November 10, 2011

How Many Cattle does your Household Own?

As I was recently filling out our South African Census 2011 forms - these tasks at the bottom of our family's motivational pyramid inevitably land on my pile - I couldn't help but laugh. You would not find animal dung as a heating material choice on an American census form.

I especially loved the admonition that "wood, coal, and animal dung cannot be used for lighting" whereas "candles cannot be used for heating or cooking." Who would have known?

Also, I felt a bit disappointed that I couldn't come up with anything for the livestock section, not even one goat, when there was such a multitude of boxes to check.

One thing that I loved about this survey was that there was plenty of space to enter all our kids. Lines and lines of empty space long after I was done. In American forms, I often have to squeeze the last child between lines because there is only room for three, and in Europe you might as well wear a big sticker on your forehead screaming "weirdo" when you show up anywhere with four kids. "What, these are all your own? Are you out of your mind?"

I knew right away that I'd have fun with this survey when my gaze drifted down the "what is your home built of" box beyond brick. Wood and corrugated zinc/iron seemed fair enough, but plastic, cardboard, mud and cement mix, thatch/grass, asbestos (yikes), and, get this, wattle and daub? What the hell is that? Is it whatever is holding this house together?

A Transkei home. Photo courtesy of Jacky du Plessis
You wonder if the concept of using a level might have made a difference?

So I guess those census questions are there for a reason. The sad truth is that too many people in this country live in mere hovels, cobbled together using whatever materials can be found. Or maybe I should say "found" in quotes, because I don't think the guy who built this house just happened to come across a pile of these building materials laying around without a use:

Photo: Anonymous email


Gerda said...

Just so interesting to read your blog. We are South Africans living in India. If I compare the poor here, to the poor in South Africa, the South Africans are much better off. Having said that, nobody should live in cardboard houses and not have excess to electricity and water. What I have also noticed, is that we treat people we regard as "below our class (caste) with a lot of respect! Keep up the good posts please -

Gerda said...

I meant access to electricity and water!

Sine said...

Hi Gerda, thanks for your insightful comment. I've never lived in India, but I HAVE lived in Asia and I have to say I can see what you're saying (or what I think you're saying) about white South Africans generally treating black South Africans with respect. There are some instances where I don't like how people "talk down" to others, but in general I often marvel at the good relations between the races, also compared to the U.S.

Namrata said...

Sine, what a good blog post idea, I wish I had thought of it! The house made out of signs is very creative. And yes the poor in South Africa are much better off than the poor in India...I think this is why the townships don't...fascinate me as much as they do others? But crime is much worse here. Anyway, I'm rambling, great blog post!

Sine said...

Namrata - that's interesting that you say that about the townships. You are right, in a way they do fascinate us because it's something we don't know from home, but if you're from India, you most certainly do and so it is nothing special here. That reminds me of the book Shantaram - have you read that? I found it fascinating...