Any romantic notions I had about village life in Africa have well and truly worn off. There are positives to living here - the pace of life, the friendliness of people (generally), the back-to-basics, living-on-the-land type stuff. And I do intend to dedicate an entire post to the things I'm grateful for next week. But living in the third world, even daily should-take-20-minutes type tasks can become an arduous daylong affair. That's even with the advantage of (comparative) wealth on my side - most people don't have that! So this week I'd like to share with you a list of household items and developed-country services I will never again take for granted. And if I can renew appreciation for any of these things in just one of you, I will have succeeded.
1. The washing machine
I can't believe I used to complain about washing day. I want to slap my past self. Just separate the colours from the whites, put them in the washing machine, and press go. That's it! If you're really lazy or the weather is no good, don't even bother hanging them out. Just transfer to another machine and press go again. It couldn't be easier!
Or you could live in East Africa, where washing machines are a luxury item reserved for the super-rich. In Babati, you take your clothes (in a bucket on your head), walk down to the lake (if you're lucky that's a two-kilometre walk - if not it could be 20), and plant yourself at the water's edge. Soap and scrubber in hand, that's you for the next three hours.
MH, being the crafty guy that he is, already had a small handwasher from when he lived in Kenya. I've been using that, and I'm absolutely not complaining because I know the alternative, but I'm usually sweating at the end of a load. Give me a go button any day, and let me never take it for granted.
2. Honest petrol stations
Being a thoroughfare town, there are a few petrol stations in my village. Most of them will at least once try and take your money, put a bit of petrol in your tank, then put the rest into a sneakily placed bucket behind your car. People don't get out of their cars at petrol stations, so it's the perfect ploy. So you've got to be on guard... keep the attendant in your rear view mirror, and wait to check that your petrol gauge has gone up before driving off. If, however, you've got a small car or a scooter, you can avoid the drama by filling up at one of these "stations" which are everywhere. At least you know what you're getting.
3. The flushing toilet
I may be the last person on earth to know that one possible inventor of the toilet was named Thomas Crapper, but that does nothing to dull my respect for the humble loo.
If every house and hut here had a flushing toilet, I can only imagine the savings - both lives and healthcare costs. It's not nice but for the most part people living in poverty live in incredibly unsanitary conditions. One long-drop toilet used by an extended family or 30 or more, or a squatting loo that's full up and no one is about to empty it. Recently a friend of MH's came through the village with some fantastic eco-friendly products, like toilets that, once full, are closed up and over the next year will compost the waste into usable fertiliser. His vision is for villages to buy them with loans and pay them back over time, but even so it's a cost many families just can't afford. We in New Zealand are so lucky to live in a country with clean flushing toilets and an operational sewerage system. Next time you flush, think about that!
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