Saturday, December 1, 2007

furniture escapades

i have a bed! it's amazing. i can't wait to sleep in it. and i have a bookcase and desk coming -- inshallah. but it was a long and arduous ordeal to get these things and i'm glad that it is a one time deal and all PCV's who inherit furniture from their anciennes are freakin' lucky (i don't have an ancienne -- aka predecessor -- because i am at a new site).

in order to get furniture we had to go to kaffrine which is about 15K away by charette. we stopped by toune, where talla's dad lives and where there used to be a PCV in order to measure his old furniture so that we knew what to tell the carpenter in kaffrine. we went to a guy that talla is friends with, hoping to get a good deal, but as soon as he saw me i saw the dollar signs light up in his eyes. it's frustrating sometimes when everybody assumes that us toubabs have a lot of money and subsequently don't mind paying astronomically jacked up prices. he kept trying to make my requests for a desk and shelf unit fancier and a few centimeters bigger. we also wanted him to make my bed, basically just the base board with crappy planks (seriously, we aksed for the leftover pieces of wood) nailed together across enough so that it would support me and the straw mattress. this dude wanted to add varnish and give me high quality wood when all i wanted was a few planks of wood nailed together so that i didn't have to run my life on the floor anymore. i was terribly annoyed as it is so hard to express myself right now and i knew i was being taken advantage of, but there was no way to verbalize my dismay or let the punk know that i knew what was up.

so, for a "bed," a desk, and a shelf unit, this dude charges me 37,250 CFA!!!!

i almost punched him in the face. $74USD for that shit?? no way! i could get a desk and shelf unit of better quality from freakin' IKEA for $74. he kept trying to give me this crap about how part of the price was "paying for the sweat" (aka labor) and if his labor cost me that freakin' much, i was better off buying the wood and trying to nail this crap together myself. man, was i really ticked off. what we were asking him to do was a $20, no more than $30, job.

i decided at that point to call emmy (a PCV who's been here for a year) and see if she would be willing to help me out -- at least with translating and to give me an idea of what is and ins't a reasonable price, because who knows, maybe 37,250CFA is accurate. i called her and nobody picked up. my heart sank a little because at that point i didn't know what to do and i wasn't understanding what talla was telling me our alternative was and i was just so set and eager on getting some freakin' furniture because it's all i've wanted for the past two weeks. just as i'm starting to stress and my high strung side is emerging, emmy texts me telling me she's not in town but tells me to contact joel (another PCV in the area who's been here for 9 months). i don't even know if joel remembers me but what the hell, i need help. luckily, he picked up and seemed to recall who i am and he's not busy! AND he's willing to come and help. and more so, he confirmes that 37,250 is outrageously expensive and this homie is trying to rip me off (jerk!).

so joel shows up and tries his magic on the carpenter but homie refuses to lower the price -- not even by a mil or two -- so we bounce because joel knows a guy who made him a decent table and stool and a place where we can get a bed. we first go to joel's carpenter who immediately recognizes him (a good sign) and offers to make my shelf unit for 10 mil which is still kind of expensive but cheaper than the first guy and the wood he is showing me is far better quality. moreover, he points out why it costs what it does by telling me the prices of each piece of wood he will use and it does seem to make sense. i agree.

we move on to discussing the desk. i originally wanted a big desk because i like to sprawl out but this will be 10 mil as well. this seems a little insane because how can a desk which is far less complicated and smaller be the same price as a gigantic shelf unit? joel mentions that his desk which is about a meter in length suits him fine and he paid 7 mil for it. the desk i wanted was to be a meter and 20 centimeters and somehow that costs me an extra 3 mil? i tell the guy i want the same desk as joel's and he tries to tell me that joel's desk is smaller than a meter. joel's not really sure if it is a meter or less so i am about to take the carpenter's word for it when he asks me (not so smartly) if i've seen joel's desk. i say i have -- even though i haven't, i don't even know where he lives -- but this makes me suspicious. i am 5 seconds away from giving into the 20 mil for a desk and shelf unit when i decide, what the hell, i'm going to joel's house to measure his desk regardless of how inconvenient it is for everybody. talla and joel agree and joel's house is only around the block anyhow. we go and measure the desk. it is a meter! AND, i want it a little shorter, anyhow. we go back to the carpenter and we all bear witness to the desk's length and i get my price of 17 mil for my desk and shelves which will be done monday (inshallah).

next, the bed. joel takes us to where he got his bed and it is a METAL bed with fancy tracery and sturdy and pretty and 20 times more quality than a baseboard make of leftover wood. moreover, the guy (boy, more like) has just finished painting it so it is fresh and ready to be sold. he says 15 mil. joel tells him he bought his bed which was the same thing at the same place for 13 mil. the guy agrees. just as i'm reaching for my money, the boy takes a look at me and changes it back to 15 mil! what?! i swear to God, i don't dress like a rich american here -- i wear a shirt and pagne (wrap skirt) -- most days the same one -- everyday and no make up, no fancy jewelry, my hair is always just piled on top of my head and i am always sweaty and grimy. i get pissy and screw manners: i call the kid out on the fact that i can understand him and he just changed the price from lower to higher and you can't do that. he sheepishly agrees to the 13 mil.

the paint, however, is not fully dry, so me, talla, and joel spend the next few hours at joel's place literally waiting for paint to dry. thankfully his family feeds us lunch and joel is an interesting guy and makes for good conversation. i feel al ittle bad because talla doesn't speak english and joel and i are yammering away in english but then again, how often am i the quiet one left out of conversations? just about 95% of the time, so i get over it but do go and make some house visits with talla where yes, the situation is immediately reveresed and i just sit there dumbly while everybody chats away.

finally the paint is dry and we load up the charette and say goodbye and head out. it is like, 4:30PM at this point and i am tired and hungry and filthy. but of course we can't just go straight home and stop by talla's dad's (so i guess my dad too) village where we are served another lunch (hooray!) and given a bunch of trees from talla's dad's pepineer. it is dark by the time talla and i finally make it back to d. and i am tired and so is he and so is the horse but we eat and assemble the bed and now i have a bed and can't wait to sprawl out in it.

i also realize that this is the first bed i have ever bought and also the largest bed i've ever had and it is in the first house i've ever had. well, it's a hut but its more than a rented room, so to me, it is a house. look, ma, i'm growing up!


treesaver said...

weeeeeee!!! you have your own house and bed!

Natalie said...

and you worked really hard for it too! good job. i would have given up. nothing is easy in africa...jeez