Nov 7, 2009

On logistics

One of the big concepts they talked about a lot at PST was "a slower pace of life." The idea was that here in South Africa people are less concerned with progress, getting things done, etc., so things tend to take a lot longer. I envisioned this as somewhat similar to what I saw in Belize where the unofficial national motto is "go slow," and work starts late and ends early. Yet when the work is actually in progress, it goes reasonably fast. On a side note, I'm not wholly familiar with Belize and I could be misconstruing the place. I use it only for purposes of contrast, so forgive me if I'm making a grievous error.

I find the South Africa version of this is not at all the laid back, "screw it, let's do it tomorrow, them beers ain't gonna drink themselves" philosophy I was expecting. Rather it has more to do with the lack of organizational prowess that is endemic here. Here's a story from one of my fellow PCVs:
I reached my absolute breaking point with this the other day. Wednesday I had planned to be in the Grade 2/3 class all day and help the teacher in class. Of course, as things here never really go according to plan, my principal felt this morning would be much better spent switching the staffroom and the grade 2/3 room. Her reasoning: the staffroom gets too dusty when its windy. Naturally this would be a much better environment for the students. Like I said… logic = NONEXISTENT. So after 2 hours of making every single learner carry desks, chairs, papers, even a fridge, back and forth, the classrooms were officially switched.
Let me emphasize that there is an epic level of laziness and procrastination here. But what really drives me nuts is that when people are trying to accomplish something, they can't organize themselves worth a damn--and of course the government employees are ten times worse than anyone else.

I'll give you an example. The other day I went with my principal to Kuruman so I could buy a fridge. We were supposed to leave at 10, but first he forgets his glasses, then his ATM card, then his wife, necessitating three separate trips back to his house. Then the construction workers at the school want to get some sand, so they borrow the truck for about an hour. We finally get on the road at 12:45. Once we get to Kuruman at 2:30 we stop at the ABSA ATM for my principal to get money, which put us in a furniture store at 3:00. They have a fridge advertised for R1500, but it's out of stock, so I put in an order for that and pick up an electric kettle. I try to pay with my ATM card, but it doesn't work, so I have to go draw money at the FNB ATM. Before we do that, though, my principal drives 30 km to the municipality (back towards my village--we nearly passed it on the way) to pick up an application to be a contractor for installing pit toilets. Of course no one knows where it is, so we have to wait 20 minutes while they look. We make it back to Kuruman and the wife calls, wanting to be driven across town, which we do. It's now 4:30 (most shops close at 5), so we go back to the first store and pay for the fridge and the kettle. We have to time to look in one more shop for a stove, but it's more money than I have and I've already maxed out my one-day limit on the ATM card.

So my principal and I give up and head to Shoprite for some groceries (because it closes at 6). By 6 we're out of Shoprite and we head back to the wife, who's getting her hair done. How much longer, asks my principal. Ten minutes, says the wife. An hour later we're on the road back to my village.

Oh, and that application from the municipality? It was due three days later. How long is it? At least 250 pages. Just like on November 4th my principal wanted help finding some college application forms off the internet for his friend. When is the last possible date to apply to any college in South Africa? October 30. Yet this was the first time they had tried to get forms together. I felt like shaking them.

I confess that (being quite lazy myself) I find the Belizean way a lot easier to deal with. I don't like to work more than the next bum, but when I work, I want to see results--I don't want to be standing there, trying not to shout "Why the hell are you doing it like THAT?!" Is that cultural imperialism? Quite frankly I don't much care.

It would be ridiculous to say America has a monopoly on logical thinking--some would probably argue that Sweden or something is much better in that regard. Yet I feel that it's a distinctly (but not uniquely) American quality to look at things, especially government programs, with some unvarnished skepticism. If it's not working, then fergawdsake let's try something else. Cut the BS!

No comments:

Post a Comment