Thursday, May 22, 2014

That’s when I knew Martin was more than just an employee

Our askari (night guard), Martin, had been desperate to find work.

He had a young family to feed: his wife, Abigail, and their six-year-old daughter, Mercy (which he pronounced MAW-see). Like millions of others, they lived in one room with no electricity, running water, or toilet.

He eagerly accepted the night guard job we offered him.

Martin worked for us from six in the evening until six in the morning, Monday through Saturday.

When he arrived for his first night of work, I noticed that he trembled. I couldn’t figure out if he was afraid of dangers he might face as a guard, or afraid of us. Working for wazungu (white people or foreigners) has not always been pleasant for Kenyans. On too many occasions, wazungu have treated Africans in demeaning, disgraceful ways.

My heart ached for Martin, but a couple of days into his job, he began to relax.

I prepared dinner for Martin every evening, and, knowing how little food he and his family had to eat, I always fixed a big bowl of meat, beans, rice, and veggies. I also filled a big flask (Thermos) with black tea, milk, and sugar. I handed both to him at the kitchen door. One corner of our house was a small servant’s quarters where he ate and spent time when he was not walking the grounds.

Martin and I and the German Shepherds
He was a soft-spoken young man, tall, good-looking, and as polite as you could ever find.

We had learned during our three-month orientation that in general, Kenyans don’t hesitate to ask for help when they need it because in their culture and according to their Christian beliefs, they help one another: When Family A is in need, Family B helps; when Family B has needs, Family A helps them. 

So I counted on Martin to tell me if his family had needs, and one evening he did. In his quiet, gentle, humble way, he said his family hadn’t eaten any food for a couple of days, so I grabbed canned food, rice, dried beans, and vegetables and sent them home with him.

I was delighted to do so, and told him to always let me know when they ran short of food.

As time went on, though, I had a hunch he hesitated to tell me.

And then one morning at 6, when he headed out the gate, I noticed a white plastic bag hanging from his bike’s handlebars: He had not eaten the dinner I’d given him the night before. Instead he was taking it home to Abigail and Mercy.

And that’s when I knew Martin was not just an employee. He was to become so much more to us than that.


  1. I can relate to this story in so many ways. It is so true that the culture is community minded and people share in the needs of others. I actually grew up like this too. When you exist in a culture like this it is hard for any one person to "get ahead" as we know it in the western culture. I don't think western culture and it's ways of striving is the great goal but I'm afraid that way of thinking has prevailed around the world so then you get the "haves" and the "have nots". Everyone wants to be a "have". It is always harder for the "have nots" especially if the live in a culture where people don't have a tradition of helping one another.

    Anyway this story brought all this up in my mind.

    I'm sure you got very close to Martina and his family. He seems like so many other good, humble Kenyans. I look forward to reading more. xx

  2. You have wonderful insights, Penny, and I'm sure that "getting ahead" is not what God prefers for us, but instead giving to those in need. Our culture has lost so much in being so focused on "getting" and "having" and competing with one another. We learned so much from the Africans!