Monday, June 2, 2008

Chapter Two - Life in the Third World

Yesterday you got a taste of my working world. Tonight I will write a few things about living in a third world country.

First off, there is the water. In the US, water is plentiful and clean. It may not be cheap, but I bet most of you never stop to think what happens when you turn on the tap; you just do it. Here, water is unclean and you cannot drink out of the tap. That means, when you brush your teeth in the morning or take medicine at night, you have to have already thought about walking to the kitchen and getting a bottle of water out of the fridge before you attempt to swallow that water. We also have something called a water distilling machine. You can get water out of that because it's been purified. That water is room-temperature and is also in the kitchen. The problem in my house is that the kitchen is at the complete opposite end of the house from the bedroom! That means if I want a drink of water before bed or get thirsty during the night (remember I was a runner and I drank lots of water), I would have had to arrange a bottle of water in the bedroom, or take a long walk across cold tile floor in the dark to drink water!

Speaking of running, I miss it like crazy. I feel like a drug addict that has been without a fix for way too long. I have not been running in over two weeks now. Why? Because it's not safe to just run out the front door like it was in Austin. Remember, I am one of a very few white people here and I have a lot of money by African standards. Just by looking at me, you can tell that I am not wanting for anything. I am fairly plump (by African standards), I get driven to work in a fancy American car, I wear jewelery, I am clean, I can read and write, I have a job. Besides all that, I don't know my way around and getting lost would not be a good thing. Also, the roads are terrible for running. They are mostly dirt, uneven, dangerous with cars and people all over, dogs roaming (dogs with rabies and I have not had my series of shots yet because there was a shortage in DC), and besides all that it's very humid here. Basically, imagine running/training at the Texas State fair, as you try to dodge all the people and run over cables and garbage on the ground. Hazardous to say the least! I really really miss running. Did I say that already? Tonight I tried to get some exercise by swimming laps in the pool in my compound. Yes, they call it a compound because the building is surrounded by high cement walls and razor wire. The first time I saw that, it really stunned me. But then I looked around and saw that all the important and valuable buildings in town had it. The cheaper version of razor wire is this: you simply take sharp, broken glass and imbed it in concrete on the top of the wall surrounding your house. It's actually quite colorful and effective for keeping out intruders. I also have guards at the gate of my compound 24 hours a day. NO car can enter without the permission of the guards. As for the swimming, it pretty much sucked. The pool is small, so I swam diagonal laps, which meant I had to swim a LOT of laps in 30 minutes. I miss running where you really get a workout, where you can feel the wind on your body, where you can hear the birds, etc. I hear you can run on the beach here...I'll have to hire a partner.

Speaking of hiring, you do that a lot here. Labor is cheap and actually necessary. For instance, all the fresh fruit and vegetables have to be washed thoroughly in bleach water. Now, I don't know how to do that, nor do I have the time. I work very long hours at the Embassy. Plus, there is the issue of shopping for food. The grocery stores are very small, and don't carry the same things all the time. A lot of the food has an expired expiration date (which I NEVER paid attention to in the U.S.) and the price of the food is really expensive. I don't know how the Africans can afford to eat. Well, actually I have an idea. They don't shop much at the store. They buy most of their things from the road side stands. These line the roads all over town and into the country. The food is left sitting out all day until it sells or something. People will sell a few lemons, a few loaves of baguette bread, some mango, etc. I don't know the price of these items, nor the quality. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing a white person buying these products on the side of the road. We are all worried about becoming sick.

So, the person I hired to help me is named Chris. He is African and he is about 23 years old, I think. He is a friend of the RSO (security officer) at the Embassy. He can read and write, he cooks for me, cleans, does laundry, and will iron if I ask him. Cleaning is very important because things get pretty dirty here; much more so than in the US. For instance, I came home one day and a whole area of the hallway had about a million dead bugs on the floor. I have no idea how that happened, but it's Africa. Chris works 3 days a week and when I got home from a long day at the Embassy last week, he had dinner waiting for me on the table. The house was clean and a candle was burning. It was really nice. Chris can also arrange to have things custom made for me; like chairs for my kitchen table that did not come with the house. Strange to have a table that you cannot sit at, but that's Africa. The Embassy is American, of course, but even we have limited resources. For example, I was only issued two bath towels. That is a real hardship!!! If I take a shower and go swimming in the same day, I have no clean or dry towel. If I go to the beach and take a shower when I get home, then I have no towel in the morning! There are NO rugs or anything, so I just stand in a pool of water when I get out of the shower and hope I don't fall in the slippery mess.

As Dave would say, "all part of the adventure!"

Gotta get some sleep. Hope all is well in your corner of the world. I would love to hear your comments.....please write!



Tom said...

I am so glad that you have internet at home. I will mail you and emergency towel and rug for the bathroom. I bet you are glad I talked you into getting the bottled water from sam's hahaha (even if it will not arrive for 2 or 3 months). Let me know what the house boy job pays & I will submit my resume.
You are missed in my corner.

Tristan said...

Wow. Sounds like fun!
I like hearing this...too bad we didn't get a chance to speak before you left.
Tom said that you found a vehicle that was more appropriate?
Are you able to send/post some photos? LaLa land.