Notes from a Bureaucracy
nothing is what it seems, you see?

it never before occurred to me that a "bureaucracy" could be a political system in the same way as, e.g., a "democracy." but here it sort of is--to do anything, you need to know someone who knows someone. you can't get a simple solution to a simple problem and everything is indirect.

case in point: getting a cell phone. ("mobile" or "hand phone" here) there are several options on this.

you can go to any little shop/stall where they sell electronics and get a reconditioned (maybe) phone that uses a card system--you put a SIM chip in the back, and buy what is essentially a calling card to use with this phone. you of course can receive calls and send text messages, but you're going to pay outgoing and incoming, and you're going to buy a whole bunch of cards every month--every week if you talk a lot on IDD.

then there's the option of going to a reputable dealer/service point for one of the "package" providers (meaning, you have an account and a bill, the normal way) and buy a phone and a connection that way. but!, do not expect to simply purchase these services and leave the place so easily! if you are a foreigner, you must pay a Rs30,000 deposit on the account. that's about $300, or 3 months' rent, for comparison. supposedly you can get this deposit back at the time you end your service, but Embassy sources relate that they try to keep your deposit any way they can.

the solution: you must find a Lankan who will let you take an account in his name. he (or she, but probably he) will have to give an address and national ID, and show bills or records in his name. your bill will go to this person, so it had better be someone you will see a lot. Jill's plan is to have her "land-family" (what else to call them?) get a phone in their name for her, since her mail will go to them anyway. I, having no land-family yet, am more or less screwed until I get one or cough up Rs30,000, a sum so princely that I am not yet comprehending it.

no matter! it's a beautiful steamy day in the neighborhood. you never feel the heat up in the hills, so you start out thinking that it's cool and breezy today, then descend into town and discover that no, it's hot-hot-hot as always. already today I've seen an annex which I will not be living in unless something drastic happens. it's across the street, literally, from the ISLE center; owned by one of amma's many friends and until recently occupied by her grown son and his family. as a result it was bizarrely furnished--no cooker (stove) or dishes or cupboards, but lots of baby toys and weird souvenirs and posters of cricket players. I told amma that I wanted a place closer to where I'm working. I hope she isn't offended. (most likely, not at all.)

another example of the indirectness of it all: when I asked what the rent was, amma asked me what my allowance (pay) is for rent. I countered that I had heard the going rate for annexes was Rs8000 a month. Amma's friend (the landlady) said that the electricity and water were expensive but Rs8000 was a good rent. I asked whether she wanted me to pay the bills or give her extra for utilities--how much? she warmly replied, no no, I'll take care of the bills, but you'll give some extra. how much? I said, asking both her and amma, thoroughly fed up with the whole bargain-for-rent escapade especially seeing that I wasn't going to take the place, and finally she said Rs10,000 would be good. then we talked about the deposit: three months in advance. and on, and on.

the real estate scene, such as it is, is odd too. it's not a "market" per se, because there is no competition, no price-comparison, no realtors mostly. when I say "the going rate for annexes," I really mean that--any size, any location. since there are WAY more annexes than people to occupy them, they all pretty much cost the same, unless you want a really spiffy place. for example, Jill's amma got her an annex for when she arrived. she moved in her first day in Kandy. she has a tiny annex, with a little kitchen, sitting room, bedroom and bathroom, meagerly but adequately furnished. price: Rs8000, plus utilities, the same as this 2-bedroom, huge-sitting-room place from today. you have to work hard, though, to find a decent landfamily and location. you can't just look in the paper or on craigslist; you have to know someone who knows someone in that area, etc etc.

so obviously, I'm in the throes. that seems to be the state of things with me. soon I'll be living a more settled life but until then it will continue to be throe-y. I was thinking today that yes, I should really get a small manageable place, but then I won't have room for the hordes that will be visiting! (that's you guys!)

oh, and mom--you can "comment" on my posts here by clicking on the hyperlink to "comment." if you want to email me you'll have to email me.

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