July 31, 2008

Frank, the end of the story

Banana plantsFrank working on banana plants

I wrote about Frank, a 23-year-old-or-so, who we had hired temporarily to do some yard work. Frank was a decent guy and relatively intelligent. He seemed really good compared to the other guy that we hired at the same time. The second guy was a serious shovel leaner who did virtually nothing unless El Jefe was around watching him.

We ended up keeping Frank on for awhile as we always have projects. He was pleasant, polite, and very dependable. We taught him how to do the garden upkeep and other things. He helped us with some painting and building some shelves for the garage, as well as the yard work. He helped with blogging, too, as he was always bringing me snakes and bugs to photograph.

One Saturday when I was talking to Frank about what we would do on Monday, we got into the conversation about him going to the US.

He left and was gone for a few weeks and then came back around again to see if we had more work. We hired him back though he was clear that he would be trying to go to the US again in the future.

Frank became less and less dedicated and even disappeared for long times during the day. Once El Jefe caught him sleeping in our car, once in the former maid's room, and once I caught him sleeping in the shade on the sidewalk. What work he was doing was often taking five times longer than it should have.

When it got to the point that the work he was actually accomplishing could be done in a day rather than a full week, El Jefe told him that we didn't need him anymore but that he could come on Fridays to mow the lawn and do the basic yard work. I didn't think we'd ever see him again, but he was able to get a full-time job minus Fridays with the contractor across the street.

thinning tropical plantsThat worked for awhile, then he started missing days with all sorts of weak excuses. He also "needed" to leave a couple of hours early most days. When he hadn't come back for a month one time, we were surprised to see him at the gate one day, asking for his job back. It seems that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was shot in the shoulder by some gang members in the colonia where he lives with his parents.

Being the nice and stupid people that we are, we hired him back again. Not long afterward, El Jefe saw him one day in town walking down the street talking on a L.7,000 (US $370) cellphone. A week or so later, El Jefe was working on something and discovered that a very expensive saw was missing. He was convinced that Frank stole it and there really is no other explanation. Our garage is always locked except when Frank was here. If someone was able to get into the garage, they certainly would have taken other tools as well. Only one tool at a time would fit in the backpack that Frank carried with him, however.

We didn't want to believe that Frank would steal from us (as usual!). El Jefe kept him on for another couple of weeks, but kept the garage locked only pulling out the lawnmower and whatever tools Frank would need that day. Frank swore that he didn't steal the tool. After a couple of weeks he quit showing up.

So that's the end of the Frank story. We haven't tried to find anyone else since then, just as I haven't tried to find another maid.

It's just so hard to figure out. We are in the position where we could help a couple of people at least to have an honest job. It would be nice to have some help, too. Sure, those aren't prime jobs and there is nowhere to move up the ladder. There are no Supervisor of Grounds Maintenance or Manager of Household Staff positions at La Gringa's house that someone could strive for.

But, if you are in a situation where your family doesn't have enough to eat or you can't take your children to a doctor, isn't an honest job with an above-average salary working for decent people something to hang on to? If someone has no education, no experience, no talents, and no drive what else is it that they think they can find? My only guess is that it is a handout. And baring the handout, it is stealing whatever it is in their twisted minds that they think they are entitled to.

Based on this experience and many others, I have finally learned one thing. That is that when an employee starts slacking off or missing work, there is no chance that they are going to realize the error of their ways. There is no reasoning with them and the thought "I better straighten up or I'll lose this job" is NEVER in a million years going to cross their minds. Joyce in Panama wrote an honest evaluation of her experience there − there are so many similarities.

This behavior is a signal that they no longer want to work, that they are satisfied with their life of poverty, at least satisfied enough with it not to make any effort to change it. It is a signal that they'll either be quitting soon and/or be checking around for 'severance pay' that they can take with them on their last day − which, of course, you won't know is their last day until they never show up again.

Most of us would like to believe that all people need is a hand up, a helping hand, a chance to learn and improve their lot in life. I won't give up thinking that, but I'm realistic enough now to know that it is NOT true for many.

No more second chances from me!

Update: I drafted this a while back and we do have a young guy doing some major clean up in the garden right now. He's very nice and doing a great job, but the garage door is staying locked at all times.

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