Saturday, March 10, 2007
Almost everyone here seems to struggle for survival continually. Very few people have good steady jobs. The unemployment rate is about 85% - 95%. The things they need are basic… food and shelter. Food comes in the form of mealymeal…a ground corn meal which is cooked with water to form a heavy paste. It is rolled with a “relish” of meat, chicken, fish or vegetables and eaten with hands. Shelter comes in the form of a block home. The blocks are made from the dirt or concrete. Not all have windows. As in all places, the homes can be very nice or not very nice at all. Some have cement floors, while others only dirt floors.
Most do not have steady jobs. They survive by doing “piece work”… short temporary jobs or making anything which would sell for a small profit from carved animals to furniture or from knitted hats to rag rugs. There are hundreds and thousands of little stands by the road. They may be stocked with a small variety of items from a store, or just fresh vegetables, or kapenta (a small dried fish) or eggs or roasted corn. The hope is that someone will buy enough from them to provide enough money for a bag of meal. Labor is readily available. The going rate is about $2.50/day. If they own a home it is paid for. There are no mortgages. Often times people spend years building a home, completing it as they have money. They can move in as soon as there is a roof. Electricity is available but enjoyed by less than half the homes. A second home means rental income.
Truly the biggest challenge to most people is finding a way to survive. More are hungry than not.
Very few people own cars. During normal church services which would be about 150 people, we might find 6 or 8 cars in the parking lot. There are many taxis here and a public bus system. Most people are used to walking long distances on a daily basis. With gas at $6/gallon it is very expensive to own a car. The roads are very hard on cars. Many are not paved and the ones that are paved have huge potholes which most people swerve around continually. The rainy season creates a heavy toll on the dirt roads. They are just like washboards. Driving here requires acute concentration. Not only do you drive on the left side of the road, but you must be constantly aware of the hundreds of pedestrians that you pass along the way who walk on or close to your driving path. At night it is nearly impossible to see them.
In spite of their circumstances, most people seem happy. They find ways to survive. The family unit has a very strong sense of caring for each other. Any extended family member is helped if at all possible. With the high death rate here it is common to have grandmas and aunties taking care of orphaned children in their family.
Posted by Pam Headlee at 10:11 AM