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Staff loans

If we were operating as a bank, we’d be extremely popular, but a commercial flop. An institution that charges no interest on loans, never expects to be in credit and occasionally lets you off the outstanding balance.

It’s difficult not to feel a bit like a bank at the moment, as we are currently owed 65,000 Kenya shillings (£490) on domestic staff loans. If the askari who also wanted a loan last night for school fees adds another 10,000 the new total will be 75,000/- or nearly £564.00. It’s getting out of hand and honestly, it can be galling handing out cash here and there when you are also struggling to find school fees for your own children in the month of September, and are also desperately waiting for pay day at the end of the month.

The problem is that the relationship you have with employees at home is a close, trusting one and everyone comes up with such worthy, needy requests that you’d have to be pretty heartless to refuse. However, last night when the sixth person asked us for a loan, I cynically wondered if we were being complete mugs (I’m sure our friends here would say we are) and if perhaps; ‘he who has the most heart wrenching sob story gets the most money and the most sympathetic ear.’

Many employers refuse to give out loans on principle, but when bank accounts are not realistic for all employees it’s understandably difficult to save. Plus, you can never plan for the odd family crisis and bit of bad luck.

All our loans have been given for worthy causes (I think):

1. A family member died and this employee needed to contribute to funeral costs and travel home.
2. An employee’s out of work but bright daughter wanted desperately to go to pharmaceutical college, so a loan was needed for fees, uniform, board, lodging.
3. Another employee is Granny to three children, twins aged seven and a nine year old whose parents are both dead, as is their great aunt who was caring for them previously. Each time our employee travels home she takes lots of cash and on arrival she always says the kids are ill with malaria or some such, so there are doctors fees to settle first, before school fees, clothes etc.
4. Another employee is using his initiative to buy land back home, but is running a debt with us to keep up with payments of 10,000 shillings every four months to meet the purchase price.
5. A nightwatchman’s brother, who is a policeman, was ill up country, so he needed money to travel up to see him and pay for medical treatment.
6. The second night watchman needs money for school fees (as does everyone – i.e. the ex-cook, and the recently burgled mechanic).

It’s more complex when the nightwatchmen ask for money as we don’t actually pay them direct (instead we pay a security firm), so we cannot deduct their loans at source but instead rely on the fact that they’ll gradually pay us back and hopefully won’t get transferred to guard another property. If their employers knew that they were asking us for cash they would be sacked immediately.

For our employees, repaying a loan obviously means less cash in hand each month, which then has the knock on effect of us being asked for; ‘kitu kidogo’ (a little something) more regularly i.e. £1.50 for food here or some such. Everyone gets a midmonth advance already in order to help with managing money – this is common practice. So whilst it’s a complete luxury having kind and hard working employees at home, it’s not as straightforward as you might first imagine because often it tugs on the heartstrings - and the purse strings too!

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