Beginning Wednesday, Andrew Okello (SMI’s local representative), Bart, Brett, and I drove around Mbarara in George Nsamba’s Land Cruiser purchasing supplies and preparing for our last leg of the trip to Kiburara. Because of the significant weight of the steel pipes for repairing the wells, a custom rack needed to be designed and built to better distribute the weight on top of the Cruiser. Brett and I sketched out a design, and the team found a welder to fabricate the rack while we waited…and waited…and waited. Initially, the shop’s owner told us the rack would cost about 500,000 Uganda shillings (about $200) and would be finished in three hours, by 4 PM. In response to this promised construction time, Andrew said simply, “I doubt.” His doubts were well founded. When we got back from lunch, the welding had barely begun. We didn’t leave the shop to get dinner until after 10 PM. Despite the shop owner’s bad time estimate, the welder was very patient and we tipped him generously for working so late. At 12:30 AM we finally left Mbarara and drove the last two hours to Kiburara.
On Thursday we repaired our first well, located in a community about 20 minutes drive from Kiburara. When we arrived, the well was barely pumping and Andrew gathered about 25 local community members to help with repairs. Under the direction of a local well mechanic named Tarsus, we opened up the wellhead and began pulling up the pipe. Most of the work was done by the community while Brett and I studied the old pipes as they were removed. The pipes were badly rusted and the very bottom pipe had rusted completely through. Tarsus and the community members cleaned and tested the cylinder (the pumping mechanism at the bottom of the well) and reinstalled new galvanized steel pipes. After reassembling the well, Andrew and Tarsus gave a brief talk about well maintenance and a local pastor (George Byabigambe) prayed over the fixed well.
The following day, we loaded supplies for two wells and went with Andrew and Tarsus to a community about 45 minutes from Kiburara. This well was rusted worse than the first, and the pumping rod had disconnected half way down the well. There were also several holes in the pipes from rust. Again, Brett and I photographed and recorded the condition of the old well parts while Tarsus and Andrew led the community in reassembling the well. Part of our goal this trip has been to transition oversight of the wells to Andrew and to encourage the communities to recognize his leadership. We were very encouraged to see them fixing the well with very little of our help while we focused on analyzing the problems with the existing well design.
After finishing the repairs, we broke for lunch and noticed that our Land Cruiser had a flat tire. We attempted to lift the Cruiser the conventional way, with a jack, but the base sunk into the soft dirt and bent the jack. We mzungus (white people) didn’t know what to do, so the locals showed us their method. Twenty people and three fifteen-foot tree trunks later we had pried the car high enough to brace it precariously on a rock set on a log (Brett and I continued to protest this support). Eventually we got the tire on and our fearless driver drove the car off the support to get it down. Before leaving town, we stopped at the church up the hill from the well. It was an awesome experience to stand in a crude mud hut with a thatch roof and dirt floor and play (sort of) on an African drum while one of the Ugandans sang part of a worship song. Our brothers and sisters in Uganda worship the same Almighty God who is just as pleased with their worship from a mud hut as He is with our worship from our wealthy US churches.
When we got to the final borehole well, we found that it was working and had to ask the local community what was wrong with it. We were told (and confirmed with our own tests) that the water color changes from clear to brown within a few minutes of being pumped from the well and exposed to the air. We performed a few more tests and took samples to bring back for testing in the States, and decided not repair the whole well until we were sure we could fix the problem. It was clear that the problem was not a mechanical one, but had to do with water quality.