Teaser 212: What One Can Do With 25 Football Fields
There were sufficient food provisions for a while and more would be brought as needed. We had everything to provide meals, so at Monsieur Farabé's suggestion, once we had all reviewed the construction plans, we set about preparing a supper for those staying. A group of government people drove back to Bamako with the smaller military vehicle in escort, but we all were in a celebratory mood. I thanked Nassira, holding her hands, and her ebullient manner was unshakable and pervasive. She could not be dissuaded in helping prepare the meal, despite all the other women insisting she had done enough. “Nonsense,” Nassira propounded, “I know how to prepare a meal. I can do more than render architectural drawings. I can eat!” No stopping Nassira.
While the women worked on the meal Alfred, Bernard, Francois, Mamadou and I walked along the grounds, both inspecting and chatting about the work to come. Mamadou was excited about his plans for digging a modern well on the site and his expectation to hit the significant aquifer he expected under the ground within two to three hundred feet. “And when I do, Monsieur Hess, it will be another successful water project of mine, with more to come.”
I patted his back, leaving my hand atop it, rubbing from side to side. “And when you come this way to work on more of your water projects, you'll stay with us. I will be extremely disappointed should you reject our hospitality and insistence.”
Mamadou wrapped his arm across my back and squeezed my opposite shoulder. “It will be my pleasure to stay. I will look forward to each visit.”
We had meandered to the area for the electrical facility. There were already a great deal of items for its construction scattered about and Bernard explained what it would resemble. He opened the flap of a tent and we all peered inside to view boxes and boxes, all unopened except for a few at the tent opening. He opened one to show it contained solar panels, each about four feet long and two feet across. There were other boxes of construction rods and equipment, gears, wires, and connectors. The tent contained everything for our solar power construction. Bernard smiled deviously. “We purchased it through the university procurement, subsidized by various national endowments, so it came in at about a tenth of the normal cost.”
I looked closely at the panel. “From China?” I asked skeptically.
“The highest quality, Gregory. I reviewed the specifications meticulously myself and any questions I had were answered to my satisfaction. I reviewed some European and American sources, but they were either sub-standard or ineligible for subsidy. Monsieur Farabé had to help me understand the subsidy portion. I could not follow it. There were countries willing to subsidize other countries' products but not their own. There was no rhyme or reason to it.”
“Oh, yes, there was, Bernard. You didn't know whose pocket was being lined.”
“I hated being involved in it but we have first-rate solar equipment.”
“I did some digging with friends I have, Bernard, after I talked with Monsieur Farabé about this. I know who some of the people are who would benefit from those subsidies. Their only care is money. Nothing more.”
Our solar power generation would be built on construction rods which tilted the entire table to the east and west to follow the sun's path throughout the day. It also would tilt north and south on a schedule which could be programmed so the table could follow the sun's movement from north to south and back over the entire year. All movements could be manually adjusted at any time and the tables would reach about two meters above the surface. We were looking in a tent at equipment worth some six figures in U.S. dollars but our total cost was so much lower I won't even list it. The Farabés had even managed a donation provided by a German aid organization for the purchase. I wondered if Tanya knew about it.
Outside scattered about were single fans, each eight feet in length and curved, four long, thick poles, a large number of five gallon plastic water containers, and miscellaneous building material. The fans and poles represented the wind generators, the water containers would store generated electricity as backup, and the building materials would be, once erected, the electrical building itself. “Very nice, Bernard,” I complimented him. “How long do you think it will take to have it all built and operational?”
“It will depend on manpower and what equipment we can use, especially to erect the poles for the wind generators. Assuming we're not in each other's way but there's enough, we could have it operational in two weeks or less.”
I almost said, “Fuckin'-A!” I settled for, “That is excellent! The solar construction alone will be the envy of everyone and for what it set us back, well, we'll have to keep it to ourselves.”
Everyone immediately agreed and laughed. I'm not apologizing. We never put a gun to anyone's head when we put this whole compound together. Often, we were the recipients of an unsolicited offer. What? We're going to turn it down on a bloated and ridiculous notion of honor? What honor? We never said we were going to do this by ourselves. What honor were we sacrificing?
With Alfred and I leading we strolled to the expected planting area, which would comprise a third of the compound, about thirty-three acres, the equivalent of descending upon the twenty-five largest football stadiums in America, wresting control from their misaligned and misguided universities, restoring their use to the common everyday Joe and Josephine, after advising the universities in question, “Go play your money-making games with your unpaid gladiators at some other coliseum and we'll use this one to serve the people, as what once was your intention upon founding.” I shared this wild vision with my companions during the walk. They got the idea of wresting wasted space for a game but none had any idea of football and its stranglehold on the consciousness of America.
Mamadou, though, summed it up perfectly. “Why would a school of learning devote so much resource to play a pointless boys' game?” Indeed.
Alfred and I renewed our contention concerning the direction the planting should slant. Alfred preferred south to north. “While I appreciate the convenience of looking over the entire cropland from our living quarters,” Alfred postulated, “slanting north to south comes with two additional costs: the added cost of more pipe from our water sources and the added cost of water inside those pipes which serves none of us. South to north slanting also includes the benefit that all the crops will be set in more direct sunlight during the dry season when the sun moves above us in the north.”
I stopped to look directly to Alfred and the others stopped with me. “Okay, let's address the second point first, Alfred. The slant we're considering is slight. It must be slight so irrigation does not contribute to soil erosion. With such a slight incline I believe the impact of direct sunlight will not be affected anywhere in the cropland. Our more pressing concern on the impact of direct sunlight is our layout of the crops themselves so the higher growing plants are not crowding out the lower, and we both understand the higher crops need to be south during dry season, north during rainy season.” Alfred conceded with a slight shrug of his shoulders. “To counter possible waste of water in a longer set of pipes, we simply connect the longer set onto a pump with dual flow, so when we're done irrigating, we shut that end off, and switch the pump to reverse flow and pull the water for some other need. With that problem resolved, we still have the additional pipe cost. I estimate conservatively the cost to be two to three thousand U.S. dollars, no more, and quite conceivably could come in less. That's literally a drop in the bucket. It will take more time and effort but irrigating is not a priority with the rainy season approaching.” Alfred was smiling. He considered his position was on the losing end of the argument. I smiled, too, and patted his back softly. “Back to your first point, a north to south slant does put the cropland in more direct sunlight most of the year, since we're more than a thousand miles north of the equator.”
Alfred continued smiling. “All right, I'm convinced. You convinced me. Why didn't you state it like that earlier, Gregory?”
“Without a bulldozer and a shovel and trucks rigged for sifting rocks, it's all talk. We can't do either one.”
- Just Desserts, Segment Twenty-Six “An African Experiment Begins” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021
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