Hard Times Hard Measures
Written by: The Bridge on Friday, June 27th, 2008
It is Africa after all, so what did I expect?Things tend to be a little difficult from time to time.In fact, what highlights the moment right now, is the fact that a lot of things are, or should I say, are not happening the way they were before.
It all seems to have started when we had a meeting with all the baptized members of Palmgrove community.The topic was the problem with the financial standing of the colony.Inno briefed the people on where we had debts and payments to be made.He then continued to explain the problems of income.There is no income because the income that we relied on for food came from the construction equipment.As rainy season is approaching fast, there will be little or no opportunity for getting work.Even when we did get work, the loader and grader had their own repair bills to be contended with.
In the end the meeting had one major theme: where to stop spending the little money we had?One of the first things that got nixed, was the chickens.I disagreed with this because there are chicken barns all over town that are earning a living.Why can’t we?But the idea was that the chickens weren’t making any profit.This was because when Edd Vetter was here he tried to restart the chicken barn with 100 chicks,and later this was upped to 150.To buy these chicks, the proceeds from the sale of the 100 chickens were used. The feed for feeding all the chickens was paid for by donation from the Hutterite Church.So this looks like a sinking hole where the chickens were fed by donations and not by the business itself.I was hoping we could get the chickens up to 500.Then by keeping careful record we could adjust the feed and the methods used, so that the barns could assist in making money or feeding meat to the community.There was a problem with the fact that the feed was being shared by the chickens and the pigs and so the feed consumption was hard to calculate because the pigs eat a lot more.This was later changed to the chickens using their own feed.So the truth was that we were just getting started.In the meeting however, it was decided that we had to stop all financial leaks and that was considered to be one of them.In the end, the money that was sent from the Hutterite Church to feed the chickens was going to be used in another area.My question is, what will happen to the few rabbits, ducks and turkeys when they don’t survive with just grass?I guess we will have to just eat them.
Then communal dining was almost completely shut down.As you know, Palmgrove is supposed to be a community of goods where all people work, eat, live and pray together.This means that everyone shares all things and own nothing that is completely their own.. This has changed for the worse.All the people still live, eat, work and worship together.But the together is where the lines are blurred.Because of financial problems in the past, basic needs like shoes, clothes and fuel were not supplied at a constant rate to the individual families.Another major item was supper.For a long time now, supper has been eaten at home and not in the communal dining room.This means that the people of Palmgrove have to provide their own means when it comes to supper time.So now I think you see a problem.An average person in Palmgrove will have to do some community work and then find some other paying job to take care of these basic needs of life.This then means that a person will consider what he buys with his own money to be his own and not the property of the community.The way I see it, an individual will put a lot more effort into his own work than that of the community.The Palmgrove management tries their best.They give what they can afford.But then they are also responsible to pay the electrical bills, community repair, doctor bills, and every other need that could possibly pop up.And where should they get the money for that?So in the end this may be a different form of community than what I know from at home.
As I said before, the communal dining was down sized.This means that they will only have food three days of the week and then only two times a day.To me that comes as a major shock because to me that is one of the core items of living in community, where everybody eats the same food every day. It was decided that by changing the food to less expensive food and less food, they would not have to eliminate the communal dining totally.In the meantime the people will have to provide for themselves until better days come.
It was also decided to stop all projects like the water house, shopping bags and anything that still requires investments without immediate returns.By now you the reader should be asking, what about the money that was sent by the Hutterite Church to fund the completion of these projects?Well, the idea is that by minimizing where we need to spend, we will be able to complete the water house and the shopping bags and hopefully make a go of it.Since the meeting, Palmgrove did get some donations from the Hutterite Church to use on the water house and the plastic bag machine.Without the constant support from the Hutterite Church, Palmgrove would probably just exist and not attempt to build business.In order to make money one has to first spend some money.One thing that has a bad connotation is the idea of buying food and repair supplies on credit.How can someone build on credit and get ahead?Who pays when there is nothing to pay with?
As we are talking about hard times, let’s continue.With the rainy season starting to get more intense, there is a lot more thunder and lightning.One morning when we were sitting inside because of the heavy, and I mean heavy, rain, we got a massive hit right outside the house where we live.At first I thought that it wasn’t that bad.Then I ran to unplug everything in the house because that was the first lightning we had experienced that day.What I found was that Leanne’s cell phone had the cover blown off.In the end the lightning cost us one HP laptop, one cell phone, one inverter for the solar charging system, three amp meters and a big power fuse.The cell phone had been connected to a solar charging system, and somehow get a surge from the lightning even though it has nothing to do with the electrical grid.The laptop had been plugged into the electrical grid to charge because around here getting electricity is like fishing.Every now and then it comes along and bites.There is also a big electrical box outside that had its cover blown open.This is where the three amp meters were located.They were fried.Our motto “Life in paradise”, was repeated by us once again.
Then there is the water.Since the lightning incident we haven’t had any electricity.This is not because anything is damaged in Palmgrove that we know of; maybe the NAPA plant has a problem.No electricity for a week means that the water tank has run dry. It is filled by an electric pump.If we were to fill the tank with the big generator, we would have to spend half of the usual monthly electricity bill on fuel alone just to have the showers operational.Instead we have to use the stream for baths and laundry.We have to carry water from the rain reservoirs to operate a toilet or to wash dishes.We are waiting for a lot of electricity to fill the tank a little because the well only supplies water over a period of time and not instantly.It isn’t like opening a big valve.Yesterday we used the big generator to pump water from the well so that people will have safe drinking water.We only pumped enough so that the reserve is filled.This means that I have to bring home one bucket at a time because the reserve is made in such a way that people still have something to carry even when there is no water in the houses. But now that too is empty, and with no money to run the generator, we will have to drink stream water, boiling it first of course.
We used this opportunity to inspect and clean the empty tank.I was surprised to find that it only had rust problems.I expected to find heavy sediment in the tank. Instead we just found rust chips which we swept out.I find it amazing at how important water is in drinking, cooking, bathroom, showers, sinks and washing.Luckily most of the houses have rain reservoirs next to them and these are heavily relied on when this happens.Sometimes people lose scope of what is going on and wash their car in the midst of all this.I find it amusing that we have a water problem in the rainy season when the gutters almost can’t handle the water that floods by.
Of course we got a monthly electrical bill that we can’t afford to pay.This is somewhat funny because we aren’t getting any electricity right now.The real problem is that even though we wouldn’t use any electricity we still get a bill.That is because the bill is estimated and not metered.We don’t own a meter and therefore can’t prove what we use.The monthly bill can be anywhere between $300 to $500 USD.If we were to just refuse to pay, then the electricity would be disconnected.It would then add the cost of paying a penalty to have it reconnected.In the end if the NAPA electricity manages to keep the water tank full, we are still ahead because it would cost a lot more to fill the tank with the generator.
There are also always repairs needed on vehicles. We just finished repairing the steering system on the green Mizubishi SUV.This was quite expensive, but then repair is better than an accident.With the roads around here one doesn’t take risks.Then we were lucky enough to have some tires that we couldn’t use which we traded for two good tires for the old white Mizubishi “Bus” as it is called.On top of all this the grader is in need of two new tires. Just stitching doesn’t work and with time the tire will fail completely. Ifiock told me that they can’t get work because it is too hard to compete because the tire has to get repaired all the time. I think in the end he can’t get work because the competition is tough in the rainy season.
By this time you will be thinking that all is gloom and doom.Actually nobody is starving in Palmgrove.It’s just that when times get hardnothing gets done because every move takes money.So it can feel like a waste of time for me when there is no progress.Things are looking better because the Hutterite Church has donated palm tree seedlings and so the people are busy clearing and planting these seedlings.This is very hard work and may take a few weeks.Also, like I mentioned before, money was donated for the water house and plastic bag machine.Hopefully we will be able to complete the few requirements that the government has.We will then get a license number to sell water sachets.A licensenumber is needed to sell legally.When all is said, it is important to remember that Palmgrove has seen a lot harder times and they still survived.Even though their mode of community may not be like what the rest of the Hutterite Church is practicing, they still live together as Christian believers.When one goes outside the community, one quickly notices that Palmgrove is still better off than the people around them both by spiritual and material standards.Palmgrovers still, like all people, have a long way to go when it comes to Christianity.My hope for Palmgrove is that we can teach them to be good examples to the village around them.
To add other news, our visas are almost expired.In two weeks we would have had to come home.We were lucky enough that one of Inno’s friends called him and told us to check our expiry date.We had thought we were good till August 7. It turns out, they were set to expire July 7 instead.Here in Nigeria one has to renew a visa one week ahead of time.With the weekend interfering and the time it takes to wire money,we were left with four days to renew our visas.Because of our neglect, we could have been stuck with a fine that would have doubled our visa fee or made for a hasty return home.So now we are frantically trying to get things up to speed.