Canoe Kiss

21 July 2014

Today we did a canoe kiss. It sounds a lot more romantic than it is. 

A kiss movement is a movement between two projects or locations where one vehicle from each project meets the other halfway to exchange cargo or passengers. It cuts down on driver's time behind the wheel and the vehicle's time away from the field. It's called a kiss because the two Land Cruisers touch noses, like a kiss. In reality, they hardly ever touch noses. One, it's dangerous. Two, it's hard to load and unload when the cargo doors are on opposite sides, rather than the cars being side-by-side in some shady spot. But still the name remains, kiss.

The ferry across the river has broken down,"en panne", so we had to think of another solution for supplying the four health centers on the eastern axis for our seasonal malaria chemoprophylaxis distribution, which is this coming week. Normally we would send two cars across on the ferry every day, and our supervisors and logisticians would deliver the kits and medicine, clarify the distribution process, supervise the training and announcements of the distribution, and collect data. Now we have to do all of those things, each day, without a way across the river.

We talked over several options.

We string a rope from this tree to a tower that we build over in that field, then we make a basket and winch the supervisors over, then they hire a mototaxi and load 100kg of material.  

Or we hire a boat and have the health centers come to the riverbank to do the distribution.

Or we send the team to our sister project on the border to CAR with 30,000 refugees and they leave at 4am each day to cross four hours of muddy roads to visit the health centers.

We finally decided to set up a temporary base in one of the villages over on the other side of the river. We call the local Chef de Canton, who graciously offers the school as a base for our team. He's very happy that we're coming for the distribution, and he makes the arrangements for welcoming our team.  

We load up the two cars with everything that they can hold and send them on their way. They'll cross two neighboring districts to go up the river to the nearest bridge, spend the night in the city there, then descend the next day and install themselves in the school. They'll remain there for the entire distribution, or until the ferry is repaired (which, we are assured, will be "tomorrow" “demain”, every day that we have asked, for the past week.)

We couldn't fit everything that we needed in the cars, so after the team had unloaded and set up their base at the school, they drove the one hour (25 kilometers) to the other side of the river here in Moissala. In Moissala we'll send across the materials that didn't fit in local canoes. For safety, our staff cannot ride in these canoes. They're made in the local style and float from a mix of water-tightness and buoyancy from the tree trunks they're made of. They're more like logs that get poled across, than canoes that displace water and float on the merit of their structure.

Bottom line, our material will get wet. But that's what plastic bags are for.

Six trips and half an hour later we pay the canoe drivers ("chauffeurs de pirogue" in my mind, although I'm sure there's a term for that), wave and shout across the river at our team, and wish them luck. We'll repeat this maneuver every day that there's the need to send across material. 

There are three days of preparation, three days of distribution, and two days of material gathering.

I hope the ferry is repaired on Monday.