This coming week sees us living in Kenya for 2 months. It also sees us moving out of living in a shipping container (converted of course) and into a real, life house. In all we haven’t lived in our own place for 5 months, so we are going to be very happy campers.
Most of the time it’s been great living there. It’s onsite, so we’re close to work. We have some immediate neighbours as there are quite a few people living here too. However, it’s had it’s challenges and ‘cabin fever’ has taken on a new meaning.
While most people wouldn’t even consider living in a 6 metre container, it’s a good learning curve.
Millions of people around the world for whom poverty is an everyday occurrence live in nothing bigger than a 3 by 3 metre area, usually with 5 family members. It got me thinking about what life in a extremely small area is really like.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. It’s complicated
You plan and then something comes in to interrupt it. The power goes out unexpectedly and if you don’t have charcoal for the BBQ, or it happens just as you go to start cooking, what will you have for dinner. Belongings have to be stacked up because there’s no room for drawers or a wardrobe, it is so easy to mess up. Over the last couple of months we’ve bought some plastic drawers and a sort of freestanding wardrobe. I think to myself of the millions of people who the amount of belongings they have fit into one plastic bag. They don’t have several pairs of sneakers or two jackets for when it gets cold. They wear one set of clothes until they literally fall off their bodies. If their home gets destroyed by fire, war or floods there’s no government handout, but somehow they start all over again.
2. There’s no privacy
If I had a lounge, I would purposely sit in it wearing my pyjamas watching a DVD. Where we are living there are two rooms and at any time, the people living in the same compound can come in. Both rooms have doors to outside that have large glass panels in them. I wait some time in the mornings before I open them just to have ‘our’ space. If I were living with poverty, my whole family would use the same room for everything. There’s no ‘time out’ space, if you want to study you have to do with everything else going on.
3. It can be noisy
Sound travels and bounces off walls. You can hear all sorts of body sounds, music, animals outside and anything else happening. While our container is lined and painted, those in poverty may have a shack that leaks, doesn’t lock and is unsafe. When it rains here, it pours, but at least our roof is a good one. I often think of those in places like Kibera Slum whose homes have rushing streams through them when it rains.
4. You can use one thing at a time
As with most places, ours doesn’t have lots of power points. We were clever and bought a multi-box with us from Australia which helps. But, our kitchenette (a benchtop) is all we have to work with. If someone is working in the kitchen the other person has to wait. You can’t have two of you preparing vegetables at the same time, the other one has to go outside to do it. Compared to those living in small shacks in the slum, we are living in luxury. We have electricity (most of the time) and a kitchen area. Often the one room home is shared for all activities. Or, they work outside their house where a dirt track, chickens, an open sewer system is.
5. Sometimes you’re climbing over each other
The sink isn’t deep enough to do the dishes. We have a huge bowl to wash our dinner dishes in. However, the person drying the dishes needs the person washing to move over to the right to put the dishes away. But, we have a tap. We have the ability to boil hot water. We have a place to hang the drying towel. What we don’t have to do is walk to the nearest water point and carry back 25kg’s of water after paying for it. While we can pour the dirty water down the sink, many people have to throw it outside their front door.
6. One bathroom means you have to wait – even if you can’t
One of our sayings here is ‘Go when you can’. Once you leave the property you don’t know where your next toilet stop will be because there might not just be one. Last weekend we had a parents meeting but had a huge lunch beforehand. The meeting went for 5 hours and there are no toilets in the slum that we would choose to use. So, the first stop afterwards was at the mall for a bathroom break. It can get frustrating when someone is in the one and only bathroom and you want to brush your teeth. I’m not sure what I’m whinging about though, we actually have our own bathroom and a flushing toilet. We don’t have to do our business into a plastic bag and throw it away, and hope I don’t walk into someone else’s plastic bag. A billion people don’t have access to a toilet. We do.
So, living out of a suitcase for months on end isn’t my ideal, it’s a good reality check and opens one’s eyes to what it’s like for millions of people around the world.
However, I am going to live up being in a house!
Christchurch CBD now is made of converted shipping containers.