Sunday, 9 December 2012

God Knows How to Dig a Well

Absolutely bugger all to do with this story but, yes, we do have crocs on the beach and, no, Doggy, I really wouldn't try to nip this one in the bum.

I know I am all but surrounded by water but there isn’t a drop to drink.  The river is tidal here so outside the very short rainy season (I went to bed early last night so may have missed it) it is too saline to drink.  Even the water in the pond I dug, although quite clear, is still just too salty.

This means I have to bring water in by tanker.  15,000 litres of it costs me $200 and it still isn’t safe to drink, it must be boiled first.  Either that, or drop chlorine into it every time which leaves it tasting like the water in a public swimming pool.
For the restaurant, I will be importing a reverse osmosis system which could, if I ran it 24/7, provide me with twelve tonnes of pure drinking water per day; just half that would be enough for the whole village.  For that, though, I need access to the river.  The new shop and house are over a kilometer away, too far to run a pipe and a bloody nuisance if I have to cart water to it from the restaurant.  The irony of it is that although I can order from the city a tanker full of water for $200 delivered here, to hire an empty tanker to fill up with clean water from the RO plant and deliver it just over a kilometer down the road would cost me $400 a time.
I enquired about drilling a bore hole.  I was told they could not give me a drilling estimate unless I paid for a geological survey.  Answering my obvious question they said that they couldn’t be sure of the cost of the survey until they knew exactly where I was.
‘You have heard of the Barro de Kwanza, the bloody great river running into the Atlantic 70 kms south of Luanda?’ I asked them, unable to expunge every hint of sarcasm.  They admitted they had and that a survey would likely cost anywhere between a grand and five grand depending on the area to be surveyed.

‘It measures 55 metres by 55,’ I said, ‘but I know exactly where to drill’

Don’t you just fucking hate it when some git on the end of the phone starts sneering?  You can hear it in the tone of voice, can’t you?

‘The survey will establish if there is any water there and where we should drill’

Sweet Jesus.  And this company advertises itself as the leading drilling company in the country.

I went through the whole routine.  How about we just bin the survey and I pay them to drill a hole in the ground where I want it.  No, they don’t do that, it would be unprofessional.  What are their average drilling costs per metre through sandstone?  Depends on what they are drilling through.  Sandstone I repeated.  Am I a geologist?  No, I am not a geologist but I know sandstone when I see it and I have a geological map for the area.  OK, they couldn’t give me an indication of cost per metre drilled, how about deployment costs?  The cost to move and erect the rig on site and take it away again once they had finished?  Depends how far away I was.  Barra de Kwanza (I was getting tired of having to repeat myself).  They weren’t sure, the survey would determine that.  I don’t want a survey, I just want you to drill an effing hole!

You know, the more retarded, the more willfully stupid a person, the huffier they get when someone tells them to take a flying fucking hike.

I met someone over at Rico’s place who turned out to be a retired bona fide bore hole driller.  He has drilled wells all over Africa.  We were both pissed as rats at the time he drew me a complicated looking diagram of an artisan drilling rig and the following morning, severely hung over, I couldn’t make head nor tail of it so ignoring my protesting liver, I swung by Rico’s again and asked him to explain it.    He did.  I will admit, it is a damn sight simpler than the offshore drilling rigs of my experience but considering I was going to have to cobble it together out of scrap metal and timber in my yard, it was still bloody complicated.  When he got to the bit about jamming steel pipe down the casing to pump water down the hole to remove the drill cuttings I told him to stop.  Where was all this water going to come from?  The reason I want to drill a hole is because I do not have water. 

Reminds me of the saying that when you are up to your arse in Alligators, it is difficult to remember that the original intention was just to drain the swamp.
Daddy!  Have you found some water yet?
(Note to Self:  How come I have so many children suddenly?)

The land on which I am building the new shop and our house looks, to all intents and purposes, semi-arid.  Oil Palm trees set in loose dry sand.  I know there is a compacted amalgam about a metre down because we ran into it when digging the foundation poles for the buildings.  I also know that the water table can’t be more than another metre down and that this amalgam is the perfect filter for ground water.  So what is the easiest way to dig a well in sand?  For a decent well would be the answer to all my problems.
Regular readers of this poor effort at a Blog will know I am pretty irreligious most of the time so I was very surprised that God would take time out from his busy schedule and let me, of all people, see the light.  I was on the road to Damascus, I mean the road between the new shop/house site and the restaurant when I passed the building site that will be the new retreat for the pastors of some lunatic religious cult that has decided to settle here.  I drive past this place every day so why now, in my hour of need, did He suddenly decide to blind me to all but the sight of a row of concrete drainage pipe sections lined up patiently waiting to be laid in the trench a load of Chinese laborers were digging?  Each section is over a metre long and over a metre in diameter and weighs a tonne.  They are solid, reinforced concrete tubes designed so that each section slots neatly into the other.

I jumped out of the truck and asked the Chinese foreman where he got the tubes from.

‘HANG SOK CHONG YANG TCHA PI FOY!’  he shouted, or something like that.  Later I learnt that this was Chinese for ‘Fuck off, fat Round Eye with small willie that disappoints wife, can’t you see I am busy?’ further reinforcing my opinion that Mandarin is one of the most economic, yet expressive languages in the world.

But now I was on a mission from God.  He helps those who help themselves so I persisted and found the Angolan site guard.

‘How many do you need?’ he asked.

‘Three?’ I ventured.

‘$300 a piece plus delivery’, he said.

‘$600 total including delivery’ I countered.

‘$800 all in’


‘Can we use your truck?’  So no delivery included after all but I would get the labour.

‘What time?’


This perfectly legitimate and God inspired transaction having been concluded, I went home once again able to see my wonderful surroundings.

Now I know what you are all thinking.  I thought the same but one has to be pragmatic.  Eight hundred bucks is a bit rich for three sections of hot drainage pipe but these things don’t fall off the backs of lorries by themselves, even if the lorry belongs to you, and especially not conveniently into one’s back garden.  As an ardent socialist, I believe in spreading it around a bit.  I suppose that must also mean I believe the end justifies the means.

My plan, for now by His Grace I had one, was to drop one of the concrete tubes on the ground right where I knew there would be water, climb inside it and start to dig.  As I extracted the sand, the weight of the tube would drive it down into the ground shoring up the sides of the shaft at the same time.  Once that tube was sunk to ground level, I would roll another tube on top of the first and keep digging. 
Very crunchy sandy stuff, I am sure Geologists have a name for it.  I know about weapons though.  To the left the XT2000 Ray Gun, the very latest in personal security.  I don't like it as it causes an awful bulge in one's Dinner Jacket but M, code name for Marcia, insists it is superior to my old CZ 83.
Worked like a charm.  Until I hit the sand conglomerate.  Then it was very slow going working in a very hot, confined space and having to haul the spoil up out of the shaft in a bucket on the end of a piece of rope.    So I paid two Filipinos a couple of hundred bucks apiece and told them to get on with it.  By the time the top of the second tube had reached ground level, we struck water.  We rolled the third tube on top and, like pearl divers, the Filipinos carried on until, quite frankly, it was ridiculous to continue.  They were mid-thigh deep in water and you try swinging a Great Escape type pick axe under water.  What we needed now was a submersible pump.  No problem if you live in the UK or the States but here?  My mate Julian found one.  $360 and rated for a six metre head (that’s good head in anyone’s book).  This being Angola, of course, the shop supplied it with ¾” hose when the pump outlet is 1”.  Irritating but not an insurmountable problem, I went to Rico’s place and nicked 30 metres of black irrigation hose.  He’ll only notice once his plants start to die off.

That's the third one going in.  If the Filipinos can hold their breath long enough, I'll have buried all the evidence.

My plan (I still had one, in fact ideas were coming thick and fast) was to pump the water out of the well faster than it was coming in allowing the guys to dig down another metre.

We pumped.

And we pumped.

And we pumped.

The generator ran out of fuel so we filled it and started to pump again.

And pumped some more.

And kept on pumping until we were bored (very soon after I had emptied my hip flask).

The level of the water did not budge.  As fast as we pumped water out, the well filled again.  All I was doing was ‘flowing the well’.  At first the water was brown, stained with sand.  After an hour or two of pumping, it started to run clean.  I tasted it, sweet, not a hint of salt.  It was so clean that the crew showered under the outlet hose.  I decided to drink a glassful and see what happened.  This morning?  Nothing, no squirts, no upset tummy, nada.  I ran the truck over to the site with a 1000 litre water container on the bed and filled it.  Marcia, after washing in it, declared the water wonderful.  And it is mine, all mine.

He should be working but I forgive him the desire to experience washing in the desert
Well, not exactly.  The land wars have held up the restaurant site.  Once the restaurant was earning, I wanted to put in the water filtration system and supply clean water to the village.  With the river so salty they walk, WALK, several kilometres to a well dug in colonial times.  The water tastes foul, is salty and stinks.  Kids as young as eight carry twenty litre water containers on their heads and women struggle over sandy, potholed roads with five of these containers in worn out wheelbarrows.  That is a 100 kg load (220 lbs).  As if they didn’t have enough to do already just to survive, they spend half their waking hours lugging water.  And crap water at that.

There was no shop here when I arrived.  The staple diet was fish, when they had any, and rice.  Marcia put her shop in and we charged the same prices as the city.  At the bridge three kilometres away they charge 150 kwanzas for a packet of fags, we charge 100 (sorry I relate the retail price index to cigarettes but it is a good benchmark).  I was not going to gouge these people.  By buying in bulk I could easily cover the transport costs while providing city produce at city prices.  I should have called it KwikSave.

Sr Manuel is the Coordinator for the village of the Barro de Kwanza.  He is a venal shit and I fucking hate him.  The feeling is mutual.  While he runs around in big 4x4s, the people he is responsible for walk to get water, walk many miles to get medical attention.  He is determined to fuck me over as well as he has his charges.  He is behind the land wars.  We have clashed on more than one occasion and each time, when I faced him down, he did not have the guts to take a swing at me.  I am secretly glad about that because he would kill me.  But I would at least have his eye out before he kicked me unconscious.

He stopped me installing a water purification plant at the restaurant site by denying me access to the river.  A water purification plant, after all, needs water.  So fuck him.  I have dug a well on my other piece of land and it is flowing at a rate I could only have imagined in my dreams.  I am going to cap it properly, install a permanent pump and a pipe to the street.  I can’t afford the time nor money for a proper analysis so I glugged a load down and if a lily livered white boy with fragile intestines can stomach it, then the water must be OK.  It is certainly miles better than anything else within a day’s walk of here.  It is clean, clean water.

So I stole to get what I needed.  I encouraged larceny and deceit.  I lied and cheated.  But I only stole from the rich and the gluttonous, principally the Igreja Universal, the Universal Church who steal from the poor to enrich themselves.  By dashing the guard who will have spread some of his windfall around (no way he could load three of these tubes onto the back of my truck by himself), I am, as a good Socialist ensuring an equable distribution of wealth.  And the kids get free water.

Now to me, that was a good week’s work and today, being Sunday, means I can pray for forgiveness.  Since I am a Catholic and I stole from the Universals, I reckon absolution for that sin will cost me no more than a couple of Hail Mary’s and a paternal pat on the back from the Priest.

Not sure what God will think about me being ever so pleased that by providing free water I have put one in the eye of that bastard Manuel.  A question of motive, see?  I am sure gloating is a sin as well (I checked the Catechism and found no specific reference to ‘Gloating’), but God, I can’t wait to see his face.  Can you please make him very angry and forgive me when I snot him with a bit of angle iron?  Yes I know I have the angle iron ready so that makes it premeditated.  For goodness sake, God, why did you invent the Catholic Church?  It’s just Guilt, Guilt, Guilt.

Oi! Can someone bless this water please?
Evidently tonnes of clean water down there.  I am going to call the well 'Quality Street'.  Made for sharing.


  1. catching up with you tom is like reading about someone's life from the last century!
    when we are banging on about bloody chickens and home design.. you are rolling up your sleeves and battling the elements and the world.....
    its like "little house on the prarie" but with sexy nieces, crocs and the odd bottleof whiskey

  2. Great industry! Get a pump in it, lid on it and have those filipino's dig a couple water lines to your destinations while they're in digging moods.

  3. I'm so glad to hear of this, Tom. It's about time you got a break.

  4. By coinkydinx I was contemplating a glass of water only yesterday - my brain froze and all I could think of were the relative qualities of H2uh-oh. I spiralled down into thinking how just about the most important thing on the planet is such an odd creature. We live on the stuff, things live in it, it's dense but not so much so that we can't carry it in the quantities we need, it's scarce, but it pops up in the most unlikely places, it often kills us by the thousands but we use it in ornamental fountains, we add it to whisky and we use it to flush drains. We £prize£ water that has been filtered through French or Scottish dinosaurs for millions of years and yet we add chlorine and fluoride to the generally-available (hereabouts) tap supply. Amazing stuff and quite the neat invention. After about five minutes of peering into the glass I began moving again!

    I think I'm losing my wibble moo fribble de clomp.

    Now you must be certain to never bury any of your enemies (or mistakes) close to the well!

  5. Bloody well done, no pun intended, I will raise a bottle of peaty brown poison this week to celebrate your skills at my end. That is real field engineering, you sure you werent a Sapper or at least a Chunkie?

  6. JG, the 'odd' bottle of whisky? My liver would take issue with you on that! Battling the elements? At least it isn't as cold as where you are, me old fruit. Gosh, did I just call you a fruit? I meant it in the Ealing Comedy sense of the word.

    Joanne, Thank you. I am pretty bloody chuffed as well but I understand being proud of one's self is a sin too. It's a real bugger being a Catholic.

    John, the locals would only nick the pipe. Besides, there's a swamp between the house/shop site where the well is and the restaurant site. I'll just have to come up with another cunning plan.

    Megan, thank you and I agree but knowing my luck the break will be a broken arm.

    Sir Owl, dear mad-as-sack-full-of-cut-snakes Sir Owl. Once again your inane ramblings have hit upon a wonderful opportunity. Since the African continent is the oldest and most stable tectonic mass, my water must have been filtered through sediment far more ancient than that of France or Pictland. I see a lucrative market for l'eau de Hippo.

  7. tom
    you can call me and old fruit in the gayest of gayest therms of the phrase

  8. JG, Therms? Would that be British or Welsh Thermal Units? Either way, clearly you like it hot!

    Bambi Cuddler, I was too thick to be a Chunkie according to my SSG rating at the recruiting office so I joined the, er, erm, well you know... Sorry, I'll go back to digging holes. I was always good at that...

  9. Sir Owl,

    OK, maybe I need to work on the marketing a bit but at least I have cracked production!


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