February 17, 2005
It occurred to me that although I have mentioned our gardener, Michael (pronounced Mick-keye-el), I have never really told you about him in depth.
Michael is about 68 years old, and is quite spry for someone his age. To tell you the truth, he is not a very good gardener. When I look at other people’s yards, I see immaculately trimmed hedges, beautifully weeded gardens and flowers in abundance. Our gardens are fine, but all the brick edging and plant arrangements were done by Alfred, who works out in the yard occasionally, and trained as a gardener for a year. Plus, the rainy season makes anything grow.
Michael does keep track of things in the yard. The other day he told me that one of our big pumpkins was missing. There had been nine. He harvested one and then there were only seven left. He was not happy. (He suspected the guard but would not say so. He only said, “this was taken in the night.”)
Michael’s English is quite good, so he often translates for us, but he always seems to be asking us for something. “Sir, if I only had a uniform.” “Madame, gum boots, size 8 would help me work better in the garden.” “I am out of brooms, and need 70 Kwacha for new ones.” The problem is that he asks so sweetly and persistently, that we usually get him what he wants. (He now has a uniform, and new brooms, but the robbers took his gum boots, hoe and wheel-barrow – we replaced them all – except the wheelbarrow, which is very expensive.)
Michael is industrious. He always seems to be working. He sweeps the yard constantly. He is always running to open our gate. We tell him that he doesn’t have to run, he can walk, but he continues to run. He just doesn’t get much accomplished.
He is very polite. He always takes off his cap when talking to me or Dan. He calls us “Madame” and “Sir.” If he needs to talk to us about something, he always says, “Excuse me…” And he is always talking to us – and to everyone else. He is one of the most gregarious people I have ever met.
Michael acts as the “host” of our yard. He is the one who lets in the artists and then says, “Madam, Amos is here with his carvings.” I buy them for the Ten Thousand Villages store in Pittsburgh. Sometimes he sits and talks to them while they wait for me to come home. At other times he will also say to them, “She is not here this afternoon, come back tomorrow.” He shows repairmen from the Synod where the roof is leaking, or where the screen door needs to be repaired. He socializes with everyone, making them laugh and smile. He knows everyone by name, and always asks them how their families are and how their health is.
Michael is one of the most caring individuals that I have ever met. He shares his nsima each day with Alfred’s three year old daughter, Dauphrine. It is adorable to see them eating and chatting together. When the baby, Ellen, is sick, he will walk around the yard holding her and trying to comfort her. The other day, one of the young men working on our brick wall cut his hand and Michael brought him over to me so that I could give him first aid.
Michael’s dream is to buy a bicycle, so we gave him a loan. Instead of buying his bike, he used the money to buy a women’s guild uniform for his wife and a 20 lb. bag of ufa (corn flour) for his family. He and his wife care for two orphans.
I see Michael giving away money too. The other day his niece was in the yard with her sick son. Michael gave them transport money to the hospital. Others may have a better tended flowerbed, but we have someone who has a huge heart.
Sometimes I wonder how Michael, who gets paid so little (by American standards – by Malawian standards he has a very good salary) and has to work so hard at an age when people in other countries are retired, has such a good attitude. I figured out what keeps him smiling the other day, when he asked me for one more thing. “Madame, I would really like to have a whole Bible.”
Somehow, I think he will, once more, get what he wants.