On Tuesday we started digging holes for poles, setting them in place and leveling them. A ridiculous amount of work went into this including grading, measuring, leveling, digging, cutting and in some cases undoing a wall or two because we screwed something up. This building stuff is so foreign. Jessie is teaching me so much.
But even understanding basic building techniques is not enough. For example, once we know exactly where a pole needs to go and we put in a market, someone has to dig. So they generally take out the stake and start to dig. A rock might knock them off course, or each person might decide to dig in the left or right of the stake. The result can be a mess. Ugandans are very smart about building in their own way, but most structures are relatively small, like a 16′ x 8′ building split into two homes or “rooms”. Most buildings are not bigger than that because wood is cut at 8′ lengths and larger projects require a small margin of error. In our case, we are saving money by building larger structures (each with 8′ x 8’rooms) with shared walls. But this means smaller margins for error and “western” techniques that are frankly hard to explain to the locals. We are trying to pass on the techniques but also trying to keep to a relatively good pace so this doesn’t turn into a longer project than it needs to be.
That’s the poles. Now the politics. Jessie, Kelli and I spent some time talking to the land owner representative. It turns out the land the entire village is using is owned by the Ministry of Works/UNRA. So all the hundreds of residents, including the fire victims are squatters. And to make matters worse, UNRA sent them a legit eviction notice effective Jan 9th, 2012. The people grumbled, and sought a reprise. The UNRA rep mentioned that the residents have never asked to stay on the property and if they worked together and asked to stay (say for a year) they would likely be granted a reprise. The LC1 is the people’s government representative so the task of organizing this falls to him.
The afternoon went like this:
UNRA: “The bulldozers are coming. But if you produce a letter asking to stay maybe we can stop this. If you can’t organize enough to produce a letter then we’re sorry.”
Us: “Thanks for the offer. We’ll get right on it.”
LC1: “I will schedule a meeting with the whole village, then draft a letter an meet with the LC3 (his boss’ boss) and get this signed by the Mayor.”
Us: “But the bulldozers are coming!”
The Mayor was beaten and stoned earlier this week. I’m sure he’s busy. And this has nothing to do with the LC3 or the mayor, but the local politicians want face time and community “vote for me” schmooze time. Sound familiar? So construction is on hold.
Here’s a fisheye of the progress today: