Friday, June 6, 2008

When a good thing goes bad, or Drama in the homestead

Sierra Leone is a difficult place to feel settled in. You get here, begin to feel like you might understand things, start to make friends, dig into work, create a routine, and then something happens to throw the whole thing into disarray.

Or maybe I'm just being dramatic.

This past weekend my roommate and colleague had a substantial amount of money taken from his room. The only person to have access to the house, other than me, is the young man who cleans our apartment and brings us water. Our "house boy".

Once a week he comes in to the apartment, while we are there, opens the doors and windows and cleans the floors, kitchen and bathroom. He also brings us water from the tap at the bottom of our street. Over the past few months Alhaji has become our friend, and we trust him.

Then something happened. He cleaned the apartment on Saturday and the discovery of the missing money was made the next morning.

We pay Alhaji Le150,000 (or $50US) per month to do the weekly cleaning and bring us water daily. Alhaji also lives in a small room in the back of the compound for free. In comparison, a junior reporter who working at the Concord Times makes Le100,000 per month.

The amount of money taken was, as a former tenant of the apartment put it, "life changing" for an average Sierra Leonean.

With very little else to go on, the decision is made to fire Alhaji, but not to send him to the police. As we have discovered, there is very little chance of getting any 'justice' out of the situation. The money is gone, the police might have other interests in mind and we don't want to have our former friend languish in prison for a desperation move to escape the daily struggles of living in poverty.

As no one saw the theft with their own eyes, and the back door to the apartment was left open for one hour, albeit with three people in the house at the time, a small amount of doubt still hangs over the situation.

We get Elvis, the JHR country director, and our landlady involved. Everyone we talk to points their finger at Alhaji and tells us to go to the police. We again decide just to let Alhaji go, and to move on.

Our landlady Mrs. Morgan takes care of the firing and hires a new person. We are ready to move on.


Alhaji has come back the last three days asking for his last month's salary. He professes his innocence and asks us to go to the police. He is not afraid of prison.

Our new helper friend calls Alhaji a "wicked boy" and tells us to ignore him. Call the police and have him put in prison.

So, here we are. Still reluctant to go to the cops, just wanting Alhaji to go away.

When a good thing goes bad it ain't easy to make it right again.

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