Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hidden Danger Can Hurt

During our first year in Zambia we lived in the bush about two hours from the capital city of Lusaka. I was responsible for the infrastructure of a large mission station that consisted of 300 bed hospital, 600 student secondary boarding school and other programs. My job was to make sure that there was a dependable supply of water and electricity. During periods when the electrical supply was interrupted we generated our own with two large generator systems. The systems were aging and hard to maintain. After the rainy season one of the streetlights shorted out, effectively turning off the entire street lighting system. They were wired like some Christmas lights, one goes out they all go out.

I spent days trying to track down where the short was. With over 75 lights to check it could take a long time. Each light had to be inspected, which meant hauling a ladder to each pole and climbing to the light and checking the connections for malfunctions. Each pole was about 22 feet in height. I had one of my workers help me with the job. His name was Office, but everybody called him Black. He would help with the ladder and hold it so it wouldn't slip off of the pole. That was kind of a joke because he only weighed about 90 pounds and I was more than double that.

After a day of inspections we got to the last pole of the afternoon. It stood near a secondary road that was used for foot traffic more than vehicles. I really wanted to find the break in the system as well as get done for the day. With the ladder up and and me 20 feet off the ground I began to check the light. A rather disturbing and surprising noise told me in a millisecond I was in trouble. Ants had eaten through the base of the pole, just under the surface. My weight was more than the old pole could stand.

As I rode the ladder and the pole to the ground I saw my faithful friend Black, trying to hold up the ladder and the pole. It only took him a second to know he was not going to stop my wild ride to the waiting hard ground. The pole and ladder knocked down a fence and I hit the ground. Instinct told me that I did not want to stay on the ladder as it slammed into the pole and the ground, I needed to try and roll off the ladder before impact. I was able to do just that, as the ladder got close to the ground I went over the right side and landed a few feet from the pole and ladder. It seemed OK until I felt a rather sickening pain in my right ankle. I have had a few broken bones so I knew that my ankle was broken.

Black and I got back to the shop and a moment later I heard all of my men laughing, some to the point of tears. It seems that Black told them how he tried to hold up the ladder and the pole as I rode it down to the ground. His gestures about trying to hold up the pole were priceless. I nursed the broken ankle for a few days and I eventually found the break in the wires. Upon close inspection of the broken pole it was easy to see why it broke. Over the years the ants had chewed tunnels through the pole. The danger was hidden just under the surface, covered by a few inches of earth.

Our world is full of hidden dangers, they wait just under the surface. Things may appear safe, normal, everyday, but underneath can lurk a danger that can cause real and lasting pain. My right ankle is still ugly, no treatment for a broken ankle in the bush. How many of us are scarred due to hidden dangers.

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