Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The barge and pipes on the River Wouri

Some months ago, some Chinese and Cameroonian engineers and technicians started building something along the Douala Bassa bank of the River Wouri. It was difficult to see what they were building because it was enclosed behind a ceiling board blockade. But it was evident that there were many frames of gigantic metal poles of various shapes and sizes involved. As usual, rumours started flying about what it was. They unanimously fell on one conclusion –the second bridge over the River Wouri was in progress. So as I crossed the bridge everyday in taxis, I kept scrutinizing the building of the thing through the holes of the ceiling board blockade but couldn’t really make out what it was. I wasn’t too sure of the bridge story either –there’s been talk of a second bridge over the Wouri for over twenty years yet nothing’s been done. Was it finally the long awaited bridge that would solve Douala’s perennial traffic jam problem!
The thing kept getting taller and taller and quite evident to me that it wasn’t a bridge. It was more of a metal frame tower. So one day, as I was returning from work with my colleague, Franklin, he told me it was actually a ship and pointed at it from an angle that I could see more clearly than before. The ship story made some sense because the thing was now in the form of a small unfinished ship but it didn’t make any sense to me why they would build a ship in the Wouri. He told me, the Chinese had decided to rent a ship at “Base Naval” for their work but they had been taxed a lot of money, hundreds of millions per month, so they decided to construct theirs. The assembled thing wasn’t as big as a ship, it was more of a small boat or ferry. And after about three days, I saw it sailing slowly in the middle of the Wouri so I could analyze it perfectly.
It’s in fact shaped exactly like a ferry. With a wide base made of brownish metal and an inscription at its outer edge which reads, “Camwater.” A little ‘house’ is equally built on its deck. There were many men with helmets and boots walking and working on it. At one end, I saw many helical metal frame spirals with so many cords that went up and were attached to a loooong pole with so many metal frames, the same way masts are attached on the ships with ropes in the sailor movies. The pole is shaped exactly like an MTN antenna. At the tip of the pole are three flags, that of Cameroon, China and a white one which I cannot identify the country. At the middle of the pole, is attached a big circular metal object shaped like a cannon. My friend Maliva told me the whole thing is called a barge not a boat nor ferry. I had never heard of the word before.
Then I realized one day that, there were four big concentric pipes sticking closely out of the surface of the Wouri (at right angles to each other) at the Douala Bassa end. The next time I passed across the bridge, there were four other pipes sticking out river inwards near the others. And as days passed, the pipes kept appearing, sticking out of the water surface in fours, at right angles to one another, in a straight line across the Wouri and very equidistant. The barge also kept going inwards, inwards, inwards towards the Bonaberi end just like the big concentric pipes too. I was wondering how those workers were doing it. A few days ago, as I went across the bridge, I was only half lucky to see the barge in action. It was near a set of four pipes, adjacent to it precisely and the antenna like pole was directly over it. Then the canon came down rolling on the side of the pole and collided with one of the pipes making a deafening sound “pooong,” the canon went back up and came down, hitting hard on the pipe again, “pooong,” up, down, “Poooong” and as the car drove on, there were successive sounds of poooong. I’ve never been lucky to see how the barge inserts those fat pipes into the deep river (that’s why I said earlier that I’m only half lucky.) Hope I will catch the scene soon enough.
The pipes which are to be inserted are all placed behind the ceiling board blockade. A roof has been built over them and reinforced with blue tarpaulin but there are no walls around. Beside the roofed pipes ‘house’ is a yellow caterpillar bulldozer. And the pipes, Jeeez!, they’re extremely huge! So huge to the extend that three full grown humans can go through them simultaneously. There’s also been a lot of talk about what the pipe building and the whole project is all about. Many have said it’s a new pipe born water project. I’ve heard so many stories about the project that I don’t know which one is the truth. Truly, I don’t know. The only issue that can make issues clear now is the passing away of time.