i’ve lived in this house for just over 15 months, which is actually the longest i’ve resided in one place since i left my parent’s house ten years ago. in bits and spurts, i’ve managed to settle in and decorate. batiks bought in uganda and tanzania are tacked up here and there. kanga fabric panels serve as curtains. congolese masks hang in the front room, rwandan masks in my room, and banana-leaf mobiles dangle in the bathroom. there are half a dozen handmade baskets scattered around, holding everything from jewelry to laundry to assorted electronics. it’s nice. homey.

but over the last year and change the house has also managed to acquire a different sort of decoration, one that ought to be more functional. for example, we have a decorative shower head in our bathroom. no water comes from this shower head, but it makes a nice towel rack. come to think of it, the sink fixture is also purely decorative. no water comes from the tap, and if you pour water into the basin, it all dumps onto the floor. but it makes a nice toiletries shelf. we used to have decorative light switches in the kitchen and bathroom for a couple months while we were waiting for the electrician to show up (funny story, though – when he actually did come by he took a broom and whacked the lightbulb hanging from the ceiling… and it turned on! see? decorative light switches, just whack fixture with broom to turn on and off, shoulda written that in the manual, why didn’t i think of it). i guess the bathroom was really in a state. amanda came out one evening, having just washed out of a bucket by candlelight in a room with a shower and overhead light. welcome to africa.

for awhile we had a decorative electric kettle (for boiling water for tea). our neighbor, who controls the electricity coming into our house, had without telling us put some kind of surge monitor fuse on our line so that we wouldn’t use too much power. every time we tried the kettle, the power would go out in the whole house. then we’d hop the fence and flip the fuse next door to get it back. like a dog learning the boundaries of a new invisible fence, after three of four trips to the fuse box we got the message. no more kettle.

but the latest addition to our non-functional appliance list is the beautiful new standing water pipe. it’s masterfully encased in a brick and cement block so that the kids from next door can’t wreck it like they did the last one. it worked for nearly 24 hours. then the on/off lever broke a few yards back, spurting water everywhere and making a nice pool which one of the students dubbed lake muhazi. a nice portable phone-booth man stopped the leak by tying used plastic bags (now illegal in rwanda) and banana leaves around it. needless to say, the water’s off again. not sure what to do with the gorgeous standing pipe now – birdbath? clothesline? sculpture? outlet for graffiti art?

don’t get me wrong. i really don’t mind filling water jugs across the street instead of in the backyard. i don’t need an overhead shower or an electric kettle. i was only mildly annoyed when the kitchen light went out (when mom was here we washed dishes on the floor in the hallway). all those amenities are things i never expected to find here anyway. what bothers me is the illusion of functionality. the idea that the water guy could dig up the yard and encase the pipe in cement, but couldn’t fix the on/off lever. that the plumber could buy and install the sink, but couldn’t hook it up to the water supply. it’s disappointing. but i suppose it makes for interesting stories. remember the time i was in africa? and that electrician whacked the lightbulb with a broom to turn it on? those were good times.

decorative sink as functional toiletries shelf new decorative standing pipe banana-leaf plug to stop the geyser of our broken water main

~ by aliciawolcott on June 27, 2008.

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