Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Somewhat Flawless Move, A Relatively Flawless New Site

[First installment]

The lowdown on the new house. I’m settling in well to my new digs. My new organization, a well-funded, well-organized VCT in a town only one hour from my old village, sent their giant Land Cruiser to pick me up, along with all my worldly Kenyan possessions, and take me to my new house. This place is huge compared to my one room in the forest back in the village. I have a one-bedroom house with a kitchen, large living room, bathroom and toilet. The water comes on somewhat predicatably every other day, but it only comes out of the kitchen tap (not the showerhead, bathroom sink or toilet), and usually early in the morning (6:30 am, when I’m never conscious) or in the middle of the night (3am, when I’m never conscious). If I fill the toilet tank with water, it flushes in true Kenyan fashion, churning violently for 3 seconds and invariably leaving some traces of, uh, debris. For three days I stubbornly tried to use a pee bucket, with a daily hike to the neighbor’s choo for disposal, but I generate enough waste water from washing dishes and bathing that I can just pour-flush the toilet. I have a small yard enclosed by a high concrete wall, about half a point (1/20 of an acre), one corner of which is dedicated to rotting garbage. The previous tenant planted a few pumpkins; I may try to plant some vegetables but the soil doesn’t look very fertile. I’m surrounded by neighbors on all sides, who have all planted maize, so I should probably say I’m surrounded by fields of maize on all sides, plus an assortment of kids who are all relatively well-behaved, although their curiousity has already caused them to accidentally kick over a bucket of water in my kitchen and accidentally steal a nail from my coffee table. Note: I have room for a coffee table!! The compound is a far cry from the lush forest full of monkeys, rolling fields of tea and pineapples, and year-round springs of my last site, but I can’t complain about having a much bigger house in exchange.

The mattress saga. I inherited my “new” bed from the woman who was living in my new house before me. She told me the bed was 4x6. I’ve been sleeping on a 4x6 mattress, which my old organization bought for me when I first moved in last year. So I offered to buy the mattress off them for the current retail value based. It was a convoluted way to help out some of the members of the VCT who hadn’t been paid any allowances for over a year because my supervisor simply refused, citing “a complete lack of funds.” Mysteriously, he somehow had enough funds to buy a second printer for the VCT, a purchase which was neither discussed with nor approved by any other members. But such were, and still are, the ways of the “disorganization” I used to work for. Anyway, I paid the money directly to the treasurer, and instructed her to put it into the VCT’s petty cash account, which she would then use to pay a few people some back allowances they’re owed. It’s only a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of thousands of shillings they are owed, but they were grateful.

Sean had kindly come from Kisumu to help me move. When we arrived at my new house and put the mattress into the bed, we discovered to our dismay that the bed was only 3.5x6. Kenyan bed frames are like boxes that you drop the mattress into. So my too-big mattress curled awkwardly over the edge, forming a concave, soft little pit that I could sleep in if I didn’t mind always being rolled into the middle where there is already a Justina-shaped imprint. It was already 7pm and I was getting worried.

“We need to make this mattress fit the frame,” I said, getting my German carving knife out of the kitchen.

Sean stared at me. “Justina!” he said, eyeing the knife. “It’s not a cake!”

He suggested that I asked a fundi (carpenter) to extend the frame a few inches on either side to accommodate the mattress. I said, why pay to extend the frame when I could cut the mattress for free? We started sending smses to other volunteers.

“Depends on the quality of the mattress,” Kumiko wrote.

“Woah, that’s a tough one. How much would it cost to extend the frame? I’d probably just leave it hanging off the edge myself,” Jenly wrote.

“Extend the frame,” Willie wrote.

“Tell Justina to chill out,” John wrote.

“I wouldn’t cut it,” Ali wrote. “And Pat says to return the mattress and get the right size.”

Enough people seemed to think cutting the mattress was weird, so I agreed to think about it some more. The next day I went to a fundi to ask for an estimate on a frame extension.

“One thousand bob,” he said.

“What?? A new bed costs 2,000 bob,” I said.

“No,” he lied. “A new bed costs 3,500.”

“Just cut the mattress, then,” I said, handing him my carving knife. He agreed to cut the mattress, tighten the bolts on the frame, which was really wobbly and squeaky from the last tenant and we’ll not wonder the exact reason, fix a chair leg that broke during my move, and hammer a bunch of nails into my concrete walls, all for 400 shillings. Not a bad deal, I thought.

It was definitely a jua kali job (literally “under the hot sun,” a term for the open-air shops where fundis craft their products, many of which turn out pretty ghetto); the chopped edge of the mattress ended up with a feathered, uh, texture, but after taping the fabric cover back with duct tape, you could barely tell the difference. Well, except the mattress is still about half an inch too wide, so I have to stuff the edge into the frame, which makes it more firm (good), but which also makes it harder to tuck in blankets and the mosquito net.

“UR CRAZY!!” Sean smsed me when I told him. “That totally goes against nature! Which of our advisors ever said, ‘Justina, cut the matres?’ It doesn’t make sense!”

[Next installment: My new organization, an amazingly well-run and productive place, for Kenya]


Blogger Mike said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:58 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

I think you just coined a new phrase -- when faced with a difficult task, with no obvious solution, just "cut the mattress."

Let's try it out:

"Hey, this recipe calls for 2 cups of sugar, but we only have about a cup left!"
"No prob, just cut the mattress!"

--or --

"I've got a 5:30 meeting in Westwood, and need to be in Burbank by 6. How do I pull that off?"
"Dude, cut the mattress."

And yes, this is long-lost-Mike-who-owes-you-a-letter-and-much-more. [[Hangs head in shame.]] Glad to see you had a successful move!

2:01 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home