December 24, 2007

Don't Quit Your Day Jobbie

For anyone with a tragic lack of seeing The Painted Veil, Edward Norton plays a soft-spoken but determined character that has to fight cultural norms to avert a cholera epidemic in colonial China. Minus the colonial China, that’s pretty much what mom does here at Arco-Iris.

With a formal education in nursing and Christianity, she’s made an impressive transition from missionary student and clinician to public health officer for the entire compound of over 500 people. With over 300 of those residents being orphans not acquainted with modern standards of hygiene, the onset of the rainy season (around now) is usually accompanied by the medieval-sounding ‘cholera plague’.

Luckily for her, this place teems with kids wanting the ubiquitous ‘jobbie’. In fact, it’s almost become my mom’s surname, like: “Mama Linda! Jobbie?” As such, she cuts costs on all her projects by hiring one or two responsible people, then giving all grunt work to village kids (ones that don’t live onsite) desperate for something to do. She pays them pitiful wages, makes each work day a lesson in moral fortitude, and for some reason they absolutely love it. What I don’t understand is how she can put up with the hassle of working with these kids: they steal, fight, lie and cheat each other like that’s their jobbie. I can’t count how many times mom has thrown up her hands saying “Ugh, no more jobbies!” A cudgel would have made a fine Christmas gift, I think.

The kid that waters plants only does the ones he knows get checked. The latrine shithole diggers, in a rather intrepid move, have sub-contracted their wage to even younger kids who’ll work for less. Construction workers bribe the guards to let them steal materials. Cash payments are cynically ‘lost’ within hours. A work pair that got paid together fought so much over a single bill that it actually ripped in half. Someone with access to the compound has been stealing gasoline and threw a dead cat in the drinking well.

Each screw-up comes with a maternal morality check that reminds me of how I was scolded for misbehaving as a child. The lectures are almost word-for-word. Maybe it’s that sense of evergreen motherhood that gives her the patience to give jobbies to even the most incorrigible children. With the corrosive influences they have in the village – alcohol, idleness, abuse, neglect and like – hopefully the life lessons they learn on the jobbie will make up for their minimum wage.

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