One of the biggest takeaways when you travel and live in developing countries, is all the simple things you learn not to take for granted.
I’m writing this post in the middle of a downpour. Power is out and the wind (and dust) is wiping around. Because all of the roofs are made out of iron sheets, we can’t hear each other talking even though we are right beside each other. Despite this, everyone continues to plug away at the work at hand even as small pools of water are starting to form in the store room.
In addition to the typical challenges one expects with a small NGO, there is a whole another layer that folks have to deal with here. Most communication is done via mobile phones or in-person. When we needed bids for the block making process, we had to go to the next larger town over (Kilgoris is about 25km away.) Once there, we dropped off a list of tools needed to the various hardware stores and then waited around town while they hand wrote the prices. Then, we went back around and picked them up. There was no emailing a quote or looking up the prices online. And when you go to pay you have to hand deliver cash or a check. No dropping it in the mail or giving a credit card number.
I’m usually in Kilgoris at least twice a week for various reason. By the time you drive there and then wait around for whatever you or others who tag along are doing , half the day, if not more, is gone. We always attempt to combine tasks when going to Kilgoris, which means if there’s a bank run you’ll definitely be in town for a while. There isn’t an ATM or bank in Enoosaen. And for reasons that are beyond me bank trips are usually at least 45 minutes.
Car rides are always an adventure. Given that we are currently in the rainy season, there are days when the dirt roads aren’t passable, especially the road to the new school site. I’ve confirmed that a car can in fact hydroplane across the mud. Also, avoiding potholes and ruts in the roads makes for interesting game of chicken with the large tractors hauling sugar cane from the fields to the factory. Everyone knows which side of the road they belong on, but unexpected cows or goats in the road after passing a car or motorbike helps to give the blood an extra jolt. And of course there is always room for one more. Squish, squish is a common refrain.
Power typically goes out at some point most days. It never fails to go out when you need to print or photocopy something. We’ve been trying for the last few days to get enough vocabulary lists printed for the girls for a spelling bee. When there is power, noises from village make for an interesting backdrop to your thoughts. Especially, the guy across the way who adds a “creative” audio interpretation overlay to pirated films.
Most non-western countries take a laid back approach to time, largely out of circumstances such as public transportation or traffic that are beyond their control. Kenyans seem to take African time to a whole new level. One is never late! You are always on time, even if you are three or four hours late. Other than milking the cows or washing, there isn’t really the public transportation or traffic excuses here in Enoosaen. I’ve learned to not even leave for meetings until at least an hour after the start time. Although this past week, I’ve been threatening everyone that we need to work on Muzungu time It will be a miracle if we get everything done in preparation for the block making training that starts next week. There is only so much bending my type A personality can tolerate. After 20 years of working to make systems and operations more efficient, effective, and strategic, my passion for embracing other cultures is definitely being challenged in the work environment. Somethings are just too ingrained at this point.
For my association and nonprofit folks, take the above challenges and then imaging having to contend with three boards and three different office staffs. That’s just another typical work day here. Maybe in the next post, I’ll actually get around to updating you on the work product rather than just the environment.