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.


mother sagett said...

Sounds like a very productive trip...and a real education for everyone. I am truly impressed with all you have accomplished. Way to go! Happy sand washing!

Jim said...

Cause de célébration, l'eau dans Bakang!

Many thanks to Dr. Dentel and the UDee EWB Chapter members both on-grid and off-grid, their sponsors, contributors, supporters(Cameroonians, UDee Administrators).

Il reste encore beaucoup à compléter.

Jacque said...

Great to see some pics...way to go on all the progress made so far!

Olivia M. said...

Waow! I'm so delighted right now! jumping around my room while reading ur posts, waow. I see you did a great and effective job during thess 2 weeks period. The solar panels are up, the water is flowing, the people are learning while enjoying, and it surely was a life-time experience for most of you. I'm really impressed, and It's truly wonderful seeing this initiative "concretizing" itself, becoming whole, and having a true impact on so many people's lives.

It's so beautiful to witness the evolution of this project that started on a piece of paper! I'd like to thank you for the excellent work you are doing in my village, Bamendjou. You are pioneering an example for all other communities to follow, and that's invaluable.
Can't wait to hear more about the trip once you're here. Thanks for the blog update and the pictures! Have a safe trip back home.