Two years is a LONG time…Or is it? Time seems to have some interestingly different effects here.
Apart from “African Time” encompassing the a disregard for being on time to meetings, or getting to work on time, or delivering finished products as promised, there seems to be an accelerated aging going on here in more ways than one.
We arrived in Botswana in September of 2011, almost exactly 2 years ago. When we left America we were allowed by the Peace Corp rules, to bring 80 lbs of baggage each. That had to include clothes for hot and cold seasons, shoes, electronics we wanted to have, personal items, books, games, favorite pillows and lots of other stuff we would need to anticipate not being able to purchase over here. Over the past two years we have learned that there is a very clear difference in the quality of goods used here vs those same goods (even the same Name Brands) used back home. We speculate that there is a little machine at the end of the Quality Control production line at each manufacturing company that separates each produced item into two bins; one bound for America, and the other earmarked for Africa. Items and Brands such as Duracell Batteries, Seagate Hardrives, Sealy Bedding, Listerine Mouthwash, Bic Pens and many others are easily found in most all the larger villages. These same items here, along with an endless list of other things such as fans, light bulbs, thermometers, DVDs, alcohol, kitchen utensils, toiletries and so much more are all made so obviously inferior here and just don’t withstand the tests of time that we are used. Duracell batteries last 1/4 of the time we expect, major Name Brand hard drives crash prematurely for no apparent reason, beds develop bowls early, Listerine just doesn’t have that “pain” if you leave it in your mouth too long and Bic pens seem to run out of ink or just stop working sooner than they should.
A few recent examples of our different brushes with time start with our bed, purchased from a top quality bedding store here in roughly Dec, 2011, about 20 months ago. After my complaint to the PC Doctor about the old mattress being nothing more than 3″ of foam, my office paid roughly P6500 (roughly $900) for a new mattress and box spring. It is a Sealy Posturpedic, queen size, pillow top, extra firm, really nice mattress. In the US it would probably have some 10 0r 15 year manufacturer’s warranty and even a 5 year in-store warranty, but not here. As of about 2 months ago my back was hurting more than usual in the mornings and upon inspection of the bed i found two permanent indents in the mattress.
A few weeks ago the Netbook (small laptop computer) that we received free as a promotion when we signed up for a two year DSL Internet contract (again about 20 months ago), crashed. The hard drive just stopped working. This was Carols’ computer and she treated it like a baby, so there was no reason it should have such severe problems so soon. At the same time, the fan in MY 5 year old laptop computer also failed and I spent an entire day travelling to Gaborone to a Computer Repair place that replaced the fan. However, they returned the laptop to me with the keyboard bent and improperly inserted back into it. Then when i got it back home, the laptop kept shutting itself off, due, I’m quite sure, to either the wrong fan replacement or an inferior fan that did not meet the minimum cooling requirements of the laptop. These problems with computers and other electrical devices could result from variable and unreliable power, but I suspect strongly that its more of a product quality issue and we are finding that life expectancies of products are just not as they are in the US.
Also, about a year ago I noticed that all of the 15 pairs of socks and 8 pairs of underwear and 6 or 7 white undershirts that i brought with me from the US were all developing holes and rips. I didn’t really think much of this since as Peace Corp Volunteers we have substantially lowered our appearance standards. However, a couple of weeks ago, when the first of 3 rips showed up in my expensive American cargo pants I began to suspect that the laundry detergent here is probably just very harsh. This, coupled with the very hard water, the intense drying sun and the sand and dust continually blown into the wet, drying clothes, creates a somewhat harsh environment for clothes washing and again changes the life expectancy of clothing.
It starts to seem like there is something magical about the two year mark for products here to start falling apart.
The point of this post is not so much to bitch about harsh environments, or inferior products, but for me to reflect a bit upon the concept and expectations of time here. Although I’m quite sure that minutes and seconds are measured here the same as back home, it seems quite clear that 2 years here has a different effect than the same two years back home, at least on things such as beds, computers and pants.