Monday, May 14, 2007

Love your neighbor?

Quotidian life in Angola can be difficult. My living conditions have improved significantly since moving out of the huge apartment building, but I still face some challenges. I still live off a generation 75% of the time and have a slight trickle of water to shower with 9 times out of 10. But a perk of ex-pat living is that I have a support staff that takes care of these things. I don’t really know how Jesús, our handyman, does things. He just moves a few wires and suddenly I have power again. Fine by me!

We have a monster generator for the two apartments we rent in our six-unit building. If I were a neighbor, I might be a bit resentful of us- it does make noise and given the quality of Lobito’s power supply, it’s on a lot. For a while, I’ve suspected that Jesús has hooked up the other apartments in the building to the generator. (My employer has leases on the two apartments for several years, so Jesús has gotten to know the neighbors and helps them out when he can.) I, for one, am not one to begrudge someone electricity. Most of the neighbors are quietly thankful, never complaining about not turning the generator on quickly enough, respecting the “only Leslie, Stella or Sergey has authorization to turn on the generator” rule. (After all, we do pay for it, albeit down the line.)

Not my next door neighbors. I live next to two Portuguese university professors. (Yes, Lobito has a university!) I’ve only seen them a handful of times, and they seem nice. Their empregada (maid), however, is a terror. Lately I’ve been noticing that someone has been telling the guards to turn on the generator, even though we have general power and water. After several days of this, I asked Doutor, the awesome young guard, who was telling him to do this. He pointed at my neighbors and said, “Rosa.” I explained to him that only the three of us can tell him to turn on the generator, and that if there were any problems to tell me. Sure enough, the next day (Saturday), I hear a ruckus downstairs. Seconds later, I hear a pounding on my door; it was Rosa, the maid from next door. She immediately starts yelling at me, telling me that I have no right to instruct the guards to ignore her requests to turn on the generator, because without the generator, they have no electricity or water, and the women next door are professors with degrees, so how dare I disrespect them!

At first I was confused- was she really angry at me for not allowing her to steal from us? And then I was even more confused because I had city-supplied electricity and water, so why didn’t she? I explained this all to her, but she was adamant. “Call that boy Jesús!” (Jesús is in his late 30s- hardly a boy- but he has polio and walked with a profound limp, so people tend to treat him differently.) I got Jesús on the phone and passed it to her. She yelled some more, then gave it back to me. Jesús’ judgment of the situation was that “essa senhora está maluca,” or “that woman is crazy.” Agreeing with him and fearing any more confrontations, I told the guard to turn on the generator.

Later we found out that their handyman had uninstalled their apartment’s pump and connected it directly to our generator. As a result, they only had water when our generator was on. We had to do a clean sweep of all other connections, and Jesús disconnected all other apartments’ connections to our generator. I personally was scared that the quietly appreciative neighbors would be angry, but they weren’t. As one of them said to Jesús as he was disconnecting her line to our generator, “Não pensam, só falam.” (They don’t think, just talk.) That neighbor is actually quite nice, and I think Jesús reconnected her to the generator a few days later. I’m all for sharing. In the meantime Rosa continues to give me dirty looks.

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