Sunday, April 3, 2011

Work for Kenyans; try this on for size

"Do you use blocks like these for construction in the US?"  Abdul is curious about how things are done elsewhere.  "These are quarried stone blocks from the coral bedrock here on the coast."  When I asked how, "We cut them by hand; if we had machines, they'd be straight," he explains along with the fact that manual labor in the construction industry pays around $6 a day.

The land is hard here, literally.  It was a huge coral bed long ago; now it's just rock ground.

It takes a lot of work to build; when you do the septic, you have to dig down to the water layer.  By hand.  About 10 meters.

Employers have rules about equipping their folks with boots and helmets, but they just pay bribes to municipal officials so they don't have to. 

Helmet-less and in sandals, this worker moves the cut stone blocks, cement, all by hand.  Note the scaffolding; enough to make an OSHA inspector faint.

Employers are required by law to provide benefits for workers they employ longer than 6 months.  Health insurance, retirement, standard wages.  So they don't employ anyone for more than a few weeks at a time which leads to underemployment for a large portion of the population.

Kenya is among the more corrupt countries in the world.  On average, an urban Kenyan will pay 16 bribes a month according to a 2005 estimate.

Walking the rocky ground here on the coast can be dangerous.  A fall would likely cut you badly.  The tall tower we installed here on the coast has a foundation dug in this rock.  Fairly deep and all by hand.

Simple homes, simpler lives.  Electricity is available for those who can afford it, but not reliably.  In the city, water is available but only for 2 or 3 days a week.  You have to store it for the off days.  Elsewhere, you have to buy fresh water and carry it to your home.  Wells are all brackish in this area. 

My Maasai friend let me share my pizza with him; didn't like the mushrooms.  He just returned to Mombasa on the promise of a two month job.  He'll be the night security guard for a store what will be closed for the rainy season.  It pays 4000 Ksh ($50)/month.  Lunch cost almost a week's pay at that rate.  Having work at all, though, is perhaps uncommon.  Unemployment is reported at 40%; youth unemployment at 65%, and underemployment adds to those difficult numbers.

Just a few days before I left, there was a major drug bust by the national police.  One source says the street value was 500 million shillings.  By the time the drugs arrived in Nairobi, the quantity and value had reduced to 200 million shillings.  If true, more than half of the seizure was back on the street.  Everybody knows what happened.  Crooked players are more than adequately sprinkled throughout the government agencies to pull this off.

Pointing to a wealthy looking fellow passing our restaurant, a friend tells me that everybody knows who the crooked ones are, but if you report them, they will land on you hard, charge you with making false accusations, defend themselves with lawyers and the media, put you in jail, destroy your family.  It happens all the time.  The bad guys have the money and position to do such things; the common folks can't afford the risk, so the problem persists.  Kenya has a long way to go.