The day that I decided to take in a couple of boarders I could not have imagined what the eventual outcome would be. I did it simply to help with the family budget. I didn’t think it would hurt because, while they didn’t have money for their board and lodging, I did agree that there were other ways they could help me out. They could clear up around the yard, do some gardening and they promised to supply fertiliser for the gardens and even contribute food for some of our meals. Over the years, my gardens had turned into a jungle, totally unkempt and out of control. While I rather liked it that way, it also was a potential hiding place for snakes so I was happy that the boarders were unfazed about working amongst the heavy undergrowth.
The “boarders” as I took to calling them began by doing their job with a vengeance. They didn’t always honour their promise of contributing food for our meals but they made up for that by working hard in the gardens and with regular application of fertiliser everything was flourishing. I was starting to realise that, where the gardens were concerned, there was definitely light at the end of the tunnel.
I thought, “If two boarders can do this much work, how good will it be if I get a few more?” I had plenty of room so I hopped on Gumtree and, sure enough, there were a couple of ads that looked promising. The word soon got around that I was pretty easy going and working for their room and board would be a bit of a doddle. More boarders arrived. My shade house which had been so overgrown with weeds that I hadn’t been able to enter it for a long time, had clear paths through it now and most of the weeds were gone. I was over the moon. Occasionally, the boarders didn’t recognise a plant from a weed but I accepted that as an honest mistake and most of my plants remained unmolested.
I was quite enjoying the boarders’ company. We spent a lot of time together and I soon began to remember their names. English wasn’t their first language but they were pretty good at making themselves understood - especially amongst each other. I’d hear them chattering away all day, and into the night. The boys could get rather rowdy, though, and I did worry that the neighbours would complain. But luckily I have great neighbours who understood my circumstances.
The boarders were a very diverse lot – talk about multiculturalism. We knew all about that here at my place. Before long amongst this eclectic group was a South American couple who were a bit snobbish - the boy strutted around as if he was royalty while his girlfriend preferred to work on her own; there was a group of Indians who got about their job quietly and seemed to treat their work as a fabulous game; also joining us was a group of Chinese boys and girls who were sweet and loveable and full of fun, one young Chinese boy was a bit useless but he kept us amused with his antics; three nice clean cut young Americans and last but not least some great Aussie kids. Then one day I heard of some African kids (two girls and a boy) looking for somewhere to work and live. They settled in and immediately got to work but I soon realised that I now had a lot of boarders living here and it was getting a bit overcrowded. And my food bill was astronomical. I had to draw the line.
Most of my boarders did their jobs with little grumbling, although occasionally I’d hear a bit of a fuss and one of the girls would storm off in a huff followed by one or more of the boys. I know, I know - young boys!! A bit randy but the girls were quite good at rebuffing their advances. For the most part they all got along pretty well. They all shared their sleeping accommodations and lived and worked happily together. The Africans associated with the others but never quite became part of the “gang” if you know what I mean. They slept and ate together with the other workers but while there was no nastiness or arguments their one and only real friend was an Aussie boy, who took them under his wing soon after their arrival and became their protector. It seemed a very unlikely friendship but it seemed to work for them.
While most of my workers were quite good looking, (many would even win a beauty competition) the poor Africans were a bit lacking in the looks department. Not that this should be a concern, but I often wondered if they felt insecure and that’s why they didn’t join in the fun with the others. Sure, they did their job well, but occasionally one of them would disappear for a week or two. No explanations, no “I’m sorry”. They just turned up again and got back to work. I was surprised at just how hard they did work, even going until after dark – which I certainly didn’t expect from anyone. I couldn’t have been more pleased with them.
I never suspected any hanky panky between these three so I was a bit surprised when I discovered that the two girls were both expecting. I didn’t like to ask if the boy was the father. The girls slacked off dramatically in the work effort but what could I do? I couldn’t kick them out in the street. Eventually they gave birth and the babies were delightful. I was quite amazed that the girls got straight back to work, taking the bubs with them. I was very impressed with their work ethic.
Months went by. The African boy was very attentive to the girls and babies, looking out for their safety and wellbeing but as a group they still only seemed to have one real friend amongst the others – the young Aussie boy – but apart from him they didn’t seem to care if they were liked or not. Their attitude had changed after the babies arrived. As the babies grew, the parents no longer seemed to want to associate with the rest of the workers at all. The Aussie boy was the only one allowed to be part of their little group.
To make matters worse, the Africans had brought in more of their compatriots and this is where I think our problems began. As a large group they were becoming quite nasty at times and standing over the other workers. They were becoming really disliked and were avoided whenever possible. The other boarders could be hard at work in the gardens and then the troop of Africans would stride in and the others would move away. They were pompous and overbearing. It wasn’t a good look for our happy little home. They still seemed happy with me and didn’t ignore me if I called them. They spent a lot of time in my company which I quite enjoyed. Perhaps they were jealous of the attention that the friendlier kids received.
The other workers were happy for the most part. There was an occasional spat between the girls (jealousy I suppose) but the boys – well, you know what boys are like – always strutting around with chests puffed out trying to impress the girls and proving they are cock of the walk.
The boarders didn’t have to work 24/7 of course. They had plenty of free time just to relax. The Indians took advantage of the swimming pool and spent a lot of time in it. But as soon as the Africans saw anyone taking it easy, or just walking from A to B, perhaps over to another group for a chat, they marched in like storm troopers and the others scattered. That was with the exception of the Indians who did their work well and without complaint, weren’t demanding as to the menu, went to bed at a reasonable hour and if harassed by the Africans they didn’t get into an argument, they simply ignored them. They seemed to have the answer as the Africans then walked away.
I started getting annoyed with the Africans. Now that there were so many of them they seemed to feel that they didn’t have to work the allocated area as hard as they once did, spending a few hours in the morning and evening at work but the rest of the time they just wanted to loaf around, bossing the other boarders and eating. As far as I was concerned, there was no place here for freeloaders. I stated my case. “Do your work and stop being so bossy or you will have to leave.” This morning I walked inside and there they were, feeding their faces with food I’d put out for the others. “No work, no food and lodging,” I yelled at them. They just looked at me, (I am sure they shrugged) and ambled slowly outside. Like a tough little army.
Realisation finally dawned. The Mafia was living at my house and there seemed to be nothing I could do about it. Since the arrival of the other six Africans everything had changed. There were far too many. A few extras would have been okay but no more than that. Sadly I didn’t know how to make any of them leave. If I tried to talk to them, they simply walked away, glaring at me with those fearsome eyes. I must admit, however, that although they try to laud it over the other workers they have never had a harsh word to say to me and always treat me with the utmost respect.
Historically, it’s always been a case with the Mafia of pay up, or else. What could I do? I tried refusing them entry inside but they ignored me and just came and went whenever they felt like it. They are still friendly with me but remain determined to follow their own course.
Strange as it may seem, I still love these guys. Ugly they may be to some people, but not to me; cranky and bad tempered they may be, but not to me; stand-over merchants they definitely can be, but once again not to me; so I still have a place in my heart for them as much as I do for the rest of my various ethnic groups living here with me. Patience - I guess that's what I think is the answer when members of your 'flock' get a bit out of control. I've probably taken the long way round to make that point. But that's it - patience and lots of love.
Photos: Americans - Silver-laced Wyandottes; South American, 'arry the Araucana with some Americans; The Indians, Indian Runner ducks; Some Chinese silkies; An Indian having a splash in the pool; Chinese Pekins; Australian, Red the Australorpe standing guard over three young Africians, Guinea Fowl (the Mafia); South American, 'ariet the female Araucana.