Friday, May 1, 2009

Leaving Kenya

In less than a week, Lexi and I (and my mom who has been here for a week) will all leave together to the U.S. It has been a crazy couple of weeks. I have been working frantically trying to get things wrapped up at work so that I don’t leave much hanging for my colleagues. My replacement will not come until August so there will be a gap that they will try and fill as best they can.

In anticipation of us leaving, I wrote Jane a letter just to indicate when her actual last day of work would be as her contract with us goes until the end of May. I told her that I would pay her the full May salary anyway but that I could not guarantee her a job. I think this made her mad as two days later, she gave me a letter from the Ministry of Labour. I didn’t open it right then but did when I got to work. In this letter, I was accused of everything from not paying a fair wage, to calling her the wrong title in the reference letter I had given her, to cheating my employer (she thought my employer paid for my house help). I felt horrible and was sobbing at my desk when the person who brings the tea and coffee things came in to my office. I think he was quiet upset that I was so upset. After consultations with colleagues, we decided that we should get the lawyer involved. The letter indicated that it had been CCd to various officials like immigration and the port – in other words, to indicate that my leaving the country would be a problem.

After review, the lawyer advised that we terminate Jane that day. I felt uncomfortable with her continuing and didn’t have the guts to terminate her either. So the lawyer and one of my office colleagues went to my house to do it; Jane refused to sign the letter accepting the final payment and said we had to meet at the labour office as scheduled in the letter I had received. I did have to come home and tell her verbally that she was fired and she left after that. Mom and Lexi were there the whole time – Mom reported afterwards that it was pretty tense and there was some shouting and lots of negative body language. Lexi obviously knew that something bad was happening as she went to stand by my mom and was very quiet.

That was Thursday. Mom and Lexi managed together without extra help. I felt pretty awful the whole weekend and didn’t sleep well Monday morning. Monday afternoon, the LWF office administrator, the lawyer and I left in plenty of time to get to the meeting which was in an office building downtown that looked like it had been built in the 70s. Out of 7 elevators, only 2 worked and there were lines of people waiting to get on one. So we walked – up 16 flights of stairs. I was pretty out of breath by the time we got to the 16th floor. And we found the meeting room right at the scheduled time. There was a line of people waiting outside this door as well which made us think we should wait. But soon the door opened and the labour officer looked out looking for us. So in we went. Jane was already there.

The meeting lasted 2 and a half hours – much longer than it needed to, I thought. The labour officer felt she had to defend herself – so we heard a lot of stories about similar situations and she kept bringing up rules in the employment act that I had broken. In the end, we ended up agreeing to pay Jane about USD 65 more than I had originally calculated if the labour office would write a letter saying that the issues in the original letter were resolved. I do think Jane did understand that I was hurt – the couple of items I spoke in the meeting, I struggled to keep from crying. But I am not sure if she was really happy in the end or not – even though she was asked and agreed to it. So to finish the transaction, we had to go back on Wednesday to hand over the money and sign the agreements. (Jane had to give her left thumb print as well as sign.) Up and down another 16 flights of stairs for only 15 minutes this time. I am not sure if it was completely wise to get the lawyer involved as I think it made it a bit more complicated than maybe it needed to be. And not that I have paid many lawyers, but it cost about USD 250 for 6 billable hours which sounds cheap to me – though I wish I hadn’t needed a lawyer at all!

So besides those disasterous few days, the stuff we are shipping to the US went this week. Because of cost, it is going by sea and will take around 2 months. Lexi didn’t seem to mind too much that the majority of her toys were being packed up. She enjoyed watching the packers do their thing including building the crate for the items in the car port. We have sold almost everything on our ‘for sale’ list which is nice.

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