In the beautiful old house where our offices are situated, we have an equally beautiful fairy godmother that magically keeps our coffee cups clean and our desks acceptable, if not organized – Cathy, the cleaning lady from Zimbabwe.
Cathy comes to work every morning dressed for the corporate world and looking like she could easily do any of the admin jobs that I rely on for an income. Soon, she trades her jersey for an apron and she’s off making sure that our lavatory smells like lilies of the valley and that we can see the bottom of the kitchen sink every once in a while. When the work is relatively little or when we grow ashamed of our animalistic ways and decide to rinse off our own lunch plates, Cathy joins us in the office for a while and lights up the room with a radiant smile, witty remarks and jokes that has us all grinning at our screens.
We all love Cathy and as a way of showing her our appreciation, we do the kindest thing possible; we share our food with her. When I get a hamburgers and chips, Cathy gets the chips. When we have take-out, Cathy gets a share off everyone’s plates. When we have meetings and order food, Cathy is counted along with the rest of us to be catered for. Recently, a bunch of us were in the kitchen, warming up our food and sharing it among ourselves and loading up a plate for Cathy. We all stood around, mouths full, chatting casually and remarking that we probably should eat less and work more. And that is exactly when I got to have the immense pleasure of hearing Cathy tell this story…
“When I go back to Zimbabwe and grow old, I will tell my grandchildren about the company that I worked for in South-Africa where they gave me all this food. I won’t remember the name, because I will be old, but I will remember you. And the food. Growing up, there was an old lady in Zimbabwe that used to tell us all these stories about when she was in Cape-Town. She’d tell us about the ocean and the beaches – something we’ve never seen before. She’d say the ocean is like a biiiiiig river that never ends, no matter which way you looked.”
We all stood around, captivated by the story that is so foreign and unimaginable to us. And then, Cathy broke into a huge smile…
“I used to listen to these stories about this great river, and then whisper to my friend, “This woman – haibo. This woman lies.” and we’d both laugh and shake our heads, walking home, sure that the woman was telling stories. And then one day she told us that this giant river was filled with salt water and I stopped believing anything she said. I looked at my friend, shaking my head, and thought, ‘Yoh, this crazy woman. Salt water. Haibo, impossible.’ ”
“But if I tell stories, I’d also tell one that the children won’t believe. a Story where all the white people shared their food…”