Wow, 2 days have gone by again and no blog time!
Thursday…Yesterday was a bit trying. I was exhausted after a small bump in the road occurred, but this time it had nothing to do with ruts in the highway. Let’s start with the actual furrows in the freeway first. Because Saah did not come to Gbarnga with me to be my driver again, I spent the day buying and hauling sand. That doesn’t sound strenuous but it’s a bit like a full day of isometrics for your back, neck, and stomach combined with kick boxing where you’re the actual punching bag. I had to get in touch with Pastor Weekie who said he knew someone in his congregation that could be a good driver for me…we scheduled a meeting time for Friday morning.
In addition to the Liberian-style isometric calisthenics, I was getting a bit worn down by the constant requests and pleas for assistance, from the subtle “I want work” and “I hungry” from the young boys to the more direct “I need school fees for my little sister” from the young adults. It starts to wear on a guy when the need is obvious – literally staring you in the face – but I can’t give handouts to everyone. Besides being unrealistic, it’s not a solution.
Ok, on to the metaphorical bump in the road. As mentioned in the last blog entry, I had a conference call with the Rotary in Evanston, IL along with Michelle and Henry. I met at the Passion Hotel in Gbarnga around 5:30, washed some of the dirt and stink off me in the bathroom, then put a collared shirt on so I could attend the regular Thursday Rotary Club meeting. Based on my experience at the few Rotary meetings I’ve attended, food is right up there with joking. This had neither (except for the trick this played on my stomach!). After the 45 minute meeting, we retired to the actual restaurant section of the hotel and ordered fried chicken and fries. Unfortunately again for my stomach, this was only a teaser because the conference call for which I came, started 10 minutes after we ordered….the cruelty of it all!
At 7:00, Henry and I went back up to the conference room for a quiet place to participate in the call. I think the preparations I did helped satisfy some of the answers (financial forecasts in particular) the grant reviewers were looking for, however, they were not totally satisfied with two items: 1) before drilling the wells we need to provide them with a hydrological survey because it’s a requirement for all well projects funded by Rotary to ensure the money is being “well” spent (that was for Uncle Herk) on a water source that both good quality and sufficient long-term quantity, and 2) the water, sanitation, and hygiene training discussed in our grant needs to include the actual curriculum/lesson plans being used along with any training being offered to the teachers and community. The hydrological survey made my body go limp…if it was required, why didn’t they state that months ago instead of at the final approval stage?!?! I could have done this during my last trip in October/November. Very frustrating to say the least. Although I can understand the training issue, again, the application should state that the specific curriculum be included. We don’t even have a school building or teachers but we need a hygiene lesson plan completed….mmm.
After our conference call ended, my stomach and I returned to the dining room to indulge in our now-cold fried chicken and fries. Delicious nonetheless. By the time I got home, bucket bathed, and finished my last email it was after 10pm. I thought my 14 hour days were over after leaving Product Insight.
Friday…I had purchased a new tank of “cooking gas” (propane) in Gbarnga yesterday and was looking forward to some good oatmeal. I hooked up the tank, turned the knob, and gas spewed from the knob stem. I didn’t feel like becoming an IOD (Improvised Oatmeal Device), so I opted for the microwave oatmeal packet a previous house guest had left in the pantry…it was hot just in time for the power to go out. First thing on my agenda was to replace the tank in Gbarnga so I’d be able to cook over the weekend. When I approached Iron Gate, I decided to stop at the small gathering of women selling fruits and veggies on their roadside market (a little blanket on the ground with a few pineapple and cassava). The pineapple are in season so they’re cheap and sweet…about $1 will get you 3 or 4 small pineapples or 1 large one. As I was heading back to the truck, I noticed a guy selling these large loaves of bread that the workers like (it’s got some sweetness to it). Because my small Liberian dollars were back in the truck, I went to get in and found I had locked my keys inside. Ok, where’s the “Candid Camera” guy? While I’m standing there in disgust at my stupidity, the immigration officer from Iron Gate comes over and asks me for my passport. I said, “I’d love to give it to you but it’s locked inside”. I remembered that I had the extra key back at the guesthouse, so I grabbed a motorbike taxi and did a roundtrip to Phebe and back.
I unlocked the truck, purchased the bread, and shared my credentials with the immigration officer (apparently he was the head guy). He started telling me how I should get a resident permit…blah, blah, blah…(yadda, yadda, yadda for you Seinfeld fans)…and he’s basically looking for a “tip” for “guarding” my truck during my excursion to retrieve the spare key. He says, “Let’s go get a drink as a thanks for keeping watch of your truck.” All the women in the market that know me (because I buy their fruit and practice my Kpelle) start saying, “No drink. Jon, no drink. Just go.” They don’t like the blatant bribery that they probably see often with him, so I left without imbibing the concoction of corruption with him.
After exchanging my faulty cooking gas, I met Pastor Weekie and John Flomo. I sat down and discussed with John my expectations and wages as driver. I asked if he could start today, and we were off and running. The construction crew now calls us “Jon 1” and “John 2”. He seems like a nice guy and will hopefully continue to perform as he did today during his first day of sand hauling with me.
Among other things, I made contact with Lifewater Liberia regarding the hydrological survey and was happy to hear they could do it for us. Since they’re under the direction of Lifewater Canada, they need authorization from Jim Gehrels (the founder) who happens to be in Haiti right now. Hopefully he has some email access so we can get the authorization and respond to Rotary as quickly as possible. I also met with Henry and 3 other Rotarians to open the bank account needed for the Rotary grant money wire transfer. I was happy that Michelle Gasbarro recommended that I be a signatory on the account…I think that will speed up the payment process for supplies and vendors hired for work under the grant. The not-so good news (at least on my schedule) is that the blockmachine still hasn’t been released from the port so I may not have it until late next week. That could mean two grueling trips to Monrovia this coming week…on Monday I need to purchase 600 more bags of cement, 200-1/2″ steel rod, 60-1/4″ steel rod and hire another flatbed truck to deliver it all (hopefully without getting stuck!). I was hoping to combine trips with the blockmachine pick up.
I did leave early today…4:30…and had a chance to cook some delicious tortellini and enter all my expense receipts in my spreadsheet. Plus I texted with my Mom and Dad on her new iPhone and got excellent tire advice.
Here are some photos of the work progress (click to enlarge):