Friday, January 18, 2013

We're back in Delaware. THANKS TO ALL!

We returned to Delaware last night - safely, without any delays, tired but happy. About half of my "tan" has come off in the shower.
Supporters of EWB-UD, we thanks you so much.  Knowing we were travelling on the basis of contributions, large and small, and knowing that you are following our work, makes a huge difference.  The folks in the villages know that too, and Mayor Mukam has expressed his own appreciation many times.
A few final notes:
 - getting back to Yaoundé, we got a call from the U.S. embassy and they met us to do an audio interview about the project. They promised it would be posted on their web site. Watch for it here.
 - it looks like I will have to have my tooth extracted. See earlier post for why.
 - our wonderful ally, Olivia Mukam, has posted her story of our project here. Take a look!
More pictures to come!

Dr. Steve

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The final days

Yesterday was a roller coaster.  It started off generally crazy and nervous while we got ready for the Big Occasion.  Olivia had come up with her mom and two friends and she was extremely helpful in converting my short speech into real French from Franglais.  They also spent a lot of time putting together a big board with dozens of photos illustrating our project over the years, which went off to the school to be exhibited for the ceremony.  The school was whitewashed and decorated with woven palm fronds.  Announcement banners were hung across the road from Ndang to the school.  Tents were set up to shade the plastic chairs being set up for the occasion.  A carpenter built wooden steps to enable dignitaries to easily climb up and look into the water reservoir.  The school’s tapstand was remortared for appearance’s sake.  A slow leak at the reservoir’s exit pipe was patched and reinforced.  I called the U.S. Ambassador’s staff to confirm their arrival at 10 am.

In the mean time Felix, our plumber, was doing last minute repairs. We had located a significant leak in a feed line to the reservoir the day before, so this was repaired. Flow to the reservoir from the well at Bakang II went way up, but this caused a new leak adjacent to the ceremony site, discovered about 9 am. I heard a rare expletive from Felix, but he replaced that pipe section quickly, and sealing these leaks gave a higher flow rate into the tank, which increased significantly as the sun rose.   

We returned to the Mayor’s house in time for a call from the Ambassador’s entourage. They were arriving in Bamendjou, so we met their vehicles at the Ndang intersection and escorted them to Mr. Mukam’s house for introductions and a nice breakfast in the large dining room.  We enjoyed speaking with Ambassador Jackson and his wife, as well as Jon and Katy Koehler, the Cultural Attaché and his spouse. There was spirited conversation about development strategies, involving the other officials also at the table.

We then continued to the village school.  For me, this has sometimes been the most peaceful place to reflect on what we’re doing, as the mild wind blows through the eucalyptus trees. But today, it was abuzz.  Hundreds of school children, three different crowds of uniformed women, a microphone system, officials directing cars where to park among the rocks, and a voter registration table.  Most of the local people were in their traditional dress, including many of the area chiefs. The Ambassador was presented with flowers by a schoolgirl, another student read a poem, and we went through a long line shaking hands with folks (some of whom I’ve now known for years). 

After everyone sat down, there were speeches by numerous people of import, plus me (I will add my speech at the end of this blog).  The most entertaining was the lead-off, by the chief of Bakang I, but it was in patois  and we never got a translation to go along with the gestures and laughter. The representative of the state’s Governor spoke, then the Mayor, then our U.S. Ambassador, then me, and then Mike, with translations into patois (and Mike’s from English to French, too).  I presented Mr. Mukam with a pipe wrench that we had spray painted in gold, and Mike presented him with the maintenance manual. There was a lot of singing and dancing, and presents given to the Ambassador and to me (more on that later).

Olivia was given the headdress of a village queen—a great honor, well deserved for her work in getting our project off the ground six years ago.

We then walked up to the water reservoir.  I explained the system for the Anglophones, and the Mayor explained for the (vast majority) Francophones.  The VIPs peeked into the reservoir, which had a nice flow coming in, and checked out the water at the school’s tapstand.  Below, you see the United States Ambassador to Cameroon, Robert P. Jackson, approving of our water!!!  After that crucial test, and a few more formalities, we proceeded to the Town Hall in Bamendjou for a sumptuous lunch.

Then it was over. We went back to the house, changed clothes, and 30 minutes later we were again bushwacking along the Bakang II distribution line, in a cloud of dust, trying to locate a leak or blockage.  By the end of the day, we had located the flow problem and came back to the house sweaty, dusty, and exhausted. No water or electricity. It seemed to me like the ceremony had been days ago!
That evening we opened two wrapped presents that had been given to us. One was an Oumbé cane, decorated with shells, and the other was a locally made basket.  Nice.

But I was most struck by the first gift presented to us earlier in the day: a heavy bag full of potatoes.  Really. This was a small field’s worth of cultivation and care, of considerable value to the women who gave it to me.

Later, one of them had thanked me personally and, looking me straight in the eye, had said that they were thinking of how their potatoes would be enjoyed by our families far away in the U.S.  I told her I love potatoes, and thanked her deeply.  Of course we must leave them with acquaintances here, but the gift was very memorable.

Today we’ve wrapped up some loose ends in Bakang and Bamendjou, and are now in Bafoussam for the internet.  Tomorrow early, we take off for Yaoundé and home.   Sorry for so few pix - we'll add more when we have real internet.
Dr. Steve

Monday, January 14, 2013

"If we had known it was illegal, we would do it again." aka "Dentel Problems"

Today was the big day!  Everything that everyone has been working on for the past six and a half years is getting commemorated today in the ceremony, and everyone's tensions are running high.  It started off on a high note during breakfast when Dr. Steve took a bite of his peanut butter sandwich, only to discover a tooth in it.  It was not his tooth.  And apparently it hurt his already aching tooth.  Dentel problems, indeed.

The mayor went out to the site early in the morning and reported that nothing was working and called us sounding very alarmed.  Because of this we went to the community in our nice clothes, and inspected everything.  It appeared that everything was in working order and would just take some time before the PE tanks were full enough to have the wet wells start pumping.  There was a big tree that was shading the solar panels at Bakang 1, and when Dr. Steve told this to the Mayor, Ramsey and I joked that the tree would be down by the time we got down the hill from the reservoir to the crossroads.  However, during the middle of Dr. Steve's phone call, we could all hear a chain saw start up, and everyone had a good laugh.  Fortunately, that tree is still standing, and hopefully will be for a while.  After we decided that the system was in working order, we headed back to the Mayor's to greet the US Ambassador to Cameroon, Robert P. Jackson.  We met the ambassador at around 10:00 and the Mayor had prepared an early morning treat for everyone.  We dined in his main dining room, which is pretty incredible as people who have seen it will remember.  Ramsey, Erica and I met the two other embassy staff members, Jon and Katy, who had some pretty cool development projects planned and sounded really interested in our projects, current and upcoming.

We eventually made it out to the school, about an hour and a half later than was planned on the ceremony program (Cameroon time I guess).  Once there, the ambassador was given a hearty greeting by all of the dignitaries there.  The ceremony went off without a hitch, with Dr. Steve and me delivering speaches.  Dr. Steve gave Mr. Mukam a golden pipe wrench, while I presented him with the (almost) final draft of the operations and maintenance manual.  After everyone had given their speeches, it was time to actually go look at the tank and see water coming out of the tap there.  Everyone was really impressed with what our chapter accomplished, as am I!  Thanks to everyone who has ever worked at all on this project!  After we visited the tank everyone started clearing out, but we hung around and took pictures.  Thanks to Ramsey's previous trip knowledge, Dr. Steve's rock is now a little less lonely.

After Dr. Steve's adventerous jump off of his rock, we went to the town hall where a celebretory lunch was being held.  Dr. Steve was seated at the table of honor, along with the ambassador, while Ramsey, Erica and I ended up sitting with a really interesting rural engineer with the Department of Energy and Water.  The lunch was fantastic with all kinds of traditional Cameroonian dishes (yes there were plantains and chicken).  Lunch went surprisingly quickly, and was over by 3:00.  After lunch was over, we headed back to the Mayor's to change clothes and head back out to Bakang 2 to see if we could find a possible leak in the distribution line.  Erica and Ramsey stayed at the Bakang 2 panels to take some measurements for this float switch issue, while Dr. Steve and I went with a couple locals to try to find where this break was.  Marcel had told some of them that the line was disconnected somewhere, but neither I nor Dr. Steve knew anything about this.  When we called Marcel, he told us the line was complete.  Because of this, there were plenty of people upset with Marcel.  Dr. Steve and I watched as there was a big argument about who to blame, which was definitely more interesting given I couldn't understand anything being said.  Marcel eventually showed up and we spent maybe an hour and a half searching for where there was water in the pipe.  After all of this time, we found a spot that did have water, but it quickly disappeared.  Felix was trying to explain that there wasn't enough pressure in the line to push the water through the pipe, but I didn't really buy that as the run out is pretty much entirely downhill.  Eventually, someone had noted that Marcel disappeared because there was a cleanout in the line upstream that everyone had forgotten about.  All of a sudden, there was water coming out of the cut pipe again.  The good news was that we had figured out the main issue with the Bakang 2 distribution line, but now we have to fix the parts that we cut testing for water and check for leaks tomorrow which shouldn't take too long.

P.S. The title of this blog is courtesy of a story Dr. Steve told us about speaking bad french. Forgot a negative, apparently.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Egotistical Chemical Engineers Learn How To Actually Build Things

Today we woke up and were feeling confident about getting everything done that needed to be done.  Over breakfast, Ramsey and Dr. Steve were talking about how awesome the local church is and how cool the service is.  Because of this, Erica and I decided to go to the service and then head down to the community after.  Unbeknownst to us, the services in Cameroon are a lot longer than at home, so over two hours after the service had started, we had made it back to the Mayor's to pick up Dr. Steve and Ramsey.  We went out to the community with all of our diagonal braces for the solar rack prepared to fix them.  As we were driving, I got this sinking suspicion that although our holes lined up with the flat pieces, they wouldn't line up with the rack because of the fact that the c-channel could attach to the rack two ways (flipping 180 degrees around its long axis).  This fear was augmented when we got to the site and two of the Bakang 1 pieces didn't fit onto the rack in any feasible way.  However, our local mechanical expert (Dr. Steve) quickly sorted out our problem for us by explaining that we should put bolts in as placeholders and then tighten everything down later.  Although our holes were still not perfect matches, this let us put everything together.  It's a good thing that chemical engineers learn this kind of thing in school.

After the racks were assembled, I called Dr. Steve to see what he and Ramsey were up to, and he told me that we should walk up the Bakang 2 line checking for any breaks.  When Erica and I got to the top, Felix was just finishing replacing a bit of pipe in the Bakang 2 line that had apparently been bludgeoned with a pick axe.  It was kind of mind boggling that someone would have done that, but luckily it was an easy fix and so we began to inspect the rest of the system for any kind of tampering.  Dr. Steve and I bush-wacked our way through head high grass from the Bakang 2 chief's to the junction box, which is how we spotted two leaks in the supply line to the ferrocement.  Unfortunately, we still didn't know why there was no water in the Bakang 2 distribution line, but we hope to figure that out tomorrow.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Mike Relearns His Multiplication Tables

Today Mike and I woke up early (6am) to beat Dr. Steve out to the work area, something that has not been accomplished on the past few trips.  We watched the sun rise as we drilled holes in the aluminium for the replacement pieces of the solar racks.  After breakfast, the team headed to Bafoussam in order to check e-mail and post all of the blogs we had written while here.  The first internet cafe we tried was closed, the second only had one open computer in a cramped corner.  The third internet cafe that we found had internet that was so slow after 15 minutes we gave up. Luckily, Dr. Steve knew of a nicer hotel (Talotel) that we could connect to their wifi using his laptop.  A couple hours later, the blogs were succesfully posted, e-mails had been sent to our parents, and a copy of the book had been downloaded.

When we got back to Bamendjou, Mike and I stayed at the mayor's to finish drilling the holes in our solar rack while Ramsey and Dr. Steve went out to the system to take another look at the float switches and see what had been accomplished.  While drilling, Mike and I learned that the previous holes on the two racks were 5/16" while the bolts we had now were 3/8".  However, upon counting the number of bolts that had been bought before the trip, we learned that we were quite a few short.  Mike realized that he somehow managed to multply 6x8 and get 24 rather than 48.  This wasn't an issue though as we decided to use the old nuts and bolts that will fit in the holes on the racks in those holes, and the new, slightly larger bolts for the connectors.  The new issue is that we were 7 nuts and bolts short.  A quick trip into Ndang allowed us to pick up the remaining pieces, and Mike and I were able to finish putting together the supports.

When we finished this, we needed to spray paint a pipe wrench gold for the ceremony on Monday.  Unfortunately, the nozzle of the spray paint came off in the tool bag while in transportation to Cameroon.  Mike managed to get the nozzle back on, but in the process of painting, gold paint covered his hand, giving him the "Midas touch."

Ramsey has packed the team a few surprises, and has been down in the kitchen with Martine cooking, and we are excited to find out what this surprise will hold.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Dr. Steve Drinks Wine and Sleeps

This morning we got a tour of George's (the chief of Batougouong) compound and even got shown the central building of the compound where all of his ancestors were buried (very cool!).  After he showed us around his house we took a walk out to the tapstand nearest Bamendjou, on the road from the cow pond into town.  Here we discussed what would be done with this tapstand to prevent overuse.  Once we had finished at George's we drove over to the chief of Bakang II where there was a meeting going on to discuss the plans for the day.  At this meeting we were introduced to the chief and discussed some of the things that we wanted to get done.

Once we had talked with them, we decided to get on our way so that we could get everything finished.  We first headed out to the ferrocement tank at the top of the hill to see what was happening up there.  Felix and Felix had found some burned conduit that needed to be replaced on the Bakang II float switch line.  Unfortunately, this had never been buried, so a brush fire had destroyed part of it.  Erica and I headed down the hill to take care of the conduit while Ramsey finished the connections at the tank and Dr. Steve parleyed with the mayor.  Once word got out that the mayor was present everyone burying the conduit to Bakang II left except for one very helpful local, Justin.  He showed Erica and I a very quick way to splice the conduit and replace the parts that needed to be fixed and sped up the process greatly.  After the conduit was finished, we headed back up the hill to see what was happening at the tank.  By this time, Ramsey was finished with the connections, and he and Dr. Steve went to the Bakang II tapstand down the road near the chief's house.  In the meanwhile, Erica and I walked down the hill to Bakang I and then over to Bakang II to see what the situation was at both sites.

At Bakang II we found some of the locals hanging out underneath the shade of some avacado trees.  Erica and I saw that they had cut down the bamboo grove that had been surrounding the borehole and it looked a lot better which I tried to tell them in butchered French.  We then learned that one of the locals there, Pedro, knew English very well.  I told him that we were trying to get the solar panels and tanks cleaned, and we also wanted to get access to the wet well cleanout which had been buried.  At around this time, Dr. Steve, Ramsey, and Felix drove up and came to see what was going on.  Pedro greeted Dr. Steve and almost immediately offered him a glass of boxed (Spanish) wine.  Dr. Steve said the wine was quite delicious and so Ramsey tried some as well.  After this very hearty greeting, we saw Marcel cleaning the solar panels, and he helped us to unbury the cleanout.  On testing the cleanout, we determined that the water inside was very clean (hooray!) but that mud got back in because the cleanout trench wasn't sloped enough.  Once this was taken care of we all headed back to the spot that I had located in the Bakang I line as most likely having the break (with Ramsey's Dad's awesome Christmas present).  Ramsey located the spot more exactly, and we and some of the locals started digging while Dr. Steve went to look at another tap stand location.  Ramsey soon found what looked like a fox hole, and was pretty confident that that is what caused the break in the line which soon afterward he triumphantly proved.

As Ramsey worked on fixing the break in the line, Erica, Dr. Steve, and I went up to the school to unload all of our gear out of the truck because Felix and Felix needed to go to Bamendjou for tap stand materials.  While we were up at the top of the hill, we decided that it would be good to test the float switches once again as they should all be operational at this time.  I walked the Bakang II line down the hill and mapped it on Ramsey's GPS so that we have that information in the future.  After getting to Bakang II, I saw that the tanks were empty after being cleaned, so there would be no way to test the float switches there.  Instead, I walked down to Bakang I where I met Ramsey who had finished connecting the line and had determined that the float switches were just awful because they still weren't working.  I decided to take the AM radio and toner up the hill while Ramsey placed the exciter on the Bakang I float lines.
The tank is almost full!
Meanwhile, at the top of the hill Dr. Steve had decided to take a nap on top of the control box, which Ramsey has renamed the water sarcophagus.  When I got up to the top of the hill he looked plenty comfortable, and Ramsey called just as I got up to the tank.  We checked the line and determined that the lines were continuous all the way to the float switches, which was a good thing.  I decided to walk down to Balatsit and check on the float switches there and see if they were working (they weren't :-( ).  When I came back up, I took a look in the tank, and the water was covering the last of the concrete steps and was probably six inches from the float switches.  It was really awesome to see so much water in the tank, but also kind of nerve-wracking as the tank could possibly overflow tomorrow.  Ramsey has put on his thinking cap to try to figure out how to get these float switches working (the theory right now being that there is too small of a current in the wire for the controller to sense).  Tomorrow we have plans to fix the solar racks that were constructed with flat pieces of aluminum rather than C-channel or L-beams, and head into Bafoussam to prepare for the ceremony coming on Monday.  Everything seems to be wrapping up nicely here, thanks for all of your support!

-Cameroon Team
The obligatory Dr Steve sleeping photo.

Dr. Steve reflects, plus a couple pix!

We’re doing it.  On Monday, we officially hand over the water system to the community. There will be a big shebang, for sure. The town officials are tense and keep asking us if the reservoir will be full on Monday when everybody arrives (the answer is yes).  Tomorrow, all FOUR water committees will be out in force, cleaning up the neighborhoods in expectation of all the government officials who will be here.  Banners will be hung across the roads and the school may even get a coat of paint.  Our system is gaining recognition as a crucial resource in the dry seasons, when it’s the only open source of potable water for many miles, remarkable for villages that aren’t even on the electrical grid.  We’re told it’s being looked at as a potential model for other areas in Cameroon. We’ve done something special, and you, our members, alumni, parents, and financial supporters, should be very proud.

As planned, we’re putting the finishing touches on the system.  Ramsey has already given you the details.  Just a couple pix here, ‘cuz the internet is pretty non-existent.

Here’s a cool thing Ramsey brought, being demonstrated by Erica and Mike. Ramsey is down the hill in Balatsit with an AM exciter attached to the wire comes up the hill to a float switch in the tank, to tell the pump when to shut off. To tell if it’s connected, and even where there might be a disconnection underground, Erica listens to a beep – beep-beep sound with a little AM radio. Mike is talking to Ramsey, telling him yes, we have a good connection. Bravo! On the Bakang side though, we found a place we have to dig up to reconnect.  But hey, we would have to dig up the whole thing without this gizmo!
Mike and Erica using the wire exciter and AM radio
This other picture is the inside of our 20,000 liter water reservoir at the school. There is a LOT of water pouring in, because all three wells are busy sending it up.  We re-did the float switch setup inside the tank to make maintenance easier, as also shown.  This tank supplies water for lots of folks!

The inside of the ferrocement tank.
So that’s where we are. Friday is a big work day for everybody and we will try to relay news to you asap!

As Julie says - Peace, Love, and EWB  !

- Dr. Steve