Peter Ramsay wiped a sheen of sweat from his brow and looked around the small compound that he was beginning to call home. At the age of
thirty eight it was a million miles from where he had expected to be when he graduated with a degree in economics. Manchester born and bred,
he shook his head slowly, and not for the last time mumbled. “How the hell did I end up here!”
Brian Cosgrove, the camp manager chuckled behind him. “So it has finally happened... Hey guys, Mr Optimism finally clicked.” he called aloud
provoking a sarcastic if slightly muted cheer from the small group of hardened aid workers. “It took longer than most, but I wish I had a
dollar for every time I heard that statement.”
Peter grinned, they were a closely knit group, sarcasm was the accepted humour in the camp, dry wit and the occasional double entendre
thrown in for good luck. His rose coloured glasses had dimmed to the same hue as the invasive Ugandan red dust, but he had hidden the fact
from his co-workers, his love affair with Africa would certainly continue, except now it would be a more worldly love, less coloured by
naivety and the romantic fallacies fostered by Hollywood.
Northern Uganda wasn't his first posting in Africa, but it was his first in the bush, or on the Savannah as he preferred to say when calling
friends and relatives back home, not that there was a great deal of actual bush left, what hadn't shrivelled to nothing in the unbearable
heat had been hacked down for firewood, all that remained was scrubby and stunted shrubs that crackled underfoot as he walked, a billion
persistent flies... and dust. Every variety of dust, the gritty kind that found its way into food just like sand in sandwiches on the beach
through to the ultra fine particles that drifted almost unseen on the air, filling the eyes, drying the mouth, inducing a dry cough that
only whisky seemed to clear.
And so now Peter sat under the cover of a canvas awning and attempted to strip another days accumulation from his throat, a cold bottle of
imported Kenyan Tusker sat beside a stiff scotch, the fleeting African sunset had just begun, daylight to utter darkness in less than twenty
minutes, another working day had ended... now he could relax. I would relax better if I didn't feel so bloody guilty, I’m a have in a world
of have nots, regardless of how many different ways I can sugar coat the fact. He allowed his mind to wander back to the morning, his job
was to monitor, to be the eyes and ears of those above him in the organisation, those that had already served their time in the slums or
ghettos, the war zones or sites of natural disasters, those that had become hardened, almost immune to the suffering of others. The bosses
who had done enough to have earned a break from hardship. He didn't resent them, now that he had tasted first hand, now that the romance had
been peeled away to expose the reality, how nature conspired with corruption to basically dump on the most vulnerable of all people,
widening the already massive gap between the haves and have nots, corruption spreading like a festering sore, conscienceless men who stole
food from the starving, men who stole hope, men who stole even the lives of many.
Peter shook his head, he had listened to the conversations that took place around the long table where he currently sat, he had heard the
tales. At first he had denied, closing his mind in disbelief, he denied that anyone with even the smallest trace of humanity could stoop so
low. He travelled around the villages, he saw the people at greatest risk, not quite skeletal stick figures, but bloody close, he secretly
admitted, a year of drought had decimated food stores, grains saved for planting had been ground and eaten out of desperation, future
security sacrificed for short term survival. “Famine looms,” he had been told... and he believed. Yet food aid destined for the desperate
souls that he witnessed every day found its way into the warehouses of unscrupulous merchants, sold on the black market, often sold openly
without fear of retribution. Survival donated by a sympathetic First World snatched from the mouths of those who needed it the most.
“But food isn't the biggest issue right now,” Janice Harper held court, Peter listened, he respected the woman, hell, he would even have
tried it on with the athletic blonde if she hadn't made it abundantly clear that her tastes were restricted solely to the XX chromosome half
of the world’s population. When she spoke, people listened, she had a personality that drew followers to her cause, a natural leader.
“Bloody serious issue!” opinioned Monique, everyone’s favourite Belgian. “Tell me, when was the last time that you ventured out into the
field. We are one step away from a disaster to equal Ethiopia in the eighties.”
“Agreed,” Janice nodded, “But you seem to be missing my point here, “Water is the deciding factor. Even if we reach Ethiopian levels here,
we can just about get enough food distributed to maintain the population... but if the rains fail again!” She raised an eyebrow and scanned
the faces that had all turned to her. “That's the greatest gamble ladies and gents... Nature. Are we going to rely on Mother Nature to
relent and let the rains fall, or are we going to assume that she will be a spiteful bitch and make our own plans!” Her rhetoric roused a
few quiet chuckles but every mind considered the facts, she spoke a truth that many had attempted to deny, admission would have led to
despair, now she had opened the door and invited the unwelcome guest inside.
“So what's the solution?”
Peter had quickly weighted the economics of her statement, clearly she looked for ways to get water to the remote areas, and that would be a
logistical impossibility, unless they could lease tanker lorries and transport directly into the worst affected areas. “Everyone here knows
that our budget won't stretch to transporting water, think of the cost, shipping, storage, treatment.”
“I agree, we can't ship water, not even over short distances.” Janice replied with a small smile on her full lips.
“Are you talking about evacuation?” Monique gasped, “Because that would be a nightmare scenario, Uganda has enough of the internally
displaced in camps already, now you talk of creating more IDP's.”
The smile on Janice's face faded for a moment, before she shook her head slowly. “My dear Monique, which would you say is better? A few
months in an IDP camp with shelter, food, water and security... or death! I'm fucking certain that I know which I would choose!” A rare
flash of temper surfaced, shocking those listening, but just as quickly as it had appeared it faded away to be replaced by a sad smile. “It
is unavoidable, but not strictly necessary for everyone. What many of you here do not know is that for several months now I have been
collaborating on a side project, a project that our organisation has officially adopted, in fact, we have pretty much everything in place,
we are ready to move, we just need bodies on the ground, guys and girls who can handle the wilds of Africa... people like all of you
“To do what exactly?” a voice came from the back of the small crowd.
“Project manage.” Janice replied quizzically, “Nothing more strenuous than that.”
“With respect Dr Harper,” said Brian, obviously peeved to have been excluded from the loop, “But why don't you stop pissing around and cut
to the chase. What are you expecting of my people here.”
My people, Peter caught his derisive snort before it could break loose, he liked being neutral, and wouldn't care to side with either, yet
to suddenly feel under Brian's less than protective wing he found decidedly laughable, he isn't exactly uncaring, just a little jaded... but
I still maintain he doesn't care enough to merit us being classed as his people.
“Such eloquence!” Janice laughed quietly and maintained her even smile, “But as Brian has so tactfully suggested, I will cut to the chase.
We have expanded upon a survey undertaken several years ago, a study of naturally occurring aquifers. Ladies and gentlemen, believe it or
not, we are standing, right now, above billions of litres of pure, clean, fresh, water! Take a look at what has happened recently in Turkana
across the border in Kenya. They are making the desert green, well, if not exactly green, they are irrigating, they are growing crops during
a drought, they are surviving, because they have tapped into an identical aquifer!”
“You want us to dig wells?” Peter rejoined the debate.
“Simply put... Yes.” Janice laughed aloud as disbelief mixed with shock in the expressions of her audience. “Relax,” she chuckled, “We only
need you to supervise.”