Wild Spirit

Wild Spirit by Annette Henderson

Book: Wild Spirit by Annette Henderson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Annette Henderson
eyes. Shared history had bound them together, but it was almost a decade since they had last met.
    Over lunch, conversation ranged across many topics, but one practical matter dominated. Mario said, ‘We’ve got a major problem with the water supply. The pressure’s suddenly dropped to half. I’ve tried to find a diagram of the old system in the files, but there doesn’t seem to be one.’
    â€˜How about I take a look at it?’ Peter offered. ‘I can still remember how it works.’ Later we learned that he was the person who had designed it.
    â€˜I’ll come with you,’ Win offered. ‘One of us should be familiar with it.’
    I decided to tag along as well, out of curiosity. Accordingly, after lunch the three of us trudged up the hill beyond the edge of the camp to where a concrete cistern about four metres square had been built into the hillside. A galvanised-iron pipeline laid in a narrow V-shaped gully fed it from a spring further up. We scrambled up the gully to the top, looking for the water take-up point.
    â€˜This is it,’ Peter said. A small concrete drain fed the water from the spring into a 200-litre metal drum via a pattern of holes in the lid, which filtered out leaves and stones. On the downhill side of the drum the pipeline led to the cistern, having deposited any sediment at the bottom of the drum. The system was brilliantly simple, but the drum needed to be cleaned out regularly – a point neither Mario nor Doug had realised.
    Leaf litter had built up on the lid: Peter raked it clean then lifted the lid off. Inside, the drum was choked with silt. He rolled up a sleeve and grinned at Win. ‘How long’syour arm?’ They knelt down, one each side, and plunged their arms into the water up to the shoulder, hauling out fistfuls of mud. I watched for twenty minutes as they flung the mud out into the forest, until finally they could feel the bottom of the drum.
    â€˜That should do it.’ Peter replaced the lid and stood up. We walked back a different way, following another pipeline from the cistern to the surveyors’ quarters. About halfway along, we found water seeping from a joint in the pipe into a deep puddle.
    â€˜There’s your other problem,’ Peter said. ‘Mario will need to get on to that. In the old days someone used to check the water lines every day.’
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    After dinner, Mario and the surveyors retired early, leaving Win and me by the fire with Peter. It was the opportunity I had hoped for to ask him about the history of the camp.
    â€˜How was iron ore discovered here?’
    Peter drew an old map from his bag and smoothed it out on the coffee table. ‘An old French piste militaire – an army track – used to run between these two villages here – Mekambo to the east, near the Congo border, and M’Vadhi on the banks of the Ivindo, about an hour’s journey upstream from here. In the 1890s, a French soldier walking the track came across a group of people using forged iron spearheads. It was such an important discovery that he made a report to the colonial government. When systematic geological exploration started around here in the 1950s, we used their old records.’
    â€˜So what does “Belinga” mean?’
    â€˜It’s the local Bakota word for iron.’
    â€˜And how did this camp start?’ As I asked the question I could see he was reliving it all, his mind snapping back as if it were just a week ago.
    â€˜We sited and established it in the late 1950s. I was the managing geologist, responsible for everything. Over the years, we employed more than 300 Gabonese workers on the exploration program. We blasted tunnels into the mountainsides to sample the ore and cut eighty kilometres of tracks through the forest.’
    I told him we had seen the old split bamboo houses that morning.
    â€˜Ah yes, they worked well on the whole, but they were so open that a

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