Saturday, March 27, 2010

Changing the Way Things Are Done Here

Sorry for the long silence on my blog, folks. I’ve been scrambling to learn and carry out my new administrative role in SIL – Burkina Faso (kind of like trying to learn to fly, maintain, and repair an airplane while it’s still in the air!) and just haven’t figured out how to pack more than 24 hours into a day yet :/ Besides, admin stuff usually doesn’t make for very interesting reading!

Another problem is that after being here for a while, you start to get so used to things that they seem normal instead of interesting and different. You no longer “see” people and events like you used to when you first come here. Everything starts to look “ordinary” and you end up wondering what there is interesting to write about!

Anyway, today I got a letter from our night guard. He wants a loan to buy a moto. This is nothing new. When we first moved into our current home back in 2004, the first thing all three guards (day, night, and replacement) asked for were loans to buy motos. Nothing asked, nothing gained, right? Besides, taking a loan from your employer is a method of job security here. You’re less likely to fire someone, even if they do a poor job, if they still owe you a substantial amount of money :)

Of course, we’ve refused every request for a moto loan that we’ve received from them over the years. It's not that they couldn't use a moto.  But not only would it take them years to pay it off; we also just don’t have that kind of spare cash laying around! Being a guard doesn’t rank very high on the salary scale, and they can usually barely make ends meet with what they receive as it is. Adding loan payments on top of that wouldn’t be doing them a favour. Besides, who do you think will end up paying for maintenance and repairs? That’s right, yours truly, because they won’t have the money to do it. And you can bet there will be maintenance and repairs to do!

At one point in the past, I suggested that instead of me giving them a loan and them then paying it back in instalments, I could simply deduct a certain amount from their salary each month and keep it aside for them, kind of like a private “savings account” until they had enough to buy a moto. But they turned me down, saying that’s not the way it’s done here in Africa. However, had they taken me up on it, they could have bought a moto several times over by now!

But this time, I looked at the loan request a little differently. It was only for 150,000 FCFA (about $300) instead of the usual 400,000 – 500,000 FCFA ($800 - $1,000). And the guard proposed paying it off in monthly instalments of 15,000. I know this would be tough for him, but he said he could do it. So here’s what I proposed: For the next 5 months, I will deduct 15,000/month from his salary and set it aside as savings. If he succeeded in reaching 75,000 FCFA in savings that way, I’d loan him the other 75,000 to buy his moto, which he could then continue paying off in instalments. That way, the up-front initiative and costs are on him, which will show me he’s serious and willing to sacrifice. Otherwise, I’m the only one making a sacrifice (and now scrambling to make ends meet myself!) and the guard gets all the benefits at absolutely no initial cost to himself.

Yeah, yeah, I know. That’s not the way they do things here in Africa. But nothing asked, nothing gained, right?

His answer? “Okay.” :)

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