Thursday, January 10, 2013

Today We Fixed More Things Than We Broke

What a great day we had today!  We fixed some things.  But most crucially Felix the driver and I figured out that his car MP3 player could play the music on my phone's microSD card.  We spent all day jamming out to Fela Kuti, Michael Franti, James Taylor, and probably about 20 CDs worth of live Phish.  Everyone had a certain spring in their step today.  I think the rest of the team was down with the tunes.  Maybe they liked them.  But more than likely they were just happy to listen to anything besides 10 or so American pop songs that we had been hearing on repeat for the last three days.  I will definitely be leaving some music with Felix before we leave Bamendjou.

First thing this morning we stopped at the metal man's shop and drove him, his generator, and his welding gear out to the ferrocement tank to install a new bracket for holding the float switches.  His welding set up was pretty amazing, and he made quick work on the job.

Once the welder was finished, Felix (the driver) and Dr Steve took him back to town and met with some local officials, while the rest of us got to work on diagnosing the pump issues at the Balatsit wet well.  Based on controller errors from the day before we suspected an issue with the connection to the pump and began the process of draining the wet well so we could pull the pump and check connections.  The disconnecting of the poly pipe into the wet well led to a pretty significant amount of water spraying everywhere.  I imagine it looked pretty hilarious to anyone watching.  Erica and Mike went to make sure that there was no water flowing from other wet wells or the ferrocement tank back to Balatsit (there shouldn't have been).  However, eventually the water drained completely, and Felix and I were able to completely remove the pump.

I was overjoyed to find the problem was not a bad pump.  As suspected there was an issue with poorly waterproofed connections in the wet well.  Most of them had been soaked all the way down to the wire and up the insulation, leading to significant corrosion.  In fact when I was removing electrical tape one of the connections just fell apart in my hands.  I stripped back some wire, but ended up replacing almost all the wire that had been submerged.  Connections were waterproofed using waterproof butt splices, waterproof heatshrink, and finally waterproof electrical tape.  By this time the whole team was back at the well site, and the pump was reinstalled in the wet well and we performed a test successfully.  For the first time in a very long time, possibly ever, all 6 pumps are now functioning correctly.
Ramsey making test connections which were later redone with waterproof crimps, heat shrink, and tape
We also found out that Felix (the plumber) knows more English than originally thought.  He was able to yell, "STOP IT!", when he realized one of the connections was loose and spraying water everywhere again.

Once we had sorted out the pump, we directed our attention to testing the float switches.  As best we could tell some or all of the float switches were not functioning properly.  This hadn't really been a problem since not all of the wet wells were always running, and the ferrocement tank had never been full.  But with all pumps working, it looks like it will be a matter of days before the tank completely fills, and the float switches will be essential in preventing any overflow.

We were able to quickly determine that the float switches themselves were functioning correctly.  This left the connections and wiring running down the hill to all the wet wells.  Very quickly we realized that all the connections at the ferrocement tank were suspect, and much like before, some were corroded or physically fell apart.  Dr Steve and Mike used the wire exciter and bush whacked their way down the line to locate a single break in the wire to Bakang I.  This will be dug up and repaired tomorrow.  We also found that the conduit running to Bakang II had never been completely buried, and some of it had been melted due to the slash and burn agriculture used in the area.  As best we can tell the line to Balatsit is intact and will just need to be reconnected at the ferrocement tank.  This work will probably take up at least the first half of tomorrow.  While some of the team addresses these issues, the rest of the team will be checking all the tap stands in the community to insure they are functioning.

The local villages have called a special work day tomorrow in preparation for the hand off ceremony on Monday.  Significant cosmetic work will be performed around the wells, school, and ferrocement tanks.  This is a good thing since I leaned on a rickety fence today and broke part of it.  Everyone is really excited for the ceremony on Monday, and I can't wait to see all the work the community is going to be doing.

One thing that has been very concerning is that Dr Steve forgot to bring his gold and silver stars on this trip.  We've had to resort to intangible "credibility points".  While my credibility is pretty high these days, I'd trade it all for a single gold star.

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