Gatekeepers

It seems absurd, but here you quickly get used to arriving somewhere and sitting in your car or beeping the horn till the gates (there are usually gates) are opened by  the askaris, or security guards.

The building where I live has two askaris; between them, they’re here 24/7. Ali is in his 40s or perhaps older, has a big beer belly and moves at the speed of a snail. Peter, slight and baby-faced, looks about 17. Yep, they’re not the most formidable duo, but they provide a reassuring presence, and know what to do when water tanks leak or your fuse has blown. They have a tiny hut by the front gate with one chair; if you’re heading out early enough in the morning, you’ll hear no sound but just see the propped-up feet jutting out. The guys do 48-hour shifts – so that hut is their on-duty bedroom.

Peter knocked on my door the other day to ask awkwardly if he could borrow 10,000 shillings (about 5 euro). Seems like not much, till you consider his wage comes to about 75 euro per month (the minimum wage for such work, as far as I can figure out, is 80,000 Tsh (40 euro). But with year-on-year inflation here reaching a dizzying 19% in November last, people are really struggling to pay their bills. It’s nice to be in a position of being able to help someone out, but it’s an uncomfortable feeling when the income gap is so huge. After all, I’d just spent that amount (more, in fact) in the expat supermarket on one single ingredient for some chocolate brownies I wanted to bake, an amount that probably got Peter through a few more days till he gets paid again.

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