The superfund site option

I’ve been in a fowl mood all day (yes, that’s an intentional chicken pun and yes, this photo represents me). I’m struggling to move on from, as one Liberian friend called it, “the betrayal” by the chick hatchery. It’s very easy to wallow in my frustration when, in some ways, I’m alone here and no one around me has any sense of urgency.

The “chick thing” is being buffeted by block making which has been smoldering as a business venture for two years now and no one wants to take initiative and fan it into flames. Sumo selected a young man named Sunday to take charge of this last fall. When I left in November we had an implementation plan which included constructing a small sample building and installing a sign indicating our block making services. The funds were made available for cement and materials, the location on the homeowner’s land was approved, a sign painter was ready…all in November. I’ve been on this guy’s case most of this trip to get going. Last week I got him to finally put a materials list together with specific quantities…then nothing for a week. I told Sumo I wanted to meet him again to see what the hold up was. He came again this morning with the same list in hand. Since we have most materials already in the warehouse, I told Sunday to talk to Lavela and confirm it wasn’t interfering with supplies he needed. As I started towards Lavela I turned around and Sunday is 50 feet behind still standing there. He’s expecting that I’m talking to Lavela and coordinating materials procurement. I turned around and coaxed him into the leader position. With a plan for materials (again), he said he could start in a few days. I’m thinking he’s got some sort of commitment. Around noontime I pass the kitchen after doing a small project and I see him sitting on the bench – eating a meal the cooks handed him. I finally snapped and said the opportunity for having this job ends Friday and if I don’t see progress on the sample building I’ll give the job to someone else. It’s hard to understand someone with little to no income who’s not motivated to earn $10 USD/day being block foreman. Carpe diem…take charge of your destiny…etc. etc. etc. is more American than Liberian.

I was determined to make something of the day despite my down demeanor. Finishing things on my checklist always helps so I did a few small things, giving me the satisfaction of scribbling a line through the items in my pad. One of those included hiring a mason to cast a raised rim around the two square holes in the septic tank. I’ve been concerned about heavy rains running down the hill and washing over the tank and into the ground-level holes, prematurely filling our tank and introducing sand into it. When the mason came to look, we heaved the heavy covers off. The tank is filled more than expected. Part of this is due to the issue of faulty toilet mechanisms (as in “cheap junk”) which I’ve been replacing over time. As you’ve read in past blogs, I might wake up with no water at the guesthouse and inevitably it’s caused by a school toilet running all night (pouring the entire water tower into the septic tank). This started me on a new list item: finding someone to pump the tank.

Unfortunately, you can’t open the Gbarnga yellow pages under cesspool pumping and find a guy to come with, as my father calls them, a “honey wagon” and magically take the waste away. I started making calls to various connections. Everyone says the same thing, “UNMIL used to do it for free, but they’re not here anymore.” With the gradual draw down of UN Mission’s presence in Liberia prior to its recent elections, some services have disappeared leaving a vacuum that hasn’t yet been filled. Pumping septic tanks is one of them.

I called the Phebe Hospital administrator, Mr. Saykor, hoping the hospital had a resource for this. He invited me to visit because they were in the midst of a septic system reconstruction project. We walked to the rear of the hospital compound and found a worker who gave Saykor his boss’s phone number. They talked for a bit then he handed the phone to me. It sounds like Monrovia might be the only place to find a pump truck. Sometimes they just dig a hole on-site, pump the tank contents into the hole, “treat it” (I can only imagine what that means), and bury it. Just what we want, the only Superfund Site at a school in Liberia. The gentleman promised to check into pump trucks and get back to me.

I spoke with the knower-of-all-things-Gbarnga, Mr. Barbar. He made some calls through his plumber and, after reciting the UNMIL mantra, reached a man named Mr. Tamba. Another who will get back to me about pump trucks in Monrovia.

I was getting pooped on pumpers (yes, an intentional septic pun) and returned to campus after a quick research project. Now that Sumo’s office has consistent current, he is able to use a printer. I’ve had a printer with me which I’ve used occasionally when the generator is on to print construction drawings or documents for the Rotary grant. Since print volume has been low and the printer was free (trash picked from my neighbor), the question of ink availability in Gbarnga hasn’t been an issue. I decided to put the ink before the printer by finding which inks are readily available and cross reference that list with which printers use them to determine a model to consider buying for GLTC. With only three HP inks/toner cartridges and one Canon, the printer list is now narrowed down.

Upon returning to campus, I finished constructing a small wood-framed and wire gate to be used inside the chicken house that allows the farmer to enter without wood dust and chickens being mushed behind the in-swinging entry door.

I then focused on something more fun: getting the volleyball net set up. I read about setting poles in concrete cast into an old car tire, creating s stable base while still being able to roll the poles to a new playing area. The poles had been set in concrete a couple of weeks ago and finally had some loops welded on for tying up the net. After work today, the construction crew went crazy playing, many for the first time, as the smoke from adjacent farmland being burned clear for planting filtered onto the “court”. Of course, I jumped in and joined them, ending the day on an upbeat note.

2 thoughts on “The superfund site option

  1. Such frustrating times! I am so sorry you’re dealing with all the “Liberian time” consequences. I know changing flights can be so costly so I hope you can find a way to head back soon enough. Thank you again for your hard work and patience. God bless.


  2. Glad you shared a photo of the famous Mr Barbar. I love his smile. I would enjoy seeing you show the guys your many Volleyball skills. Yet another talent. A different person to operate the block making machine is certainly in order. As you see it needs someone who is is interested and motivated to do some for their future. Definitely look elsewhere for a foreman…. maybe a young person that Mr Barbar knows?

    Somehow “taking it easy” is really the higher value that people need to understand while can be a blessing can also impede the progress they say the want. Culture changes are the most challenging anywhere in the world. However those who adapt quickly may have the better quality of life.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s