LESSONS FROM AN OFFICE TYPEWRITER


When one pauses to contemplate progress made in modern technology, one cannot but be astounded by its fast pace. A case in point is that of typewriters which over the years have been quickly outpaced by computers and in later years, computer-like gadgets such as the cell phone.

Yet, when typewriters were in their heyday, they were the kings in each office. The story I am about to recount is set in that period, in one of the Divisions of the North West Region of Cameroon. It was at the time when the regions were still called provinces and the North West had five of them which were Bui, Donga/Mantung, Menchum, Mezam, and Momo. As we know, later Menchum was later split into two different divisions with Boyo being carved out of it and Mezam was also split into two with Nkoketunjia being created out of it.

In Cameroon, ministerial departments are represented at the regional level by Regional Delegates; at the Divisional level by Divisional Delegates; and at the Sub Divisional level by the Sub Delegates. In the Division where the incident happened, an employee had sought permission from his Divisional Delegate to take a typewriter home and finish some work he was doing. The boss duly granted it. Then, no one appeared to have remembered it thereafter.

One day, when the National Radio Station in Yaounde announced appointments within that ministerial department, the said Divisional Delegate was “appelé à d`autres fonctions”. That means “called to other duties”. Sometimes, when that happens with appointments, the civil servant concerned is actually “called to other duties”. But in other cases, despite the announcement that he had been “called to other duties”, he might not be reassigned anywhere else, which meant that all of a sudden he found himself in the middle of nowhere, hanging in the air. That was what happened to the Divisional Delegate who signed out the typewriter.

Since he knew he was no longer the Divisional Delegate, he wanted to make sure everything was in place before handing over. At that point, he remembered that the typewriter he had authorized the employee to take home had not been returned to the office. It was now three months overdue, although it was supposed to have been out for only a night. When he sent for the employee and asked him about the machine, the latter insulted him and told him to his face that he had no right to ask him for the typewriter because he was no longer his boss. “In fact, now that you have been deposed, there is no difference between your level and mine in this office”, he added mockingly.

The Divisional Delegate left it at that, handed over the other things he had in his office and the delegation and then left for his home. In the meantime, a new Divisional Delegate had been appointed to head the service. The former delegate stayed at home but occasionally still came back to the office, this time as an ordinary employee. However, he was well treated by the new delegate who assigned him a table in one of the offices in the delegation. But relations between him and the employee who took the typewriter home had been poisoned.

One day, something dramatic happened. Yaounde again announced appointments and this time the former Divisional Delegate was reappointed. He was not just named a Divisional Delegate like he was before, but this time he was actually catapulted to the post of Provincial Delegate in the same province. Now, he was not just once more the boss of the typewriter man but also that of his boss the new Divisional Delegate. As things turned out, when the new Provincial Delegate visited the division on an official tour, the typewriter man hid himself somewhere. But the provincial boss sent for him and asked him where he had been. He apologized profusely with a lot of guilt but the provincial boss assured him that he had nothing to fear. Later, both men ended by being great friends.

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