Mma Machete is old. Really old. Older-than-all-of-the-nations-in-Africa old. But, like with many people, her “oldness” is more about her attitude than her age – compare her, for example, to my grandfather. In human years he might even be older than Mma Machete.* But he has as much fun as any eight year old I know.
Mma Machete is a social worker at the Holy Cross day care centre, and has been from its founding in the early 1990s. By her own admission, the day care centre is her “family.” Despite having spent three months in a diabetic coma in South Africa, she returned this fall to finish out her contract, and kicking.
Which may be why, in what I have learned is her typical approach, Mma Machete upbraided me last week for working on the inpatient hospice rather than helping the day care centre (“Jesus knows what you are doing!”). I calmly and politely reminded her that I had been asked to do this work by the Holy Cross Board of Trust, and that she was not, in fact, my boss.
Now, given the respect for age here in Botswana (see previous post), any sort of back-talk to an elder is the height of rudeness. At the prodding of a friend’s father I went back the next week to Mma Machete, determined to apologize and ask her forgiveness – not least because she has valuable knowledge about the hospice’s relationships with local donors.
As I walked into her office, however, Mma Machete looked up at me, bristled, and said,
“Who ahh YOU?”
Convinced that she had finally tipped off the cliff, I thought I had a chance: if she can’t even remember me, she won’t remember that I spoke back to her. Right?
“Mma Machete? I’m Mark, the-”
“Who ahh YOU?”
It dawned on me that the old badger had not in fact forgotten me, but was simply being an old badger. I continued an attempt at an apology; having come in with a mission, I was not ready to abort quite yet. But I could not get a word in edgewise:
“You ahh rrrude, and I am not going to speak with you until you leave my cohntrrry.” Get ouut of my office.”
I scratched my head and walked out. I was immediately consoled/laughed at by the kitchen staff, who could read the entire affair on my face as soon as I exited Mma Machete’s lair. They filled me with bush tea and stories of Mma Machete’s belligerence, and I left the hospice considerably buoyant.
*named changed to protect the innocent (namely me, from Mma Machete).