Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The benefit of having allies

I’m a sweet, easy-going person and I like everyone I meet... except Sister Suzy. I don’t like her.

The other night at dinner I wanted a hot drink, but the table where the tea, Milo (hot chocolate), and sugar are usually kept was empty. Sister Dorothy helped me find the tea, which had been hidden in a drawer. Sister Suzy announced that she had packed it there because of the ants (which, incidentally, aren’t a problem if the lids are screwed tightly on the jars). The next night, I looked in the drawer, but the tea wasn’t there, either. Sister Anne found it locked away in the little cabinet under the TV, and gave some to me. This afternoon, I was quite hungry for lunch, but Didi was still pounding the fufu and I didn’t think it would be ready in time for me to eat before my next class. Usually when this happens, I take tea and bread for lunch... but today, I couldn’t find it anywhere. The table was empty, the drawer was empty, and the cabinet under the TV was locked and no one knew where to find the key. I knew Sister Suzy was responsible, and I felt such resentment for her, although I didn’t think she had locked it away on purpose. I assumed she was just being thoughtless in packing it away without considering that some people take tea during the day.

Oh, but tonight! She was sitting on the sofa behind me, watching TV, and I asked her where the tea was.

“Why do you want tea right now?” she asked.

“Because I like hot drinks,” I explained.

“It’s with me. I packed it away so it doesn’t finish,” she said. (Yes, that is how Ghanaians talk. They use the word finish much more often than necessary.)

“Oh,” I said, confused, and turned back to my spaghetti. I had thought the tea was for everyone to use... I hadn’t realized it was just for her. Before three nights ago, the tea and Milo and coffee (if we had it) were left out on the table all the time, for anyone to take, although usually only Sister Juliana or I take it at night. After a few minutes of thinking about it, I turned around again, and apologized. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize the tea was just for you. I thought it was for everyone.”

“It’s for everyone, but I’m managing it. I don’t want it to finish before the end of the month, or I’ll have to pay for it,” she said.

I suddenly understood. It must be her month to manage the food budget. I remember Sister Bibi explaining it to me once, that they take turns being responsible for the food money, and if they’re not careful, they may use up the money before the end of the month and have to compensate with money from their personal allowance.

“Oh, okay. Do you know where the Milo is?” I asked.

“The Milo is also with me,” she said.

“Can I have some Milo, then?”

“No. It will finish,” she said.

“Oh, okay,” I said, feeling somewhat abashed.

I was a little bit disappointed that I couldn’t drink tea that night, but that’s not why I was upset. I just couldn’t believe the way she handled it. Instead of just explaining that she mismanaged the money and that there was only enough tea to take it once a day, she hid the tea from me, locking it away in a cupboard, as if I were a five-year-old child. Wow. She seriously treats me like five-year-old... as though I’m not really worthy of notice or intelligent enough to have a conversation. I stared at the television set, pretending to be interested in the news, but really just wanting to avoid eye contact with anyone in the room because I felt like I was about to cry.

I overheard Sister Dorothy giving Suzy some money and telling her to buy some Milo, sugar, and powdered milk for me, so that I could take a hot drink at night. I was really, really touched by this. Even though Sister Dorothy can be an absolute bat sometimes, she has always been an ally, and I’m grateful she’s around, especially now, when almost all of my other allies are gone.

Suzy took out some of the Milo we already had for me to drink. As I sat at the table, blowing on the hot water to cool it down, I felt like a spoiled grandchild. Yes, it was nice to take a hot drink after dinner, but that’s not why I enjoyed it. What I enjoyed most was the feeling that yes, even though I’m living in a freaking convent in the middle-of-nowhere, Africa, I’m still surrounded by people who care about me and, somehow or another, my needs will all be met.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Sister Susy doesn't like those who are not nuns living in convents; always outsiders to her...just supposition mind you.