Thursday, June 18, 2009

Light bulbs and refugees

First, no more of the large headers. There are, after all, labels on the bottom of the page that should help you find the things you need.

Second, I've mentioned before that although I found the management of the local refugee center unresponsive (at best), I enjoyed working with the refugees themselves and therefore continue to do so even though I am no longer paid to do so. One issue I had with the refugee center management is that they would often send me out to on fool's errands or to do work that couldn't be done or send me out to walk into situations that required immediate attention and then have nobody around available to provide me with that information that I desperately needed when I called.

By the time I left the center, for instance, I told them I would not go to anymore apartments without first being given the landlord's contact information.

Why? Reasons such as broken lightbulbs.

What? Okay, many, perhaps most, of the refugee camps in the world do not have electricity. Therefore should you choose to become involved in the care, feeding and housing of recently arrived refugees you need to understand that you are dealing with people who do not have much experience with several items that most of us in the developed world consider to be common place, every day items.

One of these is light bulbs.

Without electricity you don't have electric lamps. Without electric lamps you don't have light bulbs. Therefore many refugees do not know how to properly use a lamp or light bulbs. Therefore when you enter their apartments you will often find that these items have been broken through misuse. (The agency I worked for had a book on how to use lamps and such. This was allegedly to be given to refugees but I only heard about because our overwhelmed, under-trained leader was showing it off to church groups claiming that it was used for such, although I never saw it. In fact, I only heard about it from the church ladies who hovered around the refugee center.)

One common problem is that refugees sometimes do not know that you remove a light bulb by screwing it in the counter clockwise direction.

Instead they sometimes just yank.

Light bulbs are not designed to be yanked on.

Being made of brittle glass they tend to break and do so in such a way so that the metal part of the bulb remains behind. Attempts by an unskilled person to remove this metal tends to result in a worse mess as the filament gets removed.

(I also suspect that sometimes recently arrived refugees do not realize that it's okay to leave a lightbulb in the lamp when not in use. For the same reason, lack of familiarity, I've heard of cases where they only plug in lamps before use and unplug them from the wall after use and do not leave them plugged in. For this reason, lack of familiarity and not realizing that light bulbs can remain the lamp, I suspect they therefore sometimes pull out working light bulbs when there is no need to do so.)

On more than one occasion (the last being today) I have entered refugees apartments and found pieces of light bulbs stuck in sockets in such a way that they are extremely difficult to remove.

For the record, should this happen with a light that is built into the wall and cannot be unplugged, the safe way to do this is to find the fusebox, turn off the electricity and then remove the metal part of the broken light bulb from the socket. Normally this should be done, whenever possible, with the landlord's awareness and possible assistance. In fact, some landlord's lock up their fusebox so that people cannot have access to it without their permission.

(I have, for the record, heard of a way to remove these metal pieces by inserting an allegedly non-conducting item into the socket such as a potato or carrot or something, pushing and then twisting, but have never tried it and hope never to try it. My opinion is that if the item contains water, as these do, then it probably conducts electricity. My opinion, just find the fusebox.)

In the meantime, try not to let people who don't understand electricity around the socket. Who knows what they will do? I once saw an eighteen year old refugee try to put his finger in an electrified light bulb socket which held a broken light bulb stub. I screamed at him in such a way that he jumped back quickly, which is pretty impressive, as we had not common language. (Ever seen all those movies where the hero yells "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" as flames explode? I did a pretty good imitation of that cliched response, only before the disaster struck.)

Meanwhile, yup, it's hard to believe for most of us. There are people out there who do not know how to change a light bulb. And a lot of them speak four languages.

So . . . get the landlord's phone number before you enter the refugee's apartments. It might save time and prevent disaster because who knows what you will find when you enter a refugee's apartment.

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