Friday, April 5, 2013

What do you take for granted?

I have been thinking about the things that I take (or used to take) for granted.  Things that have been so much a part of my life that I no longer think twice about them – until there is a disruption of some kind.  So many of these things are rooted in my upbringing and experiences.  Here are some I have been reconsidering lately:

Electricity.  In the US, of course, I had electricity 24/7 – except in rare cases of a snow storm, a tree branch falling on local wires, etc.  In Baboua I got used to electricity from 6 – 10 p.m. and arranged to charge my computer and other gadgets during those hours – taking it for granted.  Then, just before we were evacuated, the generator on the station started having troubles.  I sat for a couple of nights in a disco-esque room with the light flashing on and off every second or so because the generator could not maintain a steady output of current.  Then, it quit altogether.  Fortunately, the Troesters, my next-door neighbors, have solar panels.  (I am go get some too, sometime…) So, I could still recharge my stuff and got into eating and reading by candle light.  Things are in process to get a new generator for the station, so, hopefully, by the time we go back, a new generator will, too.

Then we came to N’gaoundéré.  Here there is electricity all the time – sort of.  There are ever-increasing numbers of people living in town and getting on the grid, so there is often not enough voltage to run things without disruption.  For example, during the day, the florescent light in the kitchen works fine (not that I need it then!)  Once it gets dark, the light will blink repeatedly trying to come on, but rarely does.  The one in the living room comes on easily, but periodically – for example when the refrigerator cycles on – goes out for 30 – 60 seconds.  I end up sitting in the dark!  (So what’s the difference between the two lights?  I can’t explain it.)  I do know that the incandescent bulb in the light over the table works all the time (and gives much less light). 

Even with all these disruptions, I have electricity much more than many of the people in Cameroon and CAR.  Some never have it at all!  How often do you think about electricity?  Do you take it for granted?

Water.  We cannot live without water.  Clean water is a luxury for some although it has always been something I have taken for granted.  In Baboua (as in many places in Central Africa) a generator pumps water up into a water tower giving people access to it thanks to gravity.  So, maybe you can imagine what is coming next.  No generator in Baboua means no indoor plumbing and much more difficult access to water.  Fortunately, we borrowed a small generator to temporarily pump water. 

In my house in Baboua and in the guest houses here in N’gaoundéré, we have water filters by the sink to provide clean water.  We are blessed.  Do you know how many diseases are water-born?  (Many!)  However, sometimes here there is no water.  For two days in a row, there was water when I got up, but none in the middle of the day.  I think it is a problem similar to the one with electricity.  Too many people trying to use a water system designed for many fewer.  This picture is my kitchen sink in the morning after an evening with none (hence, dishes not washed).  The large pot in the left sink is to hold water for times when there is none from the tap.

I am also lucky to have a gas hot water heater which supplies the bathroom and kitchen.  The picture of the bathroom shows the water heater, gas bottle, and a bucket of water we keep for times when none comes out of the tap.

Even with these disruptions, I have water, and especially clean water, much more than many of the people in Cameroon and CAR.  Many still have to carry water from a well or the river.  How often do you think about water?  Do you take it for granted?

Internet.  I know computers and Internet are luxuries, but I have sure gotten to the place where I take them for granted!  I have found an USB Internet key or codes for WIFI systems of other missionaries to be able to communicate with home and get news.  I find ways to recharge the computer.  I am sure I could live without these things, but I don’t want to!

Many of the people in Cameroon and CAR have never had access to computers and Internet.  A few have irregular access.  How often do you think about computers and Internet?  Do you take them for granted?

Food Choices.  When we go into a supermarket in the US there are rows and rows of similar products with different brand names.  With global markets, we can get seasonal foods pretty much all year round.  Here there are fewer choices.  Many people don’t go to the small grocery stores that exist, or buy few items there because prices are higher for macaroni, canned goods, etc.  Mostly people “eat out of the market” buying locally grown products.  (A great idea, actually!  Go visit a farmers’ market this week…)

It is also different in the US because we don’t have to take time to clean small stones and dirt out of the rice (already cleaned in this picor beans before we prepare them.  Products come to our stores pre-cleaned, as it were.  Yes, it is best to wash fruits and vegetables in the US, but here they are more noticeably straight from the ground/farm. 

Restaurants, fast food places, and pre-packaged foods are also abundant in the US.  They exist here, but on much smaller scale.  They are also generally too expensive for most Cameroonians and Central Africans.

Have you thought about your food choices lately?  Do you take them for granted?

Lines.  I went with a friend to the hospital this week.  I couldn’t help but think about waiting and standing in line.  Yes, we wait to see a doctor or hospital staff, but we take it for granted that there will be a fair system to determine who is seen next.  Here lines exist, but if you know someone or feel that you are important enough, you just go to the front of the line and push your way in.  As a white person, I am often asked to go to the front of a line.  As much as possible I refuse and wait my turn – even when I get very annoyed because others push ahead. 

In the US doctors’ staff use patients’ charts to keep track of the order in which they arrived and are to be seen.  I have seen a similar system here.  People keep their own medical notebooks (which saves doctors and hospitals from having to store and organize them!)  People give their notebooks to someone and a pile is made.  Sometimes there is a small box outside the doctors’ door where patients put their notebooks.  The problem is that people don’t always put their notebook behind others already there.  People who collect them don’t keep them in any kind of regular order.  So it works, but not as well as most places in the US.  I did see a hospital in Yaoundé where you take a number and register or pay only when your number is called.  Sound familiar???

Have you complained about waiting and long lines?  Do you take it for granted that there are more efficient ways to move people and get what you need more quickly?

Roads.  OK, I won’t beat a dead horse – I know I have written about paved and unpaved roads various times in past blog entries.  But in the US, I took it for granted that roads would be paved (despite Pittsburgh pot holes…) and that cities would have sidewalks.  In Central Africa that is not the case.  Here’s a picture of the edge of one of the main roads in N’gaoundéré – uneven and hard for pedestrians to navigate. 

Walking is also harder in towns like this one because there are so many motorcycles, including many motorcycle taxis.  Although the law says that drivers of cars and motorcycles must have licenses, most motorcyclists (even the moto taxis) don’t have a license.  I am convinced they don’t know the rules of the road so they make up their own – cutting in front of others, passing on the left and right even when there doesn’t seem to be space, driving up the “sidewalk” on the wrong side of the road, etc. 

Since there are not street lights or traffic lights here, they use a system of round-abouts.  They work to help control the flow of traffic through intersections.  When the city has not built them, people put tires in the road to indicate the round-about.  Of course, some moto taxi drivers ignore them and go on whichever side of the tires that is most convenient for them…  And, sometimes the tires get placed off center or disappear for a while.  There are so many moto taxis because so few people can afford to own a motorcycle or a car. 
How much do you think about traffic and driving? Do you take your car(s) for granted??  Do you take it for granted that drivers will have a license and (most often) obey the rules? 

Parents:  By the way, today is my parents’ 61st wedding anniversary!  Wow!  What an accomplishment.  I have always taken their love and care for granted and hope they know that they can do the same with my love for them.

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