Last Saturday morning an American friend and I spent several hours trying to liberate my pick-up truck from the three large trees that had crashed down on it the night before.
I live under a variety of aging Jacaranda, Syringa and Pepper trees in the old mine houses in Monarch, Francistown, one of the areas hardest hit by last week’s gale force winds, so our clean-up activities were pretty much in line with what everyone else in the neighbourhood was doing that day.
Anyway, for the first two and a half hours we cut away branches that were not under tension and the ones that looked most likely to cause further damage to the vehicle if they were to fall onto the trunk that was piercing the windscreen. I was quite enjoying the physical labour and I remember feeling lucky that the impact had been distributed between the truck cab and the kitchen roof so that neither of my possessions was beyond repair.
Then help arrived.
The Jacarandas that came down weren’t growing on my property, you see, so the owner of the offending logs brought four of his workers over to help cut up the trees… and then he disappeared to attend to some other clean-up operation. Unfortunately, I didn’t know these guys, we didn’t share any common languages and they definitely had their own ideas about the best way to get on with the job. My main concern was preventing any more damage; they, on the other hand, didn’t appear to give a flying f*** about the welfare of my vintage…well, old…vehicle.
Yeah, I know, flying f*** probably isn’t appropriate language for a high class publication like The Voice, but the thing is the second part of that expression was by far the most common word I used when I expressed my displeasure with their choice of cuts. The first thing they did was drop the one tree that wasn’t already leaning on my Mazda onto the ones that were and the extra weight damaged the driver’s side door and separated it from the cab greatly increasing the repair bill.
I was not a happy camper and I don’t think the language barrier prevented me from making that fact quite clear. To be perfectly honest, it’s a bit embarrassing now that I think back on it so if any of you guys were just kidding about not speaking English and are reading this now I’d like to say I’m sorry for my behaviour.
Right, so after the truck had been freed and Mike had returned with a couple of other friends from the Rotary feeding programme at the nearby Mother Teresa Centre we sat down to sort out the world’s problems over a few cups of coffee. Picture it: two Brits, two Yanks and whole load of bullshit.
The conversation eventually moved to a favourite topic – service – and Mike wondered why so few of the people who work in shops here seem to care about the customers’ needs. As an example he said on several occasions he has ordered one type of pie only to find he has received another type when he bites into it outside the shop.
“Well Mike,” I said after showing what I deemed to be an appropriate amount of sympathy for his plight, ”I guess good service wasn’t the pie lady’s primary concern, she probably just wanted to get you out of the shop as fast as possible; I mean how much do you think she gets paid?” And that’s when it hit me like, like, well…like a five tonne Jacaranda falling from the sky.
Most people working in the service industry in Botswana don’t have any direct financial interest in the profitability of the businesses they work for, just like my neighbour’s workers didn’t have any personal interest in protecting my truck.
It was Saturday morning and it was pretty obvious those guys didn’t really want to be working in my yard. I wasn’t paying them, they were just doing what their employer told them to do; and really, why should they give a flying anything about my truck? Maybe they had storm damaged homes of their own to repair before the next rain.
Anyway, it seems to me we are not going to make much progress on the service front until we adjust our salary schemes so that service is rewarded to the point where the employees’ interests, the business owners’ interests and the customers’ interests are more closely related; or better yet, until we change our morals so that workers value being kind an helpful to others as much as they value their paycheques.
Hum…I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to hold my breath on that last one.