Monday, January 9, 2012

Above & Beyond the Call of Duty

It was quarter after six in the evening on the night before New Year’s Eve when there was a knock on our door.  It was Benjamin, our day guard.  His shift normally ended at 6 p.m.  “Is Laurent coming?” he asked.  Laurent was our replacement guard who came on Friday night so our regular night guard, Harouna, could have one night a week off to spend with his family.  “He’s probably just running a bit late,” I replied, “so go ahead and go on home.”

When Benjamin had gone, I pulled out my cell phone, looked up Laurent’s number and called him.  After several rings, he answered.  “Where are you?” I asked.  “You said you would work tonight, remember?”  Religious holidays are always a difficult time for us guard-wise because the guards also want to spend some of these holidays with family, either here in Ouaga or in their home village.  We manage to work around this most of the time by having a Christian guard, a Muslim guard, and a couple of replacement guards.  Often, they are willing to replace each other on their respective holidays.  But both Christmas and New Year’s fell on weekends in 2011, making things additionally complicated.  When I had spoken with Laurent earlier in the month, he had indicated that he would be going to the village for Christmas, and so would not be available on the Friday before Christmas Eve.  Fortunately, our Muslim night guard indicated that he would be willing to work that night.  But Laurent had said that he would be back to work on the Friday before New Year’s Eve, and I took his word for it.

“Ooops!” answered Laurent to my inquiry.  “I’m actually still in the village.  Sorry, I forgot.”  Well, this left me in a real pickle.  There was no way I would be able to get any other replacement guard now!  So I decided that we’d just have to pass this one night without a guard.  I estimated that chances of someone jumping the wall and trying to steal something for one night pretty small.  Nevertheless, I removed anything of value from our vehicle, brought inside anything of value that we had out on the veranda, and made doubly sure that all our doors and windows were securely locked or fastened.

Just as I finished, Benjamin, our day guard, called me.  “I just talked to Laurent,” he said.  “He’s still in the village!”  “I know,” I replied.  “So what are you going to do?” he asked me.  “We’ll just do without a guard tonight,” I said.  “Not a good idea,” he answered, “I’ll be right over.”  “You can’t do that!” I said.  “You’ve worked here all day, and it’s not safe to leave your family alone at night!”  But he had hung up.  Benjamin used to work a few nights every week until several years ago when thieves broke into his home, stole anything of value, and threatened his wife.  After that, he didn’t want to work nights anymore.  We couldn’t blame him.

When Benjamin arrived at our place in less than 15 minutes, I again expressed my concern for his family.  He insisted that they would be alright this one night.  But, he said, this is no time for us to take chances.  It was the holidays and people were looking for ways to get money.  Since we were seen as rich foreigners in the neighbourhood, Benjamin was convinced that if we did not have a guard, even for one night, that might be just the chance someone was looking for to jump over the wall and steal something that they could sell to get some money.

We were really touched by his concern and his willingness to sacrifice a night with his family after already spending all day here as the day guard.  That night, as we sat down to a late supper, we thanked God for our two main guards, Benjamin and Harouna.  Each has faults that sometimes drive us crazy.  But they are faithful beyond the call of duty, and that is something no amount of money can buy!