Walls Rising
“Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.“ – Kenyan Proverb

Monday, November 22, was a day of sorting out construction costs with Mathew. We met at the Outpost and spent a few hours going over the first three progress claims. During the site visits, I had discovered that Fabian’s contract price was based on his assumptions about how to build, and not necessarily on what was drawn and specified on my plans. Simply put, he was building it his own (traditional) way.

It was understandable that he would have had little experience reading aspects of technical drawings: building sections, details, symbols for light fixtures, etc. So, through Mathew’s interpretations, we agreed on a few compromises, which, in practical terms, meant adding more material to make the building a little stronger, for example, spacing the roof rafters closer together, or adding missed items such as light fixtures and switches.

Then an unfortunate incident occurred: there was a significant discrepancy in the last claim. It was unusually high. Reviewing the contract, we discovered a large typing error in his list of materials. During the tender when I insisted on a typed list, Philemon had had to search out a typist in Karatu (no one owned or had a use for one in the village) but the document was not carefully checked, and I hadn’t noticed it either. The 2,400 concrete blocks @ 1500 Tanzanian shillings (TSh) each totaled 360,000 TSh instead of the correct 3,600,000 TSh. Leaving off a zero would add 3,240,000 shillings to the project, and put me over my contingency limit. We would have to meet with Philemon and Fabian to decide how to cut costs to make up for it. Mathew, in his usual reassuring way, said, “No. Philemon will have to sell some cattle, maybe six or seven, to pay for it. It is the village responsibility.”

“Mathew, I can’t do that. It was an honest mistake and besides, I don’t want to put any additional hardship on the village. It could create some resentment with the villagers. We’ll figure something out.”

This revelation made it mandatory for us to keep track of increasing costs. I didn’t want to run out of funds and go home with the schools unfinished. We agreed that the solution was for the builders to submit claims for progress payments that listed materials and labour costs checked off against the contract list. Also, they were to provide a separate list of the additional costs, so that I could amend the contract amount accordingly and keep track of my dwindling contingency money.

Mathew admitted his bookkeeping was a little casual (he had all his paperwork stuffed in a large envelope), so right after our meeting, I suggested a visit to Kase’s bookstore. As with Jacob, he was very appreciative when I bought him the basic office supplies to help keep his papers in order. This time, however, I added a calculator for both of them.

Nov 5 Alan.jpg

As we parted, I sensed a certain malaise in his demeanor: “Mathew, you look a little distracted.”
“Yes, I was thinking about when I would be able to visit the site with you again. There are so many things all happening in my life now.”
“I’ll be OK going there on my own,” I assured him.
“But now we have to correct this concrete block error; I need to be there.”
“You’re probably right... so what else is going on?”
“My wife Rose is expecting a baby and I’m thinking of leaving my job at the hotel for a better offer.”
“Really? When?” “As soon as we set up an appointment.” “No, I meant the baby....” “Any day now.” Our next scheduled visit to the site was in two days. “Well, then, it’s definite, you must stay,” I continued. “A new job, eh? Where?”
“Yes, at a much better hotel. The owners are more supportive of their staff. I will leave on December 2 after my last big effort at the hotel, a large convention. My restaurant staff will have a big challenge so I agreed to stay.”