Another early morning alarm to get me going back to the mud zone. I called Sam and he met Saah and I over at the lonely FOTON. When I walked around the passenger side my heart sank below my knees…the battery was missing! I thought, “What happened to the security guy?” With Sam’s LandCruiser still running, he disconnected the battery to use to start the FOTON (I didn’t know you could do that!). Because the physical battery size was slightly different, the lugs didn’t line up enough to get the wires attached…so he just held them against the posts while Saah started up baby FOTON. He then reattached the battery in the LandCruiser, fastened the tow chain and the tires on both vehicles just spun, and spun, and smoked, and spun. Sam adjusted his angle of approach, reattached the chain, and yanked again. Meanwhile, two of the gentlemen from last night appeared to help again. The big burly guy rocked the FOTON and eventually it took off in tow down the road to a clear area without mud. All told, it took about 3 1/2 to 4 hours to finally “free Willie”…well, “free Foton”. At this point, we still didn’t have a battery. The burley guy happens to be a security guard at the fistula project I was heading to visit and said the watchman last night stored the battery at the hospital maintenance shed for safekeeping. That was a relief!
So with battery reinstalled, the muddy baby and the triumphant LandCruiser headed back to work (sounds like a line from Watty Piper’s “The Little Engine That Could”). FOTON went out for more sand runs while Sam and I reviewed concrete and other supply estimates for the guesthouse and school buildings. Leaning against the temporary warehouse/sleeping quarters I noticed a small wooden contraption that looked like a bird house without a hole. Turns out it’s a trap for small game and the workers are hoping for a meat treat one day soon. As I said good morning (ya OOON) to our Liberian craftsman, we joked about me being a Kpelle man. One of the men said I needed a Kpelle name so they named me “Kulleh” (pronounced “coo-LAY”), meaning “bright man”. At first I thought he said they named me “white man” (that’s not very creative!) but he repeated “bright man”. That was very cool…I feel like I’m being accepted–now if I could stop getting stuck in the mud like an American missionary!
We departed for our bush-centric lumber source about an hour and twenty minutes away. This would be FOTON’s first lumber hauling run and it was quite a load on quite a challenging road. The lumber is freshly-cut full dimensional hardwood lumber (actual 2″x4″ vs. 1.50″ x 3.50″ in the US) so it’s wet,dense, and very heavy. The first thing that happened before loading was a communal eating from a bowl of rice and either beans or potato greens…seven men ate from that bowl while a little girl and boy who carried it down the road didn’t get any. I chose to eat my PB&J and some beef jerky instead, thank you very much.
While sitting on a log having my mission trip munchies, I spied a little silvery green insect about the size of a small cricket on some blades of grass. I got close with my iPhone and took an unexpectedly clear photo. Notice the long, very cool segmented antennae. I’m sure it could have killed me at any moment but chose to save it’s venomous bite for larger prey. As the workers loaded the wood, I did my usual and played with the kids. I found a vine laying nearby and started jumping rope. They laughed and looked at me like I was nuts. I challenged them to do it (which they did), then I jumped rope standing on one leg. Now the worker men are laughing at me. The two children tried it, too. This load was only part 1…down the road a little was part 2. While at part 2, I played with more kids. They had a blast having me take pictures of them then showing them around to the others.
Here are some of them:
We made it back fine but the clouds were rolling in and the sawyer didn’t cut everything we ordered. We needed to go into Gbarnga and purchase the missing pieces but at “street prices” instead of “bush prices” (which comes to around 30% more). As we comparison shopped, a huge bolt of lightning struck nearby. We made a decision and purchased all of our wood at one shop where Sumo knew the owner who gave us a small token discount. On the drive back to the property, it started raining. I wasn’t thrilled with going for this second lumber load because it was already 5:30pm and figured we could wait until morning. Maneuvering down the soft increasingly wet dirt road to the site to unload I mentioned to Saah that we would probably get in but wouldn’t get out. Baby FOTON does not handle well on slippery mud without the advantage a heavy load offers her traction. My prediction was correct! In fact, we couldn’t even get all the way into the site to unload where our previous wood pile was located. The rain continued as they unloaded and I, the fearless leader (aka “wimpy white guy”) sat in the truck. Then Mud Wars 2015 Round 2 started…although her tires spun furiously, baby FOTON wouldn’t move. Sam attached the LandCruiser for Round 2 and this time he was stuck, too. He actually slid sideways down our gently slopping site into the field of day old bricks still neatly lined up awaiting their turn with the masons. After a few slipping attempts, we acquiesced to the power of the mud and left baby FOTON in her unclean state as the rain continued. Saah and I hopped into the LandCruiser lifeboat and drove in the darkness back to Phebe.