Monday, February 4, 2013

The underworld of Construction: Part 1

Guest post by Samuel G. Njenga

I constructed and my final verdict is that everyone on that site was a thief unless they proved otherwise. You see these fellows thought that I had loads of cash (limitless) and all they wanted was to squeeze the most out of me, illegally and otherwise.

I set out to do my residential house with the little cash I had and hoped against hope that someday I’ll live in my own home. The dream came to pass but by the end of the project, I had some Solomonic wisdom regarding the dealings in that world; which I will share with you. The trusted hardware supplier stole in cohort with the clerk of works, the jua kali foreman stole, the timber guy based in Rongai stole, the KYMs stole cement, the fundis stole man hours and my rogue brother meant to assist reduce the pilferages also colluded with them that stole…but they only did it for a short time because my eagle eyes and a bit of investigative skills and that mole, actually two of them helped me…Someday I woke up and decided enough was enough, slapped the foreman after a lengthy rebuke, fired all of them workers, sat down and reflected on the way forward, installed controls before resuming the construction….welcome to the underworld that construction has become.

It started with profiling of the house and using lime to mark where trenches were to be dug. No sooner than the markings were done, a gang of Mungiki youths showed up demanding to dig the trenches, in their own words, that work was set aside for them and no-one else. And you see they were to charge some fee 3 times compared to the usual charges from other KYMs…of course I told them I had no money and will call them when am ready only for them to show up a few days later and find the trenches already dug. Few threats here and there but they disappeared into thin air.

Then I met this guy who would supply everything in this world and dude is an architect by profession. Kamau will have a solution to all problems; he will get you fine sand from somewhere past Athi-River, he’d hook you up with some cheap AFCO cement, he owns a lorry that he’d use to get foundation stones somewhere in Ruiru, Ndarugu stones as well. Wait…Kamau knew where to also get some nice trees which we can split and get timber…actually that guy who prepares the timber is a good friend of his…this Kamau even had the best of painters and metal fabricators around. The interesting thing about Kamau is that he even proposed redesigning my house to make the roof better, space utilization…sijui nini…and so I asked him, “Kwani Kamau you know everything, what is you speciality ” I smelled a big rat here and avoided Kamau like a plague. And by the way he used to sniff snuff; that powdered tobacco…and that really put me off and so I dismissed him.

By the way, when they were digging those trenches for the foundation, it emerged that the hard rock was as many as 7 to 10 feet below ground level. You see when I flashed back to that time I was buying that kaplot and that agent who usually drinks himself silly showed me some rocky area within the plot and I thought that doing the foundation would be very easy on that plot only to be confronted by that thick layer of hard core stones upon digging the trenches. So this place was actually a quarry at some point, which was back filled with hard core stones and a layer of 1 foot thick cotton soil; so in other words what I bought was a quarry plot. This architect of mine who doubled up as a structural engineer returned a verdict that we could only suspend the house as opposed to doing 7 to 10 courses of foundation stones…..suspend the the air or what?..I wondered. So he explained the concept of suspending…doing columns to the level of the hard rock, then some beams at ground level to support the walls..

Then I realized that not only had I got a raw deal of a plot, but I was in for some more surprises…most of them very costly….and I will tell you how I formed a habit of whistling subconsciously when confronted with those costly surprises…and this neighbor of mine who promised to give me water for koroga only for the wife to decline on the material day of koroga, having already assembled the team and machinery and my begging mission to salvage the situation that had boiled down to a teary fight between man and wife……more in the next post.

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