Thursday, 13 August 2015

OH! GOD #2 and Bossman Amos

OH GOD # 2 and Bossman Amos

Posted by: Haresh Karamchandani 

I travelled to Greenville, Sinoe County this Monday to install a Thermographic Camera at the port of Greenville for Ebola surveillance. The Ebola command arranged a seat for me on the UNHAS helicopter service.

I got to the airport at 8:30 AM and the fully loaded helicopter took off from Spriggs Payne airport at 9:30 after a 30 minute delay. In order to get to Greenville, we would have to go via Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County – Fish Town, River Gee County – Harper, Maryland County. The whole journey took 5 hours of take offs and landings. We finally landed at Greenville at about 14:30 hours.

It was raining Cats and Dogs and the whole airport tarmac was muddy, with no proper shelter available. I managed to get some local help to offload my heavy boxes of Thermographic equipment and secure them in a make shift tent. After calling the Port Manager and informing him of my arrival at Greenville, I was dismayed that he was out of town himself and that there were no port vehicles to come and fetch me from the airport.

I was lucky to get a lift from a UNICEF vehicle, the driver was kind enough to drop me to the port of Greenville safe and sound.

I got down to installation of the camera and equipment and was able to get everything done, besides training the same evening.

I had quite a relaxing night at the Mississippi Motel (even though the generator was just outside my room window), wonder how the human brain somehow can go into silent mode and all noises just vanish, once you are in deep sleep?  The next morning I was back at the port to carry out the training. 

This was completed by about noon.

The next UNHAS helicopter was due to arrive the next day. They make these trips only on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. I thought it would be better to just hop on to a transport vehicle and start going back to Monrovia by road, since the work was completed and there were many important things needing my attention back home, including my darling babies. I asked a few locals on how much time would it take to get back to Buchnanan? What is the distance? How is the road condition? Etc, etc. I was told by most of them that the road was just “rehabilitated” since the President visited Greenville for the 26th of July Independence celebrations. One motorbike driver told me that he can make it to Buchannan within 2 hours and 45 minutes! This was all encouraging news and I decided to ignore some other talks, “ The President did not come by road, instead she flew in secretly and her convoy came by road” , “The road condition is very bad and many vehicles get stuck there for days”, My wife actually sent me a text message that read: “ I had a bad dream, do not come back by road, wait for the helicopter”.

I checked out of the Mississippi Motel, walked to the Monrovia car park which was just a few meters away and decided to book a space on the next available vehicle. A red pickup was fully loaded and ready to depart and I tried to convince the driver and transport union fellows to give me a seat on this car. They said that the Mayor herself was travelling and had booked this car for herself but I could get a seat on the next vehicle.

At that same time, in drove a very tough looking Toyota 4-Runner jeep with the inscription on it:

“OH! GOD #2”. The transport union guys said I could get a seat on this car, in fact the front seat, but I would have to pay for 2 passengers if I did not want to share the front seat. I agreed as it was LD2500.00 per head and paid them LD5,000.00 for the front seat.

Then I decided to get something to eat in preparation for the journey ahead and got myself an omlette sandwich with Fanti bread, loaded with Mayonnaise, ketchup, butter. This was a good hearty meal.
On returning back to the car, hoping that it was loaded and ready to depart the driver told me that they were waiting to get “one more passenger”. I told him, “no need to wait for one more passenger” “I will pay LD2000.00 and keep my suitcase on that space”. They agreed and we finally departed at about 2 PM.

The car was loaded with: Driver- AKA Bossman Amos, myself, 3 passengers on the back seat, 2 more passengers on the rear seat located where the booth is normally located, and the “carboy” standing on the rear bumper of the car. The luggage was carefully wrapped up in a tarpaulin and securely tied to the top of the car! We left Greenville.

A few kilometers down the road and we came across a motorbike guy, who begged that we should take his sister along. My permission was sought and I agreed if the motorbike guy would be able to produce his sister in 5 minutes time as we were already late. The bike guy rushed off and was back in less than 5 minutes with his sister and a mysterious blue plastic bag. This bag stuck to her like a part of her body throughout the journey. I suspect that it contained some diamonds or gold that she was taking with her to Monrovia to sell. I did not dare ask her. The girl was accommodated on the back seat. So now we had 4 adult passengers on the back seat.

About another 5 kilometers of driving over pot holes and we came to a check point. The Immigration officer asked to inspect my travel documents and I promptly showed him. Upon careful examination and after discovering that everything was valid, he had to find some fault like a diligent officer. Yes, he did! He asked me for the flag receipt copy for my residence permit!! I was quite impressed and amused. I told him that I did not have it with me and that it was at my office in Monrovia. His eyes flashed bright and he knew he had me! He said in that case I would not be able to travel through his check-post. I decided to play cool and acted as if I am getting off and told the driver to refund my money for 3 seats and offload my baggage. He did not expect that coming. He then said that I should find something for his softdrink, I refused. He then waved us on.

The same routine continued at all check points. Believe me, I did not bribe any Immigration officer on this trip!

On one of the check points, an immigration office approached us and said we should help take his sister and 2 more friends along. This was impossible I thought. But Bossman Amos had other plans. In a blink of an eyelid, this sister was “comfortably” accommodated on the seat in the booth with the other 2 passengers and my suitcase. And a friend was accommodated on the top of the car. Yes, on top of the car!! So now, we had the driver, Bossman Amos, Myself, 4 passengers on the back seat, and 3 on the booth seat and 2 on top of the car. Total passengers on board OH GOD #2: 11 + luggage.

I gathered the guts to question Bossman Amos: How can you ever take such a huge risk? How could passengers travel on top of the car, moving at a speed of 75-80 kms, (I could not tell the exact speed as the speedometer was not working)? Bossman Amos casually responded: “This is normal, and me myself when I was a carboy, I went through the same “training”, if my boy does not do this he will not learn!” End of questioning.

So, why was the carboy hanging at the back of “OH GOD #2”? Whenever Bossman Amos felt it was time to check the engine water levels, he would park aside and blow the horn, and the carboy (don’t know his name), with a huge smile would be in front of the car. Bossman Amos would tug on to a rope and the bonnet would open up and the carboy would top up the radiator water. Of course the carboy was available at any time to do whatever Bossman Amos desired.

We moved gradually from one village to another without incident till we go to ITI village. This was at the border of Sinoe county. It was 6 PM. We had driven for 4 hours without any issues and Bossman Amos decided it was time for a break and food. In retrospect I realize that this stop was taken in preparation for the “real” part of the journey. Bossman Amos knew what lied ahead and wanted to ensure that everyone had a full stomach to last the night.

After leaving ITI village, the bad road with huge potholes began. We could not go over 20-30 kmh, but that was fine as long as we kept moving.

At about 9 PM the first huge challenge lay in front of us. A 60° incline lay ahead of us and the road was extremely soggy and slippery. Bossman Amos got into his act and shifted the gears into “helper” mode. The car began climbing up and kept slipping to the right side nearly off the hill, but Bossman Amos apparently knew what he was doing and while all passengers were completely silent (some saying prayers, some expecting the worse, some just cool, with the carboy and his fellow passenger boy hanging on the bumper), OH GOD #2 made it to the top of the hill.

I thought, “ okay, we have made it over this tough part” hopefully that should be it. Remember, the President was on this road a few weeks ago, it cannot be worse than this”.

At about 10:30 PM I asked Bossman Amos: “How far are we from Buchannan?” He said about 1 and a half hour more to go. I felt that was great as if we got to Buchannan by midnight we could be in Monrovia by 2 AM. Then he came up with a bombshell. He announced that once we got to Buchannan he would stop the vehicle at Cotton tree junction and all of us would have to sleep in the car till day break. Everyone protested and wondered why? He explained that it would not be safe to reach Red-light Monrovia junction at 2 AM as the criminals would loot them. The passengers all agreed with him. I did not and insisted that we should not stop and continue till we reach Monrovia. He just smiled.

A few kilometers later, we came to an abrupt halt. The road was completely blocked. 2 tankers had gotten stuck and there was no way to pass. Bossman Amos announced that we would have to sleep until day break and until help arrived to clear off the road. I somehow managed to send a text message to my wife telling her that I was safe but was stuck and would not arrive till the next day. She said “ I told you not to take the road”.

I could not sleep.

I got off the car and decided to see if there could be a way to by-pass the regular road. I waded through the muddy road and got to the other side. There were a few more cars just waiting for the road to be cleared. I spoke to them and tried to negotiate with one of the drivers to turn around and take me back to Buchannan. No one agreed. I then saw a motorbike and went to speak to him to see if he would take me. He agreed. When I got back to my car to pick up my suitcase, Bossman Amos, strongly advised that I was being foolish and the motorbike guy would just plainly kill me on the road and dump me and take away all my stuff. I had to agree with him and abandoned my plan to travel by motorbike in the middle of the night.

It was 3:30 PM already, I could not sleep. I kept getting in and out of the car, while bossman Amos and the other passengers snored away.

Then I discovered that other car drivers were able to carve out a new road on the embankment using their shovels. One car actually managed to use this new way and got to the other side. I excitedly ran to bossman Amos and gave him the news. He told me to sleep. I told him “no ways” he should try this new road and not wait till morning. The other passengers woke up and also started begging him to give it a try.

He told all of us to get off the car and walk across.

Then he fired on OH GOD #2 and the engines screamed away in the still night. The car managed to get on to the embankment and a few moments later he had by-passed the tankers and got to terra -firma.
All of us ran up to the car and congratulated Bossman Amos for a job well done. We continued our journey to Buchannan and got there at 5 AM.

He refueled the car, topped up the water, everyone took an early morning leak.

We were now on the asphalt road. Bossman Amos drove at more than 100 kmph with the carboy hanging at the rear bumper and we got through all the check points.

We finally reached Marshall Junction at Robertsfield highway at about 8 AM. OH GOD #2 finally broke down. Bossman Amos parked on one side and the carboy got down to opening up the engine to fix the problem.

I got a private taxi, negotiated with him to take me to Randall Street, and transferred my suitcase and bid farewell to the ever smiling carboy (now completely covered in orange mud from head to toe), farewell to my fellow passengers. I offered to give them a lift but they said that they were fine.

I finally arrived home at 9 AM, took a hot shower and tucked into my comfortable bed and dreamt about the 19 hour long journey and wondered if the other passengers got home and when?

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