“The Dark Side of Well Drilling”

Hello!

So normally I try and blog each day mainly because I want to capture what is fresh in my mind and best convey those feelings, convictions, and pictures with you immediately! Yesterday we encountered some “technical difficulties”… which leads me to the title of this blog, “The Dark Side of Well Drilling.”

I didn’t come up with this phrase though I have already recognized the truth and accuracy of this statement. Actually, it was Ajay from Pass Africa Ltd., one our well drillers that said this to me. While we were still in Nairobi, we had asked Ajay if he could promise us a timeline for the next well drill. He responded by saying “Stephanie, you must understand that there is a dark side to well drilling.” He went on to say that there are many unexpected challenges that you will inevitably face as you go out into the field, challenges that you had not anticipated but that can really halt progress and make your work difficult. As he was saying this I simply smiled and nodded, wondering to myself how much of this was actually true and how much was he way of covering his behind as a business man.

Turns out, at least with my experience so far, that Ajay was indeed imparting a lot of truth onto me. We had hoped that by the time I arrived in Nairobi that our car (almost as old as me which in car years is ancient!) would be fixed and ready to endure an arduous three weeks on the road. Juma Lekaruaki, our Project Accountant here in Kenya, bless his heart, has worked tirelessly this past week pushing the auto repair guys to quickly finish fixing the car. While we hope to get the car back in Wamba and ready for business by Friday, even this exercise has taught me to never take anything for granted.

Lucas grinned yesterday and said that out of all the visitors that has come to view the projects, I am the first one that does not have a car available to me. To me, it only makes the difficulties and uncertainties of working in the field much more of a reality to me which I view strangely enough as a blessing. I had hoped that this trip would open my eyes to both the achievements and the hardships of our work and therefore I truly am grateful for these difficulties. That being said, Lucas is pulling favors left and right in order to secure a motorbike for us- we have gone to most of the closer wells that are within 30 minutes walking distance (saving a few closer ones in case we end up having to walk) and now are going to wells that are about 2 hours walking distance from town. I know that it would be impossible for us to have access to this bike if it was not for Lucas’s respected name in town and for the honorable work that he is doing for his community.

But back to why I could not blog yesterday. Because the motorbike was not available until the early afternoon, Lucas and I spent the first part of the day in the office, meeting with the chairperson of Margwe Well (one of the communities where we are completing a large-scale agricultural initative) and doing other reporting. After our meeting with Iddi, I headed back to Juma’s office and plugged in my computer for the first time since leaving my room. But no power. I turned on the switch back and forth a few times, adjusted my battery and tried again! Still no power. Soon after, Lucas came by and I asked him if he had power and he went around the building, switching the outlets on and off and much to our chagrin, no power. Me in my naivety thought, ok no problem! I will just wait until I get back to the room to plug my computer (at this point it was running at around 38% battery life which is a little low for my personal taste). I had the mentality that like in the United States, there can be a power outage in one building or one area but the rest of the town is still electrified! If Lucas knew my thoughts, he would have corrected me right then and there.

When we returned to my room, I switched the light switch on a few times and my heart fell as I realized that there was no power here either. At this point, all the work that I needed to do (tagging the pictures, typing up reports and uploading them, blogging) could only be done on my computer. I was at a standstill. When I asked Lucas how long power outages last here in Wamba, the said normally they are without power for one or two days though there has been a week where they had on power. Wow. The reality of where I was really hit me at that moment. I realized that just like Ajay said, the plan I had laid out for my next few days would have to be scrapped almost entirely.

And the challenges keep on revealing themselves to me! There have been numerous times when Kristen and I are in the office and we are trying to get a hold of Lucas or Juma for our weekly meeting but much to our dismay, the phone either appears to be off or we hear the operator say “Sorry. The network is busy.” But is it really that hard for the guys to make one phone call? I found out my second night in Nairobi that the answer is a resounding yes. Our weekly phone call with Kristen lasted only a few minutes as the reception kept on cutting out. When we got to Wamba late Thursday night, I immediately tried calling my family to let the know I was alright and just to hear their voice. But the network was down again. And it stayed down or busy for another day or so. You would think that I would at least be able to get a hold of Lucas via the phone since we are in close vicinity to one another… I think our texts are received maybe 20% of the times by the other person and oftentimes it comes a few hours after it was initially sent. Thankfully my internet modem has yet to fail me but the problems with electricity and phone has really opened my eyes to some of the difficulties that the guys face when working here on the ground and when they try to get in touch with us.

We were finally able to get the motorbike around 2 PM yesterday and we were determined to visit as many wells as possible. However after we finished visiting the second well (more well stories in the next blog!), Lucas pulled me aside and said that we would not be able to visit another well. He pointed to where Wamba town was in the far distance and said that there were signs of oncoming rain and that if we didn’t head back soon, he would not be able to ensure my safety as it was going to get dark soon. I immediately hopped on the back of the motorbike.

These experiences have helped me to see what I take for granted back at home- a warm bed at night, my expectation that when I call someone they will answer or call back shortly, a seemingly unlimited supply of power, and so on and so on. My respect and appreciation for Lucas, Juma, and Paul has been steadily increasing each day as I see just how they bear all these difficulties and move past them, determined to not let the challenges throw a wrench in the work that they do and the impact they are making.

While we didn’t go to as many wells as we would have liked, it will all work out in the end. As they say, there is also a rainbow after the rain.

I just received a text from Lucas – he was able to get the motorbike for the entire day! Off to visit more wells and hear how water truly is a catalyst for development here in Samburu.

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3 thoughts on ““The Dark Side of Well Drilling”

  1. NM says:

    GO Stephanie!!!\

  2. Steph, the pictures a crazy beautiful! Maybe we can do The Face of Water 2 :). One important note on your blog…until last year, there was NO electricity in Wamba. When we drilled our first wells in 2006 and Belisa and Ted filmed, we had to bring a generator with us! Also, at that time, there was no Safaricom mobile tower and therefore no mobile phone service either. Though it’s still challenging, progress has been made!!! xo

  3. Joseph Kariuki says:

    This are true challenges but determination has no barrier. Thanks for the determination people and making other people enjoy ground water.

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