Monday, March 15, 2010

Things Fall Apart

The washing machine, the kitchen sink (both faucets), the table, two dining room chairs, all hooks and sticky things, the toilet (three times), the kitchen and bathroom drains, all the sockets in my room (twice), and my overhead light. This is a short list of the things that have needed immediate attention since I arrived in Lusaka five months ago. This does not include the items that were fixed by various family members to prevent catastrophe. Despite our insanely high rent, the flat is literally falling apart.

Sure we can’t depend on anything purchased here, but surely the water and electricity should be fool-proof…wrong again. As already noted, the water comes and goes as often as my emotions and the electricity has proved to be a further challenge. This month, Sara and I got a lesson in monopolies, inefficiency and superbly bad property management.

All electricity in Zambia is operated through “ZESCO,” a government-owned monopoly. In typical African fashion, you pre-pay for the units using a card with a unique account and meter number before entering the purchased units into your ZESCO meter. Our flat has been buying electricity in this fashion for years, but in early March, ZESCO decided to throw us for a loop.

Our units were running rather low (about 40) when we finally headed to ZESCO to purchase our units for the next month; however, upon our arrival we were informed that our account had been blocked because there was no official account number. We quickly learned that this was a problem between ZESCO and homenet (our delightful property managers). Despite the fact that we were not responsible for the problem, a 5-day process began where Sara spent her mornings trying to urge homenet to help us while I spent my afternoons talking with ZESCO. During this time, our units were running low, forcing us to stop using electricity in the hope that the refrigerator wouldn’t run out before the problem was resolved.

ZESCO maintained that it was homenet’s responsibility to find the old account number and homenet insisted they didn’t have the information but no one was interested in providing a temporary solution for the flat. After a number of heated phone calls, confrontations, and long days away from work, our account was magically “unblocked” only 8 hours after we lost all electricity. We still have no idea how they “fixed” the problem, or if it will be an issue in the future. Plus homenet sincerely expected a fruit basket for all their hard work (a.k.a doing their job in a slow manner).

While the situation was beyond irritating, it did shine some light on the lack of customer service provided by companies with zero competition. Both ZESCO and homenet are monopolies, so threats of switching companies or moving flats are ineffectual and toothless. For me this is a short term frustration, but I do have a lingering feeling of “what am I paying you people for?!”

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure you could have gotten it fixed faster with a little "investment" to speed the process. Money is magic. As you know by now, not all of the problems of Africa are a result of outside interference. Total Depravity has it's own unique manifestation in every place!