It was good to get back to Phebe and, despite the lack of luxurious a/c, the routine I’ve gotten into has been good. Getting up and out to the work site by 6:30-7:00am after the previous night’s hectic drive, however, was not welcome. But seeing great progress was! The foundation work was complete, the side walls of the vehicle ramp were constructed and in-filled with dirt, the inner structure which ties the perimeter foundation walls together to prevent spreading were done, all the sand had been used to mold stacks of cement blocks…and the volunteers had been brushing the land yesterday! Yee haa! Sam wanted to keep the momentum going so we immediately departed to test baby FOTON’s sand carrying capabilities. We soon found the ground clearance wasn’t quite what it could be to handle the deeply rutted dirt roads leading into the bush where the sand piles await.
After the first sand load when the front bumper’s plastic housing covering the structural metal scraped dirt and grass with each bump, baby FOTON underwent a bumperectamy to increase my baby’s ground clearance. I spoke gently to her and rubbed her tires as my Liberian jungle doctors extracted her newborn metric bolts and surgically separated the offending body parts. She knew it was for the best…a father knows these things. Here are before and after photos:
Load after load of sand was delivered today by this toothless wonder. As Sam said, “She is now a jungle truck.” Before we leave the sand pile portion of my day, I wanted to share a brief story of one of the boys I met this morning. His name is Romans and he’s eleven years old. He goes to school, but only four days a week because Friday is “working day”. Instead of learning, he spends his day hauling bags of sand from the river bed, one by one on his head so his family can sell the piles to builders like us. He lives in the same area where I saw the snake up in the tree this week. The river is slow moving so it greatly increases the likelihood that malaria-carrying mosquitoes will enter his thatched roof mud home. The family uses the water from the river for cooking, bathing, and fishing while upstream, another family uses it for their toilet. What were you doing when you were eleven?
As the day progressed, more and more volunteers (now being fed each day) showed up and a contingent of about 10-15 people (mostly women) continued brushing the land towards where the guesthouse and school will begin in about a week. I shared more details with Sumo and the others about where best to brush since they seemed to have haphazardly picked where to wield their cutlasses. It’s amazing how thick the underbrush is. I tried walking with a 100 meter tape measure reel to show how far they needed to brush and it was impossible to penetrate the thick, wild tangle of greenery. I continued my hack Kpelle language skills and they continue to smile each and every time. In all my travels, any attempt at speaking someone’s language always breaks awkward social barriers. They’ve begun teasing me about my pronunciation and knowingly speaking full sentences to me that I wouldn’t understand then giggling among themselves. It’s feeling more like the family I had expected to encounter. I think we’ll get there but it’s a process like everything else here.
The masons continued working hard throughout the day and the walls kept rising to over 5 feet. Tomorrow I expect they’ll begin construction scaffolding from sticks (same as they used to build the temporary warehouse). At the future warehouse entrance ramp there stands a 7-8 foot high mound of dirt that’s actually a large abandoned ant hill. Unbelievably, it’s constructed by ants no bigger than the small black sugar ants we find in the States. Their local food supply wasn’t sufficient to support the colony, so they departed with the queen to begin a new mound.