Friday, December 9, 2011

La gardienne

About a month ago, I got a new office.   I have a wonderful workspace at IAGU, complete with a real desk, an overhead fan, windows, and wi-fi.  Several days a week, I leave this luxurious space for my less-functional, but preferred, office. 

One afternoon, I was in a meeting with Ousseynou and Bamba, the two head honchos at the pépinière.  We were sitting under a tree and I had my computer precariously balanced on my lap.  We were talking about improvements that could be made to the pépinière and Bamba declared that he was going to build me a table so that I could have an office at the pép.  He went straight to work and built me a sturdy, Eileen-height surface out of recycled wood from shipping crates.  My office is mobile, but is most often set-up under a shade tent made of grass mats, surrounded by tropical plants and stray cats.  The nursery staff regularly bring me tea as I type away on my computer.  Life’s tough.

This office has drastically increased the amount of time that I spend working on-site.  As a result, I have even more face time with the staff and women that participate in the microgardening project.  I have also increased my productivity.  Often, when I loosely arrange a meeting with someone at the pépinière, I can spend a few hours waiting for them to show up.  Instead of twiddling my thumbs or leaving in frustration, I can now work away on my computer while I’m waiting.  And, I am able to better work with Ousseynou and Bamba throughout the day and I can get immediate answers to my questions.  (And, I’m also able to give them constant reminders when they owe me feedback or piece of work.  They have joked that building the table was, in fact, not a good idea at all!) 

But, one of the unpredicted benefits of this field office is that it brings about one of my favourite reoccurring moments in my job: the 15 minutes each Friday that I am left in charge of the pépinière.  Friday is the most important Muslim prayer day, and all my coworkers briefly trade their dirt-stained t-shirts for glistening traditional robes.  One-by-one my eight boys – my brothers, fathers, buddies, and co-workers – tell me that they’re going to go pray at the mosque, but that they’ll be right back.  I respond with the affirmation that I’ll look after the pépinière.  

And for 15 minutes each week, I get to be la gardienne.  This job is pretty easy – even though my boys have complete confidence in me, they don’t necessarily trust the rest of the world, and they lock the gate behind them.  That’s fine with me.  I do enjoy the false sense of responsibility that comes along with the transient title of “la gardienne” but, more importantly, I profit from 15 minutes of solitude in a rare green oasis in the middle of the chaotic and dusty city.

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