We hired Ae, our night guard/gardener, at the recommendation of a VIS teacher, who was friends with his previous employers – a couple who had worked for a charity organization here but returned to the States last year. The teacher said Ae was desperate for work and had been calling him frequently to find out whether any of the new teachers wanted to hire him. Without pursuing any other options, we offered him a job. In retrospect, it’s highly likely the VIS teacher simply wanted to get Ae off his back.
Within the first couple weeks Ae was already asking for a loan. I sought the counsel of everyone I could find (Lao and foreign), and they all responded with a resounding, “Don’t do it!” However, Ae showed Tony his dilapidated little thatched-roof shack and told us (through a translator) that he couldn’t pay his children’s tuition. Saavy little bastard. When it comes to children and education, I’m a big fat sucker.
So, against the unanimous advice of friends, colleagues and strangers, and without Tony’s blessing, I gave Ae the equivalent of $120. He agreed to let us deduct about $12 from his pay every month till the end of the school year. Even the Lao teacher who translated during this discussion shook her head and suggested we take out a bigger chunk each month.
But did I listen? Of course not.
Last week, I gave our maybon Daeng the electricity bill and the money to pay it (about $150, a fortune even to us). Unfortunately, she delegated that task to Ae.
For the next few days, Ae kept trying to tell me something. He made gestures that looked like a bird flying overhead and rambled in Lao. I told him repeatedly to tell the story to Daeng so she could translate, but he acted embarrassed and wouldn’t do it. Finally, I called another Lao lady, who talked to Ae and conveyed his story: He was riding his motorbike to the electric company when all the contents of his shorts pocket blew out. He didn’t realize what happened until it was too late. He claims that’s how he lost our bill, all our money, and his whole salary.
Tony wanted to fire him on the spot, but I convinced him to sleep on it. Neither of us actually slept that night. Tony was seething with anger; I was confused about how to proceed. I feel a constant nagging guilt about our relative wealth in Laos, and I worry about being culturally insensitive. I decided to call our landlady, Mrs. Villay, who owns most of the homes on our block and seems to be the matriarch of the village.
Mrs. Villay lives two doors away, so she immediately came over with an old bill (so the electric company could call up our current charges) and a feisty attitude about Ae’s story. “We couldn’t believe you hired that man!” she said. “He’s not well. He spends all his money on cards. He is not responsible, so he cannot work for you.”
When I told her that I wanted to believe Ae, she scoffed. “He stole that money from you,” she said. “I am sure of it!” She has had her own share of sneaky employees; one maybon stole gold from the spirit house. “When I caught her, she cried and said her baby was sick, but I took her to the village chief and now she has to pay me back a little bit every month,” said Mrs. Villay. “You have to be strong!”
Strong is not a word often used to describe me when it comes to confrontation. Gullible, wussy avoider is much more accurate.
Anyway, this afternoon Mrs. Villay came over to help us fire Ae. Ugh. He turned in his keys and rode off on his moped, and Mrs. Villay said, “I think he’s happy. Now he doesn’t have to pay you back.”
We considered not replacing Ae. However, the grasses and rainforest plants in our big yard seem to grow about a foot a day, and there’s no way I’m going near them with a weed whacker when I know snakes are lurking nearby. So I asked Mrs. Villay if she knew of a trustworthy person looking for work. As it happens, her lovely handyman, Mr. P, has a son who is interested in the job. We hired him 20 minutes after firing Ae.
So Beng starts tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed!