Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Do take a seat

At least in my neck of the woods, the universal item of furniture is what you might think of as a garden chair. Holding a meeting? Set out a few rows of garden chairs. At your desk? If one garden chair isn't high enough to reach your computer, sit on two. The paper catcher for the photocopier's broken? (of course) Prop it up with a chair. Need a snooze? Sit on one, put your feet on another. A very versatile piece of furniture.

This also underlines how short material resources are here - and how in comparison, time is cheap. One result of this is that there are lots of people doing jobs you might never have thought necessary - some of which are, and some of which are not.

Outside every bank cash machine is a guard, who opens the door for you to the air-conditioned unit (and closes it again, thus I suppose saving electricity); he also monitors the number of people who go in - no more inside than there are machines, usually one or two. These guards can be quite intimidating - if you are polite to them, they are charming, if not, not - and then they won't tell you until after you have parked your bike that the guichet is not working.

In most places where you might park your bike there are bike-park-attendants, who give you a numbered receipt which you need to get your bike back (this is probably very necessary). Then there are people who sweep up almost endlessly, to varying effect.

Another consequence is that things which would be beyond economic repair in Europe are endlessly repaired, by very resourceful technicians. Much of the IT kit in use would be - may be has been - written off in Europe. Mobile phones, and mobile phone chargers, with bits hanging off in all directions, keep going. Almost everyone has a mobile phone, and many (even people who don't have running water at home) have two or three, one for each network, as the cross-network charges are high and the connections unreliable. Batteries are forever on charge, usually precariously.

Mobile phones are in almost constant use - that is, when there is a network.... on Friday the national network was down - no mobile phones, no internet, no bank cash machines - because Onatel had not paid its taxes! The ploy worked - they found a way to pay up and by the afternoon it was all back on again. Bikes, motos, cars, are all kept going ingeniously if sometimes unconventionally.

And so life goes on...

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