Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Other notes

Just an update to the itinerary for those who want to follow the team's progress on getting home: the flight number is AF 366, which should arrive at 3:35pm to Terminal A. Their cell phones will work at the gate but of course they'll have to go through customs first. But then, excitement! Can't wait to hear from these guys in person, sounds like it was a pretty awesome trip.


A final entry from Dr. Steve

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 Cameroon that I can adjust fairly quickly to the third world disorder and standard of living, as well as the dirt, and at least for a couple weeks at a time. But strangely, I have more difficulty coming back the States. It’s hard to shake the sensory intensity of this place. Whatever I mean by “sensory intensity” is hard to explain, but it sure stays with you. The city noises and air pollution, the lush green above the red dirt, the make-do and can-do mentality, the coconut, banana, and many other tropical trees that I need to learn names for. The friendly faces, the continuous foot traffic on urban dirt roads, everything carried on peoples' heads, the dirty water carried home to use. And so many other things.

….Tuesday!! We had no internet in Bamendjou or Yaoundé and we are now in Paris, on our way home. Our projects ended up pretty successfully, but it’s important to understand that this is only the beginning. Our solar cells submersible pump will provide water for a significant fraction of the people in Bakang, but not the ones at higher elevations or further distances – probably two thirds of the population. To get them water means more wells – a tough proposition. We have our next project ahead of us, and look forward to the challenge.

And we’re also looking forward to being home!! See you soon!!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Friday by Dr. Steve

Hey, all you folks supporting us should know how *great* it feels when we read your comments. It reminds us that we represent more than just a few students and their advisor while we are here. I think we’ve done a good job so far, because our projects are really reaching fruition. The solar panels do a great job with the pump, even bringing water to the tanks when it’s cloudy. The folks in Bakang put concrete in two more filter molds today, and helped us sieve the sand to put in them. We had a good crowd involved, and I got to ride in a truly massive masonry truck carrying one of our completed filter boxes from the mission to the chief’s quarters (the “chefferie”) in Bakang. We had visitors watch all of this, too – Dr. Nkeng and a student, Valentine, came from the College of Public Works in Yaoundé (about a five-hour drive) because Valentine is going to do research on the filtration process, and now they see the context for his work. We talked his specific problems with the sand properties and getting the right balance between ease of sand preparation, cost of the sand, Peter Njodzeka from the Life and Water Development Group, also in Yaoundé.
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 –
Dr. Steve

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dr. steve on wednesday

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 Taylor for catching this.

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 College of Public Works also coming on Friday to see our filters, so things will be busy.

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 U.S. because they’re mostly imported. We use an SUV here, and it is a true necessity, but it gets poor mileage and the price of gas (“carburant”) is 594 CFA per liter - $5.50 a gallon. We thank all our sponsors for assuring that this can all be paid for. We are working hard to make sure the money is well spent.

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

6. Chickens

7. Beef

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)

d. $0.25

e. $3.10/lb

f. $1.20 apiece, not sliced. They’re not grown here, only at lower, more tropical elevations.

g. $2.50

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)


4- f





That’s it for now. We’ve got a lot of sieving and sand washing to do.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Trip Photos

Solar Adventures

Shout out the the ewb design team! you all are awesome!!!!!!!! The solar team spent a day pulling wire through conduit tug-of-war style, wiring the pump and shrink wrapping all the connections with a blow torch, and making all the polypipe connections in Mr. Mukam's driveway. Our final masterpiece was a 5 foot roll of pipe and conduit and pump (we were very proud) that we somehow forced into the car with the pump hanging out the window across Dr. Steve. We took it to the village and lowered it in the well and hooked it up the generator to attempt a pump test.

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

Another Rookie's Account

It would be a lie if I said that everything is going perfectly, without no problems, due to our precise planning and preparation in the US, leading up to the trip. All of our planning and preparing certainly helped, but not as much as the patience, understanding, and ingenuity of the villagers. Over the past couple of days I have been amazed by a multipurpose tool, simpler but better than any Swiss army knife. Their machete and their ingenuity has layed bricks, dug holes, built wooden frames, cleared brush, and much more.

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

A Rookie's Perspective

The trip has been very rewarding so far. Everything is so different and new. On the way to Bakang, you can stop anywhere and stare for hours and you still won't be able to take it all in. The feeling is so surreal. I've seen all sorts of amazing African landscapes on TV and in magazines, but I never thought I would be standing in the middle of one. Its almost an out-of-body experience. The food is different here too. Their diets consist of a lot more vegetables than I'm used to. They still have meat, its just in smaller portions than what we have in the States. Transportation is so much different than at home. A two hour walk to get somewhere here is short. When people are in a hurry, they take a "moto," aka a small bore, four-stroke Chinese motorcycle. It's unbelievable waht they can fit on the back of those bikes. In Baffousam, I saw a moto carrying another motorcycle in between the driver and the person sitting on the back of the seat (if that made any sense). It was certainly a site to see. I wish I could have gotten a picture.

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

Day 2 in Bakang and Bamendjou (by Dr. Steve)

Yesterday, our first full day in Bamendjou, the solar team and the sand filter team both needed to take inventory of materials and people in Bakang, and also obtain materials in the nearby city of Bafoussam. Since Nura knows the local people and politics, that meant, for me, two expeditions to Bafoussam in one day (once with each team).

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.

Notes from Dr. Steve

A couple older notes since this is my first chance to blog since we arrived. Sorry this is not in reverse chronological order!

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:
a) hammer
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

Bonsoir from Cameroon

Hello everyone,

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

Village arrival

Sam called today to say that they have made it to Mr. Mukam's house, which is their final destination for the trip until they leave. Hooray! I would have talked more with them but my lab gets pretty poor phone reception and it didn't ring in time. Oh well, sounds like they are doing pretty well!

-- Melissa

Monday, June 2, 2008

Nous Avons Les Betes! (oops...Nous Sommes...)

Our first full day in Africa was successful: we went to the Embassy, exchanged money, and met with Dr. Nkeng of the school of Public works. Dr. Steve and Dr. Nkeng have a research collaboration for improving slow sand filters. The cameroonian student, Valentine, working with Dr. Nkeng seems excited about the project.

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)


Hey Everyone,

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!!


June Implementation Trip

Exciting times -- yesterday the troops (aka Dr. Steve, Doug, Taylor, Andrew, Sarah, Sam, and Julie) rolled out on their way to Cameroon. I will update this space when I hear from them, but I haven't received any information just yet.