared at me with his mouth wide open.
“One word, witchcraft.” He said haltingly.
I stared at him and wondered if he’d gone insane. However I gave him another of my sweet smiles and told him not to worry.
“Be careful,” he said as he walked out of the office.
So, I said to myself slowly. That was their plan. To scare me. I smiled again, my adrenaline shooting up. I loved drama, I was going to beat them at their own game.
This man found me still smiling when he came to the office, introducing himself as the quantity surveyor. I greeted him and instructed him to call all figurative heads plus the drivers. I.e. chains man, all surveyors, materials engineer and foremen. In a minute they were there.
I introduced myself and promised to work with them for the betterment of the company and the community. I was calm and they did not know what to say. They also introduced themselves. After about fifteen minutes I dismissed them, promising to hold another meeting with them in the evening.
The day went too fast with too many incidents happening. All of the perpetrators had a common goal, to distract me or scare me shitless. I tried to remain focused and collected. Planning and planning on the right step to take.
In the evening’s meeting I had come up with the following rules that I wanted implemented.
1. Fuelling. All company vehicles will be fueled together in the evening at the same time with a specific foreman. No driver shall be given cash. In the morning, a dip stick shall be used to measure the amount of diesel in the vehicle before it leaves for work. This was to curb theft.
2. There shall be a company mechanic who shall work on the vehicles every evening and on weekends. All vehicle complaints shall be directed to him who would in turn direct them to me. This rubbed them the wrong way as that was their cash cow where they ate with their various fake mechanics.
3. I introduced a job card for all drivers.
4. All surveyors and foremen shall fill in daily forms on what they plan to do every day, and answer to why they did not if they failed to implement their work target. Disappearing from work during work hours was a crime that was payable by a one week forced off.
These and many other rules.
To show how serious I was, I gave the driver whom we saw along the way stealing diesel a forced leave of two weeks.
That evening while I was heading home, one of the drivers tried to hit mewith his tipper.
It missed me by a whisker.
By the end of that week, I had gotten countless threatening messages, with some even texting my boss to tell him to sack me because I wore short skirts. ( He was a Muslim). He ignored them.
It was a tough first month. I’m not going to lie and say I was a strong girl who was ready to face these big men and make them change.
At work, I was this no nonsense lady who worked tirelessly and mercilessly. I made sure supplies were constantly available and everything ran smoothly. Back at home alone, sometimes I would cry dead into the night, allowing myself to be a 21year old. At one point I almost gave up.
The work was too stressful but I pushed myself on. Slowly, the fruits begun showing. The threats stopped and the workers begun to look at me in a different manner. They had some respect now and it showed in their eyes.
We began working together instead of fighting each other, and when they finally begun to respect me is when I relaxed the rules a bit. Sometimes I would turn my eyes the other way, sometimes I would rave mad and take some drastic measure. Eventually though, we became like a family and understood each other.
I’m glad I held on, because here I am two years later, still going strong.
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