The people in charge of my neighbourhood like to send me letters. Some are sent out to everyone in my neighbourhood, while others are personalized for the residents of my humble abode. I like to watch a budding writing career, and I think these people have a future.
They haven’t yet started prioritising good prose, but they are getting there. We need good literature in this country.
But let me get back to the letters. A few months after moving in, I received a letter warning me that the residents of my house had missed umuganda on a few occasions and I should hang my head in shame (not in those words, but one must read between the lines sometimes).
The letter warned me that failure to rectify this behaviour would result in a fine. The tone was quite scolding, and I got unpleasant flashbacks to my days in Primary School where teachers would scribble blood-curling warnings in the margin of your books. Clearly, diplomacy had died an untimely death in the jungles of neighborhood politics.
I support umuganda and I think it’s a fantastic idea, but I don’t understand why people get threatening letters about it. To the best of my knowledge, there is always a healthy turnout all over town and the work gets done.
I can see their argument from the ‘fairness’ perspective-if you don’t show up and others do, there is an element of unfairness there- but this is an argument they never made.
I have been told that it is also about building a community spirit and creating neighbourhood solidarity-an admirable goal. However, it’s not something you can impose forcefully on people-certainly not via the medium of hard labour on a Saturday morning.
Our neighborhood writers spread their wings even further a few weeks later. I was startled to see a letter warning me about the untidiness of the small patch of garden outside my house (The letter had the same threatening tone). I was surprised, because I knew the gardener had worked his magic about three days earlier and he was a pretty thorough fellow.
I walked outside and stared at the little patch of grass, puzzled beyond belief. It was as civilized a patch of grass as you would ever hope to see. The gardener had clearly worked on it and it was in mint condition.
Yet bizarrely, this was posing a problem to the neighbourhood committee of aesthetics. I briefly flirted with the idea that this was a case of mistaken identity, but I figured that this was extremely unlikely.
I was entering a strange Kafkaesque world, and I wasn’t sure exactly what to do about it. I found myself wondering idly if my neighbours were also being inflicted with this one-way correspondence. Meanwhile, they took to ringing the house buzzer at 7a.m on random Saturday and Sunday mornings to inquire about the Rwf2, 000 security fee they levied every month. It was an event that repeatedly interfered with the security of my sleep.
Unfortunately, I am soon moving out of the house so I will miss all these dubious wonders. Who knows what other classic works of short-form literature they had in store for us? We can only imagine.