In the 5 and a half years since we started çöp(m)adam, we have had more than 350 women working with us in different capacities. Some have stayed, and form a core group, that is comprised of an energy and dedication that I could not have envisioned. Others have moved on, for any number of reasons: they find the work to be too demanding, their children are jealous of their time being spent elsewhere, the husbands may insist that they stay at home, they find a full-time job elsewhere, they cannot abide by our make-an-appearance-at-the-workshop-at-least-once-a-week criteria, they are not used to meeting someone else’s criteria and so on.
It’s one thing when a piece-maker no longer wants to continue to work with us, but it’s another thing when one of our ‘office staff’ decides to quit. Resigning from a salaried position is a reminder to me to look at part of the philosophy of this endeavor: if a woman wants to stay at home and be a traditional housewife, that is her prerogative, but should she want to do something else, there should be accessible opportunities. So, if a woman no longer wants to work with us, well, that is a decision to be respected. (Though inside there is a voice that whispers ‘dang!’)
And yet there is an emotional bruising, the result of losing the positive energy of someone whom you thought was dedicated in the workshop as well as that this person did not feel a strong enough part of our family, as it were, to want to continue. The former applies to all of us, the latter too but more so for our ladies than for me. When one of our part-timers recently phoned us all to say she would no longer be working, our ladies were hurt, as they saw this colleague as a core of the team. I saw her as the one who understood me the best.
I saw the resignation coming, but our ladies did not. The morning after the phone call, I called my main staff aside and said that it didn’t matter when they knew about this, I now knew and we would carry on. They learned after I did and were visibly saddened that, in their eyes, they seemed to mean so little to the person they had spent most days with for the past 4 years, a person they laughed and cried with, a person they worked together with for the first time, a person they grew with, became self-confident with, a person they loved as an individual and as a colleague.
She has her own reasons to no longer want to be part of our team. Whether it is that her husband really pressured her to stop working, or that she would just as soon sleep in when she can and not worry about rushing home to have dinner on the table, we may never know. To her credit, she still comes to visit, and her relatives are still part of our piece-making core.
Initially, I thought we should think of who could replace her. My full-timers told me to just slow down and wait. And on the first day that we were left without the person who took care of orders, who ‘translated’ for me to our ladies, one of our full-timers and one of our part-timers, without saying a word, without asking any questions, filled in the void, seamlessly took over the responsibilities. They rose to the occasion, quietly, but with proud confidence. The show must go on.Another day in the life of the garbage ladies.