Sunday, January 20, 2008

January 20, 2008 - Our Security Guards

This morning, as I lay in bed devouring the novel The Time Traveler's Wife, which my sister Christine brought me, Kristoffer brought our trash downstairs to the bins next to the security guards' post. As is his usual custom, Kristoffer initiated a conversation with our day guards, who speak better English than our night guards. They have probably never talked to a tenant so much as they have talked to Kristoffer in the last month! He learned so much about the guards, and Kenya, in this conversation.

We actually have 4 guards: 2 work from 6am - 6pm and the other 2 work from 6pm - 6 am. They work 7 days a week and never get a holiday off. They are always friendly and nice to us, and we like to think that the day guards like us because we gave them food when the post-election turmoil was at its height. These men make 3,500 Kenyan Shillings (Ksh) each month, which is equal to $1.78 (US) a day. Even though we know that Kenyan labor is very cheap, and that the per capita income in Kenya is $280 (US), we are still shocked by this news.

Additionally, a matatu, the cheapest form of transportation, costs about 30 Kenyan shillings each way, which would be 60 shillings a day, or 92 American cents. There is no way our guards could afford to feed their families (one guard has 4 children, the younger guard has 1 child) if they took a matatu to work so they walk, 2 hours each way every day. Sadly, they cannot afford a bike. If they are working 12 hours a day and walking 4 hours a day, that leaves them with only 8 hours to be with their families and sleep.

Ugh. We are devastated by this knowledge, and actually racked with guilt! When we get a pizza for lunch or dinner it costs 1/3 of their monthly salary! When we go out to the fondu restaurant we love so much, it is 2/3 of their salary for one meal! And the monthly rate our internet company is charging us to have wireless in our apartment equals 3 months pay for our guards (we are still trying to negotiate that price because it is ridiculous!). It is a completely bizarre situation to be in a developing country and to be paid extremely well for doing a job to help the country's poorest people. While this phenomenon is strange for us, at least we are paid by the Danish government and not from Kenyan taxpayers. The Members of Parliament in Kenya make the equivalent of $15,000 US each month, or 12 million KSh a year! It would take our security guards almost 286 years to earn that much money at the rate they are paid now.

It is easier for us to understand now why many Kenyans thought they were voting for a change in this country. Our security guards have joined in ODM's economic boycott of certain companies that are close to the government. We have also read today that ODM called for another day of protests on Thursday and that even yesterday and today in Nairobi's slums there were murders and ethnic fighting. I fear things will be like this for awhile.


1 comment:

Mark D Mueller said...

That MP salary is shocking: $15k a month is $180,000 annually! That's really disgusting in light of what most non-government Kenyan employees earn.

That's even more than US Representatives and Senators earn: $162,100!