February 07, 2005

Two days without post!


I love the free service, but I've been without post over two days now. The pain. It's like the addiction to checking the internet, maybe worse. Fortunately, I'm back in posting availability, so I am happy. Sorry to do this to you, but fear of not posting drives me to put all the stuff I've recorded over the last two days into one single, long long, post. Good luck.

I have an interesting ethical examination for you. Corruption, bribery, understanding, what have you? Read the story and assess how you would have reacted.

I bought a mobile phone from a company in the Netherlands in September as I was on my way back to Ethiopia from a wedding in the U.S. I gained the assurance of the salesclerk that the phone would work in Ethiopia, but upon returning, I found that it was inadequate.

I initially considered using local suppliers, but there cost was so high with no guarantee of repair that I contacted the mobile phone customer support via email and they directed me to two of their suppliers in Kenya. After a brief email exchange with one company, I sent the phone off using DHL at a price of $25 (on an $80 phone). The company confirmed receipt and assured me that my phone would be repaired and back to me shortly.

Things didn’t turn out that way. It is now February 4 (the phone was sent October 1) and I just received the phone this morning. I still haven’t been able to check whether it is fully functional, so this story may not be finished, but for now the phone is in my hands and appears to be in good condition.

Getting the phone back required some serious effort. The detail that seems to have finally spurred the company into action was an email complaint I filed with the company’s headquarters, not the customer support center in one of the company’s subsidiaries.

By late November, it seemed I was going to receive my phone. After numerous emails to the warranty repair supplier and to the customer support center of the mobile phone company, we seemed to have triangulated the problem and it seemed my phone would arrive shortly. Apparently, the repair company did repair the phone and sent it to me, but had incorrect address information, and the phone was sent back to Kenya. All contact was lost at that point.

I sent a typed letter of complaint to the company’s sales department (not the parent-company) and never heard anything back. Then, family arrived, I was distracted and busy, and I basically wrote the phone off as a lost cause, at least for awhile. I decided to check back in with the customer support center, however, about a week ago, and heard nothing from them. This was especially frustrating and was the straw that broke my back. All along, the customer support center had been efficient in replying to my emails – but I never received a reply to the last email. At that point, the warranty supplier was completely out of reach and then I’d also lost the customer support. I’d had it.

I found the contact information for the parent company and sent off a complaint, concluding that this was one of the worst customer service experiences I’d ever encountered. I didn’t expect it to do much, as their own subisidiary’s customer support center was useless, but I gave it a shot. To be honest, I was actually looking around for the contact information of the company’s board of directors, but as I couldn’t find it, I just lodged my complaint on the parent company’s feedback page.

Well something worked, because the same day I received an email saying the subject would be looked into and the following day I received a phone call from the warranty supplier in Kenya (even more, apparently he tried to reach me throughout the day). He was extremely apologetic, although passing the buck a bit onto his subordinates. He offered to compensate me for my lost time/compensate me in order for me to correct the record in a positive light. That is the ethical question. Should I have accepted the compensation and then amended the record with the company so as to put his company in a favorable light.

Your gut reaction, if you are my family, may be “no”. The moral thing to do is to tell the company the truth. In fact, I said I wanted no additional compensation, just my original phone in good working order, and once I had it in possession and confirmed that it was functional, I would correct the record with the company, though I had no intention of “rosying” up the situation. That’s the rub.

On the one hand, I have no allegiance to the company that sold me the phone – it’s a huge, multi-billion Euro company, doing just fine. The warranty supplier is obviously a small company and, at least in my case, completely inept in its internal processes. I don’t want other customers to experience the same frustration I have, and that is probably why I will email the parent company to neutrally correct the record without taking compensation from the company. But that is the warranty suppliers business. Maybe he recognizes that he made a mistake, but can’t afford to lose one of his largest clients (all warranty repairs for this brand of mobile phone in this region are directed to his and another company in Kenya). Who am I to say that his company hasn’t amended its affairs?

I would say again that my family would probably say something to the effect of “tough luck” – you didn’t get it right and you have reaped what you’ve sown. I’m not certain. I think the margin here is narrow. There aren’t a lot of alternatives; once you lose out on something as big as a warranty repair contract, you may never be able to regain that. Never. So perhaps I could have been compensated, thereby defusing my anger, the warranty supplier could have amended his company’s policies, thereby preventing repeats of the problem, and the parent company could have been satisfied that things will be taken care of. I almost feel like my reaction, “to tell the truth” or “do the ethical thing” is a bit of revenge or an angry reaction, not necessarily an ethical choice.

I can’t seem to log on to blogger.com to get my posts on, so I’ll make do in this uninspiring Microsoft Word environment. Hey, nothing against Microsoft products – they make things work. But writing in the confines of the blog, with formatting all around, and my hand merely a mouse click away from publication, seems to take my writing to the next level. Moves me into the writing zone. When I’m in the writing zone, it’s like I’m five words ahead of the one I’m typing, giving me enough time to find the perfect word before it is entered onto the page.

Well, the weather is blisteringly hot. Probably somewhere above 85 degress, and not a cloud in the sky. The neighbor’s water tower is empty of any avian activity and the pollution level is surprisingly low this afternoon. There was an unexpected breeze last night, and I think it whisked all the car exhaust west over the Entoto Mountains. It’s funny, earlier in the “fall” (Sep, Oct, Nov), I made numerous remarks about how Ethiopia should develop its wind technology – there was a constant, 10-15 mph wind every day for a couple of months. Now, it’s like the doldrums – you definitely couldn’t sail a boat anywhere around here.

So what’s new. The Africa Unite concert is today, which I’ll get to. First, a little discussion of news. I just read a couple of great articles on the Nile River, Egypt, Ethiopia, and many of the issues that go into the use of the river. 85% of the Nile’s water comes from Ethiopia’s Blue Nile. Lake Tana, located in northwest Ethiopia, is the source of the Blue Nile and is 112 km wide (not too deep) and has 40 tributaries.

Egypt is largely dependant on the Nile for its agriculture – fruit and vegetable production. According tot the articles I read, Egypt continues to expand agricultural production, irrigating ever larger portions of the Sinai Desert. All this happens while Ethiopia has an estimated 2.5 million people living off food aid (according to the articles) living in the region where Lake Tana is located.

To give you perspective, we should turn to a statement made by President Nassir of Egypt in 1959 threatening to go to war with any country that took water from the Nile for its own purposes. The tone is not the same today, but this quotation from a farmer should give you some idea of prevailing attitudes: “If one wants to kill your kids, what [are] you going to do? It means death for the Egyptian people. We have no other sources. Only the Nile. So it is something untouchable”.

Unlike Egypt, Ethiopia does have other sources of water, but, and now I’m guessing, few as readily available and useful as the Blue Nile. What’s more, given Ethiopia’s strong history of famine, it seems only logical that this country should have access to water that originates from its lands. Here is a telling quote from Ethiopia’s Prime Minister on the subject: “And from time to time Egyptian presidents have threatened countries with military action if they move. While I cannot completely discount the saber-rattling I do not think it is a feasible option. If Egypt were to plan to stop Ethiopia from utilizing the Nile waters it would have to occupy Ethiopia and no country on earth has done that in the past”. There you have it.

At the same time, I can’t imagine how Ethiopia could begin to implement large scale water collection/irrigation without putting itself at risk of being attacked. Egypt wouldn’t necessarily need to occupy the country, simply destroy the infrastructure used to hold and distribute water. It’s definitely something I don’t like to think about, but I’ve got to side with Ethiopia on this one – it’s simply not fair. Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali, while not necessarily echoing my sentiments, suggested that conflict between Nile basin countries was almost inevitable. Good grief.

That’s the news roundup. My wife had a brief “in-port” and has since gone back out into the field for more site visits, so the Rocking Fun Zone is back to a Rocking Fun Zone of 1. This will definitely drop the Rocking Fun Zone Index down a few notches, but the Rocking Fun Zone proprietor can hopefully bury himself in work that needs to get done.

I had a second introduction into the culture surrounding death here. To clarify, the “merdo” I attended last time was a ceremony specifically designed for the family of people who’d died overseas/away from home. The funeral, or “leckmo”, which we attended Saturday, looked a lot more like the kind of funerals I’m used to, though there was still the wailing and singing in the other rooms that just pulls at your heart.

This ceremony was for a prominent family member who’d been sick for quite awhile and finally passed. We went and as the gate to the housing compound opened, there were two rows of people facing each other well down past the entrance. Not knowing everyone, I wanted to quickly scramble past, which we managed, only to find ourselves in a room full of mourning friends and family. Oh boy, I wanted to move through that room quickly as well, which we did, and then found ourselves in the bedroom with the coffin.

It was draped with a traditional cotton cloth with red embroidery along the edges. There were a few candles lit, a picture of the lady who’d died, and a handful of mourners gathered in the room. My wife and mother-in-law immediately began crying. It was funny, though, the atmosphere changed after we’d been there a bit and it seemed to me that everybody was busy talking about other things, if in hushed and somewhat sad tones. All this while the coffin loomed large on the bed.

We were there about an hour and then left I think because of me. My mother-in-law stayed behind, as is customary, in order to comfort the lady’s family. My wife has pointed out both times that she thinks Ethiopian culture emphasizes a little too heavily ceremony at death, but I think it’s really fulfilling and organic. To be that close to death makes you feel a little more alive.

Well, I think I’ll get on up out of here and head to the concert, on which I will give a full summary (this is almost like investigative journalism). In honor of our rasta brothers, peace and much love, ja ja.

Evening – February 6

Nightfall is upon us. It was a dark and stormy night. Here, it is a dark night, no storms. The animals have been put out for the evening. The domestic assistant is locking up the house. The coal fire is burning outside my office door as the sound of taps on the keyboard is played. Calm prevails.

I promised an update about the Africa Unite concert and now I’m here to deliver. As my commitment to my blog readers, I forced myself to leave my comfortable late this afternoon to make my way down to what I knew was going to be a hectic event. I was correct.

On the way there, I saw for the first time someone hit by a car. I was in the front seat of a taxi heading towards the concert when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something suddenly projected forward. I knew immediately someone had been hit and, fearing that it could be severe, jumped out of the taxi and ran across the median. By that point, the girl had moved herself to the curb in the median and a small group had gathered around. The driver of the red Toyota that hit the girl and his passenger looked shell-shocked. The girl had markings from the bumper on a couple of places on her leg, but nothing too severe. In hindsight, I think she went flying, but what really caught my eye were all the flying loaves of bread she’d been carrying.

I think I scored points with my taxi. I’d expected them to be long gone by the time I left the scene, but they had pulled off to the side and there was the driver waving at me to get back in. My seatmate asked if the girl was okay, but I think maybe the passengers were confused by my reaction. Here was not another farenj simply heading to the concert in Meskal Square, here was somebody with compassion. Maybe they weren’t thinking that.

Anyway, the concert was the maze I expected it to be. Not too much music, at least when I was there. The crowd seemed to be most energized when Ethiopian songs were played in between sets. There were also spontaneous dance groups sparking up in the crowd. One guy, who I assume was making an independent film, had his camera targeted on a number of these groups. The Rocking Fun Zone got no such love from the cameraman.

On the way out of the square, it was hectic. I hate leaving a stadium or large gathering when you are walking away from the focal point i.e. stage, field, etc., because in those instances, all eyes are inspecting you as you head past and they stay in their already established positions. In these contexts, I prefer to avoid eye contact. If someone makes a comment and you respond, you will just attract the attention of the whole group in the vicinity. So, eyes low, I made my way out of the venue. It didn’t stop all input, but it’s another solid technique.

My folks called from the U.S. this evening, which always brings a smile to my face. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the only thing difficult about living a life overseas is having to give up time with family. That’s it. Everything else, at least in my mind, is worth it. The pace of life is better, the money is good and goes a lot further, foreign cultures are so challenging and fulfilling. So, a warm thanks to my generous parents for all their support of my efforts to live abroad. Much love.


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I was searching for Elvis and somehow ended up in your blog, but you know I'm sure I saw Elvis in the supermarket yesterday.

No honest really, he was right there in front of me, next to the steaks singing "Love me Tender".

He said to me (his lip was only slightly curled) "Boy, you need to get yourself a shiny, new plasmatv to go with that blue suede sofa of yours.

But Elvis said I, In the Ghetto nobody has a plasma tv .

Dude I'm All Shook Up said Elvis. I think I'll have me another cheeseburger then I'm gonna go home and ask Michael Jackson to come round and watch that waaaay cool surfing scene in Apocalypse Now on my new plasma tv .

And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . .

"You give me love and consolation,
You give me strength to carry on "

Strange day or what? :-)

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