Stuck in the Mud: WA BiCC Driver Makes Impassable Roads Passable

Stuck in the Mud: WA BiCC Driver Makes Impassable Roads Passable
December 4, 2019 4:01 pm Blog

By Nouhou Ndam, Forestry and Landscape Specialist

Touring forest-edge communities in West African countries is a unique adventure. The communities tend to be connected by muddy roads, with farmers using passenger cars and trucks to transport themselves and their goods. To travel across these amazing forest landscapes, you must be a graduate of the school of patience, have a helping heart, and possess amazing driving skills to navigate the worst road conditions imaginable. And then there is the diplomacy required for negotiating your way through remote border crossings and random road checkpoints.

Journalist David Goodman and staff of the USAID/West African Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC) Program learned this firsthand during a trip Nov. 7–17 to tour the communities surrounding the forest landscapes of Gola and Ziama-Wologizi-Wonegizi across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

This trip was carefully planned to take place during the dry season when the roads are in better shape. But the impacts of climate change were on full display as surprise heavy rains transformed roads into mud pits as we traveled to Mano River Congo, a village in Gola National Park of Liberia. As the rain came down in sheets, the vehicle carrying the staff of our partner, the Society for the Conservation of Nature in Liberia (SCNL), came to a halt. To our surprise, Othello Watlee, commonly known as OT, a driver for WA BiCC, jumped out shouting, “Puncture!” He did not wait for the downpour to stop since he was determined to get to our destination before nightfall. OT took charge, changing the tire of the SCNL Land Cruiser in just 15 minutes as we and the other driver watched in awe.

Our three-country tour next took us through a lightly traveled Sierra Leone–Liberia land border. As OT negotiated with an impatient customs officer, we talked with border guards who told us how the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone had impacted this area, which was evident from the large number of abandoned and burned houses. Our tour then continued through Guinea. This is where our driver’s skill proved masterful. The road between Nzerekore, Guinea and Ganta, Liberia, was the worst we encountered on the trip. As we drove towards Liberia, we noticed that no vehicles were coming from the opposite direction. A lone motor bike driver stopped to tell us that the road ahead was completely blocked by multiple trucks and cars stuck in the mud. We could only make forward progress by helping tow vehicles out of our way. OT jumped down into the mud and hooked up a tow cable to several bush taxis, yanking them free of the sticky red earth.

Soon we encountered a line of cars whose drivers had been waiting for help for hours, and people who were marching on foot, covered in mud, eager to reach Nzerekore, where the presidents of Liberia and Guinea were meeting. OT pulled our Land Cruiser right next to the stuck vehicles, and using the tow cable, again started pulling them out one by one. Grateful taxi passengers cheered his work. “God bless you!” they shouted and waved to us. OT had rendered the impassable road passable again. This was all in a day’s work of this heroic driver.

Thank you, OT!

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