‘The well isn’t working very…well.’
‘Yeah, I know, it’s been getting worse over the last few days. It’s not pumping as well as it used too. You really have to give it some on the hand pump to make it produce a decent flow of water.’
‘Alex, can you get it sorted? It must be your department…’
And so it was. The next day I was in a Shura and asked the locals who was the best man to fix our well…’Darro . He is the best man. He will go to your base this afternoon and fix the well…’
So simple. Easy, he’d arrive, tell us what is wrong with it, and if it needed any parts he could get them, and we could sort out some payment later. Easy. Simple. And it began simply.
He arrived, on time, and was thoroughly searched before being led â€“ under armed guard â€“ through the camp to the well in the far corner. He’d even brought his own tools. Well, a double ended ring spanner, an adjustable spanner, and what looked like a ‘Monkey-wrench’ produced sometime in the 1950′s…
We showed him the problem. The well was a hand pump type with a big handle that you pumped up and down which forced water out of a standpipe at the other end. It seems a fairly simple bit of kit. You push and pull here, and water comes out there. Only in this case you push and pull like mad, and you get a little trickle out there…
Darro quickly set to work and dismantled the well. Bits coming off and nuts and bolts all over the place. He needed a bit of rope to pull a plunger out of the well shaft and I left him and the interpreter to carry on dismantling â€“ as the armed guard looked on â€“ to fetch it; returning just 2 minutes later to see standing on top of the well, a good 4 foot in the air pulling out a large pipe from the well. He kept pulling and with the help of the ‘terp they started to pull the main shaft out of the well.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked. ‘Are you sure that is a good idea?’
The two Afghans ignored me and continued pulling…until a good 20 feet of pipe was sticking out of the ground, vertically up in the air, and in danger of hitting a guy-rope that held our radio mast up.
‘Ok. Stop. Do you know what is wrong?’
Abdul the ‘terp did his job but talked for far too long to have asked my question alone. Indeed they had quite a conversation, and then the fateful reply came…’No. He doesn’t know what is wrong.’
‘Oh. Well, what now then?’
‘He says he needs to go to the city to bring an engineer.’.
‘Great. Well we need this well to provide us with water. It is very hot and people need to wash. We can’t be without water. Tell Darro to put it back together and then go and fetch an engineer. We can sort out some payment once he brings one.’
‘I thought you might tell me to say that, so I have already asked him to put it back together’ said my ‘terp, ‘But the problem is…well, he doesn’t know how to put it back. This well pipe doesn’t seem to want be able to go back in to the drilled hole, because the water in the well is pushing it back up. He can’t put it back together again without the help of an engineer.’
We stood in silence.
‘So it’s buggered completely now, and it’s gone 4 o’ clock, and he has to go to Lash to get an engineer. There’s no way we are going to have any water until tomorrow is there. Great. He’s just made me the most unpopular man in the base. He’s taken a well that worked, badly I’ll give you, but it worked, and turned it into a pile of nuts and bolts and pipes on the floor. That doesn’t produce any water.’
‘Yes. I don’t think he is a good man for wells.’
‘Ah. Now is not the best time for him to have said that. I know he was trying to help, but if he wasn’t sure he should have stopped before it got this far. Oh great. I am going to have to tell the OC and the Sergeant Major. Great. Just brilliant.’
Darro was escorted out of the camp and was last seen walking down the road towards Lashkah Gar. I went and told the two most important men on camp that we were now without any washing water..And telling the OC this JUST as he had finished a session in the makeshift gym we have here. Just when he would be needing a shower. With water from the well to replace the water in the boilers. The well that no longer worked.
Needless to say, I wasn’t the most popular man. Not exactly to blame for this, but not exactly blameless either.
Word quickly spread that there was no water, and I had a fairly frosty reception from people about the camp. Several people had been in the gym, and a couple more had been doing some repairs to the gate, and filling sandbags. People needed to wash. Darro got most of the blame, but I got the odd sideways glance at dinner.
After dinner I went and sat next to the detritus and chaos Darro had caused. One lad came up to talk.
‘I am bloody fuming. Why didn’t he just say?’ I asked.
‘Maybe he was just trying to help…and it got out of hand…’
‘But we don’t have any water…’ I got up and wandered off.
Five minutes later I heard banging coming from over near to the well. I walked back to see a different guy â€“ Hadders â€“ trying to put the well back together.
‘What are you doing mate?’ I asked.
‘Well, it can’t be THAT hard to build it. It seems fairly simple. That bit’ he pointed to the handle ‘ Must go onto this bit. If THAT bit is tightened down on top of this pipe here, I reckon that it’ll push this seal down into the hole. We don’t need to push the pipe down, it’s the seal that matters. I think if we tighten the well head onto the base it’ll push the seal down and the well might work.’
I looked at the pipe. I looked at the rubber seal around it. It seemed plausible. ‘Lets do it. After all, we can’t make it worse can we. It doesn’t work…we can’t make some thing that doesn’t work, work worse can we?’
So we set about it. After twenty minutes of trial and error, of putting bolts in and then taking them out again, of tightening nuts and bolts. Of pulling plungers and connecting handles and pulleys…we were ready to give it a go.
‘Go on Hadders. Give it some. Pump it.’
He pumped. And pumped. And pumped. And nothing happened.
‘Hang on, I was helping the guys out in the CP the other day and was watching them get the well working. They poured water into the top of the well to make it work.’ I got a bottle of water and poured it into the well head. ‘Pump it again.’
Hadders pumped the handle up and down. Long strokes. With determined strokes. The suddenly I heard a loud ‘gulp’ from in the well. Then a gurgle. As I looked into the head of the well I saw a spurt of water. ‘Keep going mate! It’s coming.’
And then success. Water. It came gushing out of the main down pipe. I stuck a bucket under the pipe and Hadders continued pumping. The bucket filled with water, and with each push and pull of the handle more water came out.
‘We’ve fixed it mate! Result!’
The CSM â€“ the Company Sergeant Major â€“ walked across. ‘Is it working?’
‘Yep. Better than before.’
‘Right then, he said. ‘Get those boilers filled up, and don’t touch the well again. And don’t let that bloody local near it again either. You’ve saved yourself. All’s well that ends well…’
He walked off chuckling to himself, and we spread the word to the camp that in just 30 â€“ 40 minutes, once the boilers had heated up, people could start to have a wash again. All I have left to do now is tell the engineer from Lash, that he has had a wasted journey…oh and I guess I’d better give Darro his spanners back…