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Archive for March, 2013

BUM(P)Y BOUMOU PART 1

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

I left N’Djamena for my next “mission” destination Moundou where most of my work is. This time it involves a side trip to BOUMOU about two thirds of the way to Moundou.

We brave the tar roads which are riddled with treacherous potholes, which will swallow half a tyre as proven by the numerous wrecks alongside the road. South of BONGOR just before a bridge over the Logone a nondescript dirt road starts between some street vendors displaying their wares. This access widens to a fully fledged dirt road under construction by the Chinese. Mohammed our driver smirks “Chinese NO SAFETY” while he thunders down the road with numerous “under construction” detours. Dust is everywhere – yet strangely the dirt roads are sometimes in better shape allowing for faster driving. The 40km road to BOUMOU bobs up and down weaves left and right circumventing  numerous culverts and sluices under construction. It feels like a ride on a rollercoaster. Rosie experienced it a few weeks ago and exclaimed to our driver how the body is flung about while your stomach stays behind! Mohamed laughingly says this road will always remind him of Rosie’s stomach.

On this occasion I find the road dustier than ever instead of potholes we drive through patches which swallow the whole car in proverbial bull dust. We arrive near an important village, does not look like much but it has a courthouse with the Tchadian flag so there must be gendarmes about. Ma_Loum (head of the survey teams) clearly is very at here as he stops in order to purchase mobile airtime. It is the last big town before Boumou.

We drive on past culverts and siphons under construction. The road widens even more and becomes the top of a dyke and I notice hectares upon hectares of ploughed land. The river is about 500 yards to our right Idyllic and calm with some very green patches. Those are the nurseries for rice Ma_Loum explains. They are ready to be planted in the fields. It then dawns on me that Boumou is a BIG rice farm.

Geyser’s Boumou office is on an old commercial farm hailing from colonial days. A cluster of buildings fairly well kept – a few container offices and a yard with workshops, a tyre repair facility and a kitchen. A dozen brand new Government tractors are parked nearby. They are used to plough the 1600 hectares times 2 which make up the BOUMOU project.

Two  huge rice farms collectively farmed by nearby villagers with the assistance of the state and Geyser doing the civil engineering earthworks.

My guest quarters remind me a bit of our room at Club Coton Chad same colour scheme but I have no access to the adjacent “en suite” toilet and shower. The previous tenant ran off with the key. Ma-Loum apologizes and hands me a key for the outside ablution block. That turns out to be 50 meters away cold water trickles from the shower but it is clean and there is even soap!

The toilet is a hole in the ground with raised footprints so your feet are dry when doing your ablutions. Hmm, more or less what I expected? It is very rustic a bit whiffy but I have seen worse. The doors are kept locked so no one else can use them and also to keep inquisitive donkeys at bay. A donkey stood guard at one of the doors for a few hours and would not budge. Why? I don’t know. I can only guess that he liked the smell or is it slightly cooler there?

I decide not to shave and ablution facilities will be used only in need. I barely settled down to try and get Emails when Ma_Loum barges in with a mechanic and within 20 minutes the offending locked door is forced open. The lock strangely enough was quite strong not Chinese at all – probably solid old colonial quality – so they simply went around it through the plastered wall – bent the doorframe just enough to open the door. The next day it was all patched up and repaired and miraculously they produced a key too!

Ma_Loum explained that it had to be done as that toilet is used by Annabelle (our director) when she visits Boumou- “it is like an emergency” he explains.

These facilities are slightly more modern and there is a choice of two toilets  but no toilet seats – One of them bone dry no water. The sink is small with a miniature tap. You have to hold the tap with one hand while twisting with the other to get the water flowing, also a trickle. The shower works but clearly needs a good clean since the last person left it all locked up. My earlier decision not to shave still stands and is slightly mellowed by the decision to utilize the small tap instead of the shower for washing. 3 days will be ok till I get to the luxury of Moundou!

Bummy BOUMOU.

All in all once you get used to it, not a bad place. The welcome I got was touching EVERYONE came to greet me, a blur of names and faces. The old guard with 2 teeth, a young proud Arab driver with his head swathed in his kadamoul constantly praying with beads in hand, the woman serving food, the chef de bureau with his face adorned with fierce looking tribal marks. Each one must have an interesting life story. A real mix of people from all over. Ma_Loum (very well liked by all) it turns out, cut his teeth here (2 years) and most of our young surveyors have done a stint here. No wonder they are hardy. The problem is to refine this hardiness into young professionals!

The training the next few days was hard work but very rewarding. Because of the heat I held court one evening on the stoep in front of my room. It was like story telling time. The next morning at sunrise we did some practical exercises in the field before they sped off to work on site where I visited them later. I hand over tools to repair instruments together with my Geyser surveyor’s handbook on a USB key. Strange feeling to have computers working in this remote place. We actually have power most of the day courtesy of a BIG generator. So it is more reliable than our Moundou office or even N’Djamena with its constant power cuts. Alas G3 works very intermittently so internet access is a game of chance. I simply gave up trying, although I did manage to send an email to Rosie – good old IPAD as the office computers simply were not up to the task. I am struggling to upload pictures. Part 2 of the BOUMOU story will follow once this laptop is back on track.Its brains definitely got rattled on the BUMPY BOUMOU track.[subscribe2]

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Bumpy Boumou (WITH PHOTOS) part 1

Monday, March 25th, 2013

I left N’Djamena for my next “mission” destination Moundou where most of my work is. This time it involves a side trip to BOUMOU about two thirds of the way to Moundou.

Carrying water home from the well

Carrying water home from the well

Ma-loum stopped to buy dried fish for his mother

Ma-loum stopped to buy dried fish for his mother

Ma-loum

Ma-loum, chief surveyor in Moundou

Ma-loum's hand!  This is how you eat with your fingers he says!

Ma-loum’s hand! This is how you eat with your fingers he says!

And of course you need to wash your hands afterwards .... with OXFAMS help!

And of course you need to wash your hands afterwards …. with OXFAMS help!

We brave the tar roads which are riddled with treacherous potholes, which will swallow half a tyre as proven by the numerous wrecks alongside the road. South of BONGOR just before a bridge over the Logone a nondescript dirt road starts between some street vendors displaying their wares. This access widens to a fully fledged dirt road under construction by the Chinese. Mohammed our driver smirks “Chinese NO SAFETY” while he thunders down the road with numerous “under construction” detours. Dust is everywhere – yet strangely the dirt roads are sometimes in better shape allowing for faster driving. The 40km road to BOUMOU bobs up and down weaves left and right circumventing  numerous culverts and sluices under construction. It feels like a ride on a rollercoaster. Rosie experienced it a few weeks ago and exclaimed to our driver how the body is flung about while your stomach stays behind! Mohamed laughingly says this road will always remind him of Rosie’s stomach.

Market stall on the roadside in Bongor

Market stall on the roadside in Bongor

On this occasion I find the road dustier than ever instead of potholes we drive through patches which swallow the whole car in proverbial bull dust. We arrive near an important village, does not look like much but it has a courthouse with the Tchadian flag so there must be gendarmes about. Ma_Loum (head of the survey teams) clearly is very at here as he stops in order to purchase mobile airtime. It is the last big town before Boumou.

The nearby Chari River

The nearby Chari River

We drive on past culverts and siphons under construction. The road widens even more and becomes the top of a dyke and I notice hectares upon hectares of ploughed land. The river is about 500 yards to our right Idyllic and calm with some very green patches. Those are the nurseries for rice Ma_Loum explains. They are ready to be planted in the fields. It then dawns on me that Boumou is a BIG rice farm.

Rice fields near Boumou

Rice fields near Boumou

Geyser’s Boumou office is on an old commercial farm hailing from colonial days. A cluster of buildings fairly well kept – a few container offices and a yard with workshops, a tyre repair facility and a kitchen. A dozen brand new Government tractors are parked nearby. They are used to plough the 1600 hectares times 2 which make up the BOUMOU project.

Two  huge rice farms collectively farmed by nearby villagers with the assistance of the state and Geyser doing the civil engineering earthworks.

Mohammed takinga break in the back of his/our car at Boumou

Mohammed takinga break in the back of his/our car at Boumou

My guest quarters remind me a bit of our room at Club Coton Chad same colour scheme but I have no access to the adjacent “en suite” toilet and shower. The previous tenant ran off with the key. Ma-Loum apologizes and hands me a key for the outside ablution block. That turns out to be 50 meters away cold water trickles from the shower but it is clean and there is even soap!

The toilet is a hole in the ground with raised footprints so your feet are dry when doing your ablutions. Hmm, more or less what I expected? It is very rustic a bit whiffy but I have seen worse. The doors are kept locked so no one else can use them and also to keep inquisitive donkeys at bay. A donkey stood guard at one of the doors for a few hours and would not budge. Why? I don’t know. I can only guess that he liked the smell or is it slightly cooler there?

I decide not to shave and ablution facilities will be used only in need. I barely settled down to try and get Emails when Ma_Loum barges in with a mechanic and within 20 minutes the offending locked door is forced open. The lock strangely enough was quite strong not Chinese at all – probably solid old colonial quality – so they simply went around it through the plastered wall – bent the doorframe just enough to open the door. The next day it was all patched up and repaired and miraculously they produced a key too!

Ma_Loum explained that it had to be done as that toilet is used by Annabelle (our director) when she visits Boumou- “it is like an emergency” he explains.

These facilities are slightly more modern and there is a choice of two toilets  but no toilet seats – One of them bone dry no water. The sink is small with a miniature tap. You have to hold the tap with one hand while twisting with the other to get the water flowing, also a trickle. The shower works but clearly needs a good clean since the last person left it all locked up. My earlier decision not to shave still stands and is slightly mellowed by the decision to utilize the small tap instead of the shower for washing. 3 days will be ok till I get to the luxury of Moundou!

Bummy BOUMOU.

All in all once you get used to it, not a bad place. The welcome I got was touching EVERYONE came to greet me, a blur of names and faces. The old guard with 2 teeth, a young proud Arab driver with his head swathed in his kadamoul constantly praying with beads in hand, the woman serving food, the chef de bureau with his face adorned with fierce looking tribal marks. Each one must have an interesting life story. A real mix of people from all over. Ma_Loum (very well liked by all) it turns out, cut his teeth here (2 years) and most of our young surveyors have done a stint here. No wonder they are hardy. The problem is to refine this hardiness into young professionals!

The training the next few days was hard work but very rewarding. Because of the heat I held court one evening on the stoep in front of my room. It was like story telling time. The next morning at sunrise we did some practical exercises in the field before they sped off to work on site where I visited them later. I hand over tools to repair instruments together with my Geyser surveyor’s handbook on a USB key. Strange feeling to have computers working in this remote place. We actually have power most of the day courtesy of a BIG generator. So it is more reliable than our Moundou office or even N’Djamena with its constant power cuts. Alas G3 works very intermittently so internet access is a game of chance. I simply gave up trying, although I did manage to send an email to Rosie – good old IPAD as the office computers simply were not up to the task. I am struggling to upload pictures. Part 2 of the BOUMOU story will follow once this laptop is back on track.Its brains definitely got rattled on the BUMPY BOUMOU track.

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Bumpy BOUMOU Part 2

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

BOUMOU sounds almost ghostly and indeed it felt like it one late afternoon. I noticed more sand than usual and the wind picking up. Strange dark ghostly clouds gathering from the east. The nearest village disappearing in a mist of sand.

Village clouds gatheringdonkey guarding toilet refused to budge

Rosie would have liked to photograph these clouds but alas she is not here and the camera she left me does not have the right filters. The clouds look like a monstrous ghost gathering to swallow us. Surely it is going to rain. Everyone is going about his usual business unconcerned they have seen it before. Is this the forerunner of the rainy season? I was disappointed as nothing happened. An hour later the sky was clear, no wind, hot and humid. Where do the clouds go and who got this rain?

Boumou is two vast tracts of land each 1600 hectares which have been dyked off. This boundary dyke about 20km long for each “farm” is solidly built (by Geyser) with canals and sub canals crisscrossing the farm. There are pumps sluices, siphons and some retaining ponds to control water flow. Each farm is subdivided into 7 or 8 fields which in turn are divided into smaller tracts of land. It is these tracts that are allocated to individuals or groups to farm. The main farming operations and control of waterpumps etc is run by the state, hence the 12 massive tractors. Geyser is racing against the weather to finish trenches and canals before the big rains. In the meantime people have already planted rice in nursery patches, the fields have been ploughed and planting has started.

The surveyors are now leveling and setting out runoff canals (2-3 km long in some cases) and guiding JSB machines to dig at the correct levels. It is hot, the digger operator is an ageless ghostly figure in Arab gear, only his eyes are peering through his dust laden clothes. He has the easy job as he loftily operates the machine. Our surveyors are below in the ditch with the level and staff-man. I noticed that they cleverly work upwind (if possible) I am told they constantly race the machine operator to distance themselves from the dust! But then I pointed out a dip in the ditch being dug. Our young surveyor resignedly shrugged his shoulders picked up his level and went back there to correct the problem. The digger simply ignored his level markers in his haste to catch up with the surveyors. I suspect it gives him fiendish pleasure to engulf our chaps in dust, his way at getting back at these youngsters who tell him what to do all day!I show the surveyors some tricks of the trade. We adjust and test the levels and eventually return to base. The levels will need servicing when the rainy season starts!

Boumou trench webstory time boumou web

Boumou food was surprisingly tasty. Spaghetti bolognaise a la Chad. Instead of mince it was chopped mutton meat. The next day, a tasty stew (goat) with the traditional ball made from maize flour. In the morning a gruel (cruel reminder for those who were in boarding school)  mix of sourmilk with fatty grav-like sauce with something like oats. It must be very nutritious and everyone relishes it (EXCEPT ME) as they gulp at least a liter of the stuff down. I manage a glass.

Spaghetti Bolognaise a la TchadBoumou Guest room web

 

The mechanic works outdoors under a convenient tree supporting a winch. A motor being rebuilt swings in the breeze.

workshop under tree

The tyre repair shop boasts hot and cold repairs wheel balancing with advanced technology 4×4 and of course tyre pressure services. All in a converted container. Things work in Boumou!

Tyre shop

Behind the workshop I spy a cow sheltering from the sun and nearby goats in a pen (supper). The kitchen is a corrugated iron lean-to against the welding shop. Makes sense they both use gas! Security is tight at the gate as every vehicle is checked but the fence at the back has convenient gaps allowing access to the semi permanent nomadic tribe ensconced under the trees behind our facilities. So once inside, one could smuggle things out. I guess the nomads are here for more than the shelter. Would like to take photos but disapproving glares tell me that discretion is the better option.

cow seeking shade

A lone gendarme arrives on his motorbike with automatic machine gun. He gratefully accepts some gruel and then sits down waiting (Chadians are very good at that). It transpires that someone had stolen parts from our N’Djamena head office, brought them here to sell (the nomads?). Somehow our security staff was alerted and the culprits were apprehended. They are hauled off to court in the nearby village. Justice is quick, the goods are confiscated (I don’t think they were returned to Geyser, unless they were sent back to N’Djamena!) The judge imposed a fine and if they cannot pay it, they will go to prison. The culprits are escorted to their family to collect the money. The gendarme looked fierce enough; I wonder what the judge looks like!

exit Boumou

exit Boumou 2 web

 

I bid “fond” farewell to Boumou. Everyone sees me off with an invite to stay longer next time! Barely out of the camp we screech to a halt next to a sluice being built. Two coy delightful young ladies are selling cool milk. Ma_Loum is (excuse the pun) milking the situation and eventually buys some milk from the prettiest one. They are extremely camera shy and I sense they do not wish to be photographed, but I manage a sneak picture. “Ma_Loum why did you buy from the prettiest one”. He just roars with laughter. Ma_Loum is getting married later in the year during the next holidays.

milk lady web

Our rollercoaster ride does not seem too bad this time perhaps Boumou has thoughened me too. Past rice nurseries, fields, the river, the village with the judge and back onto the potholed main road to Moundou.

boumou rice 2

rice farm boumou1 web

Screech to a halt not for a pothole this time, but again to buy goods for Moundou. Mohamed cautiously buys a few items. Ma_Loum tests a few roots squashes them in his hand and they literally explode into dust! He promptly and with obvious disgust turns around gets back in the car and instructs Mohamed to stop at the stalls a few yards further across the road. There he proceeds to test and buy some more. He is picky and before long all the girls selling wares are around him jostling for his attention. Two of them grab him by the arm and literally drag him to their stall.  Ma_Loum is a tall man (much taller than me) but he  disappears amongst the bevy of salesladies. They almost mob him. Mohamed and I exchange slightly alarmed looks. The result is a few sacks of roots (which did not explode in his hands) mangoes etc at the back. He struggles to extricate himself from the bevy and finally gets back in the vehicle. I ask “Ma_Loum how do you chose your wares”. He laughs “The prettiest girl with the best goods, but this was hard!”

maloum before being hauled offSaleslady web

 

A few hours later I am welcomed by Madame Francoise and ALL the staff at Club Coton Tchad. I do not have time to shave as I am immediately offered a late lunch and bombarded with questions. Where is your nice madame Rosie is she OK? The nicest lady is however back in France shivering in the cold.

“Madame Rosie a froid il fait 8 degree a Paris” I explain to clicks of sympathy and well wishes from all and sundry. I am back in our second home – room 2 (with a fridge!) Madame Francoise has even organised new bedside lights instead of the burnt out plastic shells which served as lights: decidedly 5 star![subscribe2]

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