Monday, June 11, 2007

Initial note !

(1) Anybody new to this should note that the posts below are in reverse chronological order. If you enjoy suspense, start at the lowest post (down in "Older Posts") and work your way upward.
(2) To continue this work, we need funds! To help us out, visit this site.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


This is one of the surface waters used as a water supply - including drinking water.

Here's another source of water used by many. You can see one person collecting water while others wash clothes. Just downstream from here was a thick film of scum on the water.

Here, we're analyzing water taken from the hand-dug well in a family compound. These wells are shared with other neighbors. We found them to be better than the surface waters but still contaminated with bacteria, including fecal coliform types.

This is the drilled well we found, unused and non- functioning.

The drilled well after being repaired!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Friday report

Friday report

This is just a quick report so you know we’re back in the U.S.!

We spent Thursday in Doala, wrapping things up – this is the business center of Cameroon and an intensely chaotic, humid, place. Stayed at the same hotel we were at on arrival. Bought a few souvenirs, a new bag to hold our long resistivity poles, and got everything to the airport. We made sure to be there very early to get through all the formalities with our equipment, and it did take some doing. After dark, the electricity at the airport went off several times and the emergency generators cut in (this also happened repeatedly at the hotel and in Bamendjou, which also had frequent dimming of lights).

Long stopover in Paris. We took a quick bus ride into the city, checked out the Arch of Triumph, hiked to the Louvre, then hurried back.

So here we are. Long trip, much accomplished, and much more to do. But this is not the end. The UD EWB chapter is awesome and we are set for more great stuff!!

Dr. Steve

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Tuesday and Wednesday reports


Today was our last shot at resistivity. The entire team was up late last night working, in particular Dr. Steve and Sarah were using their mechanical engineering skills and knowledge of electrical circuits to try and fix the resistivity box. They felt the pressure because today was the last day in the village and we had yet to finish a sounding. This was important because the resistivity measurements at various distances were supposed to give us an indication of depth to the water table. Therefore, when the resistivity wasn’t fixed last night, they decided to stay behind this (Tuesday) morning and try one last time to fix it. The rest of the team and I headed off to the village, with Julie and Barney continuing surveying and Tony and I (Sam) seeking out more water points.
After many shot theories, finally Sarah and Dr. Steve came through. Tony and I were hiking for an hour back to Bamendjou from the village, and were very surprised to be picked up along the way by Mateus (our driver) and the victorious Sarah and Dr. Steve.
We sped through our first sounding (resistivity measurements) close to the town center intersection, and sought out Julie and Barney to help haul the equipment up a huge hill to the school where the village envisions the water tower. After getting all the equipment to the top, and setting up for our sounding, it started to rain (resistivity cannot be done in the rain) and we realized it was far too rocky to do a sounding anyway. Thus, we sought out a few more water points and did a little more surveying to finish out our last day in the village.
Our last post forgot to mention that after the ceremony yesterday (Monday) we presented the chief with the presents (bubbles, coloring books, crayons, and a soccer ball) we had brought for the children. The children were mesmerized by the bubbles and extremely excited to have some new entertainment. (You will have to see our pictures to fully understand) Today, we were very excited to see children playing with the bubbles we had brought and we noticed that after only one day, the soccer ball looked very well used. (It was completely covered in red clay dirt, as are most of our clothes)
At breakfast Olivia walked through looking for our chickens that were later cooked for our dinner tonight. By “our chickens” I mean the chickens that the chief of Bakang gave to us for helping the village. What a present… three live chickens and a bundle of plantains! We felt only slightly guilty for eating them and we were glad that we hadn’t met them personally wandering around the compound with Mr. Mukam’s peacock (the chickens, not the plantains!).
Tomorrow we leave for Douala and will spend the night at the La Falaise hotel once again.


This morning, after checking the coliscan Petri dishes of the water samples from the fixed well/pump, we were extremely happy to see no sign of fecal coliform or any bacteria that the coliscan could possible test for. The water is as clean as we could have hoped!!! We had not actually anticipated implementing anything on this trip and yet we have revived a nonfunctioning well that gives the Bakang villagers some safe potable water.
We left Mr. Mukam’s house and Bamendjou behind this morning, with a promise to return in January with final plans for a water system. We drove to Baffousam to use the internet café and buy souvenirs at an authentic handcrafts shop. You all should get really excited…we bought some awesome things!! Handicrafts are one way that these communities might increase their incomes but there are many others that could be explored. For example, we have seen a lot of handmade furniture—from simple benches to elegant upholstered couches—made in local workshops. Sorry, but we are not bringing any furniture back with us!
It was a bumpy ride from Baffousam to Douala and it took an hour more than expected. Fortunately we have an excellent driver who avoids 75% of all potholes. The road descends from a mile above sea level down to the humid coast, with traffic ranching from small, smoky passenger buses (piled plantains and baggage on their roofs) to herded cattle blocking the road (Olivia almost got stabbed by a longhorn). It was a long ride in a tightly packed Toyota Pathfinder, but we finally arrived safely at our hotel in Douala. Tomorrow we will take care of last minute shopping (aka getting a bag to replace the cardboard coffin that now contains surveying equipment and resistivity stakes).
We are all extremely satisfied with the progress we have made and we feel this was an extremely productive and successful trip. We couldn’t have imagined a better first site-assessment. I (Sarah) am very proud of our entire team for the work they have done in downpours of rain and extremely hot sun. And Bakang is a wonderful, welcoming and deserving community eager to work with us on our next visit.
See you all soon!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Monday report

Monday report

A truly incredible day. We wish you could have been here with us, especially the EWB members and family who have worked on all the support that got us here.

We had decided, in conversations with the chief of Bakang and others, that Monday would be the day they could come and work with us on filling out the health questionnaires that help us determine the water needs. We had also gotten the only drilled well in Bakang partially repaired on Sunday, to be completed on Monday, and maybe word had gotten out about this. A few people I (Dr. Steve) had spoken to in French had also said “See you Monday, right?” so we were pleased that some folks were going to show up. Still, we had no clear idea what to expect.

It was a beautiful temperate day. We packed all our equipment into the SUV and Mateus drove us out to Bakang. The road goes out of central Bamendjou, past the Catholic mission, down a long, then steep hill and over a bridge where people are often washing their clothes and collecting water from the turbid pools. The clayey dirt road then goes up a steep incline and branches left. This is, as we have now learned, Bakang I, which is a separate area (with a separate chief) from Bakang II, which starts further up at the crossroads where we had centered our work previously. The crossroads has four cabins or huts, one at each corner, two generally populated by a handful of people and having small stocks of snacks, sugar cane, and drinks for sale. Using this as our meeting point, we had seen people often passing by, some on foot with goods or water on their head, sometimes two or three people on a small motorbike.

To the right and up a hill from this crossroads is Bakang’s public school where the community hopes for a well and water storage for distribution down into the homes. Barney and Julie have surveyed this road since a water line may parallel this route. From the top of this hill one obtains a vista including most of Bakang: the shallow valley has houses scattered among the lush greenery of palm, plantain, corn, and other foliage. Many homes are actually compounds with several structures, but at least the main one is typically roofed with two or more sharply pointed diamond shapes. These are now constructed of corrugated sheet metal but remind one of the thatched coverings that are now only seen at the major chefferies, where the chief maintains a link to the traditional ways.

We approached the crossroads on a horizontal stretch that parallels the hill crest to the right and a valley to the left. We’ve examined wells on both sides of this road, determining the depth and, when there is water in them, analyzing for chemical and bacterial properties. The wells are better in quality than the surface waters, but we have found fecal coliform bacteria in many of them. Even these wells are dry for some months and too sparse, so that many residents rely on the surface waters we have found to be ridden with fecal coliform (intestinal) bacteria.

From a distance we could see quite a crowd. A path opened up for the vehicle and we found ourselves encircled by a crowd of singing and clapping Bakangians. As we exited and stood, we heard the drum and gourd percussion from a group of men while the women cheered and sang. I later counted 160 people, mostly women and many in traditional dress, but at this moment one could only be overwhelmed at this unexpected welcome at a formerly quiet intersection. It seemed to us that we had done so little, and that there is so much more to do: that our presence was met with such enthusiasm was almost stunning.

The singing and cheering went on while we got our bearings. Some of us quickly turned on our cameras (you must see Tony’s and Sam’s videos with sound to get any idea of this experience). We located the chief of Bakang (II) and shook hands and were also introduced to the chief of Bakang I. We all greeted each other and, after a lot more dancing, we were seated along with the chiefs and other notables while the Mayor’s car appeared and even more pandemonium ensued. Finally, he and Mr. Kamdoum, another local politician, quieted the crowd and gave short speeches met with periodic chanted responses. Dr. Steve was even asked to give a short speech which was translated into the local Bamiléké dialect. As far as we can tell, he talked about the need to take care of water resources as a community responsibility.

Then to work. We put together three teams to interview a random sample of the population (every sixth person around the circled crowd). With fairly specific questions on our health survey, we needed a Bamiléké-French translator, French-English translator, and recorder for each team. It was a painstaking process but the people sat on benches and waited their turns very patiently (the need for patience is often apparent in this part of the world). We learned a lot about water needs and health problems in the village area. As usual, the children and women are the water carriers (one husband didn’t even know how long the water trip takes). Women suffer more illness than men. Although crops are plentiful (plantains, potatoes, corn in particular), there is malnutrition from lack of adequate protein. Stomach problems, including amoebic dysentery, are well known.

While this all transpired, the well repair was being completed behind us. The hand pump now works and water is flowing. As a pumped well, this water will be much healthier because the dug wells have open access and are not germ-free. This well is also deeper and will provide a sure supply for about a third of the water requirements we estimate for the community. It cost us about $120 to get this facility renovated with repair and a new filter. Of course, it must still be hand carried and, being almost 2 miles from some areas of Bakang, will not be used in place of closer but less safe water sources . More wells, with storage and distribution, are also needed to free the women and children from this task so they can raise the income and education levels in this area.

As we completed our surveys and the crowds dispersed, we got back to our surveying and water exploration. Julie and Barney got more surveying done, almost to the far end of the road running south from the intersection, which we want in order to assess relative water elevations in the nearby wells. Sam and Tony hiked to more water locations while Steve and Sarah went to the parish to e-mail Michael Davidson, our CEE departmental electrical technician, for advice on repairing the electrical resistivity equipment which we have failed at so far.

The afternoon rains washed us all out. Barney and Julie, in particular, were quite muddy when we finally found them. With the rains, they had to stop under the covered entrances to family compounds to record their data so the pages didn’t get drenched. Mateus was driving the 4WD Toyota and we learned in some harrowing moments that these dirt roads are almost impossible to navigate when very wet (parents, do not worry: there were no steep cliffs or fast speeds, just zig-zag glissades through the mud and close to the ditches). We were so pleased to get back to the house that Mateus received a round of applause.

We went out to eat! It turns out that Bamendjou actually has a little restaurant up on the hill, and Olivia’s father had pre-ordered for us since we were apparently a crowd. The fare was chicken and potatoes, and Dr. Steve (the vegetarian) says the potatoes were absolutely great along with “33” which is a Cameroonian beer. The restaurant is called the “7-11.”

Late, back at the house, we continued with our tasks. Surveying data was entered. Sam counted bacterial colonies on the Petri dishes, which again showed serious fecal contamination of surface waters. Dr. Steve and Sarah worked until 1 am trying to get the resistivity device working. They found a bad connection, dismantled and repaired, and took the setup outside to test. It still did not work.

What a day.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Pictures 1

1) Barney, Julie, Sarah and Sam at Mr. Mukams house
2) Barney and Julie with community members of Bakang


Today was our first real day working in the rain… the weather has been beautiful and sunny up until this point. Sarah and “Dr. Steve” spent a lot of time troubleshooting the circuit board in the resistivity box, but much to our dismay it did not work when we got back out into the field.
On the positive side, the man who was coming to fix the well came and has determined the problem, and he will return tomorrow with the appropriate replacement parts. The team is very excited to offer this temporary solution to the whole water problem! And for only about one hundred U.S dollars. The people here are also very excited and impressed.
Today, Julie and Barney spent hours surveying and made excellent progress. They mapped out the entire hill that leads from the town center to the school and then across to the chief’s house. They also surveyed several miles of the major North-South road in the village. Most of this surveying was done during downpours of rain, which made the work interesting to say the least. At one point, Barney and Julie had to construct a shelter of leaves and branches and a poncho (that they used for the backpack instead of themselves) to keep the backpack dry and the data safe. Good thing Barney has watched a lot of Man vs. Wild.
The rest of the team spent the day seeking out more water points, taking more samples, and hiking through rough terrain to find the spring sources. We are waiting on the bacteria tests to finish culturing on the samples that we collected on Friday and have our work cut out for us tonight getting more fecal coliform tests set up.
Tomorrow is a very exciting day for us. We are told that the entire village is gathering for a meeting with us at the town center. At this time we will go over the water committee, educate them on the water that they are using, and conduct as many health surveys as possible. If all goes well, their broken well will be fixed then too!
Get excited, we are making major progress here! As always, we are thinking of everyone back at home and hope that you are thinking of us. Au Revoir until we get another chance to post!

Saturday from Dr. Steve

This entry is from Saturday evening in Bamendjou, by Dr. Steve (as I am sometimes known).

Busy day. Started out early, with the Mayor taking us to the chefery of Chief Sokoudjou, the King of Bamendjou. We had heard and read some pretty amazing things about this man, mostly from the internet site Here is an excerpt, which I translated:
“He incarnates the power, the authority and the sovereignty of the village. As in any monarchical system, he reports only to God. All his subjects owe him absolute obedience. He is an extraordinary man, a model and example. He is a person who listens to his people for the reinforcement of their well-being. He is the great guard of tradition. He is the reference of references.”
So anyway, we only got to meet him for a couple minutes…but he IS 6 foot six as it says in the web page (in French; google “sokoudjou”). We did get to see his museum full of pictures, statues, animal skins, and many other things. Saw the broad outlines of the small village necessary to house his wives and many children (at age 69, father of 125 children with 25 living wives…no comment!)
Then to work. Matheus, our talented driver, brought us to location with our piles of equipment. This was at Bakang’s main intersection (two dirt roads) where we had discovered a nonfunctioning well yesterday. Today the Bakang chief was not available. In any case, Barney and Julie set up the surveying equipment and they proceeded up the hill to survey to the school at the top, where the new well might go, and storage tank. The other four of us started with the resistivity equipment in the same area.
Ahem…limited success. After a couple measurement distances the resistivity setup stopped giving us any current reading. We did a lot of checking with Sarah’s backup voltmeter but could not figure out then problem. At the same time, Julie and Barney were having a tough time doing transits on the steep slopes.
We persevered and appear to have solved both problems with only a bit of lost time. The soil is so conductive that it blew out battery #1 which prevents the other batteries from doing anything. We figured out how to remove it from the circuit and still get everything to work. And B&J finally got the surveying down this evening.
We also took a trip to Baffousam, the largest nearby city. Phone calls had led us to the Director of Water and Energy for the area, who told us he had information about the unused well, and suggested that we visit him. People had told us that the well had only worked for a month after the well had een installed by the government, over a year ago.
The director was very helpful with lots of technical information of great assistance. We ended up with a pump repair person in the car back to Backang, who inspected the pump (squashing the bees in a plastic bag first) and said he can get it working within two days – before we leave, even, for a cost of about $100. We said go for it! So tomorrow that starts.
Nice dinner at the Mayor’s house, spaghetti with a seafood red sauce, quite delicious. Had a nice chat afterwards, including Olivia, the Mayor’s daughter, who has been a tremendous help. Planned for out activities tomorrow.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

still safe in cameroon

Hey everyone it has been difficult to get the internet now that we are in Bamendjou. We made it here safely and were quite surprised when we arrived at our palace... i.e mr.mukams vacation house. We had a very scenic drive through the country and you should all be aware that cameroon is gorgeous. Since arriving we have met with the chief, sub chief, mayer, many locals. We have mapped out the entire region using gps and collected and tested our water samples. We really have to go try to post soon but if not dont worry food is great love plantains and mangos see you on friday hard to type

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bonsoir from Cameroon!

We arrived in Cameroon safe and sound. We had a rough start attempting to get our equipment checked at the Newark airport but after a whole roll of duct tape and the help of our new best friend Bernard (a baggage handler) the four of us students figured it out. The flights were on-time zwith no major issues. We arrived at Douala in the afternoon; greeted by a monsoon. Due to some miracle all 12 bags arrived with us. The hotel has good accomodations including security, food, good beer, and AC. We met with Olivia and Mayor Mukam shortly after arriving. Today we travelled around Douala with Olivia buying supplies and exchanging money. The city is chaotic but lively. People are friendly ... they enjoy talking to us, we attempt to talk back with a mix of hand gestures, English, and the French words Dr. Dentel is slowly teaching us. So far it has worked out fairly well. One man after realizing we were from America tried to talk with us about George Bush, John Kerry, Bill Gates, and Washington. Wemet with well drillers in the area today as well. Tonight we have been invited to have authentic Cameroonian food with Olivia's Aunt and Uncle at their house. We are all pretty excited about that :) Tomorrow morning we leave for Bamendjou, we will try to continue to chronicle our adventures from there. We love and miss all of you back in the States. Keep thinking of us!

Friday, May 18, 2007

First Post

Welcome to the new blogging section of EWB UD Student Chapter. Please check regularly for updates from the assessment trip in Cameroon.