Saturday, May 7, 2011

Reality of living in Africa

   I can remember years ago Nelson Mandela giving a speech saying that "All Africa is one."  In some respects I think he was right.  Despite the cosmopolitan appearance of some African cities, like my favourite city Cape Town, there are some frustrations which still raise their annoying heads.  It doesn't matter if you live in the wop-wops or in a modern city, there are just some things that you will experience.
Like African Time.  I have lived and traveled in many African countries and this seems to be a consistent feature.  You might be in a hurry but that will mean nothing to the person you are dealing with.  This was brought home to me yesterday when I was buying internet data for my dongle.  The assistant took my dongle and removed my simcard, then proceded to help a few other people who jumped the queue and brought him their phones.  Then he stopped working while he flirted with a female customer waiting in another queue.  The flirting ended when his mobile phone rang and he took a call which must have been entertaining as he laughed a lot while talking.  Another assistant came to him and perched on the edge of his desk for a quick chat that took up his attention for about 10 minutes.  Before you know it an hour has gone by for something which should only take 5 minutes tops. 
My new kitchen is another example of the wonders of African time.  A one week job tops took 2 months to complete.  Instead of arriving with all the toold that would be needed, they come to look at the job to see what tools they will need.  You wait about 5 days for them to return with the tools.  They start the job and then they say they are going off for a tea break.  They return a week later and all that time you are having to keep the contents of your kitchen on the floor as they've removed the cupboards.
It doesn't help voicing your frustration as that will make them go slower.
Then you get the queue.  We are taught to wait patiently in a queue for your turn to come.  While some do this, others saunter nonchalantly to the front of the queue and ask a question.  Then before you know it the assistant is helping them.  What gets me is that everybody accepts this and nobody complains  That idiot has pushed to the front of the queue and nobody seems to mind!  Yesterday I spoke up.  "Excuse me, I was here first."  The culprit smiled, nodded his head and then moved in behind me in front of the others who had been waiting patiently.
Driving is another frustration.  Mini bus taxis stop wherever and whenever without indicating and the onus is on you to take quick action to avoid a collision. 
And then of course there's the corruption.  Anybody who finds themself in a position of power or authority must do a Bribing 101 course.  In Tanzania you give someone money and you get a driving licence.  You don't even have to do a test.  You need a safety sticker for your car?  Give someone some money and they'll pick up the sticker for you.  Your car doesn't have to be present for the roadworthy check. 
Despotic leaders and civil unrest seem to dominate the news.  Child soldiers, AIDS epidemics, it all seems quite scary. 
But the most amazing reality of living in Africa for me is the people's ingenuity and disregard of danger.  If they need electricty they think nothing of climbing up an electricity pylon and with very limited tools, connecting wires from the box up there to their house.  The fact they are working with thousands of volts doesn't phase them at all.  And if water is needed, they'll spend the weekend digging up a pipeline so they can attach a diversion onto it that feeds water to their house.  Need extra cash?  Remove 500m of power cable to sell.  I can't believe more people aren't killed playing around with electricity like they do.
All over Africa you find people living under the most dire of conditions in absolute poverty.  What you see will often bring you to the point of tears.  You will hear the most unbelievable stories that will break your heart.  But you will have to accept that there is no way you can help everyone.  There are just too many in need.
And we can't forget to mention the crime.  But with so many 'have-nots', can you expect it to be any differen?  Let's face it, you experience crime all around the world, in every major city.  Africa is not unique in this.
What you will find all over Africa is the most vibrant and friendly people on the planet.  Beautiful beaches and landscapes, a continent of so much potential it will blow your mind.  When some of the frustrations get you down, this is what you need to focus on.  Clear blue skies, great weather, a wealth of animal life, lovely people, a lifestyle that lacks the frenetic activity you get living in a place like London or New York.  There is much to be said for living in Africa.  Maybe we just need to learn to go with the flow and not get frustrated so easily.

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