Dusty Roads and Drilling Rigs: Water For A Thirsty Land (part two)

by: Phil Barkman

 

From last month:

our little caravan headed out; the drilling rig, the tandem-axle Ford towing a large air compressor, and the pickup… We continued south for several miles, then turned onto what looked like a four-wheel-drive trail. It took a while to recognize that this wasn’t a rarely used path; this was a road leading back to more villages. Deeply rutted and bordered by small trees and tall grass, it wound aimlessly through the countryside. Now, where exactly are we headed?

Then there was a river; we curved to the right along the bank, then dipped down and drove through the shallow, rock-strewn flow. Coming up onto the bank on the far side, the road switched hard to the left—Kevin had to maneuver the truck and compressor back and forth to get them around the corner.

We continued on, trees drooping low over the path and brushing the sides of the vehicles as we passed. After traveling through several more villages, we arrived at the drilling site.

As we arrived, people begin to gather, and soon there was a group of approximately fifty villagers. There was a sense of subdued excitement; getting a well is a big deal.

Drilling for water in Haiti is a chancy endeavor. There is no way of knowing whether a hole will actually produce potable water. Almost 25 percent of the wells drilled turn out to be dry, and sometimes the water is not good.

Drilling can also be dangerous. Between the scorpions, the centipedes, and contaminated water, there’s a lot of potential for sickness. Add to that the dangers of bad roads, the risk of being stranded by heavy rain, and the inherent hazards of working around a drilling rig. Prayers for health and safety are crucial.

Several years ago, Kevin was struck in the head by a piece of drill pipe and suffered a skull fractured in four places. Curt has endured a number of life-threatening illnesses.

Curt drove the rig into position, and the Ford, with the pipes and water, was pulled up alongside. The compressor was parked about thirty feet away. The boom was raised, all settings were adjusted, and the drilling began.

Dust flew out from around the bit as air was forced down the hole. After a while, the dust was replaced by mud as water was used to force out the cuttings. Bits of mud sailed through the air, splashing on spectators that got too close.

Kevin and Curt were fun to be around, but when it was time to work, they were all business. Carelessness causes mistakes, which can quickly lead to injury, or worse.

Villagers lined the road, sitting in the sparse shade of scraggly bushes. There were passersby: a woman riding a pack-laden donkey, another woman balancing a bundle of leafy green branches on her head. Young children, in various states of dress—and undress—scampered about, entertaining themselves while the adults chatted and monitored the drilling process. A young boy showed up, pushing his homemade toy—a stick with a red plastic lid attached to the end of it like a wheel.

Hours passed, and more and more mud was shoveled away from the hole. And then, suddenly, there was water! Ninety-five feet down, and it was fresh and clean.  After further deepening the hole, Kevin and Curt installed the casing and then capped the well. In the coming days, someone would pour the concrete pad and install the pump. Today was all about getting the well drilled.

The villagers gathered around as two of their pastors expressed their appreciation and proclaimed God’s blessing on Kevin, Curt, and Patrick.

*    *    *    *    *

The day, however, wasn’t over yet. A well, located by a school just a few hundred yards up the road from where the new well was drilled, had a broken pump that needed repairing. The local people had to walk down a winding path to a dry riverbed, then follow that for almost a quarter mile to a hand-dug well.

This well, about nine feet deep, is lined with rocks. Two women sat beside it, and various containers were scattered about. They ranged in size from one-gallon jugs to five-gallon buckets.

When we think of old-fashioned, open water wells, we often picture them to be quite deep, with standing water that can be dipped out by the bucketful. That was not the situation here. The well appeared to be empty; we could see the bottom. And there, trickling in from the side, was a tiny stream of water. It took almost two hours for enough water to accumulate to fill a five-gallon bucket, and so they waited, hour after hour.

Fortunately, the broken pump by the school could be repaired, and youngsters gathered around to celebrate as water gushed from the pump.

*    *    *    *    *

The next day we went to a church/school in Gonaives that is overseen by Pastor Delamy. As we turned onto narrower and narrower streets, the pavement went from asphalt to flat paving stones to dirt.

We stopped by a rickety sheet-metal wall. The young pastor of the church opened the gate; in front of us was a small dirt courtyard. Across a ditch half filled with rocks and bridged by a sheet of plywood was a small block and stucco building. A narrow pathway ventured back along the right side of the building, guarded by yet another fence of twisted, dented sheet metal.

This building contained classrooms. Beyond it, the playground was a patch of rough, bare dirt, hemmed in by stucco buildings and block walls. A rousing game of soccer was in progress, and the children found great pleasure in seeing the ball almost smack one of the “blans” (white guys) in the head.

A well was drilled here in 2010, and while it is on the school property, it is available to the entire community. Pastor Delamy said that this well is like manna for this community. The next closest well—drilled by some other organization—is three miles away and is not a public well.

*    *    *    *    *

The next morning, Kevin and Curt decided to repair some pumps close to the compound. We drove half a mile down the road, then pulled off to the side. Grabbing a few tools, we followed the narrow trail down the embankment to what seemed like a small oasis. Trees, grass, and brush bordered a circular area approximately 100 feet across. A lone tree towered up from the middle of the little clearing.

The valve on this pump had to be replaced, and the repair was made in about two hours. Once, we heard the faint cry of a goat in the distance. According to Kevin, “…that’s the very same noise Curt made when he realized the valve had to be changed!”

Good-natured banter frequently broke the monotony of the work, as these two long-time friends ribbed each other.

As the pump was being repaired, several children showed up with their containers. With water weighing over eight pounds per gallon, a three-gallon jug becomes quite a load for a youngster to lug for any distance. And then there was the young girl, probably in her early teens, hoisting a forty-pound bucket onto her head.

From this location, we traveled just a bit farther down the road to another pump. This one needed to have the entire pipe removed, so a bit of planning was called for.

The pump was removed, and then Kevin, Patrick, and Landon fit pipe wrenches onto the pipe and raised it. Higher and higher the pipe rose, until the weight of it pulled it over, and it sank toward the ground. As the pipe dropped, the men directed it over Curt, who was perched on top of the pickup. He grabbed the pipe and passed it on to me, and I carried it up the hill as the others continued heaving it out of the hole. Finally, 100 feet of pipe was out and lay stretched across the dusty ground.

After the faulty valve at the bottom was replaced, the procedure was reversed; Kevin, Patrick, and Landon held onto the pipe as Curt and I pushed it into a high arc over the hole, so that it would drop straight in.

After all that, the pump was replaced, and fresh water flowed again.

The sun moved past the noontime mark, and we headed toward Gonaives. Landon and I rode on the back of the pickup for the 45-minute drive. It was a rough ride, bouncing over those rocky roads. We jolted from side to side and learned (quickly) to keep a firm grip on any convenient handhold as the brakes were frequently and vigorously applied.

Taking a side street on the outskirts of Gonaives, we arrived at two pumps, which were only a few hundred feet apart; one was in a church compound. After replacing the pipe and valves in the pump along the street, we moved over to the church.

The church house was the first building inside the heavy steel gate. Two-story block buildings, window openings gaping, stood along the back and side walls. The area inside the compound was dirt, concrete, and paving stone; not a blade of grass could be seen. There were, however, a variety of potted plants, and almost half a dozen trees spread shade over the front half of the compound.

Church members and neighbors drifted in through the gate when they saw us arrive. One young boy rode a bike, grinning as he waved to the camera. The little girls were more reserved, shy smiles brightening their faces when they saw us taking their picture.

Situated in the front corner of the compound, the pump was in the shade of a wide-spreading tree. The pump handle was the problem here; after removing the cover, Patrick replaced the short, heavy chain connecting the handle to the rod, and the problem was solved.

The pumps purchased by Healing Hands—and many other agencies—are designed for hard use in remote parts of the world, so simplicity is key.

The average cost for drilling a well and installing a pump is $7,500.

Then came another hot, dusty, jolting ride back to the compound in Terre Blanche, a cold shower, and a hearty supper.

*    *    *    *    *

The more time that Landon and I spent with Kevin and Curt, the more our respect for them grew. While both were focused on getting the job done while out in the field, the conversations around the dinner table or up on the roof were a mix of serious discussion and light-hearted banter.

One morning after breakfast, Kevin had an item that he wanted to put into a little bag. Since Curt can speak Creole, he asked the young cook for a plastic baggie, although he didn’t know what to call it in Creole. He managed to indicate what he wanted, and she opened a drawer and pulled out a box of baggies. After thanking her, Curt asked what those baggies are called in Creole. A puzzled look crossed her face, and she said, hesitatingly, “Ziploc…?”

So all we would have had to do was ask for Ziplocs!

*    *    *    *    *

Thursday morning dawned clear and hot. After breakfast, we packed our bags and readied the trucks for the return to Titanyen. After taking a few more group photos and saying our thanks and goodbyes, our little caravan began the journey south.

The slow pace of travel on the dirt roads gave plenty of time to look around and ponder the last few days. What is it about this country that is so harsh and so beautiful all at the same time? Did we make a difference? What we did do seemed like such a tiny drop in such an immense bucket. When one considers the amount of blood, sweat, tears, and money that have been dumped into Haiti, it can seem like an exercise in futility.

And yet… what about those little children who now have fresh, clean water? What about the parents who can now send their children to school, and watch them grow healthy and strong? What about those churches that open their gates for all to come in and get water at the well—the physical well—and have an opportunity to hear about the Water of Life, Jesus Christ?

Here in the States, we want to solve our problems without “wasting time”; we want a quick fix. The challenges that exist in Haiti, however, are not quickly solved; they have been hundreds of years in the making and won’t necessarily be overcome in a lifetime. But when we exchange our Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes for everyday garb, pull on our work boots, and interact with people on a day-to-day basis, we see God at work. He has a plan, and that plan is being accomplished through those who follow and serve Him. It’s not glamorous and it’s not comfortable, but those who receive their daily bread and do the daily task to which God has led them can rest assured that His kingdom is advancing.

Okay, back to the caravan…

The towns we passed through were much more crowded than they had been four days earlier. Motos lined the sides of the streets, which were jammed with vehicles. Sometimes it all came to a dead stop, then someone managed to sneak their tap-tap through a tiny space, and we inched our way forward again.

Approaching Titanyen, we stopped at Rosie’s Café for a late lunch. Rosie’s is run by a lady from the U.S. and has great food and a relaxing environment.

Arriving at the compound, we unpacked and settled back in. Feeling the nudge of hunger again, we went about one mile west to Lafito, a burger joint set up in a shipping container. Atop another container is an eating area, with a grand view of the mountains to the east and the Bay of Port-au-Prince to the northwest.

The next day, we played tourist. Kevin, Landon, and I took a ride downtown with the administrator of Blue Ridge International For Christ. Our tour yielded a number of intriguing sights. One doesn’t often see goats tied up by their feet, hanging from the side of a pickup, or a bundle of rebar tied to the bumper of an SUV and being dragged down the street. Only in Haiti…

After spending a week in Haiti, Landon and I caught barely a glimpse of what life is like for the people who live there. Kevin, who has been going there for years, expressed it like this:

“I’ve been very blessed since I’ve been coming down here. Probably more blessed than all the people we’ve drilled for and given water to. It’s really humbled me, to see the needs of these people, and they survive day in and day out. With what we see, there’s not much hope. No food, no water, but they continue to survive from one day to the next.

“So we go back to our protected world… and unless we come to these places, we don’t ever see or feel the vulnerability that they do every day, just to survive. That has really opened my eyes to what it is, really, to struggle. Otherwise, I would never know. It’s just a blessing to be able to help these people and drill a well and give them that clean water, or fix that hand pump so they can continue to have water.

“It’s something that’s in my mind and my heart, and it keeps bringing me back to Haiti to try and make a difference for nothing more than a few people. By providing the fresh water, especially for the kids, so they’re not susceptible to disease and… die before they get to meet Jesus. This gives them even more of a chance to hear the Gospel and know who Jesus is and become a follower of His.

“With the wells that we drill—a lot of times we drill them in churchyards—they don’t regulate who comes in to get water. It can be a witchdoctor who practices voodoo; they can still come in and get water, but it gives that pastor a chance to make contact with everybody who comes to the well… it gives them a chance to meet the people and develop a relationship with them and, most importantly, help those people develop a relationship with Jesus.”

Next day came the flight home. I was seated, of course, at the back of the plane. In the aisle seat…

 

If you wish to see what well drilling is like in Haiti, find the documentary,
Mud And Guts: The Search For Water In La Gonave, Haiti

Healing Hands International     –     www.hhi.org     •     (615) 832-2000

Global Outreach     –     www.globaloutreach.org     •     (662) 842-4615

Haiti Foundation of Hope     –     www.haitifoundationofhope.org     •     (360) 993-0974

1) www.haitifoundationofhope.org         2) www.thirstproject.org         3) www.knoema.com