I still haven’t gotten used to blogging every day. So I’m missing days. Sorry about that. It’s just too easy to get heads down into work and forget.
Lots of things going in the last few days and when I look at it all it does seem like quite the hodgepodge but that’s what life is like here. I can’t easily answer the question, “So what do you do?” There was a time when that was a straightforward thing to answer. Not anymore.
The past few days reflect that. We had visitors from YWAM that we met at the Keep who took an interest in our leather project. They were so interested in the project that they asked to visit the shop and learn about making journals. Although its not something we normally teach outside our program, they were nice enough people and were so excited to do it after weeks of slogging through some rough places that it was hard to turn them away. I got to learn about their story, show them the shop and the BnB and share what we did in Uganda. They each made (and paid for) a journal and they were so thankful. It was pretty cool because you could just see the stress of “work” melt as they did something creative. It was fun for me too because the leather program started as something really fun and eventually became “work” as we maintained the program, taught and tried to support the program with sales. I’m happy for the reminder about how fun it is to create something cool out of some of the toughest natural material on the planet.
I also began working on (yet another) iPhone as well as a MacBook belonging to a doctor friend that inexplicably died when she plugged in her daughter’s kindle. It was funny because she described it as a “first world problem” but then told me that her PhD was on that dead machine. Irregardless she’s a doctor taking care of many of the expats and workers here so it’s important to keep her happy and productive so I don’t think of it as a “first world problem” anyhow.
Had a really crazy run-in with some workers on our street. A few weeks ago, I noticed that one of the roads leading to the Keep was closed due to some construction. I stopped and talked to some of the workers around the area, and asked them how long the street was going to be closed. They told me that “none of the businesses have appreciated (them) so it was going to be closed for a long time”. This rather infuriated me, because basically these guys were asking for a bribe on top of getting paid to do their job. I was going to go to the police but I had other things going on at the moment totally forgot about the incident for a while until work started on the sidewalk in front of our place. My manager went and asked the guys how long the sidewalk was going to be torn up because it made it hard to get into the restaurant, and he told me that the guys were also expecting a bribe. When I asked the guys about this, they basically said the same thing my manager said, although they used the word “blood”, which means “assistance in working faster”.
This totally tweaked me the right way so I did end up going to the police and came back with three officers. The officer a long conversation with the two guys, and went on about “investors in the country being important according to the president” and how “it was wrong to be paid twice for one job”.
As this conversation went on I looked at the guy down in the ditch which was the one that was asking for the bribe, and in that moment I realized I had made a mistake. He was completely filthy from swinging a pickax breaking concrete all day. His feet were swollen from standing barefoot on the hard rock. His skin was dark from being in the sun for long days in a stretch, and his clothes were all pretty tattered. All the other guys on the crew looked pretty much the same way. The conversation was rather short and I took the police back to the police station, and thanked them for their help. But on the drive back, I really started thinking about the situation in a different light.
Yes, corruption is a huge problem in this country. Yes, it’s wrong to ask for bribes for anything. But on the scale of things I was wrong to call the police on these guys. I admit, I did it in anger, but I was angry at corruption, not these guys in particular.
I stopped at a local supermarket and got four one Litre bottles of cold water and went back to the keep. I apologized to the guys for bringing the police, and in not so many words told me it wasn’t really a big deal. He also explained more about what the problem was, saying that the concrete was incredibly hard and he was working as fast as he could. One guy said that at the end of the day his arms are so tired he could barely lift the ax anymore and it was usual to slow down at the end of the day. He also went on to explain that they were paid very little so there wasn’t much incentive to work fast.
His explanation didn’t make it right to ask for a bribe, but it did put a human element into the conversation that I hadn’t considered at all. The guys were after all paid very little and had incredibly difficult work. They were just guys trying to make their way in the world.
I tried to explain to them why bribes were so infuriating for foreigners, and why it’s so hard to lift the country out of poverty when corruption rules. They didn’t seem to understand this, so I tried to put it another way. I asked them if their lives would be different if everyone in their town had to be paid twice to do anything. They laughed at this, and I knew the point have been made.
I gave the guys the Cold water, (which they were ecstatic for) and realized in that moment that things would’ve been much simpler if I had just talked to the guys for a few minutes and gave them water.
I would’ve built a bridge, and in the process I might’ve made a difference in these guys lives.
I’m ashamed to tell the story as it really happened, but feel that I should because it was a very educational experience for me. Hopefully someone else will read this story be affected in a positive way the next time they’re faced with something they perceive as incredibly unjust.
Anyhow, attached are some photos of my new “friends” from all over the world.