February 18, 2010

the imperial gardener

I cower in bed. The banging on the door continues.

It is very early; my alarm clock hasn’t rung yet. Outside, my car is not the cleanest. Yes its true, plastic bags from yesterday’s lunch litter the seat, a few papers. But it is ok and it serves my purposes, and when it gets really bad I will make a plan.

The gardener disagrees. He seems to think the car interior needs cleaning every other day… or the world will come to an end. He is so sure of this that he is prepared to knock on my door at the crack of dawn to collect the keys.

I am stubborn. It is my keys, my car, and my door that he's thumping on. I do not think MY car needs to be cleaned, so I do not answer MY door.

Perhaps I should appreciate his initiative. Without any prompting or request, the gardener has identified a problem, my dirty car. He has decided, without any consultation or dialogue, how to solve the problem. He is keen to impose his solution. He thinks this will be good for me. He assumes that it is what I want. The gardener continues his drum beat.

I do appreciate his good intentions. I do not think this will be good for me. I think I’m in a better position to judge what will be good for me.

I do not answer the door, because I don’t want to explain that cleaning is unnecessary. I don’t want to explain because I don’t want to offend him. I don’t want to offend him because then he may stop opening the gates for me so nicely.

Knock, knock.

The last time I gave in and let him clean my car, he took ages and delayed me going to work. He would say that was because I give him the keys late. I would say that I’d rather be at work on time in a dirty car.

I wish I lived in England, where there are no gardeners trying to clean cars.

Eventually, when I am up and dressed, the banging grows so irritating that I go to the door, I have to tell him something.

He must be pretty pissed off about the delay but he doesn’t show it, he just smiles a greeting. I say 'let’s clean the car tomorrow'. He smiles his assent.

Cleaning the car constitutes a tip-able task. Maybe the gardener really needs the cash. Ah his motives are in question, ah ha there’s something in it for him.

But he doesn’t say anything. Like me, he doesn’t want to jeopardise a working relationship which has the potential to be mutually beneficial.

I have no intention of letting him clean my car tomorrow.

So the power struggle continues, the imposed solutions, the good-intentions, the mutual benefits, the lack of real communication, passive aggressive responses, delaying tactics...


  1. hehehe, soundz al 2 familiar, went thru d same 2day. he actualy complaind 'Ahhh mayi 2 days is 2 much ahh' i like this piece's simplicity.

  2. Dannie Grant Phiri18 February, 2010 16:29

    Eh, why do you want to kill enterprise? Just because of persistent knocking irritates especially in the mornings?

    But seriously, lay down some ground rules. It's lousy being woken up for all sorts of petty reasons.

  3. JK:

    An extension to the parable of the imperial gardener:

    Question: How is the gardener any worse than :

    1. The elected politician, a representative of the views of people, employed to serve the people s/he represents, and take cues from the people regarding what development they prioritize etc. Soon enough initial terms of contract are forgotten and politician becomes benevolent dictator, an equivalent of imperial gardener, calling the shots on what the very people who elevated him/her to power need; what they don't need; how much of it they need; etc

    2. The world Bank, or IMF who, choke-full of good intentions, offer help to developing countries in the form of tied/conditional aid, where they essentially tell countries that need help: what help they need; what help they don't need; when they need help; how much of it they need; and how frequent they need help?

    Inevitable the one who initially sets out to help becomes slave to their own privileges by mistaking them for rights, and nobody wins in this game. Eventually, they who rebel against the idea of the dog walking his master ie rebel against IMF aid together with IMF conditional rules against agriculture subsidies are vindicated and rewarded immensely. The politician elect who becomes slave to his own powers looses votes in the next election and 115 similar stories in 115 electorates, eventuate into a skewed parliamentary composition once again reinforcing the fact that Nobody wins in environments where there imperial gardener is allowed to thrive

  4. So the power struggle continues, the imposed solutions, the good-intentions, the mutual benefits, the lack of real communication, passive-aggressive responses, delaying tactics...

    Sounds like the dynamics of a relationship (friendship, kinship, marriage) till awareness dawns on one or both of the partners and REAL communication comes in about the solutions, the intentions, the assumptions etc

  5. Jess

    FACT:Your car is a tip, he has a point. However, no one should be banging doors early morning.Anyone who has been woken by this knows it.

    Can't you compromise and he cleans AFTER work?!

  6. hiya jess
    i think you should take out any valuables and leave the car open
    dad xxx

  7. imperialism means extending a nation's authority by the establishment of economic and political dominance over other nations... a topical concept for malawi, which depends on donors for over 40% of the national budget.

  8. hahaha... we wish we had gardeners to clean cars.
    If I was a good writer I would write a response on how frustrating it is that my car is dirty in the morning and how annoying it is to find time to go the car wash and the decision of whether to use a car wash or trust the local guys from Afghanistan... which option is most likely to scratch your paintwork and affect resell value...
    but like the simplicity of it... or were you trying to draw attention to something else... the gardener/imperialists perspective would be interesting, what does the other party in the power struggle think?

  9. I liked the topic here, it really took me back to Blantyre.

    I didn't mind riding in a kind-of dirty car, outside or inside. But one of my colleagues mentioned it to me that
    1) I am lucky to afford to have the car that I have, so I should appreciate it and respect it, which is quite true
    2) It could look like the gardener or the nightguard or whoever is doing a poor job or is lazy because they haven't washed your car, others would see and judge
    3) very true about the tip... washing a car or cleaning it is an opportunity to regularly make MK200 or so, adding to a (probably) already rather meager monthly salary. What would you do if you were in the same situation?

    One of the things that drove me crazy in Malawi was the incessant knocking... especially in the early hours! But then I realized it wasn't going to stop if I kept ignoring it, which is why it's incessant, and then it was best for me, at least, to confront it and figure out a compromise.

  10. I found JK's comments insightful, how your story about the imperial gardner is reflecting the attitudes and behavior of a much larger figure: politicians, aid agencies... how interesting that the very same tactics your gardner is cleverly using are they ways in which politicians and relief/aid agencies are manipulating the people.

    I appreciate that your piece of writing came off humorous instead of bitter. It is sometimes easy to slip into a sarcastic attitude about such minor frustrations which effect your whole day. (I speak for myself)

    Thanks for sharing. :)

  11. I liked this, it made me smile, recognising the passive- aggression that you drew attention to, as something that was underlying so many exchanges between me and bank staff in Malawi, me and so many many people in Africa. I can't say I read it as an allegory, in so much detail as some of your friends' comments! x

  12. It's a lovely piece of writing Jess. I seem to feel as though it has something that you could even work into a 'longer' short story - exploring the two characters' different psyches, cultural backgrounds (UK vs Africa), male and female dynamics where a man reports to a 'madam' at home and a woman usually reports to a 'sir' at an office... i am curious to know why he persists with the knocking and cleaning and what he does with the money - you could explore his life away from the usual drab mundane tasks that rule his day like opening the gate, washing the car, etc. to give a peek into another world where he is someone else, playing a difefrent role.

    all the world is the stage but not everyone is an actor - you have a nice simple but powerful recipe in this piece. i really liked the tongue-in cheek approach.

    fiction or reality?

  13. WOW! JK saw a lot deeper than I did! But then, much in life, depending on one's perspective, can be deeper - or is it just more complicated?

    Part of me wants to say "Must you make everything so complicated!?!", on the other hand . . . it seems one of the joys/hazards of an education, or the desire to look deeper, is that it all gets murkier. No simple solutions when you've got the millstone of a conscience!


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