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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
I had help even when I didn't want it, and Santo used the money to maintain his habit.

Submitted: October 29, 2016

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Submitted: October 29, 2016



‘Hodi!’ is the call from visitors to attract your attention and is used instead of knocking on your door. The reply is ‘Karibu’, welcome, not necessarily welcoming anyone to walk on inside, but ‘Karibu ndani’ does.

So when Santo arrived he followed tradition and called, ‘Hodi!’ Then just stood there, grinning.

In rural Tanzanian terms, Santo was among the poor but his poverty was self-inflicted because he was a cannabis user and when he had enough money he drank the illegal, fiery and blinding piwa.

I had been told all about potions and hexes and about how they had affected Santo: He had a very good job and was doing well, but his jealous brother gave him a potion, bought from the local market. The potion apparently turned him into a cannabis user and piwa drinker. Nobody suggested that because he had earned a good wage, he could afford to buy cannabis and booze! First hand, I have no idea of how he became afflicted, but I had dealings with his brother and wouldn’t put it past him! Over time, I came to know Santo very well.

Once when unfuddled by cannabis or booze, Santo had shown me documentation of his work record. It was obvious that he was a bright guy and had been respected. He worked for me on a casual basis for over five years, and even though he had plenty of opportunity, he did not steal so much at a nursery plant, but on the other hand, he was cunning.

Mags did not like fallen leaves lying on our driveway or lawn, even in a third world country, she managed to locate leaf rakes!  This is where Santo had his first opportunity at work. Our driveway was simply hard earth, some forty metres long by perhaps twenty wide and we had what could be termed a ‘yard’ which was also sizable. Whenever there was a wind the big Ficus tree would shed leaves all over the place much to the chagrin of Mags. Santo noticed her raking one day and asked if he could help her.

The other regular job he managed to wangle was to cut the grass at the front of the house using the standard slasher, a length of flat metal with a right angle bend at the bottom that was a blade of about four inches long. I used to keep it sharp with a flat file, a cherished tool that was difficult to replace, so I allowed nobody else to use it.  Of course, as well as the pay at the end of his days’ work, he was fed. During the working week he would eat on our baraza, porch, with Mags and me together with my nursery workers, or in the weekends he would eat on the back baraza. He always washed his plate and cup afterwards. Under the outside tap – not many others ever did that!

There was a mighty Newtonia tree in our yard which towered over our house. The tiny leaves were never a worry, but dead branched fell either when it was windy, or when monkeys frolicked up there eating the flowers or young seedpods. And no, they are not cute! Sometimes I would give the branches to neighborhood kids who asked for the firewood, but more usually I gave the firewood to ‘our family’ up the hill.

Again Santo was quick to see an opportunity. Even though I enjoy cutting firewood, Santo would bring an axe he had ‘hired’ from a farmer up the mountain and he wanted to do the cutting, naturally I had to cough up the hire fee! Indeed he even found (or acquired) wood to sell to me, and then he had the job of cutting it up. The axe though was a hopeless thing, blunt and way too thick but he certainly earned his money, sweating in the shade of that massive Newtonia tree.

Santo was always after my old, cast-off shoes, even if they looked the slightest bit shabby, he would try to wheedle them from me. His own were holed and he would put plastic bags in them to keep his feet dry, or off they were too big. Sometime I would give him shoes, trousers or sweaters, but he never wore them, they were always sold to maintain his dope habit. The same with trees, he asked me for some to plant at his shamba, but we knew that he on-sold those too!

I treasured my weekends when it was quiet, because most of the time someone was visiting or wanting something from me; but inevitably there would be the call.

‘Hodi!’ His grin would be there and he would ask if there was any work. Most usually on Sundays I would say there was not, but he would go through a list, trying, always trying. In the end if he didn’t get work, he would get something to eat or drink. The bugger knew I kept a crate of soda!

Tanzanians like their vehicles to be clean, far cleaner than I would bother with, but if there was a hint of mud on mine he would want to clean it. Imagine in the wet season when I was up to my armpits in mud?

‘Hodi!’  He would be there. But it was nonsense to clean it daily, weekly was more appropriate in the circumstances. This meant taking everything out of the vehicle, because the inside was cleaned too, no worry about upholstery! Surprisingly I could trust him completely to replace things as I had left them! 

Poor old Santo, he would never arrive looking for work blotto, but I have seen him on the road, eyes glazed over like when a frog has that membrane over theirs for swimming. He was a case and often a tragic figure. I think of him often, and in a way, I miss his, ‘Hodi!’






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