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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Keeping Ben Busy...Part Deux

The following letter is from Ben Stangl, my cousin who is here for the summer.  He summarizes the last few weeks very well, so I've gotten his permission to publish his letter to family and friends here on my blog...

So, what happens here day to day? While our days are full, they are not busy. The tempo here is a lot more laid back than in the states. From what I have experienced, I think I have an idea for the cause.
In the states, when I plan my day or a trip into Omaha, I have some sort of idea of how long it will take me to accomplish my tasks. On top of that, I have an expectation that those tasks may be accomplished even that day.
Here, things just take longer. Longer may mean not today, not tomorrow, and possibly next week sometime- if you’re lucky! I won’t just leave it that. Here is what I am talking about.
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     Sand was supposed to be dropped off one morning so we could continue mixing concrete for the wall. It showed up that afternoon instead and it was better late than never!

     The O’Tools have been attempting to renew their VISAs since before I arrived. I have babysat their children while they make multiple visits to home affairs, up to four times in the same day. After filling out one form, they are given a second one, which leads to a third. Then there are the background checks, fingerprinting, police certified passports, and more which home affairs neglects to inform them about until each subsequent visit. Over a month later and with the VISAs expiring on Sunday, they have been assured temporary VISAs, until who knows?

     In anticipating the container arriving in port from the states about the first week of June, we had to patiently wait as it sat in port in Israel because the workers at the shipyard here were on strike.  It finally arrived the first week of July.

     Also before I arrived, the O’Tools signed up for a phone line for internet access. Over a month later, the company finally made it out for the install. I’ve been taking an online class in the evenings and was quite inconvenienced to access the internet elsewhere. Since then, actually as I type this we have lost access for the second time this week. On the brighter side, the company has the courtesy to text a message when their service is down haha! 

          After making a phone call to see what time the order of steel was supposed to arrive Friday morning, it was discovered that it wasn’t going to be sent until the following week. Well, instead of spending our time building, we went to pick it up.
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·       After the fall of Apartheid (the oppression of the black population and separation from the whites) it was determined by the new government that the power grid was structured so well that even a surplus of electricity could be generated, at that point in time. Not only were no new power plants constructed, but some were shut down. Now, 16 years later, there exists a severe shortage of electricity, and the old power plants cannot even be reopened because the people have stolen and scrapped them for salvage money and building their
own huts. So, from time to time, you will find your supply to be restricted. We lost power for about a day, but for some reason, it was just restricted to this side of town. Perhaps the cause was different than what I just mentioned. Either way, try keeping a schedule when you discover that not only can you not cook, but you must hassle with a generator to keep your perishables from spoiling. I will say, candle light dinners all of sudden become all the rave!   

     Then there’s the water supply. I’ll start by saying that I’d much rather be without electricity than water. Just count the number of ways and times you use water during the day! There are a couple of causes the water will be off. When a city does not pay its dues, then the government decides that they just won’t receive any water. This is like what happens when you don’t pay your utilities bill in the states, only it’s the entire city. Another reason you’ll go without water is because of main breaks, and you know when it does. We’ll be driving home one evening and the street will be flooded, so we fill all the sinks, pots and pans, and bathtub. In fact, the other night Louie walked into the bathroom and found Meredith running water in the bathroom sink.  She turns to him and says “Don’t worry Dad.  If the water goes out we can take a bath in the sink tomorrow.  That’s why I’m saving this water. Brian has been in the engineer’s office trying to get RHI’s meter and hook-up underway, and has heard him reprimanding workers for the way the water lines are constructed and why they are breaking. Which brings me to my next scenario…

·       Two days ago, after Brian had to go and get them, a couple of guys showed up with a backhoe to dig for our water hook-up. It turns out that they could only devote half a day to our project, so they left with a huge hole dug- right under our fence. (We had to block it up, not to keep people out, but to keep Louie’s German shepherd in as he guards the containers.)We were told that they would be back the next day to finish the job, which would have been yesterday- would have been, only the city hasn’t paid the supplier of their equipment, so they have no water meter to install.

·       Today we went to make more cinder blocks right after lunch. We had to get started earlier than usual because we have increased our molds from 66 to 99 and we weren’t quite sure how much longer it would take us. After we finished de-molding the cured blocks, we were getting set up to start filling them, but discovered our power source, from another building, had been tampered with. Since this room had no lock, someone had broken in and stolen the wire from the breaker box to the outlet- about three feet worth. Of course, this was a slight delay to have to get the proper tools to fix the problem and then to rig a lock to secure it from happening again!

These are just a few of the things that have happened, so far. I don’t mean to come across as if everyday life is a pain and a despairing inconvenience. These things may cause frustration or even disdain if allowed too, but remember what I said earlier about expectations? Here, you can attempt to plan a day’s events, but inconveniences are so frequent that you must, to a much greater extent than in the states, attempt to factor them in. They become a part of daily life that is unavoidable and not so unexpected. Again, for example, when taking a trip along a highway route, the possibility of road construction is a reasonable factor. But here, how could you ever imagine that the construction was to install speed bumps, on a highway?!? These both greatly impede travel and your ETA!! Ok, you can now tell that not only is this not written from a dismal perspective, but it is almost entertaining to get to see and experience the inconsistency of the unexpected.

Actually, I don’t think I ever officially answered the question of what happens day to day. As much as we all know that it often depends, I think that I’ve conveyed enough that here, plans and goals may quickly change. That being said, in my next update I will try to compile maybe some more common things that do happen on a regular basis and some more of the occasional occurrences that keeps life interesting.

So long!  Ben

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