Just down the road from my house here in Kigali they are fixing the potholes. The holes have been growing bigger everyday as the heavy rains eat into them, and trucks grind away at the loosened tarmac. The workmen start early; they are always there well before 7.30 when I go by, busy with their picks and shovels.
I asked a Rwandan friend how much a workman would be paid in the city. She thought about RF2500 per day - that is about £3 for a ten hour day. Is that a little or a lot, I wondered? It is certainly more than the basic ‘dollar a day' which we often think of as the baseline for bare survival living in poorer countries. But is it enough to live on?
So I went to the market and a nearby store to check out how much things cost. (I have only been here a couple of weeks so I have not got prices into
my head yet.) Enough beans and potatoes for a family for a day would be about RF600, but then you have to add on the costs of charcoal for cooking, water for drinking and washing, the price of renting a tiny room with a mud floor and no electricity or water, school uniforms, transport, basics like soap, salt and vegetables, and there is
absolutely nothing left. Nothing for an emergency like when a child gets sick, nothing for second hand clothes, and certainly no chicken. I don't know how people like these workmen manage to live.
The can of Heinz Baked Beans I saw in the shop cost RF1300 - half a day's wages for the road menders, so I left it on the shelf and thought carefully about the work we fund in DFID. We try to get the right balance between helping the country's infrastructure work really well (like having good health centres and, even, building an efficient tax system) and direct help for the poorest people, like the road menders, who I'm sure will have fixed the potholes by now.