Monday, February 20, 2012

Pratchett diary

Just a quick one.

I'm writing a diary for Multi-Story about my experiences on the way to publication after winning the Terry Pratchett First Novel Prize with Apocalypse Cow. Latest entry is up here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Limitless patience isn't always a good thing

If there was an Olympic discipline for waiting patiently, I am absolutely sure a Kenyan would win it, given the amount of training the average citizen has to go through every day.

I am in the process of trying to procure a birth certificate for our son Kristian, who was born on 13 December. On Tuesday, I went down to the city registry to begin the process, which I now realise will take a very, very long time.

The office itself looks like a paper bomb exploded. It is a tiny room in Nairobi City Hall, where every shelf is stuffed with old books piled high on one another. On every table are bundles of certificates, literally thousands of them, in no order whatsoever. The staff members have what can charitably be described as a leisurely approach, which involves drinking tea and eating chapatis while staring balefully at the scrum of people waving notification slips in an attempt to get their attention.

On the first day, I was sent away because the computers were down. On Wednesday, it took them an hour to establish they couldn’t find the certificate. This initial process involved a guy staring at the computer, typing in the notification number, staring at it again, typing the number, etc, until he wandered off to look for it. After leafing aimlessly through some bundles, he sent me off to Nairobi hospital so I could get the delivery note and help them find out who received the certificate.

An hour later, I return. They discover the guy who received the certificates isn’t there, and his phone is turned off (this is after another hour of waiting, and they only called him because I suggested). Off I go for lunch, with the promise they will look. An hour later I am back, only to find they are on a late lunch. They return 40 minutes late. Another woman then leafs through some papers, clearly unhappy at having to do her job.

She then tells me to come back tomorrow, when the guy should be there, and they will look again. At no point did anybody apologize for the loss, and the assumption was it was my issue to sort it out even though it was their mistake. When I explained they were making me run all over town to fix their mistake, I got a blank stare of the “why is this irritating mzungu annoying me” variety.

Throughout this all, there were at least 50 Kenyans going through similar grief. They all stood about, shaking their heads and telling me how bad it was. But not one of them was prepared to complain to the staff about the terrible system and their bad attitude.

Kenyans tell me all the time how pissed off they are that nothing works, but here’s the thing: the reason it doesn’t work is because you let it not work. If everybody in that office kicked up a stink, at the very least the employees would make an effort, if just for a quiet life. Yet it is the foreigners (including a London Somali lady who was having the same problem as me) that are left to complain. We can easily be dismissed as impatient interlopers who don’t understand Kenya, when all we are are people prepared to vocalize what everybody else is feeling.

So, Kenyans: if you want things to change, complain when it matters, instead of telling mzungus how terrible it is than looking faintly embarrassed when we do your complaining for you. If you guys had a bit less patience, the country would run better, and you wouldn’t build up five years of frustration that then suddenly explodes the way it did after the 2007 elections.