The day before the completion date of my Lesotho school renovation project, I got a phone call from my counterpart at 7 a.m.
“The contractor needs you to buy 115 meters of electrical wiring.”
“Why didn’t he tell me this before? We are running out of money.”
“He didn’t know,” my counterpart said.
“How much does it cost?”
“48 Rand a meter.”
I quickly calculated a total of 5,520 Rand (almost $400.)
This meant we were now 15,000 Rand ($1,065) over the contractor’s initial quotation for materials, and neither the contractor nor the teachers seemed concerned about this, and I know why. They thought I could keep dishing out cash like an ATM machine, despite my warning them about the $5,000 limit set by the Peace Corps.
At first my contractor said, “I’ll take the taxi to town and back.”
I knew from my weekly trips to Maseru, suffering inside a cranky, old, Toyota van with 25 people sitting on top of each other, that it would be impossible to get to town and back without wasting the entire day.
“How will you fit the wire inside?”
“I put it on the roof,” he said.
“There is no roof rack, plus the taxi has too many people.”
My contractor laughed.
This was the fourth glitch during a 17-day project requiring me to figure out a way to get my contractor to Maseru and back with the extra materials. I made sure to tell him, “Now make sure you have everything you need as I’m running out of money.”
Fortunately I’m friends with a local white business owner who has a couple of trucks. He was born and raised in Lesotho, and is therefore fluent in Sesotho and knows the contractor. In exchange for his “emergency” transportation help, I’ve given him a couple of computer lessons.
I also had to figure out how to get to the bank and withdraw the last of my project cash. I did not like the idea of carrying all that cash in a public taxi, so another friend of mine, Jennifer, the owner of a lodge said she would take me to the bank.
Later that morning, I received another phone call from my counterpart. “Can you buy one kilo of sugar and more meat for the workers?”
“There’s only one day of work left,” I said. “I just bought 5 kilos of chicken a couple of days ago. Can’t the workers eat bread and peanut butter for breakfast? I know we have a jar.”
The requests were never-ending, and I was happy when the project ended.
Fortunately, due to not skimping on transportation costs, and eliminating Phase III of the project, (the floor tile) due to overspending on materials, we got everything done on time. I kept reminding the workers that I was leaving for the Christmas holidays and that everything had to be done by November 25th, and they managed to finish at the last minute.
I bought a chocolate cake in town to celebrate, and despite the Principal, my counterpart, and two teachers not showing up, there was more cake to celebrate for those who did come to school.