Friday, November 11, 2011

All for a silly water pump

I’d like to say that my lack of communication has been because I’ve been super busy. Mostly, it’s because the projects that I’ve been hoping were being “finished up” are just NOW being “finished up.” I wouldn’t be surprised if they continue to be finished up into the new year. Many days I feel like the mud has seeped up to my shins. Somedays the mud is loose enough to let me spin my wheels, other days it halts me before I even start. The worst part of all of it is knowing that if I really really wanted to, I could push myself above all of it, go around everyone that is currently involved, and sprint to the finish on my own accord. But that would be doing things for me, not for the people who are supposed to benefit from the projects.

Below is the story of the Water Pump:

The process to complete the borehole project within the Primary School has been very enlightening (for lack of a better term). I at first wanted to skirt the whole issue of the District Office, because I thought that it would be a momental waste of time. I was a bit ignorant of the fact that doing something within a public school and not telling the government about it wasn’t exactly, well, allowed. I also realized, much to my surprise, that our budget wasn’t as padded as I thought it might have been. 2.7 million shillings seems like such an outrageous amount of money to me, living in the villages here and buying only food and clothes for myself; it goes much quicker when you are trying to build a well, where all the parts have to be shipped, all the material has to be transported, and all the skilled labor has to be brought from the big towns.

Luckily, after realizing that we had to keep the district up to date with our progress on the well, I also quickly realized that they weren’t actually interested in doing anything to actively help in our mission. They simply want to know the goings on, my guess being so that when the project is finally completed they can swoop in. No big deal. But I also just realized that there are some real resources inside of the district. In all fairness, without them, we wouldn’t have been able to complete the project.

The first thing we did with the district is appeal to them to let us use their water pump for the well. Now that the Rainy season is in full swing, the well was holding around 10-13 feet of standing water. We need to get that water out before we could start building our well wall from the bottom up. This was something we were promised very early on, and one of the few things I actually felt like I could be confident about getting from Ngora. Such a rookie, was I.

Going through the Water Engineer, I ran around and around and around and called, called, called, to get him. I went to his office, met his technical committee, waited outside his house. After what seemed like an eternity, and literally took several months for me to stop being stubborn and give up this approach, I went to the C.A.O (Chief Administrative Officer), his boss. This was much more efficient. Kind of.

The C.A.O. signed a letter that I had written to recommend the use of Ngora’s water pump be lent to the primary school. As he was signing, he looked up and asked me if Ngora had a water pump. This was not a good sign.

Because the districts have recently split (by recently, and I didn’t even mean it sarcastically, I mean July 2010), Ngora has only a fraction of the supplies a normal district should have; this includes supplies needed to build/fix boreholes.
To fix the problem, I hinted that maybe with his help, the CAO could write to the CAO of Kumi and ask for the pump to be borrowed for a short period of time. Alright, he says, we’ll draft up a letter and send it to Kumi. Great. Later that day, I walk back up to the CAO with a letter that I’ve written in the CAO’s name with the District Office’s Header (I’m learning). He smiles at me, signs it, and offers to take it to Kumi for me. I say this would be great! He tells me that he will wait for a response from the CAO of Kumi, after which he will contact me and let me know what the “way forward” will be.

The next day, I go to Kumi in the morning. Because I’m able to speak Ateso, I get to know the secretaries of the CAO. They get a kick out of it that I can speak better than the CAO who has been there twice as long as me. (CAO’s are appointed officials, thus it is no surprise that they come from the president’s region of the country. People from the Southwest not only don’t speak Ateso, but their language isn’t even related at all. All of the other workers within the district, generally, are handpicked from within the region of the district itself.) The CAO isn’t in. Won’t be all day.

The next day, I’m again there in the morning. This time, because I’m back, they can see that my presence is going to become a common thing unless I get this thing done. The CAO still isn’t there, but they send me to one of the 3 ACAO’s to try and get the ball rolling on the issue. I’m extremely thankful. After waiting for 2 hours outside of the ACAO’s office to talk to me, the CAO actually shows up. I see him walk into his office. I decide to wait outside of his office, instead. When I go in and talk to him, I have a copy of the sheet that CAO of Ngora signed regarding the water pump (still learning). The original hasn’t yet made it. The CAO sends me to the District Engineer’s Office, across town, with his own transportation. District Engineer isn’t there. I sneak the number from the driver, and find out that, yeah, he’s around, but there is a problem. Their water pump is spoiled. Oh, but he has another one. Nope, that one is spoiled as well. Alright. There is another one in a different sector of the district, and he will check on it. An hour later, while I’m still sitting inside of the district in Kumi, he says that this pump is also spoiled. He offers an NGO within Kumi that might could help me. Alright. I start walking. About 15 minutes later, the District Engineer calls me. He says that I should go to the WATER Engineer’s office (apparently a different person). Yeah, I say, that’d be great…but aren’t the pumps spoiled? Yes, but he wants you to go to his office for “the way forward.” Alright, what the hell. I’ll be there in a minute.

A mile later, I’m in the office. The Water Engineer sits me down and asks what I need. I laugh. A water pump, just a water pump for 3 days. He says that, well, all of our pumps our spoiled. He does have, however, an EMERGENCY water pump…but he doesn’t much like giving it out to people. (this is my signal to offer a bribe). I smile. He smiles. I mention that it seems that the CAO isn’t even aware that this pump exists; perhaps he would be ok with giving over one of his pumps to Ngora, given that Kumi seems to have 4 and yet can’t keep good care of them. He laughs. Okay, you can use the pump, because you are my friend.

The next morning, I get the pump (I needed a car to transport the water pump, since I came on Public Transport, this wasn’t possible the day I was given permission for it.) He tells me that, by the way, the pump hose has some holes. Might be a problem, he says. There is no gas inside of the pump…but he says it works, and we can’t test it before we take it. Still a rookie, I am.

We get it back to Ngora, put new oil in it, and fill it with gas. The hose pump has holes. Can’t suction water out with a hose with holes. We patch the holes. Still nothing. The hired engineer is fed up. He threatens to leave, because we don’t have the proper equipment to do the job. After 4 more hours of trying to get the stupid pump to work, the hired engineer leaves. Less than an hour later, he’s back, with a new pump and hose on his piki in tow. He realized that there was a pump less than 8 kilometers away from the school; he is using it for his other project, just down the road. The pump already has oil, all it needs is gas. Works perfectly. REALLLLLLLLLY, mr. engineer? COULDN’T we have been told that about 3 months ago, 4 weeks ago, 3 days ago, yesterday, this morning, 4 hours previous?
This is the story of the water pump. Now multiply the complexity and sillyness of this story by infinity and take it to the depths of forever. Now you are getting a picture of me trying to do things in Uganda.

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