Sunday, August 31, 2008

Slum Life Part II: Family Finance Principles

What is life like in a slum? Some residents are middle class with income from businesses or rental properties—and live there because the place has become home. They enjoy the bustle, the good prices, the constant movement and easy contact with people. Population is so dense there might be 1000 people living within 50 yards. That makes for an active social life!

Other residents sleep like goats on the street or someone’s veranda, and walk to town each day “looking for money.” Many have small businesses selling vegetables or used clothes.

Some slum residents have steady, regular employment, but unemployment is extremely high. When I verbally posted a job opportunity here at the guest house, I said I was paying $100 per month, and within a week I had had 6 or 8 resumes on my desk. People with experience and training! I selected the best and pay him twice that amount. Is that lying?

If you are lucky enough to have a steady job, you will probably make about 100 dollars. Some are more, some are less, but an average decent, steady job should pay around 300 shillings or $4.50 per day. If you are really desperate, you can work for City Council sweeping the streets or being a parking meter. You will make about $50 per month—about as much as it takes for a bus in and out of town each day.

And this will be your monthly family budget, if one person has a good job making $100 per month.

  • $20 rent—one room a bit bigger than your bathroom, in a decent part of the slum
  • $15 average--a bus one way to work—you walk 1-2 hours the other way to save money
  • $15 10 kilos of maize flour to make ugali
  • $10 one half pound of meat once a week
  • $10 charcoal for cooking and boiling water
  • $5 15 minutes of cell phone time to keep in touch with family
  • $3 a bunch of greens every day
  • $2 a couple of buckets of water every day for cooking, drinking, washing and laundry

That leaves $20 per month for school fees, medical expenses, family outings, emergencies, funerals, offerings at church, and contributing to the needs of your family members who might not have work.

Anyone want to come teach a budgeting class?

Slum Life Part I

From its inception Nairobi was a well-planned city—in a perverse sort of way. The resourceful British placed a tax on all adult African males, and in order to pay the tax, the men had to come to the city to work.

The Brits then imported Indians to run their businesses, and planted the Indians in between to buffer them from the Africans. Ta-da! Free land, free labor, and beautiful, luxurious estates to the west and north of town.

But where will all the men live, after they leave their farms to come to the city to work, sweeping the city streets by hand, and cutting grass with machetes? You can only build so many houses.

Just give them some empty space and they will figure it out.

Thus is born the eighth wonder of the modern world—the slum. The demographic trends continue—people moving from the rural areas in search of cash or a new life. Currently, three-quarters of the population of Nairobi lives in a slum.

And still they grow bigger.

And the sewage trickles down the footpath. And the trickles join and flow into the rivers. And “economic growth” clogs the highways with new SUV’s from Japan, and fills the air with clouds of diesel smoke. And NGO’s pump in money and medicine and advice.

And the slums grow still bigger.

And charcoal flows in from the forests, and less rain falls each year, and more people flow into the city because the crops have failed.

And the slums grow still bigger.

Sometimes good planning can backfire.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Random Projects I've Worked On

I've been doing building and remodeling since I was about ten--my family restored a beautiful old farmhouse when I was a kid, doing pretty much all the work ourselves. Then we moved to Missouri and built a STRAW and stucco house when I was 16. (The big bad wolf couldn't even blow it down).

When I left home, I worked in agricultural construction--doing chicken house equipment.

My summer job through far too many years of school was construction: framing, trim, siding and a lot of other stuff.

Summer '05 took me back to Missouri to oversee a house built as a fundraiser. We completed the majority of the work in 3 months, with nearly all volunteer labor, and raised around $30K. The pics on this page are from that project--they were the photos I had at hand.

Since then I've been working doing mostly framing in some of Columbus' upscale neighborhoods: Dublin, Worthington, Tartan Fields, German Village. I also worked renovating a grand, but run-down old house into 3 beautiful living units: 8 inch-wide heartwood pine trim, 11 foot ceilings.

What I do

The short answer is "just about anything." Some examples of things I'm equipped and experienced to handle.

Finish Basements
Kitchen and Bath: (Cabinets, fixtures, tile, flooring)
Decks: (repair or build new)
Exterior Repair (trim, siding, porches, fencing, painting, etc.)
Interior: (painting, trim, plaster repair, drywall, light electric/plumbing)
Flooring: tile, hardwood, refinishing
Insulation: (check out the tax credits this year!)
Replacement Windows
Rehab rentals or purchased homes.

(I'm also happy to work as a subcontractor for builders--as I said, I've worked the most in framing but have experience in many other areas.)

If a project is over my head, I'll be happy to refer you to someone else.

About me

I'm Aram DiGennaro, living in the North Campus area. Since my wife, Debbi, is in school, finishing her Master's in Social Work, I need work that allows me to take care of our baby, Priska from time to time.

My educational background isn't exactly in construction: have a BA in Psychology from U of Missouri-Rolla, (minor in Spanish Lit) and a M.Div. from Eastern Mennonite Seminary (concentration is church history). But my work experience is mostly in construction (some farming, church work, social work too) and I'm enjoying it as a job to put my wife through school.