Entomology, chemical ecology, evidence-based environmentalism and science in general. I like big bugs and I cannot lie.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

030609 - Who watches the watchmen?

Last night, in the stifling heat, I had a lovely dream about cool
waterfalls then woke up to find I could still hear water. Still half
dazed I assumed that someone had left the tap on, and that Jeff would
go and turn it off in a minute, and it was quite some time before I
was alert enough to realise that not only was there no Jeff here,
there shouldn't be any water either. My room is one down from the
shared bathroom (making me convenience food for the mosquitoes
breeding in the toilet there) and this seemed to be the source of the
noise, so I found my torch and went to investigate, Nancy Drew style.

Sure enough I was shocked to see that one of the taps had been left
turned on and water was cascading into the basin (my first impulse, I
must admit, was to stick my head under it). Those blessed with UK
plumbing will no doubt be wondering why seeing water coming out of a
tap was so startling, but here at the Mission although in theory we're
meant to have 24 hour water from the storage tanks, in practice the
guards empty them whenever they fancy a brew and I knew for a fact
that the tanks had been empty when we'd come back from the field the
previous day. The only was for them to have been refilled would have
been for the guards to have turned the pump on again in the middle of
the night, something they certainly shouldn't be doing as turning it
on more than twice a day doesn't give the well long enough to refill,
causing the pump to suck up sand which damages it.

Hell hath no fury like Julie needlessly deprived of a shower, so I
stormed up to the guard station to demand an explanation. There
should always be at least two guards on duty but only Elderly
Nightwatchman was present. He at first categorically denied that the
pump had been switched on, but changed his story after I escorted him
to the pump (which was on) and switched it off. Apparently Young
Nightwatchman had turned it on to have a shower, and now he had gone
to the village. When would he be back? "Soon, soon." I decided this
was more than I could handle alone and knocked on Emma's door, but she
was too soundly asleep to notice so I decided she deserved her rest
and sat down to wait.

At this point the righteous indignation fizzled out and I began to
have some doubts about my course of action. I had just caught Young
Nightwatchman out deserting his post, turning on the pump when he
wasn't supposed to, wasting electricity and wasting water, and Elderly
Nightwatchman covering for him. I began to wonder if he'd left the
tap running on purpose to empty the tank again and cover his tracks.
There were two of them and one of me, and while Elderly Nightwatchman
would probably fall over if I poked him with my little finger Young
Nightwatchman was a rather more formidable presence. Just as I was
considering bolting back to my room and locking the door Young
Nightwatchman returned.

In the event I needn't have worried. When asked where he'd been Young
Nightwatchman intially, rather ingeniously, claimed that he had gone
to turn the pump off. When I explained that this was impossible as I
had turned it off myself they both just started laughing and said "No
problem! No problem" when I tried to explain why they shouldn't turn
the pump on more than twice. Eventually I gave up in disgust and went
back to bed, vowing to call down the wrath of Emma upon them the next

Two hours later I was woken again by a roaring noise. My first
thought was that the generator had broken, and I rushed to the window
expecting to find the compound on fire but saw only backness. To my
horror I then noticed water cascading down the veranda - the guards
must have broken the pump after all, and now they couldn't switch it
off and the tank had burst! It was only when I remembered that the
water tank was on the other side of my room that I realised what it
was pounding on the flimsy tin roof of the mission.

The rains have come early this year.

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