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.