Good Neighbors

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Two other incidents followed soon after with even stronger and more embarrassing symbolism. The first involved a prize bull. It had happened some years before that the livestock expert of our mission had brought some prize Holstein cattle from the United States to Venezuela for crossing with Cebu stock resistant to various tropical pests. El Oro’s cattle were poor and emaciated, with glazed eyes, weak legs, and every conceivable illness. What better solution than to introduce a fine, vigorous, young bull descended from the stock that had become tropicalized there in Venezuela?

Accordingly our livestock man flew up to Venezuela and selected a prizewinning voung Holstein-Cebu bull, along with blooded poultry and Duroc-Jersey hogs for shipment through the Panama Canal to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s chief port.

As word got out of the magnificent cargo, El Oro was swept with excitement. The progress of the freighter was followed in the shipping reports and in daily calculations based on the ship’s known speed. Our bull has left Maracaibo. … Our bull has reached Barranquilla. … Our bull is entering the Panama Canal at Colón, reported to be in fine spirits. … Our bull is exiting the Canal, his health perfect. … Our bull is heading toward Colombia. … Our bull is entering Ecuadorian waters. … clearing Esmeraldas. … rounding into the Gulf of Guayaquil. … now heading for Puerto Bolivar.

THE WHOLE TOWN turned out, and much of the province, to cheer the arrival of the bull god and his fellow travelers of the poultry and hog world and see them on their way to the mission’s demonstration farm. There the bull was let loose in a pasture where an assortment of local cows, the best of a rather poor lot, were waiting for him. For days they had been signaling in the way of cows that they were frantic to be freshened.

But whether it was the rigors of the sea voyage, the unattractiveness of the local selection, an excess of ris- ing expectations, or other psychological pressures, our bull showed no inclination to do his duty. Again and again the local cowhands prodded him toward the waiting cows. Again and again he put his head down and galloped to a far corner of the pasture.

 

Disappointment, bitter disappointment, was only the first of the audience’s reactions. It is the way of Latin Americans to enjoy any misfortune, even at the cost of their own benefit, so long as it contains a downfall and humiliation for the gringo. Thus, the first murmurings of “What a misfortune … what a calamity …” were followed in the next breath with storms of laughter. “Uncle Sam—the colossus of the north! Look what he’s sent us! A hollow bull—that runs from the women! No wonder the Japanese destroyed their fleet at Pearl Harbor! Hitler will soon be sitting in the White House!”

What we definitely did not need on the heels of this episode was what happened soon after at Santa Rosa. One of the more advanced towns of the province, Santa Rosa actually had a grid of pipelines that in the old, prosperous cocoa days had carried water up from the Santa Rosa River into a number of homes. Unhappily, the mechanism for pumping the water up the steep riverbank and into a storage tower had long decayed into solid rust.

Solution: Get a new pump. More easily said than done. A couple of good prospects were located by our engineering department but turned out to be held by blacklisted firms. Week after week a search was made the length and breadth of Ecuador until finally a handsome pump of unimpeachable origins was acquired and hurried to Santa Rosa. Here, finally, was the mission’s first chance to make a spectacular showing.

“Tonight,” declared our engineering department as the day of installation came, “all Santa Rosa will be taking a bath.”

The mayor ordered out the town’s little band of pajamaclad musicians with their drums, bugles, and pipes-ofPan. As the band played and the crowd waited, our chief had a last-moment twinge of apprehension. He asked one of the engineers, “Joe, you ran an advance test, of course?”

“Hell,” was the answer, “it can’t miss. That pump is five horsepower, a cinch to raise a three-inch column of water up thirty feet to the water tower.” With this Joe signaled a mechanic on the tower to open a spigot in the tank so that the reach of the water would become immediately visible as it arrived from the river.

A crank whirled. The ignition caught. The motor purred. Up came a deep, sucking noise, full of promise. Every eye was fixed on the spigot above, waiting for the first blessed drops.

“Now,” the crowd called, “now!” Loudly and greedily the pump went on sucking, but from the spigot nothing came. From the pump burst an explosive belch.

“No problem,” said Joe. With a screwdriver, a wrench, and a mallet, he made a few adjustments. “Now,” he said finally.

But still the spigot refused to yield water.

“Joe,” asked the chief, his mouth to the engineer’s ear, “what’s the power of that contraption?”

“Five horsepower.”

“And the height of the water tower?” “Thirty feet. That pump should be plenty.”

“What did you allow for raising the water from the river?”

“The river?”

“From the river to the pump house.”

Nothing, it turned out. A slight and fatal miscalculation.