I recently had quite a week of experiences. Bruce was traveling, and the first thing that happened was that we found out we needed some major construction repairs done on the house. It seems that ages ago, someone dug a hole in our lot and filled it with garbage. Later the house was built over that spot and the garbage was forgotten until recently when a hole started to cave in along with our living room floor. So we had the beginning of a hole in our floor and one wall had started to crack. We called the mason who said that we had better do something right away because it would only get worse. So we bit the bullet and moved the furniture out reducing our living space by half.
The mason and his workers came by and began smashing up the old floor and hauled the broken pieces of concrete out to the street in front of our house. It provided good fill for the holes that turn into big mud puddles when it rains. After mixing the cement up by hand they poured the floor, adding iron bars this time to give it more strength. They also repaired some the wall that was cracking.
The evening of the day the work on the floor began our water was cut off. That happens every now and again, so we are generally prepared with a large container of water in reserve. Deborah had been in the middle of her shower, and as I helped her finish up with a bucket bath the electricity went off. That also is not uncommon. We all went to bed as there’s not much to do at night if the power gets cut off. What I did not think about was the fact that the shower faucet was still turned on, though no water was coming out because it had been cut off. The next morning I discovered to my horror that when the water and the electricity had been turned back on during the night the part of the house that contained our furniture flooded. Since we had left the shower turned on, the water overflowed into that part of the house. I moved the furniture around to clean up the water and dismantled the computer since its wires were sitting in a large puddle.
Later in the day the telephone stopped working. That means no calls or e-mail. I had a number of errands to do so didn’t have time to get things working again. In the evening I hooked up the computer and found that it didn’t work. The TV also refused to turn on. At least the stove and fridge were still working!
As foreigners living here it’s sometimes hard to get used to the lack of control one has and feels living in West Africa. I find that one of the major differences between living in Benin or in North America is the amount of control I have over my life. There I feel like I can be productive and get a list of things done in a day. Here it’s always a big question mark. The dry cleaners that is supposed to open at 7:00 might not open until between 7:30 and 8:00. You may get a visitor as you are leaving for an appointment and be delayed (custom requires you to sit and listen to what the person has come for regardless of other commitments you might have). At work the meeting that was supposed to start at 9:00 and last until 12:00 may not begin until 10:30 because the rain delayed some of you colleagues. Then the discussion might continue until well past 1:00 so that you can’t stop at the grocery store on the way home as planned. The stores close from 1:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon. Of course there is always the market, but purchasing products at the market is never a quick affair as one has to haggle over the prices.
Living in Benin requires being prepared for little things like power cuts, water outages, gasoline shortages, shortages of propane gas for the stove, slow-moving lines at the bank or when paying utility bills, and delays due to people arriving late (always with good reason: my motorcycle broke down, my child was ill, the traffic was heavy, etc). Unexpected visitors routinely drop by with needs that they are sure you can meet. In fact, when one gets much of what has been planned done, it has been a very unusual and blessed day!
Often these things wear us down since we are not used to being inconvenienced and we see time as a limited and precious commondity instead of an endless stream constantly available at no cost. Therefore I have felt particularly happy this week as I weathered several inconveniences without batting an eyelash. Perhaps I have begun to adopt the kind of patience or attitude one needs to survive here!