I was contracted to travel to Cameroon, Africa, to teach the Cameroon Army Corps of Engineers (14 students) to drill water wells for two weeks with a new cable tool drill. It was nearly an impossible task to start with.
The drill had been setting outside for about a year. Needless to say, some parts were missing. In a couple of days, we had the rig running. After several days of negotiations, we were able to obtain a usable Mercedes-Benz 6-by-6 truck from the Cameroon Army and proceeded to drill holes and bolt the 1-W rig to the bed of the truck. All 14 students were trying to align the bolts into the holes at the same time. They would almost get one bolt in when others would slide out of the rig and the other holes wouldn't line up. Making it even more difficult was the fact that that the students spoke only French, and I spoke only English. I had a translator the first half-day, and then he left us on our own. I seldom have a problem communicating anywhere I go, however, this was a real challenge.
Once the drill was mounted, we had to spool the drilling and bailing lines on the rig. This was another interesting experience - 14 eager students, all trying to do the job of spooling the cables, everyone talking in French (I couldn't tell if they were happy, mad, cussing or just having a good time) and everyone trying to run the cable a different way.
After the drill was ready and the tools were loaded to go, we headed for the job site about two hours away.
My American driver advised me that we shouldn't travel at night because Cameroon people drive fast and without their lights because they think it wears out the battery. During this two-hour drive, we saw police officers or the army personnel in their uniforms stopping cars by placing boards with nails in them on the road and requiring people to pay fees to pass (I was advised that this is the way they get paid). When they saw us coming with a U.S. Embassy tag attached to our vehicle, they removed the boards with nails, saluted us and let us pass without stopping.
Arriving at a small village, we met with the elders and decided where to drill the first well. Then we asked if they could cut down the shoulder-high grass. In less than 20 minutes, 10 people with machetes cut the grass - it looked like they had used lawn mowers.
We set up the drill and started drilling. We had 20 to 50 people observing us at all times. I started the drilling and then let each student drill, bail, raise and lower the mast at least once. I soon found two students who learned quickly and could understand some English. I taught them and let them teach the others while I stood back and observed. I stayed close because sometimes the operator would forget something and tools would start flying and people running. I would then grab the brake or clutch and start them again.
The locals would follow me around with a chair and motion for me to sit down. Whenever I would move, they would follow me with the chair. They would bring me food to eat, but I previously had been advised not to drink the water or eat any food unless I had to peel it. I did taste a few fruits and tried some of their homemade palm wine (which I didn't like at all). We carried bottled water from the hotel. There were no toilet facilities (not even outhouses) - they just go where it's convenient, no embarrassment. I almost popped the first couple days for lack of an outhouse.
In the 14 days, we were only able to drill about 70 feet and my contract was completed. The students and the people wanted me to stay, but I couldn't.
Upon leaving for the airport, a car struck the rear side of our embassy car. My driver told me that he was going to lock me in the car while he talked with the driver of the other car. He handed me the walkie-talkie and advised me that if he had any problems, I was to call the Marines at the embassy for help. I wasn't worried until that instant. There were about 50 people that immediately surrounded the embassy car, staring inside at me - I then became a little concerned! Soon my driver climbed back in the car laughing, saying that no one would admit to driving the other car. He then called the police and they didn't show up, then he called the Embassy Marines and they advised us to do the best that we could, telling us that they couldn't get away right then. My driver called a friend to pick me up and take me on to the airport.
When I arrived at the airport, I was met by a young Cameroon boy and girl. They could speak English. They gave me gifts and clothing (two tailor-made suits) for me and their cousin in the United States.
Six months after I returned home, I received the photo of the 14 students pumping water from the well where I taught them. You can see my chair in the photo. Each had signed the back of the photo in French. I had certificates of training made for each of them and sent to the Cameroon Embassy to be delivered.
I was and am so proud of these students. People in other contries appreciate safe water, whereas people in the United States expect safe water.