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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Being a Utility



Sitting in our house I can hear nothing but the roar of our diesel-powered, three-phase, 10-kilowat generator.  Although it produces more than enough electrical current to run the entire house, we try to conserve what begins as expensive diesel fuel, especially for a missionary couple dependent on God’s grace and faithful supporters.  We maintain a stock of about 75-liters of diesel to guard against occasional fuel shortages due to strikes, theft, or political circumstances.
Later today I will take a shower that is supplied by a 1000-litre black polyethylene tank sitting atop a substantial steel tower at the corner of our home.  The tank can keep us supplied for up to two weeks if we are very conservative. With the low water pressure from our tank we can manage a shower with less than four-liters of water, six or eight if I splurge.
After Janet and I purchased the tank and the landlord provided the tower, I offered to connect the tank to the water system.  The landlord was dubious of my ability and instead furnished his very qualified plumber.  It took only a short time for us to realize that 1000-liters of water was not lasting nearly as long as it should.  Often, our tank would empty in less than a day.  After breaking out some concrete I discovered that the very capable plumber had made at least three times as many connections between pipes as necessary.  Consequently, the tank would quickly empty at the beginning of a water cut in attempts to keep our neighborhood supplied with water.  On the other hand, when there was an adequate supply of water to our house the water would flow backwards and overfill our tank.  A couple of day’s work and no less than three check valves and our system now works just as the landlord intended for his plumber to make happen.
When the daily water cut lasts longer than the usual 12-hours or so, our water supply may serve more than our household as children knock on our gate and ask for a drink.  In anticipation of long water cuts we normally stock around 250 small plastic sacks of drinking water, 50 or so of which we keep in our smaller freezer as a special treat for the children during the hot season when the temperature hovers around three-digits.
Today we have no sacks to offer.  We had recently traveled to a village more than seven hours away to celebrate the translation of the New Testament into the Kaansa language, the 24-year labor of faithfulness and love by Stuart and Cathie Showalter who have lived and raised their three children in the distant village.  We have not yet found time to replenish our stock of sacks since we returned.  We will then share the 90 to 100-degree water from our tank with the children.  In this tropical climate we find even warm water refreshing to drink.
As a small “utility” we are also responsible for waste water treatment.  We rely on a “fosse septique” and a “puit perdu”, a septic pit and a lost well--an African version of a septic tank and leach field.  To extend the life between visits from the “camion a vindager” the truck that pumps out the septic system. We, like our neighbors, throw out our “grey water” either where it can irrigate our shade trees or help to keep the dirt street from ejecting too much dust in the air as motos drive by or a gust blows down the street. We dispose of left over bleach-based dish rinsing water down nearby area drains to discourage malaria-bearing mosquitos.
We also manage our personal gas supply by hauling empty butane (not propane as in the US) bottles to the service station.  We keep a bottle in reserve should the lines become insufferably long when the huge gas delivery trucks get held up along the road or are stopped by a strike. 
We finally gave up on dealing with the local Internet service provider because they a) could not locate our home, b) forgot to send a technician out to test our line, or c) mistakenly connected the service we requested at our place of business which caused the resident IT person no shortage of confusion.  In light of the frequency of Internet cuts caused by treasure hunters who steal and resell the copper or fiber optic cables and by the grace of a couple of dear friends who gave s their “old” smart phones we were able to bypass the local ISP and use the smart phones as local hotspots (THANK YOU Matt and Tari!!)
Our next foray into being a local utility will be when we reward local children for disposing of trash into a poubelle (waste can) we will chain to the front of our home.  This will be a challenge since the ground is considered to be the customary depository for waste.  Each day neighborhood women (usually) sweep up the refuse and burn it in the street.  The preponderance of the waste material consists of various plastics.  The smoke and soot can at times becomes unbearable.  The residue includes dioxins that can poison the air and ground water.  Maybe collecting and centrally disposing of neighborhood trash will improve the environment and quality of life in our area.  Maybe it will simply provide neighborhood children with employment and rewards of peanuts or cookies.
Being a personal utility has both its advantages and disadvantages.  I may be required to spend half a day changing oil and filters and doing other preventive maintenance on our diesel generator for every 200-hours of run time (about a month), but we have a huge honker of a diesel generator that much like Tim Allen on “Home Improvement” I can show off to other tool guys while making animal grunting noises.  I may be required to do chemical tests on our water tank and add chlorine to keep it from turning into a Petrie dish, but I get to take the credit if I overdose the tank and the house winds up smelling like a municipal swimming pool.
The real upside is when we get to invite 60 or 70 neighborhood children into our courtyard in groups of five and we hand each a sack of frozen water or a squirt from a hose on a day hot enough to give one a second-degree burn just touching a piece of metal that has been sitting in the sun.