Tales from the Serengeti - Episode 17: "The Story of John"

Posted June 22nd 2013 by: Bob House

This blog will be a bit different than the other blogs. I've talked about animals, the Serengeti, and put down my random thoughts. This blog is about John.

John is the gatekeeper at Eivin's house in Arusha. Most of the houses here, the nicer homes, remind me mini-forts. Each is surrounded by high walls, some topped with razor or barbed wire. Access to each fort is through a locked gate. And at Eivin's that locked gate is controlled 24 hours a day, seven days a week by John.

When you pull up to the gate there's no intercom or button to push to gain entry. You simply wait in your car for John's smiling face to appear as he looks out through a small window in the gate. The gates swing open; first one side than the other. Once the vehicle is inside the compound, John quickly secures the gates and rushes to help the visitors with luggage or whatever they may be carrying. His broad infectious smile covers his face every time you look at him.

John has been working for Eivin ever since Eivin moved into the house several years ago. Behind the main house is a long narrow building that contains living quarters for all the people who are employed to keep the house running efficiently whether Eivin is in town or in Norway. Each employee has a private bedroom. While John has his own room like everyone else he never sleeps there. Instead he prefers to remain in his office 24 hours a day. His "office" consists of a tiny room that can't be more the 3' across by 5' deep. The office is decorated with several calendars including a rather well-worn 2012 calendar, a couple of small tables that can't be more than 2' high, one of which contains a weathered, faded gray-colored suitcase and the other a pillow and doubles as a footstool, there's small place to hang some clothes, and a beat-up high backed chair covered with plastic. A dull-blue curtain serves as a door.

Outside John has a little handmade bench/table and a white plastic lawn chair, something he salvaged the first day we were here and repaired to fit his needs. John enjoys sitting on that old white chair either listening to music or talking on his phone or reading his bible, something he does quite often. When you ask him about his religion he's happy to talk of it and very proud to be a Christian. Sometimes while sitting on the porch, as I'm doing as I write this, you can hear John singing along with the Tanzanian Christian music he listens to. It's also interesting to note that John speaks and reads both Swahili and English.

A person doesn't need a watch or to look at the sky to determine the time of day with John around. If it's morning his wardrobe consists of tremendously colorful pants and shirts. In the afternoon and into the evening he switches to much more muted, conservative colors. No matter what time of day his bright, neon-colored crocs always catch your eye whether he's sitting at his post or scurrying around the yard. Although John is 61 he never just walks but always moves about the compound at a speed-walk pace or jogging pace. And most days he tops off his outfits with a black beret.

Besides serving as the ever-vigilant gatekeeper, John also handles the upkeep of the yard and plants and the general maintenance. While Brad chatted with him today about the vines that cover the walls and John showed him how, over five years time through careful manipulation had gotten them grow the way he wanted them to, he told Brad "some people say that you do the work for pay but I say you work as if you own the property."

When you speak to John or look into his face, you see a man who is proud of the work he does and who is extremely satisfied with his life; something many people in America lack.

Bob & John

Bob & John2

Brad & John

John doing laundry

John's office

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