Monday, March 23, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009; Pondering poverty again

Having more consciously looked at poverty here, I am seeing more related to it. On the weekend when out hiking, I said dumela [hello] to several kids, as I do to everyone I pass. Kids in groups usually respond with an English hello, smile and move on. Several younger children [one about 5/6 years old and one about 9] caught me off guard as they responded with; “Got money?” I have experienced no begging anywhere or North American style panhandling; nothing at all from everyone over ten and very little in the way of street peddling. What there has been has been very low key.
Today however, I ran in to the best one so far and he got me. A boy of about ten, dressed in soccer shorts and shirt, ran across the road waving paper at me. "Sir, I need your help. I need a signature for my petition. My father is blind and my mother is...[ I forgot what was the matter with her]... I am trying to raise P5000 for an operation on my hand." I listened for a moment and saw that his hand, indeed, was mis-shappen and several fingers were fused togther. That spoke loud enough.

There are definitely lots of signs of poverty all around. Buildings that are not completed, or are left as bare concrete blocks when the norm is to plaster them and paint with some pastel colour. I notice that a lot of the tire tracks on the sandy roads near my chalet are completely smooth or very bald. I have seen boys out collecting stacks of twigs and branches as fuel for the outdoor cooking fires that are contained in stacked concrete block and scrap corrugated metal fire pits. Yesterday I saw an adult bathing in the river and saw washed clothes hung on barbed wire fencing to dry.

I have seen many of the whites around smoking, many more than at home, but I have seen only two young non whites smoking the while time I have been here. That just means they make better decisions, you say. Maybe, but I am aware of plenty of drinking and apparently addiction – the bane of free market competition is on the rise – enough to raise government concern.

I had a very interesting conversation with Alex, the cab driver who takes me to and from work every day. I asked him about his work as I am now aware of the amount of money made by the staff at WAR and it is not much. He likes his cab work because he is his own boss and because he makes much more than if he had a job. “How much more?” I asked. He can make P1500 [~$C250] per month at a job and he figures that he makes P6000 [~$C1000] per month as a cabbie.

Upon further consideration he said it is quite a bit more since every day he eats from his take and buys some groceries for the family, at least P50 per day. He works most days and is on call all the time. Conservatively, if he works 25 days per month, so that is an additional P1250, now totalling P7250 [~$C1280] per month. What’s more he says, with all the sandy roads he works, he has to wash his car at least everyday including the engine just to keep the parts from seizing up and literally grinding to a halt. While he does it himself at home a lot, he needs a vacuum for the inside so has it done for another P40 per day. I consider it a work expense and do not factor it in.
The difference here with a salaried job is amazing even if you do factor in that this man is on the go for about 10 – 12 hours every day. This way he is making 5 times more than a possible salaried job.

No wonder the town is crawling with cabs. The wonder is that they all make money! The saving factor is that cab fares are literally only pennies more than the crowded public mini-buses and that so many people do not have a car of their own combined with the fact that this town sprawls for miles along both sides of the Thamakalane River which they can cross only by two bridges. But they do hustle. Even when I was on the man road at 7:00 am on Sunday cabs would slow down to check if I wanted their service.

And, O yeah. The 10 vehicle car dealership across from Kwene Road is now a 9 vehicle car dealership. The beautiful green Mercedes sedan that I saw there last week, is gone.

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