ADDIS ABABA (HAN) August 10.2016. Public Diplomacy & Regional Security News. By Fitsum Getachew. One of the key headaches for Addis Ababa and for other major urban centres residents for that matter is the issue of housing. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are in search of adequate and affordable housing in Addis and other urban areas in the country. If you ask city residents what is your principal problem while living in the city, they would almost invariably tell you about the problem of a decent housing with all the necessary facilities fulfilled may be followed by efficient transport facilities.
Nevertheless, housing is not a problem unique to Addis only. It is the problem of practically any metropolis around the world, including the rich economies as well.
If you take Tokyo you would be surprised to know that people are forced to live in such a tiny space that you would not even understand how they cope, and yet they have one of the highest standards of living in the entire planet and the cost of housing is really very high. Their issue may be one of space as they have a vast population with scant space to distribute amongst the citizens. Each and every square meter is so precious that its price is considered exorbitant by any standard.
In our case, we do not have such impelling problems of space, because we can always stretch our cities into neighbourhoods around the urban areas provided solutions are given to issues that may arise with the settlements of the adjacent farmers that may somehow be affected. Otherwise, the government is now arranging for extensive construction of condominiums practically changing the life of citizens and forcing them to adapt to a new way of living, a new life style.
Separate houses or villas constructed by real estate developers are not very practicable for the average citizen with limited resources and only the well-off can afford the huge sums of money to be able to live in such arrangements. As it is done practically all over the world in big urban areas, neighbourhoods are created by building condominiums in the form of economic apartments and blocks according to the size and capacity of the family and according to the income.
People are advised to live together so that they can very easily share the amenities they need to conduct their life with reasonable costs. They need constant and regular as well as adequate water, electricity for their daily needs besides of course other facilities nearby such as play ground and green area for their kids, schools, health posts, pharmacies, shops of various kinds for their grocery, etc all in a neighbourhood and such facilities are better prepared and served if you have a large number of residents grouped together in a small area.
Under such arrangement, it is easier to administer and each community can form their own associations and strengthen their community bonds and keep the security of the surrounding safe and fulfill all the other needs of the same.
The Ethiopian government has made it its priority to fulfill such need for residents with a reasonably fast pace but there are several challenges to be overcome. The capacity of the contractors and the amount of funds available could be cited among the principal ones. The City Council said as much as three hundred billion birr may be needed to fulfill the increasing demands of an ever-growing Addis Ababa population only. And of course the demands of better constructed houses and with better facilities are not to be discarded.
As the economy continues to flourish and expand and the income of the community increases, new needs arise and the City Council needs to fulfill them constantly. Inevitably the invitation to private firms to take part in the construction must be taken seriously as has been suggested earlier and be applied, because it appears that the housing needs of citizens can hardly be resolved single-handedly by the municipality’s resources alone.
Living in tight neighbourhoods has always been the characteristic of Ethiopians in which communities come to know each other very well, interact and as the need arises support each other. People share the good and bad moments together and helping one another has been a long lasting tradition of our nationals. Condominiums try to follow on this path despite the fact that the residents often come from different areas in the newly created sites. But eventually they need to gather and form a community sharing similar worries and concerns in their communal life.
Life in condominiums has become a new style for residents and there are various stories to be told on that. Many may not yet be ready to face the new life in condos. It needs a new way of facing problems because for instance the issue of privacy might be quite high on the agenda and that of noise could be another one.
The issue of sharing certain common space especially in the corridors and the stairs could be yet another one. We cannot quite follow the kind of life we used to lead when we were living on the ground in neighbourhoods where there was enough space and there was little contact among residents. In condominium life the toilets are private and they need a lot of water to flush, in many instances the walls are shared and you may hear what goes on in the next apartment if the noise is not limited to a certain level. You may need to be more discrete when you get in at night and go out to work early in the morning carefully avoiding undesirable voices and disturbing the folks, the neighbours who may be resting as they have another timetable.
We should all be more sensitive about the fact that we are not living alone and that we do not have a private compound where we can make any kind of movements without disturbing the neighbours.
Living in this new community is just a totally different kind of life as it involves closer understanding of community life. For instance if we are used to preparing coffee in a certain manner in our previous kind of life, now, living on the third or fourth floor of condominiums, we cannot grind the coffee in the traditional manner with all the noise of the world disturbing others. We cannot bring our pots and prepare Ethiopians stew with all the emission it has and may bother the ones living next to us. We cannot make loud voices of partying and celebrating without considering that there are others next to our doors or even down stairs who feel disturbed.
We need to know where our freedoms end and where the rights of others border. Whenever we trespass, problems are bound to arise and the people around would feel disturbed if it is beyond their level of tolerance specially those who live downstairs.
Just to cite a concrete and real example, I happen to live with my two kids on the fourth floor in one of these condo sites and when I first went there to refinish the construction works that need to make the place more habitable such as fixing the roof better and putting on a ceiling and completing certain works with the walls and the kitchen and the bathroom, the neighbour down stairs came by and tried to ‘warn’ me albeit in a friendly manner that I needed to be careful not to use too much force lest his walls and ceiling be affected by the carving and blowing of the walls and floors. I duly accepted his recommendations understanding his worries. As he was living there for more than a year before me, completely undisturbed and peacefully, the new reality brought him some concerns.
When the finishing ended and we began to live there, the first clashes began because at the fourth floor, my kids did not have easy play ground and were forced to run around on the floor, and their playing there during day inevitably created some sort of noise for the person living downstairs.
Once he came by and asked to deal with this issue claiming that he could not concentrate on a show he was watching on TV. We told him that we would try to help direct the kids so that the noise would get to the minimum, but that there was little we could do to stop kids live their life! He was not impressed. Another time, he came by and complained that he could not rest because he needed to nap and the kids were making a lot of noise. Again we tried to explain the situation, but he would not be considerate.
After some time, he raised his complaints to another level and it was a level that was not acceptable to us, and we had to be rough with him. We shouted at him saying that he should never come up and complain at any moment of the day and that if he had any legitimate complaints to make, he should go and ask for redress at the community circle where there is a committee that takes care of condominium affairs. In fact, that was what he used to threaten us with whenever he came to complain and that is what he did. He went on to complain that he did not have peace in his life since our advent to the place. We tried to explain to him that living in condominiums was not as living in separate compounds or on the ground any ways, and that there were obvious and inevitable sacrifices regarding some of the comforts we may have enjoyed while living down on the ground, on our own.
We understood the situation of the man because he had been living all by himself without any one walking on his ceiling and nothing creating any sort of sound until we moved in. It was as if he was living by himself in a compound but when we came by, there was the inevitable sound of our heels and walking here and there just as routine movements, and the kids needed to move around and may even run as that was a part of their natural life!
We tried to explain that the reality was now different and that there must be a certain limit to our private tastes, that our freedoms end where the rights of other begin. We tried to explain that if the kids were disturbing him during late hours, say after seven o’clock or very early in the morning, we would be to blame but that during normal hours there was nothing we could do because they are human beings just as the adults, and they do need their own space and freedom. The man would not be impressed nor make any efforts to try and comprehend.
Rather he would try to advise us how to raise our kids and that we needed to drive them out of the apartment and let them play downstairs in the playground and that he was not willing to tolerate any ‘disturbance’. Eventually we were very much embittered by the assertions of our dear neighbour and he brought his case to the famous Committee.
A committee of four elderly people came to our apartment to find out what was exactly going on and we sat down to talk about the case. I explained the kind of disturbance the man was talking about and that he was asking something that was not acceptable at all by any standards, and that talking to other people about the case, they all condemned the behaviour and complaint of the neighbour.
He had lost sight of the real issue and that he was being ‘too selfish’ forgetting the rights of the kids who actually would deserve more than what he suggested as a solution. He was being too intolerant and insensitive to the demands of growing kids and that he was forgetting that he had lived the greater part of his life and was preventing the kids from enjoying their freedom to play or enjoy their life in their turn!
The members of the committee listened carefully to our arguments and went on to talk to him and were really surprised by the incidents we cited to them and the timetable of when the kids would play and all the rest. They then went there and talked to him and finally asked us to meet and discuss the matter in a neutral apartment together.
They highlighted the case in a thorough manner and made it clear that his complaints were totally unfounded and unacceptable and if that disturbance he talked about was created by adults, he would have legitimate ground to complain but that kids had certain privileges just because they are kids and that we could not limit or stop kids from playing naturally during decent hours and that living in a condominium did need to accommodate certain sounds and movements as they must be taken for granted, and that kind of mentality needed to be absorbed by all residents. They said that they all had kids and grandchildren and there was nothing scandalous if kids played around in their homes and kept the level of their play to decent levels.
He was ashamed of the condemnation realizing that he had asked for too much from the children and too much from the parents and that he was wrong. He accepted guilt and asked for excuse. It all ended in a peaceful manner and it was all settled. In the meantime, I told them about my earlier experience when I used to live in a condominium at the ground floor and we had a neighbhour living right upstairs on the same position, that we were placed and that very often the lady upstairs used to disturb us with her friends listening, or I would say dancing, to certain music and at really late hours of the night, particularly when it was weekends.
I had to go up and implore her to reduce the volume and many times she did admit fault and agreed to do that and yet we managed to live there for years with such accommodations arranged every now and then. We never resorted to accusations and complaints to the committee there, even though there was one and a well-organized one. What we preferred to do was settle the thing in a very amicable manner and that is what we need to do when it comes to controversies regarding the behaviour of a neighbour in a condominium.
As things get more and more settled and time passes by, residents begin to understand one another and certain behaviour need to adapt to the new way of living in communities that are very near one another. We just need to understand what is going on in the other home. We just need to put ourselves in their shoes for a moment and see things from the perspective of the neighbour.
Two people or families can never be expected to have the same tastes, the same schedules and the same activities and passions. This does not happen even in one family and differences can only be settled if we prefer the peaceful path of communications and talking to one another with certain composure. We need to respect one another and only then can we afford or succeed to live together for years without deep and protracted controversies and violent fights.
Living in condominiums involves some sacrifice in certain respects but we need to be aware of that and act accordingly. We need to do some adaptation so that things get easier and we do not make it a fighting ground rather than a community with similar needs and similar feelings.