LIFE! WHAT A JOURNEY with CHARLES CHISALA
YOU do not listen to such interesting conversations every day. So when you have your opportunity you grab it with both hands, making sure not a single word escapes your ears.
Since I got rid of my fairly new personal motor vehicle a few months ago to fulfil an urgent business transaction I am yet to replace it. This means that I am still an involuntary beneficiary of the chaotic public passenger transport system.
I am not complaining, though. Travelling on those blue-and-white wrecks that are choking the bus stations and roads of the capital city, Lusaka, gives me rare glimpses into the life and psyche of an average urban Zambian and an opportunity to read my countryâ€™s political barometer.
So this particular day I was at the bus station to catch one of those delivery panel vans converted into passenger buses on my way home, after knocking off around 17:00 hours.
To avoid sitting on the back seat, which I hate with unflinching passion, I decided to attend to some serious business in the ever-stinking council run fee-paying toilet.
As I walked out four to five men were seated on a wooden bench close to the entrance-cum-exit. A gentleman clad in a fairly new blue work suit and knee-high gum boots (we used to call them amadandilopo in the village years back) appeared.
He was â€˜armedâ€™ with a broom in his gloved hands. When he asked the gentlemen on the bench to move aside so that he could do his job they refused.
This sparked a quarrel between them and the tall cleaner. One man was more vocal than the others attracting the most vitriol from the seated man.
â€œJust leave us alone iwe, how can you call what you are doing work? What work?â€ the seated man said gesturing with his right hand contemptuously. His friends laughed.
â€œThis is serious work my friend. I am a worker, an employee. I am not like you who works for an individual who can fire you any day, any minute on the phone without benefits,â€ the cleaner shot back.
It turned out that his adversary was a bus driver.
â€œWhat are you saying? Canâ€™t you see that bus parked there waiting to load? Havenâ€™t you seen my conductor? What pride is there in being a cleaner?â€ the driver retorted, attracting more laughter.
But if he thought being a cleaner was no big deal the man in the blue work suit had a different view.
â€œYou are just jealous of me iwe, because you do not have a job title. I have a job title myself. I am a general worker and my name is in the files and computers at the city council,â€ the cleaner said proudly.
â€œGo to the civic centre,â€ he continued, â€œyou will find my name written in the records as a general worker. Yes, I am a general worker my friend; not a driver like you.â€
The driver was not happy.
He teased the cleaner, â€œAre you not ashamed that at school you were wearing uniform as a child? Now you are a grown up and married man, but you are still wearing uniform. When are you going to stop wearing uniforms?â€
If he thought he was winning the â€˜battleâ€™ he was mistaken because the cleaner walked closer and stood within centimetres of the bench on which the â€˜jealousâ€™ driver and his friends were seated.
â€œJust look at me,â€ he invited, â€œlook at my clean work suit and my new gum boots.
â€œAll of them given to me by the council free of charge.
â€œWhen did your employer, the owner of that useless bus, that wire you drive risking peopleâ€™s lives every day, buy you a pair of uniform? Tell me so that everyone here can hear.â€
The cleaner continued with the tirade, expressing pity for the bus driver whose boss, he said, could just wake up one day and fire him.
â€œIf your boss finds a better driver tomorrow, he will fire you verbally. As for me, my friend, they will write me a charge on a headed paper and give me a chance to defend myself, then they will write me another letter to inform me of the outcome of the case,â€ he lectured.
â€œI feel sorry for you, my friend,â€ he said shaking his head in mock pity. â€œYou canâ€™t work as a general worker.â€
At this point the driver stood up, dusted his bottom and stretched before shuffling away towards his bus because the conductor had gestured to him to move the bus. It was their turn to load.
â€œContinue with your useless job, Mr Schoolboy who will never stop wearing uniforms,â€ he told the clearly triumphant and now grinning cleaner, who fired a parting shot, â€œJust go Mr Driver and be good to your boss. Be careful when stealing his money otherwise he will fire you.â€
I admired the council man. He loves his job and is proud of his job title of â€˜general workerâ€™.
He reminded me of the simple axiom that â€œwhen we begin focusing on what others have which we donâ€™t have we begin losing sight of what we have but which the others donâ€™t haveâ€.
LIFE! WHAT A JOURNEY with CHARLES CHISALA