Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Talking trash.

The household rubbish has been sitting at the corner of our gate since Monday morning... just like everyone else on the street. Lyoto and Company Ltd, who hold the contract for garbage collection in our area, are nowhere to be sniffed. In this heat, things are going to get very ugly in the neighborhood if someone doesn't come by soon.

You see, last November, Lyoto and Co. sent us a nice letter informing us that the Regional Government of Dar es Salaam has shut down the Kigogo waste disposal site because it is full. Instead, trash will have to be taken to the new Pugu Kinyamwezi site, which is roughly a 100 kilometer round trip for the garbage trucks. In the fine tradition of passing on the cost to the consumer, Lyoto and Co. were very sad to inform us that we would be paying TShs 10,000 a month for their services instead of the TShs 4000 we had been accustomed to. Furthermore, instead of collecting three times a week, they would be collecting one day a week.

In the sweltering heat of a Dar summer, this had implications, so off we went to buy industrial-strength plastic bags in which our trash could brew over the course of seven days instead of two or three. January was mostly uneventful. In February, things got a little smelly- the truck might come a little late on Monday, but it would come. This week? Not a whiff of them, and it is Tuesday evening. The number on the receipts given out by Lyoto and Co., which is the same one that appears on their letterhead, is a mobile number that no longer exists. What's an urbanite with a sensitive nose to do?

Well, she could go to her local government rep. at the ten-cell level (who she has never met before) and ask him to handle it. And maybe he would, because doubtless his trash is out there brewing in the sun too. Or she could, to save time, merrily skip the somewhat hazy chain of command and take her chances with the Municipal Offices of Kinondoni.

The lovely lady on the other end of the Kinondoni Municipal Office general landline (which works, by the way) listened to me all the way through to the end of my story, and promptly gave me the mobile number of their Ofisa Usafishaji. He's the guy who oversees the waste collection contractors. This nice gentleman listened politely to my plea for a number for Lyoto and Co. He was candid- he has the same number as I do, the Tigo one- but he promised to get back to me as soon as soon as he has any information. By text message, even, if necessary. It always surprises me how therapeutic it is to have someone take the time to listen to a complaint, even if they can't provide an immediate solution*.

So many of us believe that chasing down some public service using only a telephone and some manners is a foolish waste of time. But I live in Kinondoni Municipality, where Tanesco has been known to pick up calls on its complaints hotline even at 3:00 am*. And this is 2010 when officers have mobile phones, not 1990 when urban waste management was a mythical creature only found in foreign climes. I'm betting that my gamble will pay off a fine dividend in the form of a contact for Lyoto and Co. Ltd. And all this done without disturbing my ten-cell leader from his coma, because that's the kind of considerate person I am.

* I once spent roughly an hour unloading several years' worth of backed up frustration on the guy who picked up one of those late "I have no power!" calls. Turns out I had caught myself a manager. He spent that hour saying "mh-hm" and"I understand" and "I'm so sorry to hear that" and "You're right, we can do better" and "I am so glad when we get detailed customer feedback like this m'am, it makes our jobs so much easier." I still get intermittent power cuts, and the odd sullen Tanesco brush-off on the phone. But because of that guy, I am and will remain for a long time, a major fan of the Mikocheni office.


  1. You have no idea how impressed I am by your tenacity and use of the phone to demand your rights (or at least some information about why a certain service has abruptly been cut off). I have Tanesco on speed dial and as soon as the power goes, I am on them. And to be honest, I appreciate that someone picks up the phone on the other end and tells you the truth (mostly) about what's going on. On Sunday, I was told the power would be back after 4 hours as they were connecting some lines. It was back after 10 minutes!!! I had a hot lunch as a result and could have hugged the nice lady on the other end of the line! El pueblo, unido, jamas sera vencido.

  2. Gracias, Compadre. Viva la revolucion!

    Heh. Tenacity: what a great euphemism for an excitable temperament. I will be sure to use it :) Besides, it is only fair to give credit where credit is due. If I want to encourage change, I had best reward it when it shows up.

  3. Somebody promised to get you a number. It is unclear what change has taken place.


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