Sunday, 1 February 2009

Just a Ramble on Systems

In the Kenyan news today:

"The Nakuru Municipal Council's fire engine arrived at the scene more than an hour after the explosion," said the newspaper, adding that Molo itself has no fire engine.

And I was so surprised when the same thing happened in Kakamega in 2002 or 3 ...

A fire broke out in the employee housing of the guest house which shared our entry lane. I was the first person besides our askari (guard) not living in the tiny shacks to notice the fire (up even then at 2 a.m.and startled by the light dancing outside my high window). I roused everyone in our house and, in our nightgowns, we fought the fire until our plastic pails melted into colanders sprouting water. We knew we could not save the houses but we were trying to prevent the fire from spreading to our building which was hot to the touch.

A crowd gathered at the gate, and told us we were fighting a losing battle. We didn't give up. I phoned again for help.

A fire truck finally arrived hours later. It had been dispatched by the Mumias Sugar factory. When they tried to access the well on the guest house property the technology failed. (They had already been refused water from the Kakamega source.)

I was astounded that there was no public fire protection, but of course I shouldn't have been; almost everything practical in every country I have been in in Africa is done by the people themselves.

Just as garbage is burned because there is no waste disposal system, and roads remain pitted by cavernous holes because there is no roads department, so too fires are extinguished by the people themselves or not at all.

That is not to say there is a dearth of bureaucracy. No indeed. Bureaucracy flourishes there ... and is an impenetrable morass requiring hours, sometimes days, of waiting. It helps to always travel with a novel and a journal in your backpack. I haven't dealt with all of them but the post office, the courts, the police station, the office that dispenses documents like visas and replacement ID all operate with vaying degrees of inefficiency fueled for years by bribery. After the fire, we ( a Kenyan friend who lost everything in the fire and I) refused to pay a bribe, and spent days in the local police station watching policemen sharpen pencils and drink tea.)

In contrast the hospitals which are so short of medical personnel and all supplies that they require patients to come with family members to ensure that they are bathed and fed, are models of efficiency.

The schools too are remarkably competent given the obstacles they face. And believe me, navigating their intricacies is an experience, especially if you are representing children without money.

But it is the purely practical things that just don't get done at all unless individual people do them.

And Africa is not unique. I saw tenants in Mongolia who were repairing sidewalks because it would not have been done otherwise.

I guess the only time we here in Canada experience a bit of that particular Third World reality is when a strike disables our buses or snow plows and we are forced to rely on ourselves and our neighbours.

Living out here in my hermitage I am getting used to the idea that I have to arrange road plowing and maintenance and I have now realized that the only way my garbage will get collected is if I make sure the road is easily passable. I know that I have to rely on myself for water and sewage disposal, and I have to walk a half kilometre to get my mail. There is no regular public transportation here. All of this is awkward, expensive and time consuming but I find it easier to deal with those realities than with the failures of the medical system here in the Outaouais.

On the topic of my procrastination:

The file is proving too big for dial-up. I am going to have to re-think how I post it.

4 comments:

Mud Mama said...

The thing is, in places without things like snow plowing, public transportation, city water etc the cost of living s usually lower too. The property taxes usually reflect the lack of services. Like here for example. Town property taxes are 2500 a year plus a hundred dollars a month for water and sewer. In the country the taxes on a similar property are 400.00 a year and a house costs 100 000 less.

I think, when people are stretched by the expense of urban living they don't have the ability to just roll up their sleeves financially and take on that added responsibility. For the working poor finding time to shovel their streets on top of finding a way to work is not easy

Oma said...

Too much to get into here, but our mortgage is on 50% of the value of the house (which means we were able to put down far more than is usual), and on top of that it costs in monthly payments an additional $500 a month in municipal and school taxes, insurance, hydro, heating fuel, septic pumping, road plowing and snow removal for roof.

That part all seems reasonable to me.

However; in addition, in Quebec, the middle class person pays far more personal income tax, and as a senior citizen I pay far more for health care than I did in Ontario. (Health care that is vastly inferior, I might add.)

It is definitely an expensive choice to live here.

I love my place so I have determined that it is worth the money and effort ... but I recognize that it is way more expensive than other options.

Tamarak said...

I won't get into the first part of this...but with regards to the procrastination bit...you could put the document on your memory key...bring it in here and work on my laptop and high speed (I could even set you up with a keyboard and mouse!)...maybe if the formatting got set up in Word first, then it might upload fine...I write my blog entries in Word and they don't lose formatting...

Oma said...

Thanks Tammy ... I will see what I can do this week.