The Carpenters and the Rude Man

My foot braked as my eyes beheld the sight. As I drove through a quiet, tree-lined street in Lilongwe’s residential Area 3, fifty to sixty men carried a large, wooden A-frame above their heads, obviously for a large building under construction.

I could see their intended location for the mammoth piece, up ahead to the left. So I eased the car to the side of the road, the perfect vantage to view such a feat of cooperation. The men strained, but chanted, as if the shared rhythm buoyed the heavy, bound logs.

As the carpenters were about to make the arduous turn, a car driven by an impatient white man came from behind me on the street, honking and hooting, oblivious to the complicated and dangerous maneuver underway.

With a few shouts, about half the men dropped their arms from the frame and ran screaming towards the white man’s car, indignant.

He threw the car in reverse and sped backwards past my parked car. Then he whipped an abrupt three-point turn and disappeared down the street.

Cheers rang out from the incensed carpenters as they filed past me and returned to once again lighten the load of their fellow workers. They then completed the turn and carried on building.

(A true story.)


Part of me wants to just let the story stand on its own, with no comment or embellishment. I think from whatever perspective you read it, there can be many embedded lessons and symbols about colonialism, collective strength and unity, liberation theology (though not in the Glen Beck sense of course), the impatience created by the modern world, etc.

But for me, the story speaks directly to us in the international development sector. How many times had I been that other driver? Just wanting to get through to the next stage to achieve those ever-elusive results? Demonstrating my own ignorance and intolerance? Wreaking havoc on what was already underway and unleashing anger as a result?

It occurs to me that sometimes, the most productive thing we can do to help bring about change, is pull over to the side of the road and show our respect.


  1. Full disclosure – the comment above is from my mom. (: She’s the director of the Fillmore County Development Corporation in Geneva, Nebraska. We often joke that our work is very similar. However, the people she is serving all have running water and electricity.

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