On Monday, by 10am, I felt that I was having a bad day. The power/electricity was off and our once-a-week city council water supply was not reassuringly bubbling through the main pipe into our empty ground tank. I could only wince at the thought of how we’d senselessly wasted so much water at my daughter’s devil-may-care water slide and slippery slip party on Saturday. That day hosepipes snaked around the lawn and the kids were having buckets of water thrown over them. Oh, the crazy abandon of that day! And now we have no water and no power. This life is really one of contradictions.
First I tried around 16 of the phone numbers in my City Council Water leaflet that I had picked up a while ago, but no one was answering. So, un-showered (post exercise), I dash down to the City Council water offices to find out what the problem was. As I arrived, a comfortably proportioned woman was blowing her nose noisily. I waited for her to finish. I should actually be restrained from ever going into those offices because I find it so emotional. No water. It’s stressful and brings out the worst in me. So by way of confession, I’m going to tell you that the encounter went something like this:
“My mains water supply is not coming through. What’s the problem?” (abbreviated version).
“They are striking today. I’m about to go home. In fact I only came here to pick my bag,” the lady said. “Probably you will get it tomorrow.“
Now I’ve been told that if you miss your one-day-per-week day for getting water, then you’ve had it. There’s no way they are going to send water to your street on the wrong day – so at this point, I know that she’s just trying to get rid of me. After trying a few more lines in enquiry, I soon find myself running my mouth in Swahili. Why are they striking? When will we get water? If we miss our day then we are doomed. The lady says,
“you’ll get water tomorrow, I promise“, I reply ,
“how can you promise? I don’t think we will get water tomorrow.” (I’ve lived here long enough to categorically know that we will not get water tomorrow – and guess what, we didn’t).
I then walk into the next door room and ask the cashier that if there was a strike, why wasn’t he striking? “Oh, the cash desks are all open today” he says breezily. I reply,
“so you’ll happily take our money but no one will give us any water?” He laughed (generously). I told anyone who would listen that we paid a bill of over 4,000 shillings last month for water and now we have none and there’s a lady who visits our house every month and threatens to cut us off for no reason, even though we are fully paid up so what kind of service is this?
The cashier wanted to take money from a better behaved customer so I step aside then spied and grabbed, a friendly looking older chap who was slipping into an side office to hover with a colleague who also popped his head out from behind a closed door. My new friend said he would call the CO of Nairobi Water to take up my complaint. I cheer up. “What can we do for this lady, she’s got no water today, is there anything you can do?” he asks in Swahili over the phone, but it soon appeared that the conversation is going anywhere.
The comfortably proportioned lady walks back in and looks askance at me. What was I still doing there?
“Oh, I’m talking to him now,” I say (somewhat dismissively since she hadn’t exactly fallen over herself to help). She shrugs then shifts some papers around on her desk, sort of spinning out the fact that she was making to leave.
But then the CO of Nairobi Water seems to hang up on my new friend. Then my friend tells me that he only works in IT and was only there to do maintenance work. This whole thing is not going well. The friendly man asks the soon-to-leave lady if she can help me.
“Why don’t you order a truck?” she says.
“Yes, but your City Council trucks take over a week to arrive (true!) and we need water now.”
“Yes, they do take very long.” She confirms, pulling her shawl over her shoulders.
At this point I revert back into my not very gracious Swahili rant and (oh my, I am SO not proud of this) mumble something about this being like socialism in Tanzania in the 1960s. (Okay, I lived in tanzania in the 90s but, like I said, I hadn’t showered and was feeling sweaty and the hope of getting mains water was fading by the second).
Finally, I am instructed by the woman to write my complaint on a scrap of paper that will no doubt find it’s way direct to the bin, then the lady announces that she’s leaving.
“Have a nice rest at home” I said to her – honestly, I try not to use sarcasm here.
“Yes, I am. I’m going to have a jolly nice rest.” She says in Swahili. Good for her. She wasn’t cowed by my whining mzungu peformance – probably because she’s seen it all before.
And with that, the exchange is over and I thought to myself – please – someone restrain me from going to these offices EVER AGAIN. And on my way out, I glance up at the building and remember that nearly 10 years ago, they found a dead body in the roof up there – (apparently a victim of a G4S security guide serial killer) – and I think that maybe it’s tough working for Nairobi City Council Water and after all, they must have reason to strike. Then I google the strike at home and see photos of people carrying buckets sitting around dry stand pipes and I remember that we don’t have it so bad (especially as we’d wasted all our water at some extravagant kids party). And this is a drought year, so the water situation is probably only going to get worse. We order an expensive bowser (water truck) from a private company and it arrives.
So that was my bad day but it really wasn’t that bad. The week before, our gardener told me on Monday morning that he’d had a bad weekend.
“My son was kidnapped at home in Kakamega on Saturday. Those bad people often come when the maize is high and grab small children who are playing there. Luckily they just found him an hour ago and now he’s safe.”
Wow, what! The poor boy was kidnapped, locked alone in some room somewhere, his parents were frantic, they’d just got him back and the boy wasn’t speaking – in shock apparently. He went to hospital for a check-up and physically he’s okay. A week later and he’s down with malaria. I asked the gardener (repeatedly) if he wants to go home on leave to check on his son (in fact he only was there a couple of weeks ago) and he says no, it’s all fine now – his wife has the situation in hand. Just a little cash for the hospital is required. Fine?! The hardships.
Then our ex-askari messages me, “In hospital in Kibera, unwell, vision, neck, pain, shivering, vomitting (sic), head ache, joint weakness, lack of appetite – need 3,600 for tests and then need to buy drugs but have none”
And then yesterday I see the sweet crippled man on crutches who sells homemade cards walking along the dusty, rough road outside the sparkling new Hub shopping centre and ask him how he is and he says fine, and I think to myself – you are not fine, you look thinner than usual and tired and by telling this posh lady who sits in her posh car that you are fine is just incredibly brave.
Last week the charming plumber who has been doing a few odd jobs around here for years, rang at 10pm to say that his wife had died and he had no money to bury her.
And I also sunk to the depths of getting everyone in the house, including house helpers, to produce a stool test because I am so tired of the recurring tummy issues that we all have and the doctor calls back to say that all the samples are clear an probably I am suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.
Finally, there’s still no flour for unga (ugali) in the shops (Kenya’s staple food), and food prices are super high, electricity costs a fortune and people suffer so much with doctors and nurses striking and no water – so I really don’t know how this Presidential election is going to pan out on 8th August 2017.