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Jeff - a meeting in Lusaka

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Jeff - a meeting in Lusaka |

Again, we drive over the dusty streets of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia in southern Africa. I ask the driver to turn off at the next street, as I want to know if the Mulele Mwana Youth Skills Centre still exists. And indeed, there is the church tower and I see the entrance with the faded sign: "Welcome to Mulele Mwana" and underneath it there is a Bible quote as "Our Mission": "That they may have life in abundance" (John 10.10). We stop and I briefly go to the guard house. A young man opens the door and I ask for Jeff. "I don't know him," the guard answers tacitly, and when I ask him, he tells me that he has been working here for two years but has never had anything to do with Jeff. As I turn around again on my way back to the car, I let my eyes wander and see Jeff in front of me.

Jeff was the guard who first opened the gate for us when we came here with a group. He was only the guard, he answered my questions at the time, and I only gradually understood that he was not used to being addressed by a Muzungu - a white person in his language. It was only on the second evening that I learned that his name was Jeff and that, as a guard, he was not used to being noticed by anyone at all, let alone being addressed. He was always dressed in a blue suit, a blue mechanic's suit that was too loose for him and held together by a scraped leatherette belt. Underneath, a worn yellow shirt peeked out and when it got cold at night, he still had an old black leather jacket that was also a bit too wide and worn and completely unfashionable. Above all, I remember his smile, a friendly smile turned towards the other person, which fascinated and simply delighted me from the first time I met him.

When we had already formed something like a temporary friendship and he sensed that I was really interested in his life, I learned from Jeff that we were the same age and that he had been working as a security guard for a long time, six days a week each. For 10 hours he sat in (or stood in front of) the guard house, opened and closed the gate and greeted the guests. For this (before the currency reform) he received 300,000 kwacha a month, the equivalent of just under 45 euros. He saved every kwacha for his family, especially for his daughter Elina. When he talked about her, his eyes were either bright and happy or melancholy and sad. In order for his wife, his mother and Elina to survive and to pay the school fees of 300,000 Kwacha per school year, he only had one hot meal a day, walked one and a half hours from his group accommodation to work every day and visited his family only once a year.

The driver honked for me to finally get back in the car. There are many security guards in Lusaka, in Zambia, in Africa, and it would be nice if they had a "life in abundance", as it said on the Centre Mulele Mwana board.

© Siegfried Grillmeyer 2023-01-18


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