Working and living as an expatriate in West Africa has its perks and its problems. Sometimes they are one and the same. Not the least among these two-sided blessings is the subject of local servants.
Today Africans can watch television like the rest of the world. Today all members of the global village are aware of the customs and cultures of their fellow villagers. The following true story took place in the days when the Dark Continent was a very different place than it is today. There was no satellite television or telephone, consumable supplies were brought in by freighter rather than by cargo plane, and illiteracy was common among the the older members of the lower and middle income population.
Jacob was our houseboy. He could read, but only very slowly and aloud, with a finger below each word. I once showed him a photo I had taken of him and he didn’t understand how he could be on that piece of paper. But he was trustworthy and a hard worker.
My husband, Jean-Alfred, and I both worked in Freeport, which was on the other side of the city at the mouth of a river. We both left early to miss the “go slow”, traffic which funneled through the bottleneck bridge leading to the docks area. Jean-Alfred had a driver but I drove myself. He left at 6 A.M. and I left at 7. Jacob was there at 5:30 to make coffee for Jean-Alfred.
Jean-Alfred rarely took more than coffee in the morning but I had a substantial meal. To make it easier for Jacob I always had the same thing: two soft boiled eggs, two slices of buttered toast, a pot of tea. Jacob was very adept with eggs; he presented them, without shell, in a covered dish. How he managed to get the shells off two soft boiled eggs was something I didn’t want to know.
Came the day when I was getting a bit chubby and I decided to cut back on my food. The eggs purchased in the local supermarket were always small white ones, but I had found large brown eggs the day before and had bought two dozen.
“ One large brown egg,” I thought, “would be almost the equivalent of two small white eggs.”
The next day I told Jacob, “You no go give me two chicken egg for morning time. You go give me one egg. One egg you fix him same-same.”
The next morning when Jacob put the egg dish in front of me he announced, “One egg, Missy. One egg for morning time.”
This went on for several days and then the morning arrived when Jacob came from the kitchen with my breakfast. There was toast, there was a pot of tea. But no egg. He even confirmed the fact with, “No egg, Missy. No egg for morning time.”
I thought to myself, “This is a bit much. He’s telling me what my diet is to be?”
But I was polite. I smiled and said, “No, Jacob, you go give me one egg, him same-same like morning time day before now-now.”
Jacob was equally adamant. “No, Missy. De be no egg for kitchen. No egg.”
Furious, I threw my napkin down and strode into the kitchen. I pulled open the door to the fridge. There in the egg tray on the inside of the door were
two dozen large brown eggs, just as I had arranged them when putting groceries away.
I pointed to them, “An’ wha’ be dat? Dat be chicken egg, no so?”<.p>
Jacob burst into tears. “Dem be egg for chicken, Missy? No, no, Missy. You no say dem be egg for chicken. I nevah see egg for chicken so-so. Nevah!”
NOTE: Some noders have been puzzled by the end of this little tale. One asked if Jacob didn't know that chicken eggs could have brown shells or if he was unaware that they were actually eggs. My answer was: "I've never been able to decide."