I know I spend a lot of time talking about the weather on this blog, but the rains are finally here! We think!
We had one day of rain last week and are now in the middle of a beautiful thunderstorm that has gone a long way in cooling things down. Afternoon thunderstorms are great.. but afternoon thunderstorms in Malawi are spectacular…
So while I listen to big fat rain drops spilling from the sky outside, the rustling of leaves and the soft roll of thunder, I can tell you about how I spent last Friday.
The NGO that I work for does wonderful, creative development work. My colleagues are the best and brightest in Malawi and I love my job.
As wonderful as the organization is, it has not been immune to the economic downturn facing most of the world these days and as contracts end, people are being let go. This, combined with confusing new legislation about pension reform, has created a messy environment for Human Resources. Anyway, the employees whose contracts ended were frustrated by the lack of clarity on their severance pay and management was frustrated by conflicting information from lawyers, bankers, and bureaucrats. It left the former employees and management at a standstill.
Friday, the former employees decided enough was enough. After five months of back and forth, it was time to force a decision. So about eight of them came to the office compound and locked the massive gates that surround the building. As security is such an issue here, the gates, massive brick wall and electric fence around the property are pretty impenetrable, meaning we were trapped inside.
Their next step was to cut off all the power. No power, no generator, no computers, no internet, no fans – in this heat! Then they basically staged a sit-in in the Executive Director’s office.
Most of us were just really stunned – surprised that the frustration had reached the level of hostage taking. I think I was more unnerved than most as so often and so sadly, locked doors and instability can lead to violence. Here in Malawi though, the worst they did was to deprive us of internet (no Facebook or YouTube – for hours!).
After several hours, a colleague got frustrated enough to jump in his pickup truck and ram the massive locked gates. He reversed and backed into them about 6-8 times before they broke open. His truck and another car got out before the disgruntled employees relocked the gates. I wasn’t quick enough.
Taking pity on me, the gardener led me through the wild wilderness that is the property’s second lot and had me shimmy under the now defunct electric fence (they’d cut the power to that too) and I made my escape.
A few other people also escaped that way. Everyone else, though, especially those who had cars trapped in the parking lot, were stuck there until late in the evening. My boss called me that night when they finally reached an agreement and were released. She was so tired and hot, but mostly just hungry.
So, you have to really admire everyone in this scenario – the management was patient and found a solution without calling the police; the disgruntled former employees felt they had been patient enough and finally got attention without violence. And I have a good story to take home with me, of being briefly held hostage in Malawi. Of course, as I get older, the story will definitely get more dramatic… “and then, after surviving for hours by eating mangos from the garden, I had to MacGyver a tiny explosion as a diversion….”