I had no idea that today would be filled with mountain climbing, sliding down hillsides, laid down motorcycles, black ant attacks, gold mines, lots of sweating, and yes, lots of clean water.
Driving into the middle of the African bush can be a little intimidating. Dirt roads that cars can easily drive on quickly turn into dirt paths that test the limitations of the best 4-wheel drive vehicle. If you want to give clean water to every village in Liberia, you’ll have to start with those paths and usually end up at a broken-down bridge. That’s where we parked our 4-wheel drive today. Fortunately, we had 5 motorcycles with us so I jumped on one of them which is really not one of my favorite things to do on a slippery dirt path.
The motorbike took us about a half of a mile where we approached our first testy hillside. We made a run at it but the morning rains made the path too slick. We had to get off and push the bike up what felt like Mt. Everest! To say my lungs were exploding would be an understatement. Once again in my life, I reached the great milestone of “max sweating!”
We finally reached the top of the hill where we all were gasping for breath. In what seemed like a miracle encounter, a young woman walked by us carrying a large plastic bowl of bananas. For $3 we cleaned her out and got a little energy. While I was standing there, I failed to realize that I was standing in a black ant frenzy. One of the motorbike riders pointed them out to me and that set off a race to get them off of me. We saw them in my socks, but those little things must be really fast because in a matter of seconds, I could feel them climbing up the inside of both my legs. There were even a few that had already made it up the outside of my pants and had climbed inside my shirt! Thankfully the ants were not hungry and I didn’t get one bite! I was just a little freaked out though.
Off on the path we went again, scaling the hillsides briefly by motorcycle until the path became unpassable. We found that out after one of the riders laid down his bike. Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt, and so we began walking until we finally reached a valley that turned out to be a gold mine. Yes, a literal active gold mine. There were a few people digging for gold, but we passed on the temptation and pressed on towards the village. Up another giant hill, we went slipping on the slick path while listening to the sound of what sounded like giant birds. Turns out, they were giant birds nesting high in the jungle treetops. They looked like some kind of Toucan with their giant beaks.
Once we reached the top of this last hillside we FINALLY reached the village of 120 grass huts. It was a pretty awesome sight to behold and probably my favorite in Liberia so far. We were there to follow up with this village that had recently received clean water systems. What would we find? Would the villagers be using them? This village did not seem like it was very sanitary but I still had high hopes that the villagers would be using and enjoying their filter systems.
As the town chief approached, we were greeted with a big smile, and a very warm thank you! He said that their village used to always have diarrhea as they all drink water from the local creek. But since they’ve received their filter systems, all of their diarrhea has disappeared! They were so happy! Of course, I wanted to see the filters in use for myself so we could collect data on this life change. One-by-one, we went to each house. They were ALL using their filters on a regular basis and everyone was able to demonstrate proper use of the filters. We did give a little coaching to a few villagers teaching them to clean their filters systems right after they filter a bucket of water, but for the most part, this village was a home run!
My favorite part of the day was at the first house I visited. There was a little 2-year-old boy who immediately began calling me Papi. He came right up to me and wanted me to hold him which was so precious! He ended up following me around all day.
As we finished up the last follow-ups, the grueling thought came to my mind that we’d have to leave on the same path that we came in on. Well, we took a deep breath and started our journey. Needless to say, I was pretty tapped out after this journey, but it reminded me of just how hard these teams work every day to make sure every village in Liberia is reached with clean water! The NGO teams are the real heroes of this story.
I’m glad I experienced everything I did today! I have a new level of respect for those who do this day after day. No wonder they are so lean and fit!