We met over a cup of tea, at an eerie tea room hotel. She sat adjacent to me. “Waiter, I need a cup of green tea with extra cream, lemon, ginger and no sugar, please”, she made her order. I stared at her as if trying to figure out how green tea looks like, as she glared at the floor, her hands shaking. For about ten minutes after her order was served she still had her eyes fixed at the same place.
“A cup of special tea for me”, I told that short black guy with a pumpkin face. He took out a note book and stood there looking at her, pretending to write something maybe doodling her face, captioning it, ‘life is too short, bitch!’
“What is wrong with her?” He asked.
“Oh! It speaks!” I berated him, “That is not your problem”
“Sina shida na mtu”, he answered.
“Is it part of your job description to snoop into other people’s lives? Well, if so, you see that old woman over that table, she is crying, maybe you want to know what is wrong with her too, but in the meantime just serve me my damn order!”
She raised her hand to grasp the cup, took a sip, cleared her throat, “You know Victor, the reason I joined that organization was because I wanted to be independent, make a life of my own. So I made an application, got shortlisted and called for an interview.
During the interview I asked them a simple question, “How do you gauge and recognize good performance. And what are those most important KPI’s that you use in doing that?” They told me, “You will be answered at the training, that’s if you even pass the interview”. Okay, well I did pass it. At the training they only stressed on how they determine and appreciate good performance. I was not satisfied. So when I was posted to my work station in a remote weird semi-arid place, I tried to survive, I became motivated to gain the appreciation part. But clearly that was a failed mission. You know, Victor, failure is a mentality in the mind of a dreamer but they made it a possible reality before my eyes. And when I failed to prove them otherwise they disowned me, curved my tombstone and decided to bury me alive. My career tainted and my future utterly ruined. They rubbed it on my face, “Lady, here you play by the SOPs, for the SOPs and with the SOPs”. They used me until I was unusable, then dumped me like a pig. So here I’m.
Ideally, I thought by joining that place I would progress professionally to greater heights, but regrettably I have regressed than I could possibly imagine. Over the course of the seven or so months that I was in that company I learnt that there is no place for professionalism there. Professionalism is considered a taboo, a mistake and you cannot thrive on it. Typically it doesn’t exist, a vocabulary you may say. Working there was a waste of talents, resources and brains.
My father warned me, “Ati unataka kuchukua mwili Kitui? Is your brain made of a relaxer? Wee enda tu, lakini nisikie ata ukisema ng’wee, ntakuua”. “Instead of just sitting at home counting days off the calendar, at least I have the guts to do something useful to my career and life”, I answered him back. Little did I know, I would come to regret that move.
I didn’t pursue sales or marketing in campus neither did I have any experience or clue on how to maneuver about it, but I was drawn by desperation to taste the waters. I was totally blank when I walked into that interview and with a five day training I was deemed fit for the job, given targets and cast into the field and expected to perform and deliver to expectation. It’s like throwing an inexperienced swimmer into the ocean and wait for him at the shores. We were given fancy titles, Loan Officer and Collection Officer with a beggar’s pay, paid Ksh 600 bob a day and told not to live together even if it’s to share costs, the job description ruining it all, the work of a peasant – a high school leaver. Two days to the job, someone they told me was to be my pair (LOCO pair), called it a quit. Alone, I survived doing double work without any appreciation or support. When I asked for support they rebuked me that I was not ready to do my work and when I didn’t, they called my work mediocre and admonished me for sidelining them. Yet again I survived, survival became my specialty, achieving my targets, day in day out.
The worst part of it all was collecting money from defaulters, I recall one notable defaulter, an old woman in her late 60s whose head could barely balance on her neck, with cataract, one foot into her grave, yes the one that you had to shout the hell out into her left ear for her to grasp a half of what you said. That one when giving her money knew English with many questions about interests, profit margins, percentages… but when collecting from her she didn’t even understand Kiswahili, leave alone English, claiming she had never gone to school. But now thin as air, you could easily see her weak bones scrambling to get off her skin. She who tells you “Mitoto yangu, mizee yangu ilikufa na mimi ilikuwa migonjwa” But you are forced to harass her because the branch manager will remind you that your job is to give out money and to collect it no matter what. You are not supposed to sympathize even if at a funeral.
We did our best, but all our hard work was sandwiched by one guy. God forgive me, but that self-proclaimed ‘boss’ was a true imitation of the devil, haunting our lives, making a living hell out of them. He forced us to go against what we have been taught all our lives, our values and virtues just in the name of work. Making evil and good the same. And there he sat his job description interpreted as warming the chair, making endless calls to imagined ghosts, admonishing, abusing and backstabbing us. That old imbecile fraudster in over-sized faded mitumba suits, a little ironing could help, counting his years to the death penal, and I mean that literally, converting as many souls as possible to his faith, not ready to go to hell alone. Eyes smaller than his sockets with a natural odor, the idiot who said age is just a number must have been really drunk. You know he once harassed me, then claimed that I cry when angry and cannot handle pressure. He went further to say he wants a male dominated branch because he was more comfortable working with males than females, can you imagine that? The one who ought to be a team leader, lost in ‘power’. A technologically challenged junk, who didn’t even know how to use a laptop or a printer, leave alone using the integrated system. When writing my internship report, that shapeless he-goat was asked which post he could recommend me for, he answered “None”. Not taking into account my effort, hard work and loyalty. He added that, I’m unemployable.
You know that urge to be something, to be someone. The audacity to keep the fire burning, to keep the hopes high even when the promise of tomorrow is not certain. Hope is what makes people going, creates dreams and achieves success. That is what kept our orb rolling until when we couldn’t take it anymore. We resorted to be the pain in the asses. Ours was now to argue, sabotage and insubordinate. The infighting brought down the branch, it killed our morale and spirit. We were left with phrases like “Ata kama hatutafika target, si watatulipa tu”. Just occupying space and passing time. Everyday coming up with stories about our commitments for the day and plan on how to achieve our monthly targets, stories even dogs would laugh at. The first month we achieved 98.5%, went to 125.25%, 103.42%, 94.33%, 84.08%, 66.94% and when I left we barely reached 59.90%. Continuing to stay there was career suicide. Character assassinations, lack of leadership, running the branch remotely, overstepping mandates, doing other people’s tasks, crippled teamwork, favourism, biasness, negativity and gender profiling rocked our lives for the seven months. If you smile they say you’re being rude, if you cry they say you’re emotional, if you look gloomy they say you’re a poor team player, if you fail to achieve a task they termed it sabotage… Inspecting us even on the size of our hair. If you do the right thing he, ‘the boss’, will have to look for a mistake to pin you down with, just because he can’t stand to give credit where it’s due. Divide and conquer. Feeding on assumption and thriving on fear.
I came to full realization when he framed my colleague and they ‘his bosses’ from the headquarters failed to accord him a fair hearing, taking sides and believing everything they heard. He was forced to quit, not that he wanted to but because they gave him no choice. Leaving us to face him alone. That is when I realized we were meat ready to be roasted anytime or before we knew it, eaten raw. I decided that I had over stayed my welcome in that foreign land and it was high time I started packing. Worse of it all after getting me through that shit, they refused to give me my hard earned commission.
When you give it all, endeavor to deliver the best, achieve your targets and people fail to notice, then you are forced to switch lanes, leave a spot that they will remember for ages. A footnote in your career. Now let me dust off my resume and go back to the job market.
"That is my story, Victor", she concluded. “What’s yours? Tell me what you have been up to”. Looking timid with my eyes watery, I drew a deep breathe and started off my horrific tale.