The story of Rachel and Jacob, her sister, Leah and their father, Laban in the Bible has always intrigued me. It tells of how far the world has come from the patriarchal society of the medieval times to the days of the ‘Me too’ movement. If I have to explain the meaning of the ‘Me too’ movement to you, then you probably have not been paying too much attention to the world you exist in and seriously need to get a life. Anyway, the story in Genesis has it that Jacob needed to go hide somewhere to escape the anger of his brother after he had conned him (with the connivance of their mother) out of his rightful blessings. Esau naturally didn’t find it funny at all and was ready to exact maximum retribution so Jacob had to make himself scarce. Jacob himself would later get a dose of his own medicine when Laban did abracadabra for him by making him marry the wrong daughter. Some mischievous friend said it was actually a case of BOGOF (buy one get one free) because he eventually ended up with both sisters. In fact, each sister also gifted him with a maiden along the way but that is a story for another day. Let’s just say if Jacob had been a Nigerian man, he would have thought he was living in heaven on earth, and the 14 years he laboured for Rachel’s father were well worth it. But this story isn’t about Jacob.
It is about Rachel, though not the Rachel of Biblical fame. I had applied for an upgrade waiver in an International Professional Body I belonged to. They requested for a copy of my University transcripts. I reached out to the Alumni Relationship Officer who explained the process to me. I paid the fees and impressed upon him the need for speed as the deadline for submission was a few days away. Long story short, the transcripts never got sent until the Non Academic Staff Union went on strike. I had known I was up against the clock as the notice of strike action was given the same day I applied for the transcripts and I did all I could, including ‘incentivising’ the fellow handling the matter to ensure it got resolved before the strike commenced, all to no avail. They went on strike without sending my transcripts. It was all terribly frustrating. I pleaded with the ‘principality’ for a number I could contact since he was no longer going to work. He was almost dismissive, reminding me “we are on strike” as if he had been given a free pass to the Paradise of Seven Virgins! Eventually, he relented and that is how I met Rachel.
I called the number I was given and introduced myself and my case. After a few minutes, she remembered seeing my file before the commencement of the strike but thought the transcripts had been sent. I assured her that wasn’t the case and reiterated the importance of getting it to the Board in the U.S. immediately. My application was living on borrowed time by then. The pleasant lady was quite upset by the news that my request had been left in limbo. She assured me she would see what could be done. I would however need to be patient as the NASU were on strike. Without further ado, she took it upon herself to track down my file. It was then discovered that though I had paid for ‘International’, the request had been treated as ‘local’ and would never have been sent. I offered to pay a second time just to get it done. Rachel refused. I had paid the correct fees and it was wrong to make me pay twice. It took her five days of going and coming during the strike to finally get it done. At a point, I offered her some money to ‘facilitate her movement’ but she turned it down, insisting she was only doing her job and it would be unfair to take advantage of my predicament. I couldn’t believe I was hearing this from a Nigerian public official!
After I got the message from her that the transcript had been emailed and I confirmed it, I could not thank her enough. I knew she had taken days off her ‘strike leave’ to solve my problem at her own cost. She had to take my file twice to the home of the person that had the authority to sign it. When I asked her how much I owed for her effort, she reiterated that she was just doing her job. I had to plead with her to send me her account details so I could at least refund the money she expended on transporting herself all over the place. She reluctantly conceded. I sent her some money and that was when I got an even bigger shock. It was nothing like I had ever experienced in my life. I got a text back from her saying: “Thank you Sir. I got your message. I am very grateful but it is too much. Please send me your account and let me return even half. I wouldn’t even have taken anything but only that I went to So and So Local Government twice. Please Sir, what you sent really is too much”! I was dumbstruck! This poorly paid, low level public official had just shattered my cynicism about my countrymen and women.
I read the text over and over and just let my mind wander. Why could we not have people with this mindset in positions of leadership? How great would Nigeria be if people could see their jobs as a calling, just like Rachel did? In the several exchanges I had with her over the course of about a week, not once did she mention God or Allah or any religious phrase to me. At best she would say to me “don’t worry Sir, I can assure you, it will be fine” whenever I expressed any anxiety about how long the process was taking and how I might lose the opportunity on offer. She just had a calming reassurance about the way she went about things! She didn’t know me. I am sure I had left the University long before she was ever employed there. My names were not commonly borne by people of her faith so it wasn’t a matter of helping a ‘brother in the Lord’. In fact, my names would suggest that I was of ‘that other religion’. I obviously was not of the same ethnic stock. Why then did she go out of her way to treat my case the way she did? Simple: she was just a good person.
I sent a text back to her, appealing that she keeps the money and buy a gift for herself or her children. I made her understand that it was not payment as I could not afford to pay for her kindness to me and her dedication to her work. I would however be very thankful if she did me the honour of accepting my gift. She replied to me: “Thank you Sir. May God replenish your pockets in Jesus mighty name”! And I said a loud ‘AMEN”!
– Bakare is a public commentator