Working in Africa, Lesson One: Let Nothing Faze You

By: Ceire Sadlier

You know that feeling when you’re the first person at the office in the morning and you kind of think you’re great and you’re kind of wondering why you’re the only sucker who seems to come in on time? That is exactly what I was thinking one morning, two weeks into my new job in Lusaka, when six strange men came into the office and carried my computer and desk from under me before I could put my password details in.

New to the office, new to the country, I was completely flabbergasted. Their shelf emptying technique demonstrated that they had done this before: hold top of shelf, tilt forward enough for all contents to spill and smash on the floor, carry shelf out of building.

So glad I spent all that time filingSo glad I spent all that time filing
I was, to say the least, completely alarmed. I nervously picked up my handbag and went out to the street to wait among the mounting piles of computer screens and swivel chairs for my colleagues to arrive. They are going to freak out, I thought, coming in to work to find that your computer is face down in the middle of a dusty street.

This is when I learned the valuable lesson that there is very little in this world that will cause Zambian people to react to something in a dramatic way. My colleagues were absolutely unperturbed. There was a slight look of confusion as each of them passed the teetering mountain of bookshelves that were quickly getting coated in red dust. Then - lots and lots of laughter.

It transpired that it was the bailiffs who were steadily dumping years of paperwork onto the tiled floors and skillfully tipping the furniture onto the street. Within minutes the padlock was secured on the gate, the bailiff’s lads were on the back of their truck and they cheerfully waved as they headed off to their next job, leaving us blankly staring at the office contents spilling out onto the tarmac. As it would turn out, the person who had been letting the house to the organisation I worked for was not actually the owner of the house. When the owner had found out, he called the bailiffs to do a clear out.

While the head of the organisation made a not-so-mad scramble to find another office to rent by sun down, the rest of us were left to mind the stuff. We, the staff, spent the best part of the day twirling in our office chairs on the street, reading papers and repeatedly checking the slowly defrosting fridge for hidden snacks. Very little thought or discussion was given to our bizarre situation. I couldn’t help but think that if the same thing had happened in my previous office in Dublin, I would not have been the only person with a sense of panic coming over them. But here, I was.

You might think it would be a great team building exercise.  It certainly did give me the opportunity to get to know one of my colleagues. He missed his wife terribly, he told me. She lived in a different province. How sweet, I thought. Yes, he really missed her because he hated doing housework. Oh, less sweet. He couldn’t get a housekeeper because she would, no doubt, seduce him and force herself upon him, leading him to involuntarily cheat on his wife. They use herbs, he explained. She would most likely drug him and he would become entranced. I mumbled that it was more likely that she would have to drug herself in order to find him attractive. The day was souring.

When everyone had read the newspapers and the fridge was emptied of its rotting contents, it was time to call it a day. I left, not knowing when or to where I would be returning to work. On the main street, I heard a loud beep and looked up to see the bailiff’s crew hanging off the back of their truck, this time laden with mattresses and wardrobes. They had recognized the overreacting muzungu and laughed heartily, giving me the thumbs up after merrily emptying out some other poor sod’s gaff.

Although the bailiff's did not show up again, that day had set the tone for my time in that office, in which every week presented situations by which I was completely confused and astounded, yet left everyone else completely unfazed.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingCeire Sadlier is an Irish expat living in Zambia. Blog description: The comical observations of a cynical Irish expatriate in Zambia.
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Contest Comments » There is 1 comment

CMT wrote 8 years ago:

Witty, scary, lighthearted and captivating. You definitely have a gift for storytelling. Looking forward to checking out your blog.

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