Adrienne Green: What were you doing before you became a janitor?
Mohamed Zaker: Back in Morocco, I owned a small shoe store with about six guys. I was the manager, and we worked as shoe designers. When I came to the United States, I worked as a supervisor in a bakery for about a year. I was just looking for any opportunity. I had a friend working as a technician [at Harvard], and he inspired me to become a janitor because the job has good benefits and the option to go to school. I moved near the Harvard campus to be a janitor in 2005. It's been 11 years now.
Green: What are your responsibilities as a janitor?
Zaker: Right now, I'm a crew chief. We're responsible for all the things that need to be done in the building, such as setting up for the meetings, cleaning the labs, cleaning the offices, corridors, kitchens, and changing lights. I start at 3 p.m. and work until 11:30 p.m. from Monday through Friday. Sometimes, we'll also have to work the weekends for events.
Green: You met your wife while you were both working as janitors at Harvard. What is it like to work with your wife?
Zaker: It's actually nice to work with my wife. We used to work together in the medical school, and had the same schedule. We would go [to work] together in the same car, so it was less expensive to drive and park just one car. But, now we are in split shifts. She’s at the law school and I'm in other departments. She works in the morning, and I work in the afternoon. We have to take separate cars, and we actually live 45 minutes away from Harvard, so it’s more expensive now to commute to work.
Green: What would you say is the most challenging thing about your job?
Zaker: I’ve seen people [who worked] here for a long enough time, and don’t know how to use certain machines because they are scared and don’t try them out. When I seen a machine, I go online, look it up, and learn about it. Then when I try it, it comes easy to me. Some people say, “Oh, it's not my job. I don’t have to worry about it.” To me, even if it's not my job, I have to learn it because one day, it could be my job.
People think that you just have to empty a trashcan and vacuum, but there’s a list of small details you have to do. You are the janitor, but the work is not really easy. I clean the vase, the doors, and the glass cleanings, wash the trashcans, work with the machines, and strip the floor. If I don’t go through them all, the customer is not going to be happy. For example, if you shampoo the rugs and you don’t dry it the way it’s supposed to be, there could be mold, and people might get sick. If you don’t mix the chemicals for the floor correctly, it’s going to damage the floor and be very ugly.
Green: Do you think that the people you clean up after respect the work that you do as a janitor?
Zaker: Some groups, they do respect me; others don't even know who cleans their area. Sometimes, instead of just throwing the trash in the trash can, they just play basketball: Boom, [the trash] hits the trash can and goes somewhere else. So it's more work.