First World Problems in a Third World Country
I do not remember hearing the description of first world problem when I left the states in January of 2013. Is this new, or am I lagging behind with language as I seem to do with fashion?
While all of Uganda is not a third world country, there are many parts that are. Curt and I live on Lake Victoria in Entebbe. Entebbe is definitely not third world. We enjoy a comfortable home, a variety of restaurants, and even a modern mall.
However, this is still Africa. We returned from a weeklong trip from the refugee camps of northern Uganda (third world) on a Sunday in the late afternoon to a night with no electricity. We had about an hour of electricity on Monday, the same on Tuesday, a little more on Wednesday, and on Thursday (except for about an hour in the morning) the electricity was consistent.
This inconvenience is so small and happens so often that it is not even mentioned in conversation. I really am accustomed to this.
The more difficult situation is that the Monday we left there was a water leak. Eva, the worker on our compound, discovered the leak and quickly had the water turned off. The tank had already been drained. The huge water bill already processed.
Even though we were gone Eva got to work on the water problem. She visited the water company. She called the Baptist Mission to have them inform the landlord. So the process of solving the water problem had begun.
There are many steps to solving this problem. First, you must always try to fix the problem on your own. Landlords seldom get involved and do not like to be bothered.
Since the Baptist Mission pays the rent a man that works for the mission came out and assessed the situation. This man is tremendous! I am amazed at how much he knows about plumbing, electricity, construction, and prices. He gave his estimation of the problem and told us that the landlord must be advised in this situation.
Next day, the same worker and another plumber from the area come to assess the problem. They came to the same conclusion.
Next day, the landlord sends out his plumber. He reaches the same conclusion as the other two experts.
Now the landlord’s plumber must make a list of needed supplies. He must take this list to a hardware store to get prices. Then the next day he must go to the landlord to get the money. The day after he gets the money he can then go to the store and get the supplies.
So after he has the supplies he takes a taxi (these are 16 passenger vans that often have 20 people in them) from Kampala to our house to begin the plumbing work. Try to picture him hauling pvc pipe and other plumbing supplies on this taxi.
Thursday, 10 days after the reported leak, the plumber worked until lunchtime. He has left for the day. He needs more supplies. The plan is to work tomorrow, even though this is a national holiday. Miraculously he actually came that day.
When the plumber left I asked him, “Do you think we will have water tomorrow?” He smiled and shrugged.
Sunday, otherwise known as day 13 water problem, we have some water in the house. None in the kitchen, but I am thankful that on day 13 the toilets are flushing and we can wash our hands in the bathroom sinks.
This is the day the landlord came. There is definitely a major leak. So not on Monday, but maybe on Tuesday the plumber will return to run a hose from the main line to the house.
That hose was run from the main tank to the house.
Now we have found that there is another leak. So the process must begin again.
The plumber must go to the store and get the exact price of items. The next day he goes to the landlord to get money for the supplies. The next day he cannot work because as they say, “the rains are too much.”
So 18 days after the leak there is finally water all through the house.
Why do I call this a first world problem? Because most of the Ugandans, even in Entebbe haul all of their water and do not have electricity. I am very conscious that what I think is a necessity is a luxury that most of them will never enjoy. Sort of like the dishwasher is not working.
Spending as much time as we do in refugee camps and villages, I know the real problem is clean water. Many of these people must walk long distances for that.
I am aware that so many of my frustrations in Africa, as well as America, are really just inconveniences from a person that lives in luxury.
I thought I was handling the frustration of water as no big deal. UNTIL I go out to pick up some items on Saturday. Curt is away in the vehicle so I am on public transportation.
I am squeezed into one of those taxi loads exceeding 20 adult people in a van. The conductor tells me it will cost 1,500 UGX (a dollar = 2,500 UGX). I thought that was high, but I thought let’s not make a big deal today. Then I notice that everyone else is paying 500 UGX. Still I think that I stand out enough so just be quiet, because rarely do mazungus (white people) ride in these.
Coming back I get on the taxi and the conductor says that I must pay 2,000 UGX. I would normally negotiate and eventually pay close to what others pay. This time I told him how unfairly I was being treated and I am afraid my voice may have been somewhat raised (which is an act of extreme rudeness in this culture).
The Ugandan sitting next to me was clearly upset that I had taken this so hard. He started treating me like a tourist and explaining why it is justifiable to charge mazungus more and I should be kind.
Then reality hits that I am making this big deal over less than a dollar. I am very recognizable in the community where I live. Many people know that I am a missionary.
It’s the little frustrations that cause my American culture to come through. Our culture says:
- It is the landlord’s responsibility to pay the huge water bill since it was his pipes that corroded. He did not pay that bill.
- One of the positives about renting is that when something breaks it is not your problem.
- Everybody pays the same price for the same service.
- The customer has rights.
Most days I do pretty well with the culture and really enjoy Africa. But there are those “I hate Africa days”.
One of the things I enjoy here are conversations that show the difference in our cultures.
Yesterday two Ugandan women were riding with me to Bible study. This Bible study happened to be at an apartment complex where some of the people have vehicles.
One of the vehicles had one of those nice canvas coverings made to fit the car protecting it.
1st Lady: DeDe, why do these people dress their car? We cannot even see their car.
Me: I think they do this to protect the car.
2nd Lady: I think they do not want the rain to step on it.