Thursday, November 25, 2010

Of Water, Mud, & Fate

I'm gearing up for my final "push" in PC. My last project . It won't begin until next February or March, but planning must happen now in order to secure project funds and to make sure that my villagers get all their ducks in a row. I assure you the former is infinitely more simply than the latter.

I'm happy to say that despite all of the frustration that plagued me last year during my well project the overall result was a resounding success. Surrounding villages are now requesting me to come build wells in their communities and the lessons learned last year are now serving to make me better prepared for this upcoming project.

What is this project you ask? Well, as of this moment it looks like I'm going to make an attempt at building four wells and 25 latrines. All in about three months. This might not seem like a lot to the average, industrious American, but consider that each of the wells I built last year took over three weeks to construct... and these new wells will be deeper and in more difficult soil conditions. And, on top of the wells, 25 latrines is nothing to sneeze at. I figure if we end up doing all the work that has been proposed I will be employing two masons on an almost continuous basis for 90 days. This is not common where I'm at. By the end we will have cast over 4,300 concrete bricks by hand, moved over 55 cubic meters of gravel over 12 km with nothing but donkey and ox carts, and dug up over 80 cubic meters of earth with nothing but shovels, picks, and buckets. If those units don't mean anything to you... it's a lot. Especially when you consider none of the work is being done with mechanized equipment. It's like my own little version of building a pyramid or something.


I think it's also worth while to provide some more commentary on water availability in my area. My village, Koila, seems to have found itself in an area of Mali with an uncharacteristically high groundwater table. In wet season water is only about 2 meters below the surface. In hot season 5 or 6 meters. On top of that, the soil is sandy clay or loamy clay, so it is very stable when you are digging a well. People can dig wells quickly and easily and only have to include a thing concrete lining to shore up the walls of the well in many places. The result: there is a well in roughly 75% of the 250 household compounds in Koila.

The situation in Koila, however, is in stark contrast to the realities in villages just down the road. In Kolomy, water is at a depth of 15 meters in hot season. That's three times what it is in Koila. That translates into three times as much time, money, and effort into building one well. In another village, Chanty Were ("where-eh"), you have to dig down 8 meters and the soil is sandy and unstable. This translates to a slower, more rugged construction process that also means a much higher cost per well. These higher costs mean fewer water sources have been developed in those villages, and therefore people have to go much further every day to collect water. In Chanty Were there are four wells and one pump for roughly 600 people. My guess is Koila has about 200 wells and 6 pumps for about 2500 people. Who has more access to water? You do the math...


Something I also found amusing is that Kolomy is getting two new pumps. That in itself isn't noteworthy, but I find the situation to be of interest and yet another example of how ridiculous things can be here at times. For starters, let me point out that Kolomy already has two pumps. Both are broken. The village is responsible for repairing these pumps and at present hasn't done anything with them for some time. Now an NGO (name unknown to the villagers) has sent a drilling team to the village to put in two new pumps in other sections of the community. This confounds me. Why would an NGO decide to give new pumps to a village if that community is presently demonstrating that it is incapable of taking care of the ones it is now responsible for? Would it not make more sense to first organize the village and get it's members to maintain it's own infrastructure first, not to mention make sure the community knows what NGO you are?...

The thing is though, I see this all the time. I'd venture to say about 50% of the time my inquiries into who funded/built something is usually answered with "?". (Granted, it is hard to keep up with all the names given the number of NGOs operating here.) I find that the only reason a name is put forth the other 50% of the time is that someone had the brilliant idea to leave a sign behind to remind everyone who was responsible.

The most amusing part about the Kolomy pump story thus far, however, is that the drilling team has been trying to cover a distance of approximately 10 km for the last 4 days and has failed in epic fashion. I was returning to Koila from my market town the other day and ran into a caravan of 5 vehicles, including a drill rig on the road past my village on it's way to Kolomy. They had totally obstructed the one lane road and were just getting the drill rig free from a deep, muddy pot hole when I pulled up. I followed the trucks as far as Koila and watched them attempt to continue on to Kolomy. Apparently they got close enough to see Kolomy's school (where one of the pumps is being put) before having to turn around because the road (more like a path between millet fields) was too muddy. The caravan thus turned around and spent the night in Koila.

The next day they got up and decided on a different, much longer route to Kolomy that followed "better" roads, but would first take them through Babugu, Sama, Dioro, and Tibi before finally getting to Kolomy... A journey of about 35 km. However, somewhere between Koila and Babugu the main drill rig again got stuck in mud, but this time they couldn't get it free. This now meant that a large tractor, bull dozer, or other large and typically unavailable machine would need to be brought in to get the drill rig free. Two days later it still wasn't free. Talk about a delay. And to think... they could see the drill site at one point before having to turn back.

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