Wednesday, September 30, 2009
You can see we've got some happy people there! Our next trip is planned for January, to start connecting everything with a storage system at the top of the school hill. Stay tuned!
Read Sarah's posts below!!
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
How long does it take to drill a well?
About 5 days, without any major problems. Well 2 in Balatsit is now complete to 51 meters, cleaned and a little late.
How long does it take to install a pump and piping, and wire a solar controller?
Approximately 4.5 hours. FORAX finished cleaning the well the day I had to leave village, in fact the day of my flight out of Cameroon. I arrived at the second site at 6:30am. My flight wasn’t until 10:50pm. It started to rain. Well drilling belongs in the category of ‘Dirty Jobs’ for a reason, but I think it’s even messier in Africa because of the clay. The drilling had already saturated the land around the well. For spatial reasons, we had located the tanks and panels uphill from the well. Not only were we stepping through shoe deep mud around the well to lower the pump, but also climbing up and down this small, wet mound to get to the tanks and panels. So in order to get down this mound to get one of the million tools partially sheltered from the rain in one of the boutiques, I would plant my feet and slide down, snowboard-style...except not that graceful. To get up it, I had to have someone pull me with a length of PVC. It was mildly hilarious.
Rain. rain. rain on my parade.
We finished everything but wiring the float switch and covering the trenches by 11am, at which point I had to leave to catch a five-hour bus to Younde. Janvier will finish the wiring and cover the trenches and Nura will report on how the system is operating.
Two moto rides, one five-hour bus ride, three taxis and two planes later, I arrived at home. The last question on the airport custom’s form asks if you are bringing soil into the country. I lied. I had changed my clothes before boarding, but there was nothing I could do about my shoes. My shoes are caked in mud and when I arrived in Newark International Airport, I think it was fairly evident from my appearance that I installed a pump in Africa this morning in the rain, in spite of my efforts to clean the mud off my arms and legs with wet wipes.
It didn’t occur to me that the next time I had internet access to post this news would be after I had hugged my family, ate a cheeseburger and took a hot shower. My skin no longer has a red-orange tint, but I feel like maybe I lost something more than just the clay engrained in my skin. I already miss Bamendjou.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
While the drillers are still (STILL) searching for the right part in Baffoussam, I went with Nura to Baham to meet with her students about their service projects. We took a moto taxi there, which is by far my favorite mode of transportation here. I love most modes of transportation that involve the wind in face, but there is nothing like a moto ride through Cameroon. Except perhaps if I was driving it. But for all of its lax or non-existent road rules, I don't think Cameroon is ready for that...so do not worry. However, this moto ride, I was wondering what would happen if my left flip flop got caught in the drive chain but I couldn't move my leg because the moto driver was half sitting on my lap. After the meeting, we walked to the next town, two hours away, to get a moto back. I got some donuts for the road, which are fried dough balls sprinkled with sugar, much like American donuts except better since they don't have additives or preservatives. Donuts and motos. It was a good day.
Today I'm going to camp out at the drill site in Bakang and supervise the repair of the drill rig. I will update you all on the status soon!
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Nura returned and brought her wealth of knowledge of french and cooking foods that aren't rice. Did you know that you can make cheese cake without cheese? We made cheese cake the other night (and by we, I mean Nura...I'm pretty sure all I did was watch the small miracle) from a recipe found in the PVC survival cookbook "Chop Fayner" (pigeon for "Good Eating"). It was good eating. Amazing, actually.
We went to market in Baffoussam so that I could buy warm clothes. Riding four wide in the back of a bush taxi is less fun than it looks, but I am happily much warmer now and hopefully, a little less smelly. I learned that you can do pretty much all your food shopping by sitting outside at a restaurant and calling to the street vendors who walk past carrying their wares. Lemons, limes, carrots, onions all walked by and joined their place in Nura's shopping bag for dinner later.
I was caught in a downpour yesterday in Bakang with Nura and another visiting Peace Corps Volunteer. It occurs to me now that EWB has never been to Cameroon during the actual rainy season. For those of you who have been to Bakang, you know that there are two very steep slopes on the way to village. You know that they are roads simply because they lack vegetation, but their general incline, and rocky/rutted nature resists even a four-wheel drive vehicle's attempts to climb them. You know that once the rain starts the clay turns slick as ice and nearly as deadly. Well, now imagine these two slopes in a downpour, when they turn into venerable waterfalls. Imagine walking up and down them in flipflops. I can tell you, it just might be possible to get hypothermia in Cameroon.
The rain knocked down the power line to Nura's house. Perhaps it is less of a powerline and more of an extension cord running through the garden and propped up on a stick, out of the reach of the massive brussel sprout plants that are taking over. When this happens, of course you would ask your neighbor, Bernard the Metallurgist to fix it, because, as a welder, surely he would also know how to fix powerlines. Of course, he did. But as he twisted the connections together, sparks flying everywhere, and wrapped it with my spare roll of electrical tape (which apparently I carry everywhere for emergencies such as these), it struck me as perhaps not the best thing to do in the rain. Bernard is a hero.
The sun is out so I'm going to work in the garden, while avoiding the the powerline and the lurking brussel sprout plants which might eat me.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
This is Sarah here. Alas, all the ewb kids have left for the States but me. And my team, of course, which consists of Nura the Peace Corps Volunteer and Guy, although neither of them are around at the moment. I stayed behind to oversee the well drilling here, and install the pumps in the off-chance that FORAX finishes drilling in the next two weeks. As I have surprisingly little to do and no anlgophones to bother, I suspect there will be many blog posts from me in Bamendjou. I am staying at Nura's house which has running water, electricity most of the time, and internet when I can figure out how to get it to work (apparently Africa is too techy for me).
For subsaharan Africa, it is surprisingly cold and rainy. Since we are still at an impasse with well drilling, the first thing on my agenda is to buy warm clothes. That is, once I can figure how to say "where can I find a winter parka?" in French. No one left me with a French-English dictionary, and after many failed conversations in which I may have convinced the people of Bamendjou that I am the village idiot, I have developed a prodigious phobia of Francophones. At any rate, I haven't made any progress on developing the community relationship. Hopefully, Nura will come back soon and explain to Bamendjou that I'm not stupid or mute and that if I look lost, one should just give me peanuts and try not to say anything to me involving any French verbs or nouns. Apparently, the only words I know, which incidentally are "peanuts" (les arachides) and "well" (forage), will not get me terribly far in life, especially when all I want is long pants, a winter coat and maybe some gloves. Although a cheeseburger might be nice too.
Once the rain stops, I am going to walk to the Bakang drill site to see if driller's have fixed the rig and I will let you know if they have (the status, as of my walk yesterday, was unchanged). In the meantime, I am going to make some instant coffee, watch the rain and try not to hold my breath.
much love from the 'roon,
Friday, June 19, 2009
This is in Balatsit. We're putting together the rack for solar panels. You can see our water tanks in the background, and the local folks mixing concrete for the tanks' support base. In the way background is the road co,ing down the hill fro, the Bakang school, where the big storage tank is to be. Kids are coming down because school just let out - it was the last say so they all had their report cars ("bulletins") saying if they passed!
Here's the rack with panels on! This was a hot day with only an occasional breeze.
And here is the well drilling operation, progressing very slowly, on the other side of the hill in Bakang. When they finally finish this, they'll drill near the setup shown in the above pictures in Balatsit.
The uploading is pretty slow, so this is all for now. I'm sure Sarah will be blogging while she waits for the well drilling to get done. Don't worry, she has a great support team with her. But I told people that she is the "Directrice!"
-Dr. Steve, Yaoundé June 16th
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Wanted: two borehole wells !
I know we’ve been derelict on posting stuff for all you folks. Things get awful busy here, and we’ve had more problems with stomach upsets and other illnesses than on any previous trip. But nonetheless we’ve succeeded in installing two complete solar panel arrays and 6,000 liters of storage tanks. We’ve also had meetings and discussions with lots of people about possible future projects as the current work is getting a lot of attention.
Our current project will get water into portions of the neighboring chiefdom of Balatsit, which is very comparable to Bakang in many respects: very high plateau with many households having no potable water. Yesterday we were shown a spring (see above) that runs year round from a cleft high on the hillside between Balatsit and Bakang. This would be a nice source of water into a distribution system if adequately protected. We took a sample and we’re running a fecal coliform analysis to see if there’s bacterial contamination, which is quite probable with the presence surroundings. Someday maybe we can put in a protected storage facility, and perhaps a solar-powered pump to feed this general area with potable water.
We’ve also worked with the local chiefs and water committees to plan out the water distribution system and tapstands. We’ll work with them next trip to get everything installed. The water storage tank needs to be planned out in more detail, and we went over some plans that the Mayor had for a different site to see the general layout that they’re used to.
ok, so you’re wondering about the WELLS that we have been waiting on. That’s our current bottleneck and there’s no good news. The company hasn’t even finished the first of the two wells – now due to a mechanical breakdown – so they’re two weeks late. Our flight leaves tomorrow, so we cannot stay to connect everything. We’ve asked for some cost reductions in view of this, and we are paying for Sarah’s flight to be rescheduled to stay an extra 10 days. She’ll work with Nura, Guy, and the local folks as our “skeleton team” to get both systems up and working before she comes back on the 30th. This is not the best situation, but it does insure that we don’t leave an unfinished project behind us. It occurs to me that it also shows what local support we’ve built up around this effort over that past years.
We'll post again from Yaounde. Gotta go.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
The first night we arrived in Bamenjou we had dinner with Nura, our friendly neighborhood Peace Corps volunteer. She has been an invaluable resource; acting as our eyes and ears in Bamenjou and Bakang when we're not in the country. One of the first bits of news she gave us was that the community in Bakang had installed a door on the enclosure around the crossroads water tanks. The door is locked at night and has posted hours of operation. This means that well/tank use is monitored by responsible people, and at night the tank spigots can not be left open or broken. While technically this is a small step, it is very significant with regards to demonstrating greater community responsibility.
Nura also informed us that the community has recently purchased gravel, sand and concrete to contruct more slow sand filters. The next day we drove to Bakang and were very pleased to see some of villagers mixing conrete and filling the steel molds we gave them. Meanwhile, children were streaming to and from the well water tanks to fill buckets.
After witnessing this new level of community involvement, our spirits were further bolstered by a very touching ceremony where Dr. Steve was crowned a prince in Bakang. While having a prince as our faculty advisor is certainly novel, ultimately it was the message conveyed by the chief and the water committee that really encouraged us. We were told of of decreasing levels of water borne illnesses amongst the villagers. We also witnessed monetary pledges from villagers that had emigrated to the big cities around Cameroon. These pledges will help support the water committee and its efforts to maintain the sand filters and wells in the community. All in all the community is taking an increasing level of ownership over this project, and we couldn't be more excited to see this.
However, as I alluded to, there have been setbacks. By far the most frustrating one has been the progress on drilling the two new wells. As I write this entry, the well drilling company is over 5 days late to begin drilling on the first new well. We have been assured that each well takes at most 3 days to drill. Hopefully this will give us enough time to complete both new sites before we must leave the country. Omenously, we were also assured that the well drilling team would be here last Monday. Needless to say we are a little bit nervous.
The flip side of this situation is that since we have not had to supervise the well drilling, we have had time to work on the various other tasks in front of us. As of the 13th, we have built both racking systems and mounted all the solar modules. Most of intra-module electrical wiring is complete. The racks have been set in conrete footings and the concrete slabs/foundations for the water tanks have been poured. The first rack was designed and built at home before we left. This aluminum rack was easy to assemble in country and was set in concrete with the modules mounted in less than half a day. The second rack was a much different story. In effort to use in country materials, we relied on a Cameroonian supplier for the modules and racking system for the second well. While the modules are slightly used and cost about twice as much, they work fine. Unfortunately, the rack itself was more or less a disaster. Not only did the modules not fit into the rack, but it was also made from steel that was "galvanized" with silver paint. It took us two wrecked drill bits, about $200 dollars worth of additional materials and tools, and two days worth of work, but we were able to modify the rack and it is now installed at site two. Yesterday the modules were mounted and the legs were set in concrete. Now both racks sit waiting to be connected to the well pumps.
We have also had time to assemble most of the wiring and many of the fittings for the water pipes. The hope is that this well allow us to just drop in the well pump and screw together a few fittings, bolt the well cap and wire connectors and have a significant portion of the well systems complete in a short period of time.
Today a portion of the team will be at the well sites laying the concrete blocks and placing the water tanks. The goal is to have all wiring and piping connections completed as soon as possible. If the worst case scenario occurs and both wells are not completed before we leave, we aim to leave the systems in such a state that members of the community will have a manageable level of work to do in order for the wells to be completed without our physical help.
Over the next couple days another part of the team will be evaluating elevations, possible piping routes, and spigot locations for the distribution system we hope to implement. Concurrently the assessment team will also be doing site assessments and water quality tests at existing hand-dug wells in the neighboring village of Balatsit. The goal is to evaluate underground water levels and also get an idea of where water is being used in the village. These efforts will help us monitor the water table as our wells are used more and more. This issue will become increasing important when we implement the distribution system.
As we approach the home stretch of the trip, the days ahead appear daunting. However, the team is still positive, and each day we seem to be functioning more efficiently. Moreover, despite various bouts with travel sickness and fatigue the team is now in good health and increasingly eager to work. Last night, Nura, with some help from Alyssa, prepared a wonderful trio of of red, cream, and pesto sauces along with some spaghetti for dinner. It was welcome change from the usual rice, beans, and chewy Cameroonian chicken. The heavy dose of carbohydrates should give us all the energy we need to push forward and make this implementation trip a success.
I'll end this entry with some assorted pictures of the people we're working with.
Nura: a source of comfort, comic relief, delicious food, and valuable community relations.
Local children playing a game while we are working on installing the solar modules in Balatsit.
Janvier working on the concrete slabs for the water tanks.
The ever helpful Guy: our driver, part/tool finder, soccer player, and cowboy.
Little Guy, affectionately known as "El Diablito."
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I'm not sure if anyone has mentioned it yet, but the people of Bakang have managed to impress again. When we had dinner with Nura the first night in the village, she told us that the water committee installed a door and a lock on the fence that they built in January and only have it open during certain hours. This doesn't really seem like a big deal, but its actually HUGE... The community of Bakang has completely taken ownership of the pilot solar powered water pumping system. That means we are one step closer to a sustainable solution in Bakang. We didn't ask the community to put up a fence around the panels and storage tank. We didn't ask them to make a drainage system for in front tanks. We didn't ask them to mount a door and only have the tanks open during certain hours of the day. They did all of this on their own accord. AND ANOTHER THING, they're making water filters!! Isn't that awesome?!? Thanks everyone who sponsored filters!!! Okay, well there's a lot more to get done tonight before the well drillers get started tomorrow! Keep your fingers crossed!
Monday, June 8, 2009
When I was working in R&D at a solar cell manufacturer we undertook numerous projects that required months of planning. Even in such a professional setting, surrounded by engineers with 20+ years of experience, details would be overlooked. The main difference from EWB was that when we were missing a part or tool, we'd just go on a web site, look up a part number and forward it to our purchasing manager. The next day after our morning cup of coffee, we'd walk to our desks, and receiving would have dropped off our missing part. Usually by the end of the day we'd have the part installed and tested. If we had the wrong part, we'd leave it on the desk of our purchasing manager with a new part number and he'd handle the exchange. That was real life in the working world.
Now I'm in Cameroon. Things are a little different here. We're lucky to have internet access every few days. Every purchase we want to make requires a translator. If we're lucky parts may be available in Baffousam which is about a 30 minute drive from where we are. In some cases parts will only be available in Yaounde (about 4 hours away). And in many cases they aren't available anywhere in the country. All this makes for some interesting adventures at local metal shops and plumbing supply stores.
On our last day in Yaounde we were fortunate enough to discover a plumbing supply store where the fittings we required for our well pumps and piping were available. Dr. Steve, Sarah, and I wandered into the “Maison Du Plombier.” Dr. Steve served as our translator, and I was the money man. Sarah was the most knowledgeable and we let her pick out all of the parts, much to the bemusement of everyone working at the store. They were very surprised to see a little white woman happily fitting together various parts to make sure they worked. They wondered if she was a plumber. We tried to explain to them that she was a mechanical engineer, but they decided she was a mechanic, and ended up even more confused. In the end though, they were very happy to help us, and we left with all the parts we needed.
After that experience, I suspect that many parts and materials are available somewhere in Cameroon (at prices that could be wildly higher or lower than in the US). However, finding the suppliers can be quite tricky if you don't speak French, or don't know who to talk to. Moreover, with only a limited amount of time, driving all over town looking for stores is not an option. It adds a new dimension to engineering, that a typical US education, or even a professional job, does not prepare you for. Ultimately, this lesson is only one of the benefits that EWB provides to its members. While parts supply issues are always frustrating, I am sure the patience and persistence that we are all acquiring will be invaluable in our future careers.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Did you know that the next rank is Prince? Here you see me being promoted by the chief of Bakang II in front of a gathering of Bakang villagers. The wardrobe is genuine, handmade and donated by the Water Committee President. The crowd even sang a song in patois that (I'm told) was all about the wonderful things I've done.
Thing is, I don't really deserve this. Firstly, it's the students who make this possible, and there are lots of them who have been to Bamendjou and Bakang to help, and others who provide the behind the scenes support, including tireless fundraising work. And of course there are LOTS of folks who provide the finances that underwrite our efforts. You *all* deserve this recognition.
And secondly, we are not finished. The people of Bakang are grateful already, but there's no time to rest on laurels. As I write this, Matt, Sarah, and Ramsey are stuffing cables through conduit to get ready for pump installation. We'll be rushed because the well drillers are starting a day and a half later than we thought. Taylor and Alyssa are putting together a detailed work schedule to deal with this.
So I'll try to keep my ego in check. But I did call my wife to tell her that her husband is now a prince and a village Notable. She said these titles will not apply in Delaware.
But they do send a *message* to Delaware. They really love what we do!
Thursday, June 4, 2009
After another 8 hour flight, I feel kind of dirty and smelly after traveling for so long, but I'm strangly relieved when I arrive in Yaounde and there isn't an inch of the airport that doesn't smell like human body odor. I'm walking out of the airport in Yauonde with people reaching for my bags, and just saying "dollar, dollar" to me. We get in the car, our driver stops and looks both ways at a circular red sign on the way out of the airport, and I haven't seen a traffic sign since. Merging into another lane in Yaounde is just a game of chicken between the two drivers, and people pass one another pretty much whenever they feel like it. But it isn't complete disorder, there is communication between drivers by use of hand gestures, (some of which I could tell were for those not-so-friendly sentiments highways are known for). Despite all this our driver, Guy, handled everything with complete confidence, and our car was calmer than you would expect.
If the traffic situation isn't telling enough of the area's need for improved infrastructure, the train track outside of my hotel room seems to be used more by cyclists and pedestrians than trains. Things may sound chaotic here, but all the Cameroonians I've encountered have made things run smoothly. The are generally laid-back, and have been very helpful in finding my way around (and without laughing at my french!). Even the people who make a living selling things to tourists are much less annoying than other places I have been; they quickly get the picture when you are not interested, and never become aggressive. I'm thankful that everything has gone relatively well so far, and that the team is in good health and good spirits, and I am generally optimistic about the trip.
Here we are (Ramsey, Saeah, Alyssa, Taylor, and our driver Guy in the background) after loading all the solar panels and mounting equipment into the SUV. Obviously we can't fit all this plus ourselves, so we ship the equipment by bus. In fact, there will be another load with our luggage then a load of plastic pipe! Then we head off to the High Plateau. The practice is to never drive at night, so we'll leave here by 1 .
In the background you can see the power lines. Yaounde has the best infrastructure in Cameroon and we'll miss it. But the rural areas have a beauty of their own.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Monday, February 9, 2009
Saturday, February 7, 2009
The second was that I would not be coming home for six months. This is legitimate for my parents to worry about. Over the past six years, my travels have become much longer and farther from home. And to be quite honest, the two weeks I have spent here have rivaled some of my favorite trips I have taken. There is nothing about this place that does not take your breath away, whether it be the red brick houses, the kids playing the same games of tag and soccer that we did as kids, or the way that doing something as a simple gesture of kindness can get you a marriage proposal.
My dad was right to be concerned about me not coming home for awhile. Even though we get on the plane to Paris in a couple hours, I am not at all ready to leave. I have so many questions that I still want answers to and so many people and places and customs to explore. It is bittersweet to say that I have grown attatched to yet another place that is halfway around the globe, but I am happy to have seen something so incredibly awe inspiring.
Dont worry dad, Ill be on the plane with the rest of the group coming home. And there is nothing better than coming home after a trip like this.
We will see you all soon, much love.
The design process also required a lot of organization. Research had to be done and deadlines for the stages of design had to be met. Prototyping required working space and materials, all of which had to be set up in advance. It was a collaborative effort. Everyone had to be kept on the same page. Members had to be notified if schedules were changed, which they often did. It wasn`t an easy task, but I took so much away from the experience.
EWB offters students so much more than what they can experience in a class. The real world problems that we face add so much value to our education. We probably won`t be able to see all of the benefits from this trip until we enter the workforce and possibly after that. I know that I will return to the United States with a better idea of what it really means to be an engineer.
Instead they will serve as motivation. When we collected water for mixing cement treking down a steep hill to the source and back up to take the water to the work site. I will remember that is a small taste of what the villagers face everyday. As we talked to people throughout the village there were some villagers that walked many kilometers to the solar pump system. Because they understood that this water would be healthier for their young children.
During one meeting with the water comittee an analogy was thrown around comparing the filters to a goat. If someone is giving a goat away they would prefer to give it to a family that would take care of the goat, instead of one that did not care and would not take care of it. This was to explain why it was important for families to pay a portion of the filter cost.
This would apply to the solar pumping system as well. The community has shown that not only do they appreciate the system, but that they can take care of it. The placed a fence around the panels to protect them from the children and prevent them from climbing on them. As seen before they had leafy poles which would block the sun during the summer months. After explaining this to the community they removed the porturding sticks. And they placed a fence around the tanks as well. At different times the taps on the tanks broke and the community has fixed them and fastened them more securely.
They are taking good care of the goat that we have given them. And I am excited to begin the design work on a larger system with distribution and storage as well as develop the two proposed drill sites that were chosen, investigated and assesed on this trip.
Here are some pictures from yesterday. The rest will have to wait until we get back to the U.S. (as well as some videos!). I have strongly advised the students to post something for you before we leave Cameroon, so maybe you'll hear from them too.
Here’s one of the students that came to watch us after school let out. This also gives an idea of the of learning facilities they have available.
Here is the seamstress who made all the guys’ shirts and Alyssa’s skirt. She has three women who help her.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Here we are with the water committee after the meeting that Steve the Younger mentioned earlier (below). I was once again impressed with all of them and particularly the eloquent chief. The women were especially pleased that they are going to get filters for households. One woman stood up to say that they would like to celebrate by dancing, but it would raise too much dust (she was definitely right!). In addition to saying that we are all citizens of Bakang, the women all wished that their future children would come out just like the American students. That got a good laugh!
So today is very busy. We got up at 5:45 to go out to three water points and survey morning usage. Then we packed up a bunch of suitcases to take to Bafoussam for shipping to Yaoundé where we will get them (that's the only way we can get everybody and everything back and forth). The group going to Yaoundé will also buy some locally made crafts to auction at our appreciation dinner (mark your calendar - Thursday March 12th). Our other team is arranging for more sand, gravel, and cement purchases from the mission to make one more filter before we leave tomorrow, and more by the village folks later.
Which brings up finances. It costs about $25 to build a filter for one family that will last for many years. They cannot afford this, which is why the only filter in use since our last visit has been the chief's (which we found to be removing 90% fecal coliform even when used only occasionally). The committee said they can afford $10 and we hope the rest can be donated. So please think about donating $15 so a family can have safe drinking water!
More later. I've been invited for lunch at the mission.
They have so little compared to our standards, yet they live such happy lives. The kids here don't want a Wii or an Xbox. If they want to bowl, they pile some rocks up and find a bigger rock to throw at them. They don't want games like Halo, Grand Theft Auto, or Need for Speed. The kids just want to spend time with their friends. People might rotate through three or four sets of clothes while we're here, but it doesn't bother them. They can live without having that new pair of jeans or another pair of shoes. The ones they have are just fine. Hardly anyone has a car here and people are okay with that. They walk. They walk for miles everyday, sometimes with a large bucket of water, sometimes with a book, sometimes with a bunch of plantains balanced on their head. They don't think twice about spending an hour or two walking everyday. People have walked everywhere in Bakang for as long as the village has been established, its just a part of life.
The people of Bakang have been dealing with waterborne illnesses for the same amount of time as well, but unlike walking, this is something that people are trying to change. As mentioned in previous blogs, the government drilled a well and installed a hand pump with the intention to provide cleaner water, but did not train anyone to fix it when it broke. Scanwater installed a water distribution system, but did not include the people of Bakang in the process so they did not know how to maintain it after they left. What were the people supposed to do? They keep getting let down.
That is why I am so happy about how much trust the people of Bakang have in EWB-UD. They are accepting us into their lives. They call us their brothers (Alyssa is a sister, not a brother) and they made us citizens of their village. They invite us to play soccer with them on the weekends and into their houses for meals. They dance and sing when we tell them about the plans that we have (Dr. Steve gets most of the dancing). They have so much hope that we can work together to make their village a healthier place to live. You can see it in their eyes. You can see it in their smiles when we are sieving sand for the filters. You can see it when they are filling their bottles at the storage tanks. All of the parents have hope that their children will grow up with fewer illnesses than they did. They see the Bakang of tomorrow being a much better place than the Bakang of today. But the people of Bakang trust us to help them get there. We don't want to make the same mistakes that others have. We are here to show them that we really are their brothers and sisters, united for one goal: to make this planet a better place to live for everyone.
If you ever get the chance to wake up early and watch the sun come up over the mountains in Bakang, do it...
More importantly, quality of life is not based upon what people have in the material sense, but rather what they have as a community. In this case, the people of
Today’s water meeting was a great success for us. We had scheduled a meeting with the water committee and whoever else was interested in our future implementation plans. The committee had put serious work in since our last meeting, deciding on a price of five thousand CFA (approximately ten dollars) for the filters. The committee had also selected the first three families to receive filters, and showed a lot of interest in using them in many households. This was a huge relief, as we had been working with these filters for the entire trip, but we were not sure that there would be a demand for them. Wise words from Dr. Steve, the Chief, and our guest Peter, who runs an organization that distributes these filters, explained to the audience the importance of these filters and how they work. We were received with many rounds of applause, a song from the ladies of the community, and a lady started dancing in Dr. Steve’s general direction (again). The highlight for me was when the members of the community pronounced us “citizens of Bakang”. This connection to the people here is really gratifying, and is great motivation to continue this project to bring clean water to the region.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Here's our team Alyssa, Guy, Steve, Taylor, Tyler, Andrew after removing the interior mold section successfully. This is up at the school. We have decided to move this filter because the water they get at the school is already from our solar-powered well, so no filtration is necessary.
Andrew, Tyler, and Steve at the market. Market day is an amazing chaos that happens every 8 days. Andrew has a bag with 3 large cubes of soap. We also purchased some local goods for the silent auction coming up this spring at our appreciation dinner . . . be there !
This is Steve, Taylor, and Tyler putting together the water filter at the hospital in Bamendjou. The hospital has water from SNEC (the water company but this water is unavailable, sometimes for days (like right now!). Imagine a hospital with no water....pretty bad. The filter will allow them to purify water from a hand-dug well in their courtyard when this happens.
That's it for now....they're having a celebration for us this afternoon (a "water fair") and also another meeting with the water committee. I'm off!
I bought a lot of what my mother would call junk today at the market. My purchases included a pipe, slingshot, hand-carved knife, lots of jewelry, a spice grater, and two bars of soap big enough to get me through the next eight years of my life. I’m hoping that it will encourage me to shower more, but chances are not likely.
The market itself was an interesting experience, not only because it was something new and an anthropologist’s dream site, but also because it reminded me about the concept of poverty that I was struggling with in the beginning of writing my thesis. Early last summer, I stumbled across a book called Festival Elephants, in which the author explores the meaning the word poverty and the manner in which this perception affects aid work throughout the world. Most importantly, he discusses the perceptions of western ideals of poverty imposed on the developing world, which lead to the epidemic of what development analysts call global poverty. According to the author, however, global poverty does not exist. It was an interesting idea, but one that is difficult to understand without visiting a place such as Bakang.
So the Cameroonians lack money, modern appliances (with the exception of cell phones), traffic laws. They don’t trust refrigeration and they wear their clothes more than once a week. But this is not what defines their poverty. In fact, the community itself very proudly stands by who they are and the work they do. They do not consider themselves part of the endemic of global poverty; instead, they see themselves as a strong village with a problem of water access. The premise of Festival Elephants is that “global poverty” cannot exist because the concept of poverty itself is defined by the community and therefore cannot be uniform across the world. For some societies, this means a lack of family, food, money, even cows. In the case of Bakang, it is lack of access to water.
I am reminded of our mission here, which is not to save the community from their lack of monetary income or rather unique traffic laws. We are here to help problem solve and to explore different methods that can aid with a problem that cannot be solved by one group alone. This mutual relationship and understanding that has developed over that past two years has enabled the organization to approach the problems here in a way that does not encourage the fixing of “global” poverty. Instead, we get the opportunity to really explore the ways that a different community works, and learn all kinds of new and crazy things. How to walk with
So we continue with this goal in mind: to make cleaner water more accessible to those who need it. I am also trying to convince the kids here that my hair is real, but I am thinking I will have more luck with the first goal.
We’ll see you all soon, stay warm all! Love.
We have been here for just over a week and it seems like there is a list that goes on forever of things that are completely taken for granted in the
Electricity… another technology that is taken for granted in the
Traffic laws……haha what traffic laws? In
Public Transportation… The only public transportation here in Cameroon is a bus the size of a minivan that is packed like a can of sardines, has people riding on the outside, and is strikingly similar to something that you would see out of a Dr. Seuss book.
This list can go on and on (sanitation, doctors, paved roads, supermarkets, drug stores,…. etc.) I expect to find many more that I can add to this list in the coming days. I am not at all saying that
Monday, February 2, 2009
Here's Alyssa going native. This was during one of our survey hikes.
We also brought in a hydrogeologist from Yaoundé who used Tony's map and dc conductivity to test two distant sites proposed by the chief for new wells. These will be in sites with very little water currently available, near other village areas so the water could be shared. Great job by Tony - both sites have water pretty much deeper than at our existing well (60-70m) . . . but he thinks the capacity could be four times as much (5 cubic meters per hour if you can imagine that).
Good news that we seem to have succeeded with our filter mold. The first one had to be broken apart because the interior mold section could not be removed, but we now know that a shorter drying time is essential. We'll have more pictures on our next post. A shout-out to Murphy's Steel for donating the materials and doing the heavy bending for the filter mold!
Today was market day. We bought some stuff to silent auction at our upcoming banquet. This is rather unlike any farmer's market in the U.S. so we'll post some pix, asap.
Finally, a story. I was with our hydrogeologist on his second day - the original well site had good production possibilities but was on a hill where the drilling truck might not be able to reach. So he walked up the road a ways then down a wide, hard-packed dirt path where he pointed to a spot and said it would be ideal. I looked around and saw that this was smack in the middle of a family "concession" or compound. Nobody was ho,e though I did note a hand-dug well nearby. The bucket rope was very muddy and looking down into the well I saw that it was pretty dry.
But I was getting pretty nervous. Imagine coming into your driveway in the aftrnoon and some strangers are poking around, taking measurements to put a community well in your backyard! And sure enough, here came an older woman with a basket on her head, down the path. She looked at me and all the activity and asked something in the local dialect - I said "peut-être nous pouvons avoir un forage ici" and the hydrologist said a few other words about putting a well there.
She smiled. She exclaimed something. Then she started singing and dancing. She danced with me, and with the hydrogeologist. And she danced for a long time.
I have a brief video of her I'll try to upload (although it failed yesterday). In any case, the experience made my day - and, of course, hers.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Above are folks getting water from the water tanks we installed last time. The system works great! The tanks are behind the inner fence you see. The Water Committee had the fences built to protect everything.
Above on the left you see Taylor taking a water sample from the location I mentioned last post (he's also apparently walking on water). This is close to where we hope to have a well drilled, far up the road from our solar panel location in rest of these pictures.
Above, you see our filter team with the mold for our next water filter. The mason mixes the concrete in the standard way, and the mold is filled already. This was two days ago and we have now removed the exterior mold section. The filter team is having problems separating the interior mold and were interrupted by the necessity of putting out a fire (not metaphorically!) in the grass by the school. After that we were distracted by a party breaking out as students finished school and the drums and ballaphone appeared - pictures next time. So we hope to get the mold apart, somehow, tomorrow, when we can concentrate.
ok, here's the solar panel installation - also protected now by an attractive barrier. Not visible in the lower right is a small opening that Andrew could barely crawl through (missed a good picture there) but he was able to remove the solar logger so we have now offloaded all the solar data since last June. Also note Nura, the fantastic Peace Corps volunteer of Bamendjou, standing next to Alyssa. The locals get the two of them mixed up, quite understandably.
Below is a better view of the panels. We need to make sure they get dusted off during nthe dry season, but even with a good layer of dust and dirt they put out enough power to keep the tanks filled (2000 liters).
Here are the filter guys surrounded by excited kids. Andrew, Tyler, Taylor, and Steve had just finished rinsing out their filter sand....obviously, school had let out! After this pic there was a rousing game of soccer in the village intersection.
And finally, here's Tyler's photo of me after taking the above picture. Everybody wants a look at themselves!
Today we are also busy with the geohydrology study - DC resistivity combined with Tony's map - we have confirmed a very nice fault along the road in upper Bakang, where the chief also agrees that a productive borehole well could serve a lot of people who are far from clean water (see picture #1 above).
We're far from done here. I'm posting this from the Piarist mission computer but we have more on today's to-do list. We'll post again soon (some of the students, j'espère). Thanks for all your support!
Thursday, January 29, 2009
But there's no water. To get water for this kitchen they will hike down a steep hill to a little creek. We saw that creek. . . to put it bluntly, I wouldn't allow my dog near water that looked that muddy, buggy, and oily.
This man is also secretary of the Water Committee. So he knows what we hope to accomplish in the future. When we have the chief and the geohydrologist there on Friday, I hope we can find a good location to drill. They work so hard and deserve better than these conditions.
As we traveled to the village it became more and more evident that this was the dry season. There was a heavy haze, blocking the beautiful view of the mountains that I had been looking forward to, a clear result of the still common practice of slash-and-burn agriculture. But we soon discovered that was not the only air pollution; before we left the paved roads our driver suggested we close our windows. In front of us the previously lush green vegetation was now covered in the brownish-red dirt which provides a false hope of a tan. During the dry season the roads are kicked around, spewing a layer of dirt over everything. This presented a stark contrast to the muddy roads that we slipped on in the rain. However, some things have not changed: the people are still so wonderful and the climate is great. Regardless, some people in the outlying areas of Bakang still lack access to safe, potable water for drinking and cooking.
One thing I was excited to see was the maintenance of the solar pilot system. As we approached the system we noticed fences around the tanks and the PV array. After we left, the community erected fences around the key components of the system to protect it from children and animals. Also, each of the spouts on the tanks came off at different times through the year and the community fixed them, much sturdier than we had left them. The community clearly appreciates their new water system and the people are excited to help with any construction for future phases of installation.
This is not an assumption that we can make without hesitation. As the dirt stains our clothing, so is the landscape stained with failed projects, from Scan Water to some building projects that lacked funding, which now lay in ruin. I am certain that this project is sustainable since we are working with the community and they are taking charge. Throughout the country people have heard about our project and are abuzz about reproducing our efforts elsewhere. Public officials, technical people and people from other villages have heard about or seen the water pump in Bakang and the slow sand filters. They are all excited to talk to us and hear from us.
That’s all for now, I need a shower and to get some sleep, busy day tomorrow.
We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give. - Sir Winston Churchill
Monday, January 26, 2009
Sunday, January 25, 2009
By the way, the toilet in my hotel room has a slow leak so it wastes water. I was going to write a few paragraphs on whether toilets are a sustainable technology, and if so, under what conditions - but I'll save it for an essay question in the course next semester.
Friday, January 23, 2009
We'll report in from Yaoundé if the internet works!