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Fireflies, a tree shower, and purity

5 take aways from my night with the drillers

By Tony Gaston, FOL CEO

Usually, when I am in Uganda and visit our drilling team, we drive for 5-6 hours, spend a few hours with the community and drilling team, and then take the long journey back to the luxury of our guesthouse in Kampala. However, on the 25th of January, I decided to spend the night in the tent with our drilling team in Butebo district, Eastern Uganda, and it was an experience I will never forget. There were five takeaways I had from my experience: 

1. Fetching water, providing food and keeping us safe: The community were incredible! 

After the usual processions of dancing and drums from villagers in the community, people spent a considerable time staring and laughing at me as the strange Mzungo (white guy) attempting to help the drillers find water. However, as the community began to get used to me, they did their everyday business, preparing for and assisting the drillers. What I couldn’t get my head around was how much this community did for the drillers. As lots of water was needed for the drilling rig, they would fetch countless jerry cans of water, walking over 500 metres from the nearest water source with these heavy jerry cans on their heads. They prepared rice and meat for us to eat and warm water, which they heated over fires, for us to bathe. They even had one older member of their community sleep outside our tent all night just to keep us safe. 

The amount this community appreciated us being there was astounding and was a testament to the respect these drillers gained from the local community. The Chairman from the whole district even drove out to meet me to thank me in person for coming. He promised me that I would be safe in their community and that no harm would come to me. I honestly felt so safe and welcome.

When the rice and beef came, prepared by women in the local community over fires, I was nervous about how my body would respond to the different food. The rice was cooked in water. I wasn’t sure how my body would react, and I was not sure how the beef would be prepared, but it was hot and delicious – exactly what I needed after a few hours of hard work. Thankfully my body accepted it well, and I felt great. 

2. It really is NO FRILLS!! 

To spend one night in a tent in a rural African village is easy and quite fun, but to live for months at a time like this, with very little access to water, electricity, or luxuries, cannot be easy. This team of drillers sacrifice a lot to do what they do. They work seven days a week, share a tent with others, have little access to toilets or good sanitation, and work very, very hard. There is very little “me time,” and even charging your phone can be a struggle, meaning they have little time to speak to their families. 

There was one “toilet” across the bush, but it was not somewhere you would want to visit, swarming with flies and smelling horrendous. The “shower room” was a curtain over a tree, and we were given some warm water and a bar of soap to wash ourselves with. 

Leo, one of the drillers, managed to speak to his son while I was there, as it was his 3rd birthday. These are the types of occasions they must miss to do their job, and only a short phone call is what they can manage. Sometimes the network is so poor they have to go for days without communicating with home, but mostly they get a 5-10-minute chat with their home each day. 

When I returned home and sat on my sofa, with fresh water from the tap, and ready to watch an episode on Netflix, it was pretty humbling to think about how easy I have it. 

3. It is not a job – it is a calling! 

Despite our drillers’ tough conditions, one thing is abundantly clear – they LOVE their jobs. Over and over again, I would hear them say how much they love their jobs, how they can’t wait to get out on the road, and love using their skills to help others. I can imagine job satisfaction must be very high, but I am amazed by how content they are. It reminds me of what farmers say about their vocation, that it is more than just a job; it is a lifestyle. This group of guys inspire me to do what I love.

4. Fireflies and shooting stars – The African sky is unreal!! 

Being in a remote village in Eastern Uganda was something I will never forget. The stars filled the sky, fireflies darted all around me, shooting stars shot across the sky, and sounds of crickets and bugs were everywhere, and it felt so good to be that close to nature. 

There were no sounds of cars or traffic, only the distant sound of people in the village going about their business. It really was a magical experience, and looking up at that sky made me feel close to God. 

5. Purity and purpose. 

I was blown away by the purity and faith of this drilling team. I am not someone who claims to have all the answers (probably more than all the questions!), but faith plays a huge part in why each of the drillers does what they do.  

Each night, after they wash, they meet together for a devotion under the night sky. They sing songs of thanks to God, and then someone shares a verse from the bible and someone else prays. It was a beautiful way to end our night together. 

I am sure this brotherhood is an incredible witness to the local community, who are initially concerned by a group of men coming to camp on the outskirts of their village. But when they see how they behave and their purity, they say “There is something different about these men.” If it is true that our actions speak louder than words, what a testimony this must be. 

The following morning, at 6am, I was woken up to Washington’s voice singing a hymn once again. Then as we sat up under our mosquito nets, we held another devotion. It was an incredible way to start the day, but I am not sure how my wife will react when I decide to adopt it at home. 

Thank you so much to Washington, Mubaraak, Isaac, Leo, Kizito, and Denis for the work you do and for letting me join you for a night. You are an inspiration, and working alongside you is a privilege and honour.