Diary of a Perturbed Relief Worker

 

western_sahara_desert_1

Saturday, August 15th

© — Couldn’t find a real job.   So, I’m here.  Africa is a great place…if you like bugs.  And oppressive heat.  And dirt floors. There’s no way to charge my iPod, and the nearest 7-11 is 8,000 miles away.  It rained one day.  One (1) day.

So…the home office in Atlanta tells us that we’re planting trees.  They figured that planting 10,000 trees would be their part towards saving the planet.  So, we’ll be planting trees.  10,000 of them. What we really need is a new pump for the water system.  But no, they want us to plant trees.  I told them that a new pump would not only cost less, but get us the fresh water that we had been living without for two months.  And still, no, the Board had already approved the tree planting program.  Can’t argue with them…they’ve got all the money, and we’ve got rice and beans for dinner…again!  Without telling us, they spent the last nine months applying for a grant to plant trees, and it has been approved.  So, we’re supposed to plant trees.  We really need fresh water.  We really need a new pump.  We really need what we can quite obviously see as the very best thing for the local villagers.  We’re here, and the Board’s 9,500 miles away.  They’ve never even been here.  We’ve just been sending them staged/Photoshopped photos.  They think Shawn Penn and Angelina Jolie were here last month.  We need a new pump.  “No, I’m sorry, but we’ve already got the grant, the Board loves the idea, and we’ll be planting trees.”  The shipment of 10,000 seedlings is already on its way, and should be here tomorrow.”  It’s the freakin’ Sahara!  We need a pump!

Monday, August 24th

The Executive Director sent us her nephew.  That’s great.  He’s 23, and hasn’t been able to hold a real job since dropping out of his Holistic Ceramics major at the local community college.  His name is Noah, and he’s 6’ 5”; he’s really easy to find around here.  He’s supposed to help us plant trees.  He can barely reach the ground.

Ya know, if the Executive Director would just come over here for a couple of weeks, she’d see what we’re up against.  We’re willing to run around looking useful for 14 days in a row.  She can stay at Jim and Carol’s place…they’ve got plenty of room.  She can plant trees.  She can go two weeks without bathing.  She can walk a mile with a jar of water on her head.  She can eat a bag of dried lentils that we can’t cook because we don’t have fresh water.  Put your hair up, pull on your Halston dress, slip into your Gucci shoes, and get your butt over here!  Check it out!  We need a pump!

Wednesday, September 2nd

We started a fish farming project several months back.  We’ll be raising catfish.  We’ve dug out a big pond, by hand.  So now we have a big hole and a large pile of dirt.  One of our younger volunteers had his snowboard sent over.  He rides the dirt pile and hits rails on the way down.  You should see the stunned look on the villager’s faces.  Turns out you can feed catfish anything.  We’re supposed to mostly feed them corn, but apparently, you can throw anything in the pond; food scraps, dead animals, exhausted relief workers.  No water in the pond.  Don’t have a pump.  Fish are coming.  Soon.  That should be fun to watch; entertainment’s easy around here.

Sunday, September 6th

The Peace Corps gave us a couple of volunteers for a year.  Jim and Carol.  Really cool people.  They’re the only folks with anything like money around here, so they set up a four-room tent.  Bright orange.  Huge thing!  It’s kind of tacky, but that’s OK, because when the rebel forces practice with their sniper rifles, they just aim for Jim and Carol’s tent.  You should see the stuff they’re wearing when they come flying out the front.  It’s Africa…you can dress down!  Hauled that Armani suit all the way from Cincinnati, he did.

They’re both retired.  Jim was a banker, and Carol worked in the airline industry.  They are absolutely tireless workers, and always have something good to add.  Well, generally.  The catch is that we now have to file monthly reports with the Peace Corps.  They’re a government bureaucracy, you know.  Have to account for those taxpayer dollars.  It takes three full days to complete all the documentation.  Meanwhile, there are children to feed, families to house, and communities to organize.  And we have trees to plant.  We have Noah filling out the paperwork.

Tuesday, September 8th

Every week we hitch a ride with the Belgian consulate into town.  We go in for stuff we can’t find out in the village.  Tools. Nails. First aid stuff.  Lingerie.  I’m the one in the zebra-striped teddy; it’s light and breezy. And we can get on the internet there.  Occasionally.  Jim and Carol generally stay behind and tend to things while we’re gone.  They have taken the opportunity to work with the locals as they line up for a ride, putting to work skills learned in their careers.  Jim sets up a table and helps the locals with credit card applications.  Carol asks for a valid ID before letting people jump in the back of the truck.  The closest thing we have to a valid ID out here is a pulse.  ”OK, you’re alive, you may proceed.”

Friday, September 11tt

We get this “top secret” email from Atlanta.  It comes in three separate emails with every third sentence in a different email.  Bet that fooled the KGB.  Apparently, the UN sent a secret peacekeeping mission to the capital city.  We’re not supposed to tell anyone that the guys with the bright blue helmets aren’t locals.  They’re the only ones driving around in vehicles with four fenders.  They took over the nicest bar in the city as their office, and lined the front with sand bags.  Haliburton manages the place.  Now there’s an Arby’s on one side and a Starbucks on the other.  But…shhhhh…don’t tell anybody.  Gotta love those guys.  And, boy, can they drink!  You can find them on Friday nights by just following the random sound of automatic weapons going off.  Welcome to Africa.

So, the UN Peace Keepers wanted to set up a “secret” operation just adjacent to the village.  They needed a place to store their fuel…so we let them use the pond.  We told the villagers over and over again to not smoke next to the pond.  Burned for six days.  Forget roasting marshmallows…we roasted whole cows.  Threw them in the bucket of the UN’s front-end loader, and drove it in as close as possible.  Parked it there.  The heat was intense.  Melted one whole side off of Jim and Carol’s tent.  Now they have a two-room tent with two covered patios.  His and hers.  Overlooks the scorched pond.  They can just walk right off the patio and pick up diesel-fried catfish.  Fish showed up…had to put ‘em someplace.

Thursday, September 17th

With help from the locals, we managed to get all the trees planted.  The trees are dead.  Can’t water them…don’t have a pump. Jim and Carol will be leaving us soon; they’re going to Bangladesh.  Carol will be handing out peanuts, and Jim will be offering free checking.  Noah’s decided to stay.  Actually, he was told to stay. So we get him.  He’s taken up collecting indigenous insects.  Live ones.  Keeps them in his hut.  Scary place.  You can see Noah roaming around, collecting insects, head poking out of the tall shrub.  Let’s the bugs out for walks.  We had a minor locust infestation for a while.  Now he’s trying to breed them.  So, we still have Noah.  Still.

Monday, September 21st

We need a pump.

Bob Hansen

Copyright – Robert W. Hansen – 2012

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