Tuesday, June 17, 2008
I mentioned a few days ago that everything seems uphill here. One such Sisyphean effort is the battle against the reddish brown dirt and dust that blow and stick everywhere. Of course, it’s part of the fertile soil that supports the corn, beans, and potatoes grown here, but the dust, in particular, gives you a reddish collar, cuffs, and fingerprint within a short time outdoors. You can avoid having a brown tinge by frequent change of clothes, but when it rains, everything turns to a colorful mud that cannot be defeated. The mud adheres to shoes and gets tracked everywhere. Everyone takes off their shoes when going indoors, but this process seems to get mud on the bottom of your socks, too. Futility.
I am particularly aware of this as I now write, because we didn’t make it to Yaoundé in time to get our baggage yesterday. So all of us have been in the same change of clothes for 48 hours. My blue jeans are an interesting mix of tints from blue to dark brown that, frankly, looks very unprofessional. Note to parents: because these colors come from the ferric iron content of the soil, a laundry additive intended to remove iron stains *may* be successful in treating the clothes you will soon be staring at with some consternation. Bleach is less likely to work. The best solution may be to pack the clothes away until you go back to the High Plateau again.
So we're done and packing up. I have learned from my previous trips to
….Tuesday!! We had no internet in Bamendjou or Yaoundé and we are now in
And we’re also looking forward to being home!! See you soon!!
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Saturday – we’ve finished just about everything, and shipped most of our baggage to Yaoundé so that we can all fit in our vehicle, still tightly packed because we want to bring back some handicrafts to give to our supporting patrons! We feel great!
We’ll post again –
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Wednesday by Dr. Steve
We got a lot done on both projects today and morale is high. Tomorrow, when the sun shines, Bakang will have water, pumped from a depth of 150 feet using four solar panels and an electric submersible pump, and stored for use in a pair of 1,000 liter tanks. The hand pump that we’re replacing was broken again, so there had been no potable water at all.
I gave a presentation to the Water Committee yesterday on how the solar system works*, and I also explained the biosand filters. They were very interested in both, and asked some good questions. We also have a local NGO helping to orient the Water Committee on officers’ duties and financial aspects – I sat in on the first session and it was informative and oriented toward local issues. These people will be responsible for a lot, and they seem to take it seriously.
*I mean the solar-powered water system, not the Solar System. Thanks to
There are 40 families signed up for the bio-sand filters and we’re progressing well on that project, too. We built two of the concrete filter boxes while we learned the local materials, then had a local mason build another concrete form and pour the concrete while the Water Committee watched. We had some trouble with the diffuser system for the filter – that’s the part that keeps the water being poured in from disturbing the fragile biolayer on the sand surface. Metal screen didn’t work very well, but we found that local grain bags, made of woven plastic, work great when fastened to a framed screen. We’ve also sieved a lot of the local sand to put in the filters, and we’ll demonstrate that process on Friday. We’ve got people from an NGO in Youndé and from the
I am once again enjoying the incredible skills of Cameroonians. For example, the mold for our filter box is fairly complex, because we designed the interior mold as a set of boards that can be extracted stepwise and reused. When we showed the mason our mold, he understood the process almost instantly, even though we speak different languages. By the time we had been through the demonstration with him, we had seen several shortcuts on putting the thing together. We were using two-headed nails in some places to allow easy disassembly, but ran out…he immediately began bending the nails over a bit before they were all the way in, which provides good retention but easy extraction. I think he was impressed with us, though, because when he suggested we apply oil to the wood surfaces for easier dismantling, we already had the vegetable oil ready to go, and he really smiled. We were speaking the same language after all.
I should mention that this is an expensive trip. Many things are inexpensive, especially labor and some local foods (see below), but other things are not. The lumber, piping, and other building materials are more expensive than in the
Actually, here’s a rundown of some food prices from the expense list Martine gave me this morning. She’s Mr. Mukam’s sister and she’s been putting together our dinners with help from other family members. Since I love giving tests, it’s in the form of a very difficult matching quiz:
1. Avocadoes, 3-5, fresh and perfect
2. Carrots, 1 bunch
3. Greens (enough for 7 people)
4. Pineapple, yummy ripe
5. French bread
8. Cooking oil
a. $0.65 a loaf
b. $1.25. This is something similar to kale or spinach.
c. About $9 apiece (free running, for sure)
f. $1.20 apiece, not sliced. They’re not grown here, only at lower, more tropical elevations.
h. $2.50 a qt. – seems to be used for everything
Answers, unless I got confused. Grade your own!
2-g (seems expensive – I’d better check on this)
That’s it for now. We’ve got a lot of sieving and sand washing to do.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Two days ago Gustav and Eric from the mission came out to Bakang to do the masonry for the tank supports and lay the footings for the solar rack. They did an amazing job and we were all impressed. We let them dry as we finished up the wire conduit connections and digging the trenches to lay the conduit. We've learned so much from this project and the people we are working with, its amazing. All thats left is to finish some of the connections and hook up the solar panels! :)
The slow sand team will post their progress soon...we're out of minutes on this computer right now...
Love and miss you all
The other day, after a long day of work, some children invited me to play football with them. Although I was unable to speak to them, I could communicate and connect with them through this game. It was also easy to communicate with the villagers. They patiently understood as we showed with pointing and other hand gestures.
Later today we will be hanging our solar panels and finishing burying the wires for the pump. I don't know what challenges we will face, but I am sure we can count on the villager's ingenuity and patience to help us overcome the problems.
Monday, June 9, 2008
I strongly believe that Cameroonians can do what ever they put their minds to. I know this because they are always trying to learn and understand whats going on around them. As soon as someone starts building or taking something apart, a crowd immediately surrounds them. Their problem solving skills are great too. Guy, our driver, was able to fix the Solar Team's boken blow torch after tinkering with it for a few minutes. He also fixed their generator with the help of a random villager who happened to be walking by when their generator failed. That is why I feel like the slow sand filters will really catch on in Bakang. The people will see how we make them and immediately learn how to do it themselves. They are so good at using the materials they have at hand to solve a problem. I know they will be able to continue to make these filters after we leave.
I can't wait to see how many great engineers will come out of Cameroon in the future with their new-found source of life: clean water.
Enjoying our borderless adventure
Saturday, June 7, 2008
The road is active with all kinds of foot and motorized traffic, even though it’s little more than a series of parallel ruts in the dirt. I haven’t kept track of the trip’s distance or the time to avoid getting impatient. The sad thing is that, except for the stretch in front of the brewery, the roads are no better once you arrive in the downtown area. The third largest city in Cameroon, it’s quite vibrant with small businesses and traffic congestion, and yet there’s simply no infrastructure.
We were able to find most of what we wanted, though. Plywood cut to order for a small fee…a gas generator at a reasonable price…PVC pipes…and some laundry detergent in envelopes so I can wash my socks. Also a butane torch and a crowbar, since these were not things we could take on an airplane, and bottled water since water is life. We also went to the water ministry and they helped us locate the well technician, who headed to Bakang on his moped. In the mean time, Nura helped the teams meet crucial people who were going to make cement blocks, move sand and gravel, supply and cut lumber. And later, we were all on site to see the hand pump get pulled out, and all the pipes that come up with it.
Today we started out with the Water Committee meeting. We had to walk there, doubletime, since the land cruiser wouldn’t start. Guy, the driver, later got someone from Bamendjou to help fix it (we met them going the other way on the mechanic’s moto). So we managed to get all our equipment to the sites after the Water Committee meeting.
Which was cool. Sarah and Sam wrote about it. I will just say that (1) the chief is eloquent and thoughtful, (2) explaining the concept of an election to the villagers took some doing; and (3) we now have an elected set of committee officers. They’ll have two orientation sessions next week, which we arranged for with the director of HydroSanté, a local NGO. The committee has also made arrangements for saving up funds for system maintenance already.
Later today, we had problems with the filter mold construction (a wrong measurement that meant a bit of deconstruction and reconstruction) but completed the mold at last, including steel reinforcement throughout, ready for the pouring. The solar team had problems because the pump tech had told us the well needed cleaning out, a big and expensive job. Thanks to Nura’s negotiating skills, we got them to do that today, but they gave up with the claim that the well wasn’t as deep as it was supposed to be … not true, according to our measurements. So the solar team will continue with a pump test tomorrow, while the filter team builds another filter box mold. Also, tomorrow is *Market Day* in Bamendjou, so we’ll do some shopping. We want to look for locally made crafts that might be sold in Delaware.
A difficult quiz for our readers on airport check-in procedures:
1. Chose the item below that does not belong in the tool bag (32 kg or 70 lb) when you check in your luggage:
b) crosscut saw, with blade teeth heavily masked with duct tape
c) Hostess Twinkies, a gift for Nura intended to be edible
d) an extra EWB team member
2. You have four-foot diameter roll of 1” poly pipe, 200 feet in length. At the check-in counter, the scale shows that it weighs 35.1 kg (77.2 lb). The attendant points out that the weight limit on any item is 32 kg. Your best action is:
a) cut off 18 feet of tubing, and also cut the excess into small pieces for Sam to stash in airport lobby trash cans
b) cut off 11.3 feet of tubing, and duct tape the excess to one of the oversize solar panel packages
c) cut off 182 feet of tubing and leave it in the airport garage to avoid $100 in excess baggage fees
d) cover the scale’s display with duct tape
e) tell the attendant that it’s carry-on.
Please post your selected answers or other suggestions for our proper protocol in the airport lobby. Or anything else . . .
On arriving in Bamendou...
What a beautiful country. As we drove up uphill onto the High Plateau toward Bamendjou, tropical treescapes lined the hillsides, silhouetted by the setting African sun. By the time we arrived at Mr. Mukam’s house, the skies were crystal black with stars and the Milky Way welcoming us. We could see them quite clearly . . . because there was a power outage. People got the backup generator cranked up even though the batteries had been stolen. Yes, it is indeed uphill, but we are here.
Friday, June 6, 2008
As Melissa posted we made it successfully to the village, although it took about twice as long as it should have due to a flat tire and a late start. We had an unexpected lunch with Olivia's mother (Olivia is our main contact for the project) who whipped up a 3 course meal in about a half hour. We had forgotten that while we are here, we have to follow Cameroonian time, which means that everything takes at least twice as long, and lateness is accepted (patience is a virtue here). Even though the drive is 5 hours, time flies because of the beautiful scenery. Remind us to show you pictures when we return to the States. However, it is difficult to fully enjoy the scenery because your heart breaks every time you slow down to go through a village, and hundreds of adults and children come up to the car and try to sell you food or other goods, just to make 100 CFA (25 cents).
Since our arrival in the village we have been extremely busy. We're pulling about 16 hour days (don't worry moms and dads, we'll be fine, we still manage to have a lot of fun). Dinners are our time to unwind, and we'll just say, if you ever have a chance to meet the storyteller side of Dr. Steve, go for it. Dr. Steve is our entertainment for the trip.
Thursday both the filtration group (Sam, Julie, Taylor) and solar groups (Sarah, Doug, Andrew)travelled to nearby Bafoussam (3rd largest city in the 'roon) to buy materials for part of the day. The filtration group spent most of the day with Nura, the local Peace Corps volunteer who is AMAZING. With Nura, the filtration group walked around Bamendjou to locate wood, cement, sand, and gravel, and to coordinate logistics to the mission (our workspace). The solar group was able to locate the same well repairman we used last June, and he travelled to Bakang to remove the hand pump (which will be replaced with a submersible pump powered by solar panels).
It's amazing how helpful everyone is here. When we met with the director of water and mining in Bafoussam, it took two sentences before he was on the phone tracking down the well repair man. The filtration team asked for plywood to be cut in half to be easy to transport and instead, they cut it to our exact specifications.(saving us lots of time cutting by hand)
As return trip members(Julie and Sam), through working with Nura on this trip(who wasnt here last june) we have been able to be more interactive with the people here, which is a really neat experience. Everyone knows why we are here, as we have had people here on 3 different trips now) and they are so excited for the project to progress.
Moving on to today.... This morning we trecked to the mission, which is on the way to the village, with all of our hand tools(we have a lot) because the vehicle that we normally use decided not to start. (it has already been fixed though! hooray!) We then continued a 45 minute hike to the village to the water committee meeting at the chiefs compound and we truely felt like we were lifting the burden! The water committee meeting, while extremely long, went very well. A local NGO gave a presentation on how to organize a water committee and they helped organize the elections.... there is now a full board for the water committee that was democratically elected, including a woman treasurer! We are meeting with them again on tuesday for water education, more detailed decription of the project, and water committee training. They are extremely happy we are back and they are excited that our website has given a "name" to their village. They report that villagers who have made it to europe(not many) have communicated that Bakang is on the world wide web!!!!!!!
After the meeting we split back into our groups... Solar group clearing a space for the solar racking system and cleaned out the bottom of the bore hole well. The filtration team has completed our first wood mold and we are ready to pour the concrete in the morning. Tomorrow is market day in Bamendjou!!!!! We are excited to experience this and we may even join in a weekly soccer game!
We are storing a lot of our solar panels and equipment in the chiefs home in Bakang, as it is easier not to transport them everyday. When Dr. Steve dropped them off yesterday he apologized to the chief, for not letting him know ahead of time. And the response from the chief was astounding... he said not to worry, that we(EWB UD) have sacrificed so much for Bakang. Which is astounding to us, because we all feel that no matter how much time we spend on this project, we always seem to get so much more back.
We are excited for the next few days, as the project is really coming together. We will try hard to post again soon, but we are very busy.
As always we love and miss everyone back home!
Important note... this trip would not be possible without all of our dedicated design team members and the University of DE community!!!!!
I-Team (Dream Team)
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Monday, June 2, 2008
Our session with Peter Njodzeka was quite helpful. He's been working further north in Cameroon installing slow sand filters with the Hope College EWB. They report (1) nearly complete removal of bacteria, even from creek waters, and (2) significantly improved health with fewer illnesses reported. So we can anticipate similar success if all goes well in Bakang.
In Yaounde we are eating well. We ate a late lunch with our driver, Gui, at "Dolce Vita"... hamburgers, pizza, spaghetti, even ice cream! It was almost like being in America, except for that whole part where we had to order in french. In bamendjou our fare will be much more limited. For example, even Mr. Mukam's house has no refrigerator. Most cooking in homes uses an open fire.
We even finished our tasks a little early today, so we played a couple rounds of cards before a late dinner. Sam, card shark that she is, has taken everyones money and therefore the games have stopped. (just kidding!)
This is the first trip where we have 4 students returning to the 'roon, and only 2 newbies. The returning members are excited to show Taylor and Andrew the ropes. Taylor overslept a little this morning, but we will write this off as a rookie mistake. (hahah)
Thinking back to our previous trips, our crew seems less impacted by the crowds and conditions here. As a city Yaounde is in better shape than Douala and and most of us have already been through the initial culture shock. So far, anyway.....
Tomorrow we begin our journey to Bamendjou, where the real work begins. There are mixed emotions of excitement and nervousness here, as we are excited to finally implement but we are nervous because we understand what this new water system could mean for the community if it is effective.
Missing Everyone back in the states! Keep watching for blogs, but know that we will be very busy once we get to the village.
I-Team (Dream Team)
We made it to our hotel in Yaoude safely. Some interesting re-packaging went on at the Philly airport, but we finally got all our things on the plane. Its a tad humid, but our rooms have air conditioning so we are pretty comfortable. We're going to register with the Embassy tomorrow as well as meet with Dr. Nkang. Hope all is going well in the states!!