Thursday, March 16, 2006


How You Can Tell a Real MILOB

So, on our way down here to Buchanan, we decided to take the back way, so that we’ll see more of our AOR (Area Of Responsibility). And, if things went smoothly, we would be able to shave off nearly one hour from the long route that sticks to the paved roads. We knew the roads through Bong County quite well, and knew that once we crossed the border, the road is really nice, and actually maintained. Things always sound better in theory.

We set off Wednesday after breakfast, and make record time through our AOR and reach the bridge over the river separating our teams in a record three hours. We pause to take some pictures of us on the old train bridge, and to admire the jungle reflecting off the mirror smooth water. Some locals pass us on their way to see some friends on the other side, and we chat for a short while. They inform us that the next bridge is out, but they don’t seem too concerned, so we jump back into the car and press. A few clicks later, we reach the site of the construction. About twenty Liberians are working on a good sized span over a small creek, while a small patrol of Bangladeshi troops look on. Although the bridge itself is in good shape, the dirt approaches to the four foot diameter tree trunks that span the creed aren’t finished, so we won’t be able to go over the conventional way. Undaunted, the locals wave us to a track through the trees just to our right, and dozens of tire tracks mark the detour.

At this point, I’m driving, so we veer right, around a grove of trees. The well driven path then dives into a span of water maybe fifteen feet across, but of unknown depth. The deep mud tracks leading into this are a mess of two foot ruts. Several of the workers and run over, and are waiving us off of that approach and back right. About this point, two guys come popping out of the bush and pulling vines away, trying to indicate our new plan of attack. Nervously, I pull over to the area and nose the car into the bush. After a thick row of trees, the stream continues, and a few more gesturing Liberians indicate that we drive into the bush, crank a hard left and drive up the creek, here about six inches deep, and back onto the road. I send Maksat out of the car to investigate and to marshal the car around the sundry tree trunks.

Now, normally in situations like this, the best advice is to trust the locals. They have plenty of experience, and know the area far more intimately than we can. Plus, they will usually waive you onto the path that everyone else takes. I'm quickly learning that although they frequently have good insight, this isn't always the best policy. As we look at the vanguard of bush, it’s quickly apparent we’re the first to attempt this innovative route. I back the truck up, move over a few feet and reenter the bush from a different angle to avoid the sundry trees and get a straight shot to the creek.

With the encouragement of the locals, I take the truck into the bush, and commit to the plan. After grinding through the first few feet of vines, the front wheels drop out from in front of me and my tires start spinning. A half dozen Liberians jump behind the truck, and with their encouragement, I get the chassis over the ledge; and dive down into the little valley. The rear tires start to grip again and push us farther forward, eventually dropping the entire truck into the muck that is the riverbed. All four tires start spinning helplessly and the vehicle takes on a severe list. Now we’re really stuck.

The rest of the work crew comes over, as do the Bangladeshis, and we spend the next forty five minutes attempting to dig out the mud under the truck. We put boards under the tires, and attempt to dig out under certain tires to get the vehicle more level. But very quickly we spin the tires enough to kick the dirt out from under all of them until the entire of the chassis is sitting on the mud.

The Bangladeshi Major informs us of a logging truck working just down the road, and dispatches a vehicle to go get it. Ten minutes later, the growling of a diesel engine presages the entrance of one of the meanest looking tractors around. Six foot tall tires are mounted on a short squat truck, with a blade on the front and giant winch on the rear. Meant for quickly bulldozing the bush to pull down hardwood trees, this thing is all business.

It first sets up on the far side of the bridge, and they drag it’s cable and attach it to the front of the car. This doesn’t look at all good to me, because the cable is at a ninety degree angle to the direction of the car, and will be attempting to pull it sideways. I try and inform a couple people of my concerns, but they apparently don’t share them. The tractor operator starts pulling on the winch, and quickly my fears prove correct. The front tire wants to go sideways, and so only succeeds in stacking up a pile of mud that is soon reaching over the hood. The vehicle doesn’t want to roll forward, as anyone who has done basic vector geometry could tell you. My shouts eventually get the attention of the operator, who can’t see the truck himself through the foliage, and he shuts it down. The consensus quickly falls on pulling it out from behind, and then dragging it forward through the original opening next to the bridge.

The tractor drives over the bridge, and comes around behind. The first aborted attempt has angled the car differently, and you now can’t pull it straight back. At this point, the Liberians lack of ecological sensitivity shines through, and the tractor proceeds to tear open a new hole behind the truck, bulldozing a dozen small trees and countless vines, opening a nice, new, wide berth through which to pull the truck straight back. Spinning around, we hook up the winch to the back of the truck and proceed to pull it through twenty feet of thick clay mud and back up the steep but short embankment. The mud doesn’t want to let go, the front bumper of the car is pulled a good six inches outward, but we survive, with no mechanical damage.

Back out of the mess, we still have to cross the bridge. So, we hook up the winch to the font of the truck, and let him pull us merrily through the first alternate path. We were delayed only ah hour and a half, and are quickly back on the road down to sunny beaches of Buchanan. We’ve spent the past two days with MILOBs from the rest of the sector, and take pride at pointing out our mud caked, obviously damaged car; informing them that you can tell which MILOBs actually do some work around here.

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