Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Memories of Mamou

I knew better, but I did it anyway.

We were living in Mamou, Guinea. That's in West Africa, for the geographically challenged. Wikipedia says it has a population of abut 76,000 people. It was our first post in Africa in 1998.

Life is fairly simple, but very hard. Poverty is rampant and Islam has stifled  practically every aspect of the Fulani culture. The people were oppressed from nearly every side, but because we were in the rain forest, famine wasn't as bad as in other parts of Africa.

We were living in a house that had been home to missionaries for years.  It was a comfortable 5 room house with 2 bathrooms. It had running water (with a 2000 liter storage tank) and electricity. Well, sort of.

Mamou, Guinea - 1998

City electricity was interesting, to say the least. On the standard 220v 50hz system, sometimes it only provided 20-30 volts. Other times, so much current came through that it burst the lightbulbs in our ceiling fans.

Most of the time, we simply didn't have city electricity. The story was that some official had embezzled the money earmarked for a city-sized diesel generator and had fled to France. Since our "regular" electricity came from a hydro-electric generator at the nearby reservoir, we had "good" electricity during the rainy season, which lasted from July to August. After August, we were rationed until all the water ran out of the reservoir until they simply shut off the city supply. The rest of the time, we used a portable gasoline powered generator.

Things would have been better had we owned a diesel power generator, which brings me to my story.

Our helper, Amadou, told us that our trash pit was full and needed to be burned. I should have just let him to it. (mistake number 1)  The pit was about 6x6x12 and was where be put everything from household trash to cut limbs and other debris from the yard.

Our night guard, Ibrahim, used a little kerosene lantern to shine (usually while he slept) during his night duty. I wish I remembered that I bought a gallon or two of kerosene for his lantern (mistake number 2)

I went out to look at the pit. It was indeed full. I looked around for something to light to catch the pit on fire. I found some rags, but they wouldn't  burn.

In my search, I spied my cans of gasoline that we use to run the generator. I figured that I could pour a little bitty teeny tiny amount in the pit and get the fire going. (mistake number 3)

I found a small little cup and poured perhaps a half a cup of gasoline into the pit. I stood back and threw in a lit match. Nothing.

I found a piece of paper or something and lit it and tossed it into the pit. Nothing.

Reasoning that I simply didn't have enough propellent, I poured in two or three more cups of gasoline. (mistake number 4)

I stood back, lit a match, threw it in and was knocked backwards by the explosion that sent burning banana leaves 20 feet into the air.

The explosion was so loud, that it made the pedestrian traffic stop on the national highway below the mountain to stop, look up, and wonder what those crazy white people were up to again.

Amadou told me to let him burn the trash pit the next time. I told him that I thought that was a good idea.

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