Part one of this series is here.
[Written in Africa]
Sometimes the water goes off. Quite a lot of the time, actually. So one thinks, how did our tank run out so quickly? Did someone steal it? Did our landlady deliberately leave a tap on in her apartment to annoy us? Did someone hold a grudge against us and use their connections at the water ministry to ensure our area received none? Did the laundry downstairs turn off our tap when we were being filled? Is the government just trying to test us all, in order to see who loses their temper and protests, so that they know who to arrest?
In any normal country these questions would be absurd. It makes you think of crazy old Greek neighbours in Brunswick who’ve been feuding over poisoned lemon trees and sabotaged lawnmowers since 1973.
But this is not a normal country. In this country, all of those possibilities are just as plausible as a leak or accidental overuse.
Stealing water is common because it is such a scarce resource. Some people are notorious for siphoning of their neighbours’ water, or turning of their main so that they have more pressure, or whatever.
Messing with someone’s water out of spite is quite common, even if it affects those who are not involved. The laundry downstairs only turned off our water to get at our landlady, who was trying to evict them, not at us. Now our landlady is trying to evict us so the paranoid idea that she and her family are deliberately wasting our water in order to run down our patience seems reasonable, though we cannot prove it.
As for the government, their involvement is possible but not likely. They once turned off the power for two weeks during the World Cup, just to flaunt their power and to try to flush out the discontented. I guess they could do the same with water. Working against this theory is the fact that shutting off water to certain areas is tricky and they probably don’t know how to do it. In fact, a source close to the water board indicates that the most likely cause of our water woes is that our area was connected for ten days straight, meaning that for the nine days after our tanks were full and we had to turn off our mains to prevent an overflow, the rest of the water gushed down to the sea. Apparently the water board is not managing the paperwork, is wasting water left, right and centre, and basically they have no idea what they are doing and are unable to get water to people even though the dams are full.
The ever-increasing exodus from the country has worsened all such problems as anyone with skills has gone, and the dullards left cannot manage anything.
So in this case paranoia seems misplaced, but it is often well-placed.
People here are often paranoid that someone is out to get them as some sort of revenge. For example, one day our taxi driver came twenty minutes late and we were a little annoyed. The next day I was late getting downstairs to the taxi because I’d misunderstood the time. The driver said to me, ‘Is this revenge for yesterday?’ He wasn’t joking. That is how they think, and that is how they treat each other. They can be rather spiteful and petty. If anything goes wrong they assume it is a deliberate swipe at them, and it often is, but such is the overwhelming incompetence one can never be certain. For example, our house manager was being extremely slack with fixing things in our house. Was he in cahoots with the warring landlady? Impossible to say, because he was as useless as tits on a bull even before that dispute began.
You are right to be paranoid that someone is listening to your phone calls, because they are. You are probably right to think that you got cut off because you mentioned something political. The lines are unreliable, but 60% chance it was a human being that did it.
Is that guy in the corner of the café with dark glasses spying on you? Probably not. But, if you bag the government in public too often, they’ll kick you out of the country. So sometimes people really are spying on you. That is how Big Brother works – they always might be watching you, so you can never relax.
The biggest and most concerning piece of paranoia for me is: do they know about this blog? And, do they care? I have come to the conclusion that the answers to these questions are ‘probably’ and ‘a bit’. But I might just be being paranoid.
When I first arrived, WordPress was unblocked. Internet was too slow for me to actually log on but I could visit my site and see recent posts and comments. Suddenly, after a couple of my first Africa-themed posts went up – WordPress was blocked! Further, the hotel where I’d been using the internet because it is the fastest in town began asking for passport numbers before they’d let you use WiFi.
WordPress is still blocked but they no longer do the passport thing. In related news, I have not checked my site while in country for a long time.
How paranoid am I being? It is hard to say. As with all things in this country, anything is possible. It could be that someone was accessing a WordPress-based opposition website at the hotel and they got strict for that reason. Or maybe it was my posts, though they did not specifically mention the country, that set off alarm bells. That would be kind of funny because I wrote about all the awful things that are going on here and that the government always denies, but somehow they still knew I was talking about them . . .
Some time ago I got VPN, the internet got a bit faster, and I’ve been able to check my site from time to time. There’s been no change in policy and no dungeons or electric shocks for me so far. But I’m starting to think that’s a stupid thing to do and I will not access this site anymore.
My best bet is that they suspected someone in the country was writing shit about them, blocked it clumsily, but did not know exactly who was publishing it or why. Given that nothing’s happened since then (i.e. I’ve had no trouble with visas or travel permits), either they didn’t figure it out or, more likely, they considered it dealt with and gave it no more thought.
You’ve got to remember, these security guys are human beings. They are no doubt close to the powers that be through family connections, but it must be a boring job trawling through internet logs to see if anyone’s looking up anything naughty. If they find something suspicious, their main concern is not to get into trouble themselves by letting an important item through, so they block it somehow and then decide their job is done. A more fervent party man might go further, but perhaps my site did not run into one of those.
My later posts spread more shit about the country, but as I was no longer accessing it in country, maybe they did not think to check it themselves anymore and didn’t notice. Also, recent posts that I did foolishly look at referred fallaciously to another country, which I hope has put them off the scent.
Paranoid, you say? No doubt. But because we know people really are sometimes out to get us, we can never relax when they are probably not.
By the time this is posted I will be out of the country, and I will be very glad about that.
[Edit: I am, and I am.]
Next in this series: Adventures in Communism – Coups