Who guards the guards?

Our night guards continue to cause consternation. Usually, people here who are perceived to be wealthy will employ someone to sit outside their house during the day, and someone else for the night. In our case, the Mental Hospital supplies our house with a rotation of guards doing roughly twelve hour shifts each. Vincent was replaced by Patrick who was replaced by Laston, and so on. The guards are a cheerful and extremely helpful bunch, though their main role seems to be to open the front gate when a car hoots outside. They also knock on my window after lights out if any of the doors are unlocked – which is a great service. They are unlikely to be very effective in any physical struggle, and we think that it is the mere presence of somebody sitting outside which may be a deterrent. Most volunteers and expats here suggest that a guard is necessary for that purpose, and add that in the very rare cases where houses are robbed, it is usually by a gang of burglars who would simply overpower (or scare away) a single guard. A volunteer reported being woken one night by the guard’s desperate knocking on the front door to be let in, as there was a prowler in the garden.

The guards stay on duty until their replacement arrives, which is the root of our current problem. Our current gentleman sitting dutifully outside is extremely ancient, with greying beard and hair, and wrinkles scrunching out from his eyes when he smiles. All of the guards are polite and helpful, offering to carry any bags we might be holding when we walk through the gate. This gentleman however takes deference to a completely new level. After opening the gate he steps back and stands to attention for us to enter, bowing his head and shoulders as we pass. I go through the customary greeting in Chichewa, which he answers as if it is the greatest honour. After carefully closing the gate he returns to sit upright in his chair, which is positioned optimally to keep an eye on the front and back courtyards. When I take him a flask of tea or some sandwiches, he briskly approaches me so that I needn’t walk out too far to him, and before he gratefully accepts my meagre offerings, he formally bows his entire upper body till it is horizontal, keeping his arms stiffly at his sides. I would love to be able to chat to him, to relax him and show some interest, but he doesn’t speak a word of English. I tried to engage him in some conversation a few days ago by asking his name. He told me he was Lex, and then proceeded to tell me much much more, while gesturing to the house and the gate and himself. It was something about his work, but I didn’t understand a word. He carried on talking and gesturing, and I carried on umming and shrugging, but he wouldn’t stop talking. Eventually, tragically, I had to turn my back and walk away apologetically, while he chatted on behind me. Maybe he was unhappy. I hoped not. He is such a pleasant fellow.

Lex (taken in December during rainy season)

Lex (taken in December during rainy season)

We are worried however. Lex’s replacement guard didn’t arrive yesterday, nor today. But Lex did not desert his post. I doubt he even considered it. He has been on duty, sitting outside our house, for almost 48 hours now. Opening our gate for us, guarding us, keeping us safe. What can we do? Steph and Pennie are sure this breaches any number of health and safety regulations. I would like to ask him what’s going on, but fear a repeat of my previous attempts at communication. Instead I take him an extra bunch of bananas with his flask of tea, as he has already had his macaroni with a stuk wors (piece of sausage). He is sitting quietly in his chair, gazing up at the stars, looking contemplative and untroubled. I’m almost disappointed when my crunching on the gravel pulls him from his reverie and he approaches me briskly. He bows to the ground before I carefully hand him the flask and bananas. I look at him with some deference myself, and sigh. We might as well run through the usual greeting.
“aLex muli bwanji?” I say, using the respectful form of his name.
“Ndilibwinokayainu?” he runs it all into one in his enthusiasm.
“Ndili bwinonso.” There is much more I’d like to say.
“Zikomo.”
“Zikomo.”
It’s just another working night for Lex.

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2 Comments »

  1. Matt said

    Hey dude,

    had a go on hugin the other day, great results, much better than photoshop, thanks for the tip.

    That story about the guard’s sweetly hilarious – maybe he’s trying to get you to check him into the hospital

  2. […] next to pillow, untangle self from mosquito net, stumble to back door. Three men, including Lex, standing there. Sight of Lex puts me at ease a little, as he seems to be there voluntarily and […]

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