Friday, February 16 8:30 a.m.
Yesterday was a day for taking stock of the pummelling that my gear underwent on my tour through the Fouta. Even in the first couple of days it was clear I hadn’t really prepared for it or known exactly how serious it could be. This was when I discovered that cooking pots nested together loosely will beat the crap out of each other, margarine will be instantly liquified, and Ziplock bags will burst and tear. Also en route I learned that my staple “La vache qui rit” spreadable cheese which comes in eight individual portions will turn into a single unidentifiable blob of orange goo and tinfoil, bread will crumble into dust, water bottles will open and soak your clothing, and of course bananas won’t last even a hundred meters.
But upon arriving in Dalaba once again I discovered more serious things. My camera lens had jammed and the focus ring wouldn’t turn. Some jiggling, blowing, and dusting eventually loosened it up but now it grinds a bit. That isn’t a big problem but I wonder what has been done to the camera’s electronic mechanisms like the shutter? I also found that my stove decided to stop working and trying to fix that took up the entire day.
The stove was particularly frustrating because it’s a stove that needs to be primed each time you light it a lengthy process especially since after each burn you have to let it cool completely to relight it. I’m burning kerosene and that meant each time the stove didn’t work properly it ended up covered in soot and I had to clean it over and over. I tried everything I could think of more pressure, less pressure, more priming, less priming, more wind, and less wind. I also took it apart and cleaned everything. Then I replaced all the parts one by one with a new test each time. But still it wouldn’t work properly.
Finally I decided to switch jets and try burning gasoline instead. But first I had to find out if the gasoline in Guinea was leaded or unleaded since my stove can’t use leaded gas. I asked Michel, the pipe smoking owner of the Tangama Hotel, and he laughed. I’m forever asking him strange questions. He suggested that I telephone Shell (he had a Shell calendar with a phone number) or just ask the guys at the local gas station. Then it was my turn to laugh. Perhaps in Michel’s universe he can get answers to such questions from Guineans but I knew I couldn’t in mine. But I had no choice and off I went, expecting the worst. To my surprise there was somebody at the gas station. In my universe the day I need a gas station attendant is the day none can be found. My initial question just drew blank stares. “Avec plombe” and “sans plombe” was not getting through at all. Then I wrote it down and learned in Guinea it is pronounced “plombe” (with the accented e). Now the attendant seemed to understand, except he kept making a joining motion with his hands. That seemed totally out of context and we kept going around in circles. He kept insisting that “sans plombe” was the answer to my question but that joining motion made no sense to me. He then took me outside to show me. We walked out into the back area of the gas station where on the ground he picked up a plastic cord, something like a bread bag twist tie. “Sans plombe” he said as he showed it to me. I was confused. Then he had another brainstorm and took me into a small cement shed. On the wall was an electrical fuse box or meter of some sort. It was closed and sealed with a wire that had been joined together with a lump of lead, my “plombe.” All became clear. In the past the electrical boxes and meters at the gas station were sealed with wires joined by lead. But now they have these new plastic cords which ratchet closed and don’t use lead anymore. “Sans plombe,” he said triumphantly.
I still didn’t have an answer to my question but decided to go with my instincts and assume the gas was unleaded. I figured it had to be. So I asked him for some gas to fill my stove’s fuel bottle. There was no gas today, he said. The pumps were broken.
Welcome to my universe.