Monday, June 13, 2011

We're home!

Hey fans!
We're all back in the USA now. The trip to Yaoundé was without problems, likewise the flight to Zurich and then to Newark, NJ. We'll post some more pictures as soon as we get cleaned up!
Dr. Steve

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Dear Diary,

These are the things I want to write that I would never post on our EWB blog. It would be terrible if this was mistakenly put there.

One thing I won’t put on our blog is how we fit the PVC pipe together when it won’t fit. This is actually something that the local plumbers do for us. Each section of PVC pipe had one enlarged end to give a sleeve fit to the next section, but sometimes the enlarged part is broken. Also, sometimes two PVC fittings don’t mate closely. In such cases, our EWB approach would have been to stop the show, make a one-day drive to Bafoussam for replacement parts, and recommence. However, the local approach is to build a small fire with some grass plus solvent glue, and use this to heat the problematic part until it can be stretched or otherwise reshaped. After witnessing this, we developed a detailed safety protocol requiring that the fire be built only within the excavated ditch and that no one breath from the smoke emanating from the fire. A picture is attached showing this careful process.

Another secret is that we get really filthy here. Climbing around in the dirt is sort of fun but I would never want the general public to know what we look like at the end of a workday. Parents would be truly shocked. Fortunately, the water is working at Mr. Mukam’s house, so at least we can shower off (unlike last trip!). But some dirt seems pretty permanent: please refer to the accompanying illustration of Julianne’s hands after her washing and use of a “Wet One.” She is apparently leaving her towel here when we leave.

The dirt also takes its toll on our clothes. This is such a problem that we actually need to buy new clothes while we’re here. We choose local fabric and patterns at the market, then take the material to be custom tailored by Elizabeth, a seamstress in town. We pay for these out of personal funds; my total cost for two shirts was 13,000 CFA ($28.50). Diary, I would not want this extravagance revealed to our public!
And then, there’s the local wine, made from raffia. I came upon Amy and Julianne after they had been offered this beverage by the locals in Bakang. They claim they didn’t know it was wine, and did not like the taste, but Amy said later that it was “not as bad as real wine.” They also claimed they had only had a sip. However, both of them had been working all day in the ditches so they may have been desperately thirsty. As faculty advisor, I made sure this information was not posted on our blog.

And here’s the biggest thing, Diary. We planned on a fairly limited implementation this trip, probably connecting one tap stand to a long ditch that we doubted would be finished by the time we would leave. Instead, there were ditches completely dug for the *entire* network when we arrived – going to the furthest points we had ever discussed. We did not have enough funding or pipe to complete the distribution lines in all these ditches, but yesterday we did put in over 2 km of pipeline, to connect a major portion of the system. Doing this required a major change to our workplan, because we had to do GPS measurements of the distances and elevations for the ditches where they had actually been placed, and run careful calculations to make sure the pipe will allow enough pressure at the farthest tapstands. It’s good that we included a larger 2” line on a main trunk line: this will prevent a lot of headloss problems (the 2" line is all installed, too). We did have to deny a tapstand near the house of the Water Committee president, and don’t feel bad about that – but a more distant site, 30 meters lower, is going to work using our original plan for 1” pipe, and supply even more households. We had to redo all of our water demand calculations to make sure this was reaslitic, too. More changes than I think our EWB advisory committee would have approved, but we needed to maintain the confidence and enthusiasm of the community.
In January I think we will complete everything we had ever imagined, and more. Even now, the reservoir is over half full, waiting to feed the new water taps after ditches and pipes fill two remaining gaps in the lines. People are already hiking in from the other sides of the valleys for water from our wells.
So this is not a secret. Indeed it feels miraculous. I just don’t know what we report to EWB when the villagers accelerated our project so far beyond what we had planned for this trip. We had the tools to accommodate everything, as you might expect of us. We will do it ALL on our next trip!
So now I’ll write something else for the actual blog. Bye for now!
Dr. Steve

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday, June 10th

So, lots of excitement! There hasn't been water in the reservoir since we've been here, but we looked in the tank yesterday and there was about 2 feet of water! Shannon and I completed the connections to the balaitsit tap stand, and fortunately there weren't any leaks. Amy and Julianne replaced the broken tapstand at Bakang I and finished the tap stand at Bakang II. Everyone began laying pipe as well. There was a 5 year old little girl carrying 6 meter sections of 2 inch PVC pipe down the hill to help us. We ran into a problem when some sections of pipe had cracked ends. Normally we would have had to stop working to get more parts at that point. Our plumber, Felix, sawed off the ends, light the pipe glue on fire, heated the pipe, and expanded it over another piece of pipe to make it fit. You can always count on unique problem solving in Cameroon.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day 9

Well, since last we wrote you all, we have gotten 3 more flat tires. See picture below.

I think that must be a record--getting 4 within a 24 hour span. So we took the mayor's other vehicle to the work site, but had to stop for gas on the way. And of course, the engine wouldn't even start when we tried to leave. After several more minutes of agonizing wait, a changed fuse under the hood and some more air in another (deflated, not flat) tire, we finally got to Bamendjou for the day. While Kim and I learned how to use PVC glue to fix a leaky elbow, Shannon and Amy installed a new float switch at the Balatsit pump. The working Balatsit tanks can be seen below with a happy community member getting water!

It's amazing how many new skills I seemed to have aquired in the span of a few short days--PVC connections, taping galvaized pipe, learning the names and uses of all the different fittings, understanding the solar panel error messages..the list goes on. It's all very exciting! Raul and Felix (the plumber) fixed some polypipe fittings at the top of the hill, and when we reconvened at Balatsit a tap stand base was constructed for most of the rest of the day. Amy and Dr. Steve needed some compression fittings up on the hill when they took a guy up to dig down the trench to the tap stand a bit more, so I "ran" those up. There were several girls up there, too, all of whom seemed fascinated by my long, straight hair and had fun braiding it for me. Stylish! We also compared arm muscles (and were mutually impressed) before they were hypnotized by Dr. Steve's computer. After that, we travelled down the hill again to Bakang 1 to check up on their float switch, fixed it, and bought some sugar cane. Now that is some weird stuff to try and eat. Tasty though. Tomorrow (Wednesday) we have lots to do if we want to be able to go to Market Day! More later, and see you in less than a week!


Schieu beu tsoh (water is life, in Patois)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Hello again!

Hey all trusty blog followers!

First, an apology for the lengthy blog. We’ve been out of touch so long and there is much to update on!

The gang, slightly delayed by an out of date sticker on Frank (the SUV) left for Bamendjou on Friday morning. After another delay en route involving an expired registration and the Cameroonian military we were on our way to one of my favorite stops – the pineapple stop! Breaking our January record of sixteen pineapples, we managed to fit seventeen pineapples in the back of Frank along with the luggage of six people plus a slightly squished Julianne. (17 pineapples cost Guy 4,000 CFA which is equivalent to about 9 USD – he’s a master bargainer) We successfully made it to Bamendjou around three pm and immediately got to work.

Julianne, Amy and Kim worked on surveying potential distribution line locations and Dr. Steve and I measured the already dug trenches with Marcel and Michel. Below you'll see a picture of Dr. Steve and Michel looking at the potential tap stand site for Bakang II.

We found that there was no water in Balatsit and consequently no water in the ferrocement tank at the school. This was disheartening. After I did a quick inspection of the control panel of the solar panels, the float switch was determined to be the problem. However, this will be replaced tomorrow (Monday) and we are working on providing the community with full instruction on how to assess and deal with these types of problems. After visiting the sites in Bakang I, Bakang II and Balatsit, we were surprised and impressed to find that the community members had dug nearly 6 kilometers of trenches for new distribution lines! Friday night, we worked on calculations based on measured slopes and distances of the distribution lines.

Saturday, we focused on visiting each site again and determining the maintenance work that needed to be done at each. Below you'll see a picture of a happy community member getting water at the Bakang I site.

We also went around and took elevation measurements of proposed tap stand sites. This was surprisingly frustrating. GPS’s are not as accurate as they should be! Luckily, we found that our two gps’s were mostly consistently inconsistent and we were still able to determine elevation differences. Saturday afternoon, we had a water committee meeting with members of the water committees from Balatsit and Bakang. We presented them with large photos of the team with the water committee from last trip which provided us with many smiles from the community. The kids from the community lined up to watch Dr. Steve speak. (Maybe if he speaks in French in his classes at UD his students will be just as engaged??)

Saturday night we worked on looking at elevation data to determine feasibility of the tap stands. Guy continued to impress me as he took apart a nonfunctioning $3 solar lawn lamp and was able to determine the source of the problem and how to fix it. In case you were wondering, the problem was one of the little thingies on the circuit board. This is why I am a mechanical engineer, not an electrical engineer.

Sunday, we again visited the sites to attempt to nail down tap stand sites. We are finding this difficult because of political issues within the community. There is much discussion of who should get the water first based on who dug the trenches and who paid the most to dig the trenches etc. We found ourselves invited to one of the chiefs complexes. There, we were brought drinks and introduced to the statue of the late chief which was artistic yet slightly creepy at the same time. There is a photo below of the current chief, Kim, me Dr. Steve and Michel with the chief statue!

At the end of the visit, which involved a lot of further discussion of tap stand locations, we were presented with a gift of two chickens! After spending about an hour car ride with the two chickens (inevitably dinner) as we collected water samples for water quality testing, I’m pretty sure I am going to become a vegetarian.

Today, we are in Bafoussam to collect the supplies we need to build the tap stands! Later, it is time to build tap stands. Frank has had yet another problem... Flat tire. However, this has been fixed by the wonderful Guy, and we should be on our way back soon.

In other news, following the trend from last trip… we have NO water. We thought this was strange because at night, the rain is so intense and noisy that it wakes most of us up. However, this morning we discovered that the problem is not because of a lack of water but from a broken filter in the complex that has shut off the water. We are hoping to find the parts and be able to fix it later today.

More later!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hi All,
Just wanted to let everyone know that the team made it to Yaounde safely and that they made contact with us after they landed. It sounded like everything is going well so far. Hopefully the rest of the trip goes smooth and without too many obstacles. We will hear from them by phone again when they land in the U.S. Thanks for everyone's support!

-Mike Orella

Maison du Plombier

Here's part of the crew waiting for things to happen in the plumbing store, "Maison du Plombier" (yes, that means "house of plums"). Raoul, Kim, Julianne, and Shannon are actually waiting for the rain to stop (Dr. Steve successfully fled to the car before the cloudburst).
Nicole, Giscard in the Maison du Plombier still remembers you. In fact, Shannon and I were negotiating on the long length of PVC pipe we'll need, and got him down to his "best price" of 500 CFA per meter, and he wouldn't budge after that. But then I asked for the "Nicole price!" He almost broke down, poor guy, then gave us another 10% off. This is going to be a $200 difference if we buy 2000 m of pipe, and we will probably buy more. So thanks for your reputation!
Dr. Steve

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Adventures So Far!

Hello! All is well here in Yaounde. We did some shopping today and plan on heading out to Bamendjou tomorrow! (For anyone who has ever shopped in Yaounde, you know that get it all done in one day is pretty awesome) So far we have had a couple adventures… The car ride from the airport to our hotel was pretty interesting with all sorts of stalling and car backfires. Not to mention there were 8 of us and 9 suitcases in one car. Frank (our car) got fixed up this morning though and is up and running. Also, Julianne got locked in a bathroom with no handle. She is out now. The weather is an awesome 85 degrees. Hope you all are enjoying your extreme heat warnings! My internet time is running out so that's all for now.

We'll blog again as soon as we find internet!


Hey, we're here!

Just wanted to get the first blog in for the June 2011 trip! We are here and highly successful so far in negotiating travel, purchases, and financial exchanges....great lunch with Mr. Mukam, too!
More soon from other team members....
Dr. Steve