The last two weeks have been the most challenging for me in Uganda so far. I won a big contract for the company in a remote part of the country. Five boreholes, five communities, and water access for over a thousand people. The problem is, when you go to a remote part of one of the most under-developed countries in the world, stuff goes wrong. We were plagued by double-crossing business contacts, mechanical problems, and sub-par living conditions. I got so many bug bites it looked like I had chicken pox, and the food selection was limited and poor enough that I went to bed hungry most nights. The only decent place to eat in town serves chewy rice and millet, with service from a waitress that also can be your nocturnal friend for a fee. After the first few meals of apathetically pushing carbohydrate mush around on my plate with a spoon, and turning down the advances from the waitress, I gave up on eating out.
The mechanical issues were eventually resolved, and drilling started. We always start drilling early, and it is quite an event for the community. The machines are big, loud, and kick up all kinds of sediment before water comes gushing out of the hole. An average borehole depth is around 50 meters where we drill, and it is a complex operation. This usually takes the better part of a day to accomplish, and we draw a big crowd of villagers, who are understandably fascinated by the process and machinery. But inevitably, the focus of the people’s attention shifts to me, which is not something I enjoy. I like answering questions, and explaining the process of drilling. But being stared at for a whole day drains me, no matter how cute the children are.
On the first day of drilling, the heat was intense. Sweat poured off my forehead and mixed with the sunscreen on my face, and dripped down to burn my eyes. I went to my pick-up truck, took off my shirt to wipe off my face, and sat in the driver’s seat to rest for a few minutes. This of course attracted the attention of all the kids, who surrounded the truck and stared in wide-eyed disbelief. The village chief told me they had never seen a white person before. Good thing the first white person they met looked like he was crying and had about 200 bed bug bites all over his torso. The hotter it got, the more I sweated, and this seemed to make the bug bites itch more intensely. The kids inched forward and I thought for a second this was going to be children of the corn, Africa style. I tried to say something in their language to make them laugh, but it didn’t work. They all scattered when I got back out of the truck.
A good night’s sleep makes a world of difference. The weather was cooler the next day, and the little kids kept climbing trees and bringing me mangos to eat. My attempts at their language worked, and I got some laughs out of them. So, as quickly as my bad mood came, it had gone. It’s also hard to complain about my life when I see how these people live. Most of the kids do not wear shoes, and they all walk long distances to school. Before this borehole was drilled, the nearest water source was four miles away. They would have to walk there and back, multiple times a day, just to get water that is not even clean. This has an economic and physical toll on every member of the family. A borehole facilitates access to clean water, and frees up time that the people can use for education or work. Water is something that we take for granted in the USA, but for other people, obtaining it is their primary focus, everyday.
The work at these communities is almost wrapped up, and it is a good feeling to have the boreholes drilled. We have contracts coming for about 22 more boreholes in the next two months. One of the contracts is in a district that borders a national game park, complete with all of the big African animals. Last month, I went to follow up in this district, and took an alternate route through the park. As soon as we drove into the park boundary, animals started appearing. Antelope, buffalo, giraffes and baboons were everywhere. We rounded a bend, and an elephant was standing in the middle of the road. Elephants are huge and intimidating up close, and this one made it obvious she did not want the truck to go any further. We backed up and waited for her to walk way. She wouldn’t move, and we had to backtrack all the way out of the park. I think she had a baby hidden in the bush somewhere and was protecting it. Now that business is going better, I am going to get out and explore more. I’ve got a mountain climb in the Rwenzoris planned for April and safaris whenever time allows. Like always, anyone who wants to come visit is more than welcome.