Tuesday, 28 February 2012
I need one. Not just want one, I neeeed one!
The red ferrolytic soil here when mixed with 5% cement and a little water and then compressed into forms makes excellent bricks. Strictly speaking, planning regulations governing land close to rivers or the sea prohibit concrete or brick buildings, wood should be used instead but considering that I have had no complaints about the shop or the kitchen toilet block I know that I can get away with bending the rules a bit.
As you know, I am busy trying to put something back into the village that sold me my lovely, if sometimes rather damp piece of land and welcomed me into their community. And it is a community.
Yesterday, I suffered my first bit of shoplifting. Trying to instil an ethic of patient queuing is I am afraid, a waste of time. It was during one of the occasional rushes we get that some oik decided to help himself to our most expensive whisky which we foolishly presented on the shelf closest to the entrance. Naturally, when Marcia returned from town and noticed the loss (I had not), it was all my fault and further evidence, if any were needed, that I am a dizzy, forgetful doddering old fool. Marcia even checked with me in case I had drunk it all which says a lot. Well, too much really.
Marcia phoned the Administradora, the person responsible for the administration of the village, told her what had happened and of her intention to close the shop for one week, denying the service to the whole community. This morning the missing whisky was paid for. Naturally, no one could lose face and, notwithstanding my stolen generator which was clearly an ‘outside’ job, no one in the Barra de Kwanza is dishonest so the excuse given was that the purchaser was in such a hurry to catch the bus that leaves on the dot (about the only punctual thing I have seen in this country), so he helped himself since I was so busy, with the full intention of paying for it later. I should put an Honesty Box on the counter and save myself all this grief.
Hopefully this week the trucks will arrive from the lumber yard down south and the first three buildings; the new shop, our little house on the prairie and the clinic will start to go up. The lads were here today installing the 15,000 litre water tank and pump so maybe by the weekend, I will shower in tankered in fresh rather than bathe in the river.
Bathing in the river is not at all an unpleasant experience but, unlike my brother who is hung like a bull elephant in musth, I was never particularly well endowed, even by Caucasian standards so am occasionally a little self conscious washing my bits in front of men doing the same but who presumably have to stand on the toilet seat in order to piss without getting the ends of their dicks wet.
Angolan bureaucracy raised its ugly head again a couple of days ago. I was expecting a visit of a delegation from the Ministry of Health who, together with the Administradora would position the new clinic. A convoy of 4x4s duly arrived and a fat ‘Suit’ was helped out. He came into the shop and studied everything on the shelves, demanding prices as he browsed and also my recommendation for the best wine. I told him I had a half decent Cabernet Sauvignon which was light on the palate or a Merlot which was a bit more full bodied. There was no sign of the Administradora or the Doctor responsible for the district.
The counter now loaded with my best wine, choicest cuts from the meat freezer and a case of cold beer, he introduced himself as an official from the Ministry of Commerce and told me that it would be him that would grant the licence allowing me to operate a commercial clinic.
I asked him how a clinic donated to the community via the Ministry of Health could be considered commercial.
He waved his arm around to encompass the shop. ‘Are these not commercial premises?’ His hangers on sniggered dutifully.
'This', I pointed out, ‘is a shop’
'And citizens come in here and buy things!’
Now I know I am a bit slow but I defy any of you under similar circumstances to divine the point he evidently felt he had just driven home so I just stood there looking, I suppose, like a retard.
He ordered me to fetch my Ministry Of Commerce licences which I did. The licences give the name of the company, the date of its incorporation and a list of codes for the commercial activities authorised under the licence. They are to me incomprehensible but being a bureaucrat, he knew them all off pat and read them out to me: supermarket; import export; tourism; alcohol sales; restaurant.
‘See?’ he demanded. No, I didn’t see and shook my head like a donkey that had been thrashed once too often.
‘No licence for medical services!’ He slapped the docs onto the counter hitting the wet patch left by the last sale of ice cold beer like a marksman.
Some people feign stupidity. Right now it was coming naturally. A sort of instinctive bewilderment, the desire to lash out tempered by the thought it could all be a misunderstanding. Had this conversation taken place in the Bull and Lion half way up Market Street, Ashby de la Zouch, I would have decked my interlocutor with a bar stool, accepted with good grace my month's ban from Jake, the proprietor, and that would have been the end of it.
He then went on to inform me that licences for clinics, as they involved the provision of services to high and strictly controlled legislated standards were difficult to obtain and that I would have to prove through University certificates and my CV that I was competent to establish and run a clinic but, after a great deal more of the same, concluded that he could be of definite assistance.
So that was it. Only days after I offer a free clinic, I am getting a shake down.
'But this is a charitable donation' I pointed out.
'In that case it should be handed over to the relevant Government department'
I knew all about the 'relevant government department' from my time helping the two orphanages. They need mattresses for the kids but you have to hand the cash over so the 'Department' can decide the greatest need which invariably translates to new lounge furniture for some functionary's girlfriend. In the meantime, the kids sleep on the floor.
The Fat Suit and his entourage outnumbered my genuine customers who clung to the walls of my shop with the sort of intense concentration on the proceedings that only vested interest provokes.
I looked at them, all clearly worried that the idea of the clinic would be still born or maybe praying like mad that I could afford to cough up and they would still get their clinic.
I looked at the Fat Pig (I mean Suit) and said, ‘Thankyou’
Now it was his turn to look confused so I dived in working on that ever so useful precept that when dealing with bureaucrats, if you talk faster than they can think and appear to agree with them they are quickly lost, so I confessed my gratitude that he had informed me of all this before I wasted my money as, quite clearly, I was in no way competent to meet the exacting requirements that would be demanded of me.
‘So I won’t build the clinic’ I concluded.
There was a collective groan from the villagers and the Fatman knew they would all henceforth look at him as the reason why they did not get their clinic and his crime would be all the more heinous with every telling. Some were probably already stabbing his car tyres.
‘But, but you HAVE to build the clinic’
‘No I don’t’ I said as I totalled up his purchases, ‘It is my money and if you are telling me if I build one I might have problems, I won’t and, speaking of my money, you owe me 23,900 Kwanzas’ I handed the last shopping bag over the counter.
Not to offer to pay now would be all the evidence the villagers needed that this had been a shake down.
‘I only have a Multi Caixa card’ he said. A good move that in what was now becoming a very interesting game of chess. Technically he had made the offer to pay, an offer steeped in the confidence that a little river side trading post like mine with its crude shelves and absence of strip lights and plug sockets, salutary reminders of how effectively the shop had been cleaned out by the same thieves who nicked my generator, would not have an electronic link to the banking system. But, like all poor Generals he had underestimated my reserves and in this particular game, he had completely overlooked my queen, native of Uige and not to be fucked with, my dear Marcia who had installed Multi Caixa.
I pulled the machine from beneath the counter and swiped his card, hoping like mad it would reject so causing him the worst embarrassment of all but it went through. Clearly God thought I had better not push my luck too far.
After he left the villagers erupted. The bastard! The gatuno! He just wanted to steal from you Sr Tomas!
‘What will you do now, Sr Tomas?’ asked one of the older villagers.
‘I’ll build the clinic, what else?’
Over a hundred quid from one customer is pretty good and if the bastard does try to give me grief then I know people too… But, I ain’t stupid. Before he even walked into the shop I had seen the quality of his cars and guards so knew he was low rank shit. Nowadays I will only allow myself to be intimidated by someone in a Savile Row suit and driving a fully loaded Mercedes G Wagen and besides, the really dangerous ones don’t come to visit you, they have you fetched during the night.
So the clinic will go ahead even if I have to raise a village militia, overturn hay carts (or fishing boats) to block the road and shoot ‘Furriners’ on sight.
Next on the list is the water treatment plant. Seems pretty ineffective to spend all that money to treat diseases and not do anything to eliminate the vectors of those diseases which, apart from malaria, are principally water borne. So we need at least five tonnes of purified water per day. Since the water source is brackish, I need a reverse osmosis plant with sand pre filters and UV treatment. I’ll get that. No problems. I have already been warned that all the sources, the factories producing bottled mineral water are owned by the generals or senior party officials and that they will do all they can to stamp out the awful precedent of ‘Free Water’. Fuck em. We’ll just roll over a few more hay carts or fishing boats and encourage the women to praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. Maybe Raschman or SBW can get me a Remington Sendero and then I can start knocking the bastards off a mile away.
I’ll do my little bit to improve the health of the community but what is equally important is a way to improve the economic turnover of the village. I am in no way denigrating the hard work of fishermen but, let’s face it, anyone can catch fish. Any one who retails fish for a living knows that as a commodity, it is bloody fragile and spoils in 24 hours. Unless you have access to hygienic processing facilities, cold storage, packing and transport, you are selling it by the roadside at knock down prices determined by the relatively few numbers of punters that chance by.
Now I cannot afford to electrify the village and get everyone walk in coolers and freezers but what I can do, using primarily local materials, is build a cold smoke house. There are some very nice fish out there, even types that are ideal for Sushi but the majority are ideal for cold smoking. The only cost additional to building the smoker (a few bags of cement and a bit of hard labour), will be the vacuum packing machine from Germany so that we can properly conserve and market the resultant product at ten times its raw net value.
Being a dyed in the wool socialist, of course, I would form a Co-operative so all fishermen putting fish in would get a share of the profit coming out. Then they can buy their own small generators and fridges to keep their beer cold, watch the shopping channels all night and enjoy their filthy capitalist consumerist lifestyles.
From Italy I can get the very best artisan juicing machines which will allow me to make the Horseradish and Hot Pepper sauces vacuum packed with the German machine to accompany the smoked fish, the ingredients for which the village can grow so long as they can keep the feral pigs at bay.
Then there are the pigs. From them we can make bacon, smoked sausages, salami and Parma style ham. At the moment, the villagers raise pigs for slaughter and immediate consumption. I can afford to buy the product, cure it and wait nearly a year before I start to see a return on investment having added considerable value to the raw material.
The pre fabricated clinic is paid for and is on the way. I am working on the water treatment plant (still short of a few funds but one way or another I will get them, we are not talking millions after all, just a few thousand) so what I need now are designs for a traditional, artisan built cold smoker. While the professionals are putting up the clinic, me and the lads could be making mud pies and turning them into a smoker and a way of adding value to fish. That way the fishermen would earn more so instead of raping the sea with fine mesh nets, they can use hooks and lines and target the right size and species of fish knowing that just one would generate enough income to feed the family for a week.
In all that, there’s a plan somewhere.