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Story 4

A rope, a speech and gets a temporary bridge built.

There are really two parts to this story. The motivational part and the doing part.



In 1966 I was asked to motivate the Clan of Itu Mbuazo (one of the "I"s in INI county council) to see if they would turn out to built a temporary bridge. INI was the most rural of the 4 county councils and the local court in Annangeyong was the most distant from my base in Ikot Ekpene. This area was separated somewhat from AroChuchu, the center of vast trading empire and the AroChuchu juju or slave trade. In short, I believed these people were tough and strong willed. Reaching there via 4 wheels was always exciting and rain meant a 3 or 4 mile walk.

There was a good road to a large market at Ikpe Ikot Nkon. There was a major river (Isu Enyong) between the market and Itu Mbauzo. A long levee lead to an old Bailey bridge, with broken boards, that crossed the Isu Enyong. From there the road went up some steep hills into the clan area of Itu Mbauzo. There was a market there, but traders could only come and go by bicycle.

This story is about a sometimes dry river (Isu Akpabo) bed that filled up in the rainy season. It was located between the Bailey bridge and Ikpe Ikot Nkon. At one point in time, there must have been a bridge there of some sort. There were two cement abutments that were probably close to 40 feet apart. The villagers of Itu Mbauzo put two palm trees across the gap so their women could get to the major market when it rained.

I think the Assistant Divisional Officer had come back from a visit to INI. He told me the people of Itu Mbauzo would like build a better bridge than a palm log. He arranged a meeting between me and a few of the leaders. it was clear that while a few of the leaders from the small Itu Mbauzo market, wanted a better bridge, the rest of the villages in the clan were not so willing to assist in the project. Further, there was no way that the Ministry of Works was going to build a bridge. Somebody from that arm of government, suggested that a couple of big trees could bridge the gap and there were plenty around for that purpose. But by the way, they did not have any truck or equipment that could help, they offered me the use of a rope.

So it would have to be done by hand and that meant lots of manpower. And that would mean all the villages in the area would have to agree to send men.

The big speech

I was very doubtful that a 21 year old american boy was going to be able to convince the Clan of Itu Mbauzo if they didn't want to do it. However, I was never afraid listening and talking. I did go to 10 to 20 community meetings a month all over my division. As I drove my Mini Moke, I couldn't figure out what I was going to say. All I could really offer was the use of a long stout rope from the Ministry of Works. By the time I left the good road I was fairly certain nothing was going to happen as a result of this special meeting.

By chance, an event delayed me. When I arrived at the District Court, it was full of village heads and elders. Judging by the sounds, the tenor of the group was not in favor of doing anything. A year after this meeting I was in Somalia and I wrote the speech as I remembered it in my journal.

I did not speak much Annang or Effic and generally had someone acceptable to the village translate. And the people of Itu Mbauzo spoke a dialic that was hard for others to understand. Reguardless of the translator, it was my custom to have my words and those of others translated sentence by sentence. I appreciated the time between sentences to think and watch. I also liked to keep the translator hanging on my every word, never quite knowing where I was going to end up. Adding local stories and sayings also kept everyone on the same page. This speech still gets me excited.

Where is the name of Itu Mbauzo ?

Messero Obong Isong Udonja ye Obong ye Ite ye Ma oooo. {I greet you Clan Head Udonja and Chiefs and Sirs and Madams}. Thank you for coming today at this Court so I may speak to you. All of you know why I am here but listen to what I will tell you.

This clan suffers from many things. Your market is not developed. The Country Council wants to help but can not. Why? Other markets in other places have been improved: Urura Akpan, Obo Annang, Offiong Etuk. Where is the name of Itu Mbuazo?

Other clans have community farms. I work with them. They show the government they are willing to help themselves. They also will be richer. Community farms are in every County Council. Listen: Ikot Udo, 60 acres; Nyara Enyin, 35 acres; Ndia 20 acres; even Ikoi Ikot Abia 30 acres. Where is the name of Itu Mbuazo?

A government conference on Rural Development was held in Ikot Ekpene. We talked about our problems in this division. Everything went into a report to government. When roll was called I heard: Ikot Umo Essen Owo is here, Odoro Ikpe is here, Ekpenyong Atai is here. Ikot Udo is here. All other clans were there. Where was the name of Itu Mbuazo?

Young farmers clubs started oil palm nurseries in the division. It is not much to do. Very easy to take care of. I first head the name of Annang mong of Itu Mbuaso 1,200 seedlings. When I saw the final report I saw Ikot Abia, Ikot Mba, Ikot Udo, Iquen, Nto Edino. But where was the name of Itu Mbauso?

Every man here knows that the road is closed for 5 months of the year. Every woman knows it. Every child knows it. Even this European knows it. But what do the people of Itu Mbauzo do about it? You have a saying "If a man sees another man hanging from a plam tree by only one rope, he should not worry that he does not know how to climb a palm tree. He should climb it and help."

Have you seen a man who has been caught by the water? His black skin is the white color of palm wine. His face, his arms, his legs are swollen with the water inside. His body is cold and stiff. His eyes are the color of raffia. He has not life.

Today, I saw a woman wash a young boy on that bridge that crosses Isu Enyong. She put water into his eyes to clean the dirt. She rubbed the body with soap to clean it well. When she put the boy into the back of my car, she held the stiff, white body close to her so it would not fall out. They boy's white eyes could not see the women outside of the compound at Ikpe Ikot Nkon. His ears, whiter than the sun could not hear the women crying. His swollen legs could not help him to the casket waiting for him.

I will tell you this Itu Mbuazo. When a man, woman or child drowns at Isu Akpabo, I will do the same for you. When an old woman falls into the water I will carry her here. I will cry an wail and beat myself with sticks along with your women. Yes, I will do this Itu Mbauzo because I could not talk sense to you. I will cry because someone died who did not have to. I will beat myself because you refused to help yourselves again.

You should build a temporary bridge. When Isu Akpabo rises every family here would not like their women and children to cross the single palm tree over it. I ask you to improve it, for your children, for your women If you do this government will hear about it.

I will not promise a tractor, a bailey bridge or a new market or a community farm. But if you do this and the Divisional Officer and government asks me, "Where is the name of Itu Mbauzo?" I will show them your efforts. I will put it on the radio so others may here of Itu Mbauzo's strong men, who are also famous as fighters, hunters and who manage large farms. But fame in these things does not keep the water from catching you. It does not bring your name to government.

I will promise to moan and cry with women. I will promise always to ask the question: "Where is the name of Itu Mbauzo?"

My speech ended, with a huge positive yell from the crowd. Nobody knew that a young boy had died that morning about 5 miles from the Court and I had carried him and a relative back to his compound.

How to build a bridge

My plan came from my 3 years of experience as a Boy Scout counselor at a large summer camp in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Arrange for group of men cut two big trees the day before. Make sure they are big and long enough to span 40 feet or more. Drag the trees to the site along the levee road using a rope and place small logs on the path as rollers. The trees were around 5 feet at the butt and well over 3 feet at the narrow end. They were cut about 10 feet longer than the gap between the abutments. Everything was working according to the plan.

An then reality set in, these trees were not Lodgepole pines. How do you lift one end up 6 feet to get it on the abutment? We could not get enough man power on the log to lift one end. We could only lift it so the top of the log was not even flush with the top of the abutment. The rope didn't seem to help, even if you put 50 men on it, the log pinched the abutment the harder you pulled. We spent a lot of energy and after a while the leaders were yelling at men not to leave because the day was long and there was no end in sight. We didn't have time to build a ramp, which was probably a 1/2 days effort with headpans and shovels and logs.

I kept thinking of Egyptians and their big stones. Then I figured out what might work. I asked for a strong 6 foot log. Something strong enough to hold the end of the big log up. So while a small group of men went off to cut a piece of iron wood, we dragged the second big log out of the swamp, up on the levee and close to the abutment. Then we took a break and women came with palm wine.

We already had the rope around the big log. The iron wood stick happen to have a Y at the end. I ran the rope over the it. This stick was on top of the abutment and pointing in about a 45 degree angle towards the log. We set out the men again, some lifting and the rest on the rope which ran at right angles to the log. In 15 seconds the log was on the abutment. In another 30 minutes the second log was next to the first. A few skinny long palm trees we put in the middle, and lots of palm frons placed on top, to hold the earth which would be put on later. Everybody was happy and very impressed with themselves.

There you have it: a rope, a speech, and a bridge.

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