Monday, January 10, 2011

It's been a full week!

We arose to beautiful Sunday morning. Life in the village is quieter today as some businesses and drivers are not operational. Instead they choose to go to church and take the day off. Earlier in the week we were invited to attend church with Dora, a girl we met in town, so Garrison and I took her up on the offer. It was a great experience to try out a mass with Jehova's Witnesses in Twi. One kind old man volunteered to translate some of the mass for us and Dora provided an
English bible to follow along. When mass ended we were greeted by most of the congregation and we tried getting pictures with some friends in their Sunday best. Unfortunately Garrison's camera died after two pictures and mine had been borrowed by some of the other children in the
village earlier so we had to pretend for a photo or two before everyone was satisfied.

After church the big project for the day was to meet Winnie at Valley View University. We quickly packed up and made ready to leave. As we were walking on the road looking for a cab, we ran into Sammy who called a cab for us that would take us straight to Valley View instead of following our plan which was basically to play it by ear as we hopped from place to place. Though the road we used was viciously bumpy and deformed, we arrived at Valley View earlier than if we had followed our original plan.

Since it was Sunday, VVU had very few people on campus, but Winnie and her neice solicited the help of a security guard to take us around to their source-separated bathrooms and to where they store the waste for composting. We couldn't go inside the student bathroom, but it was pretty impressive from what we could tell. They had six pipes collecting solid waste in transportable garbage containers and a rainwater collection system on the roof to supply
the sinks.

(Quick aside: Garrison and I spotted a mouse zipping behind our stuff after we finished our movie. We literally chased it around the room and forced it outside. Another point to SEAS and EWB Ghana. 11:05pm)

Next came the compost collection portion of the trip. Suraj filled containers with compost from their six storage sheds while Garrison and I helped out, but we mostly just watched and held our
breath. With all of our samples in hand we left VVU for the trek back to Obodan. By
the time we arrived it was too late to grab real food so we snacked on the never failing combination of bread and Nutella. We realized that we've only eaten 5 actual meals on the trip so far, meaning that we've been eating less than one meal a day. Further proof that the keys to
survival are chewy bars and Nutella.


Today Winnie, our professional advisor that lives in San Fransisco, arrived in Obodan with a friend named Stella. Winnie and Stella have been friends for many years as they both completed their undergraduate studies at the same university in Ghana. We quickly got acquainted with one another though Suraj, Garrison and I had only spoken to her in conference calls and in emails beforehand. After the usual preliminaries, we prepared for a day of teamwork.

Our main goal for the day was to gather information about the water distribution project and to explore new options. First we took a tour of the planned water project, while continually debating the best course of action. We examined the feasibility of our original plan against the constraints of cost, elevation difficulties, the desires of the community and other issues. Furthermore we tried out new thoughts and ideas to add or change the original plan in order to best help the
village of Obodan at the most reasonable cost. A lot of time was spent deliberating various points including the difficulty of cutting a water pipeline through the main road. As Winnie was speaking about the problem of traffic control and safety regarding roadwork, Sammy jumped up screaming and we looked up to see what was the matter. As if to prove Winnie's point, a child had been hit by a car because he was being chased across a sidestreet under construction and couldn't see through the big work truck to the oncoming car.

First aid was quickly applied to the child thanks to Winnie, Suraj's Neosporin and the first aid kit that my mom grabbed for me before the trip. Although he was distraught, he wasn't badly injured. He was still taken to the hospital as a precaution. When the situation had been dealt with by all of the adults in the village that had suddenly appeared at the whisper of bad news, we resumed our conversation. A design has yet to be officially decided on since we need information
about the cost of cutting through the road and the cost of deepening a borehold, but a general plan has been set.

We proceeded to set stakes in the ground at 10m intervals to be markers for surveying, which should be occurring soon in the next couple of days, depending on when we can get equipment. The markers represent the basic path of the pipeline from borehole 2 to the central water tank that will be located at the top of the road, near the junction.

The day ended in spectacular fashion as Winnie's friend, an architect living halfway between Obodan and Accra, invited us to dinner at her house. Not only were we spoiled by fresh coconut (which I admit to not enjoying as much as Garrison and Suraj) and cold water on the ride to the house, but we receieved a small feast of rice with vegetable sauce, goat, fried red fish, hard boiled eggs, beans and freshly cut pineapple. Garrison, Sammy, Suraj and I left with full and contented
stomachs. According to Garrison, "this is all that I need to be perfectly happy, a delicious meal and time to rest after."

Days 5 and 6

Today was a busy day and I can't for the life of me remember what day it is. Thanks to the laptop's calendar, I'm informed that it's pretty late on Thursday night. We spent the majority of our day in Nsawam, but before leaving we made sure to complete a few other tests including some pump tests, coliform tests on latrine urine and pH tests on the solid waste.

When we arrived in Nsawam, it was as though we were dropped off in the middle of Canal Street at it's busiest. It turns out that today was market day, so there were hundreds and hundreds of people packed on a narrow street. Everywhere we looked, something new was being sold from Nike shoes to delectable Fan Ice (Ghanain ice cream) that Suraj recommended. While walking through the market we bought six small tanks to collect urine for summer testing, plastic spoons for further solid waste/compost testing, and a sack to carry sawdust from a local woodshop to the latrine pit.

Along the way we noticed many barber shops and Sammy, Garrison and I all felt that we needed haircuts. Suraj said he'd rather wait until he got home, but the rest of us went ahead with the plan. Sammy shaved his head because he'd rather not have any hair to deal with, but Garrison chose the classier fade. As for myself, I just needed a buzz cut to shorten my out of control hair. However, the barber had never cut a white man's hair before so he called me his teacher and I
explained what he needed to do.

We all left feeling fresh and considerably cooler in the sun as we walked through the streets to the house of Sammy's sister-in-law, where his sick wife was staying. It was really nice to meet his wife for the first time and we stayed and chatted for a little while before heading out again to grab food at McDonal's. This time around it was much easier to order our food since we knew what we wanted and I even took a leap of faith to try fufu, a common Ghanain dish of cassava and goat meat in a flavorful soup. It tasted delicious, but it was very strange since you're not supposed to chew the food, you're supposed to just swallow the pieces of cassava whole. Even though we tried starting a movie later that night, we couldn't charge the laptop and use the speakers that Sammy let us borrow, so we just decided to hit the hay a little earlier tonight, which I will be doing, well, right about now.


With a great deal of our tests underway, we took time off from the specifics of our project for a little while and decided to volunteer our manual labor on Sammy's pineapple farm. His 25 acre farm that will be growing 20,000 pineapples this year has been expanding over the last few years and even has it's own website, thanks to the website design course that Sammy took at Polytechnic University last semester. Like a superhuman, Sammy is able to balance himself as a graduate engineering student, a successful farmer and Assemblyman of his village, all while having a daughter and a wife that is now pregnant again.

To prepare for a day of hard work, we were treated to a breakfast of mashed maize with a spicy dipping sauce and tiny, whole fish. Working on the farm was very tiring work as we battled the tough, rocky terrain alongside Sammy's other, paid workers. It was fun to help out on the pineapple farm amongst such a gorgeous landscape, but the power of the sun took its toll and tired us out. We were exceptionally dirty on our walk back from the farm to Obodan, which made the flow of water that much more satisfying when we finally reached the borehole to clean ourselves off.

Upon arriving back in our room, we made sure to record the results of our previous water and urine tests from two days prior. Also, we performed a pH test on the solid waste sample, which yielded a very favorable result. After a relaxation and group bonding period we decided to head off to Nsawam. Our first order of business was to stop at McDonal's for the third night in a row because we were quite hungry from a day at the farm. Afterwards we stopped at the internet cafe because at this point we were sufficiently Facebook and internet deprived and we each got our own 30 minutes to ourselves (it's a much shorter time than you might initially think, even with a decent internet connection). Yet again, Garrison was unable to finish the movie we set out to watch before bed as he was beneath his mosquito net, fast asleep before Suraj and I had made it to the halfway mark in "City of Men."

Day 4 continued

Suraj exchanged our American dollars for Ghanain cedis yesterday which finally gave us the freedom to purchase materials and pay for transportation ourselves without having to depend on Sammy, who is very busy with his pineapple farm and Assemblyman duties. As a result, we were very productive today and we were also able to expand our food choices beyond the various chewy bars that had dominated our diet.

The first order of business was fixing the latrine. We bought some new pipes, a pipe reducer, joints and glue for a plumber who took out the old urine pipe and installed a new one. So far this new pipe has worked well with no problems. Before the pipe was installed we took urine samples from the basin in the toilet that was overflowing due to the clogging and used those samples for testing. Next we determined the depth of the solid waste in the latrine which turned out to be less than we expected it to be, probably because they don't use the latrine as often as we thought they would. With the help of Sammy we were also able to take solid waste samples from the latrine by nailing a metal can on the end of a long bamboo pole and scooping the waste with that. It turned out that the waste was much less solid than normally expected, but it was most likely a result of the overflow from the clogged urine pipe into the solid waste pit.

We continued our day by surveying the families that use the source-separated latrine. We asked them their thoughts on the latrine, how often it is used, by whom and what could be improved. While talking to the families we developed the hypothesis that the small children could be the reason behind the clogged urine pipe since they're too small to use the source-separated toilet properly. We also asked Ebenezer and Kwobe's family to put ash into the latrine more frequently
than they have been to help solidify the solid waste and help it compost. While we surveyed the homes, we also took water samples to test for coliform.

When the sun went down we knew it was time for dinner. Garrison, Suraj and I took a taxi into Nsawam where we first stopped at an Internet cafe for a few minutes. Since they only had one computer available we each took turns filling out mandatory EWB-USA forms and quickly checking our emails. By this point we were very hungry and went to a previous favorite of Suraj's
called McDonal's (no relation that we know of to the largest fast food franchise in the world and yes, doesn't have a "d" at the end). We each had chicken and fries and we shared a plate of rice that was washed down with passion fruit flavored Alvaro.

Friday, January 7, 2011

As reported by myself and Garrison from our room in Obodan. More to come!

We woke up this morning around 6:30, which by college student standards would be extraordinarily early, but in Ghana it'sactually considerably late. The sun has been up for at least an hour and this is definitely the latest we've woken up sincearriving in Obodan. Life continues normally as we brush our teeth outside and take a trip or two the the nearby borehole tofetch water. Garrison and I try to carry the large buckets of water back to the room balanced on our heads the way allthe locals do. Although some water is spilled, most successfully reaches the room. The borehole water, which we are doing tests on, is by no means safe for us "obronis" or foreigners to drink, but the locals are used to it and have strong enoughstomachs to drink it no problem.

The three of us are looking forward to today's work because we can finally start on the latrine. Upon arriving on the firstday, we had a chance to tour the village and see both latrines we built with the community. It turned out the second source-separated latrine had been out of order for a while because the urine pipe had been completely clogged by fecal matter. Suraj left this morning with a plumber to purchase materials that we can use to fix the latrine, both by unclogging the pipe and by installing an improved, solid pipeline instead of the pliable pipe that is there now.

(Quick aside: Mike and I (Garrison) are dancing with Ebenezer and Gregory to music from my laptop. Ebenezer's killing it.8:42 am)

The trip to Ghana was as enjoyable as any 16 hour journey by plane can be, though when we arrived at the airport in Accraat around 5am our bodies were sufficiently confused by five hour time difference and spending an entire day on a plane. Wewere greeted at the airport first by festive Christmas and New Year's decorations and then finally by our contact and friend Sammy Gamson. Suraj, our experienced traveler knew what to expect and how to handle himself around the group of fourmen that chatted with us and even carried a bag to the taxi, but Garrison and I were at a loss and were almost tricked into giving them a tip for the minute walk. We drove out of the airport towards our destination along dusty, bumpy roads that were partially under construction and paved, while the rest was in disrepair and made of dark orange dirt. We alsolearned that Sammy had just ran for village Assemblyman (or Mayor) of Obodan and won just two days before we arrived.

After reaching Sammy's house in the town of Nsawam, we put our bags down, took a walk through Nsawam and then another taxi to the village of Obodan. Obodan was active with many villagers preparing for church in theirSunday best. Although logic told us that it was about 7:00 in the morning, it felt as though it was almost noon because of the lively buzz floating through the village and the heat of the sun, not yet overbearing but sufficiently present.

(Quick aside: Mike and Suraj are going postal on an infestation of ants with bug spray and their sandals. Ants 0, EWB Ghana 1. 11:46 am)

We went to a local satellite village that is slightly north of the main center of Obodan to meet some of the people there,take a look at their sanitation/latrine system or lack thereof and to present them with a soccer ball because their previous one had either disappeared or been beaten up so severely that it couldn't be played with. We proceeded to walk toanother satellite village on the west side of Obodan for the same purpose, except they didn't need a soccer ball. As we passed through it was exciting to hear the loud, melodious voices and chants that were emanating from the nearby church that we could tell was filled to capacity. Religion, mainly Christian, plays a major role in the lives of Ghanains and almost all of the taxis and trucks have stickers with phrases like "No Jesus No Life" or "Amen."

It was great to walk around such a beautiful land with lush green plants growing everywhere that a house or road wasn't present. Great trees scattered the horizon, popping up high in the air against the hazy horizon that weakened the glare ofthe sun. We continued to travel for the rest of our first day in Ghana as "Assemblyman" Sammy had many people to talk to. We made sure to inspect the old latrines that EWB Ghana built previously and we examined the problem with the clogged latrine, but there was little that we were able to do without calling a plumber to decide what materials we needed and we were extremely tired. No matter how bumpy our taxi rides were, each of us would fall asleep and I even fell asleep at a local restaurant before getting our chicken and rice. By early afternoon each of us had taken our fair share of naps and although we were still tired, Garrison and I decided to join a local soccer game to end the day while Surajstayed behind. The soccer game was Obodan vs. Fotobi, another nearby village. We arrived late to the game so we didn't get in the game until the second half, but we had a blast! To top everything off, Garrison made a perfect cross pass tome and I shot and scored over the goalie's head for the winning goal. The first day ended with us setting up camp in an administrative conference room near the village center, tired yet excited for the days to come.

Getting up early on Monday morning wasn't easy, but we knew we had to be at the borehole at first light to be able to catchthe early birds that made their first water pickup as early as possible. Our goal was to determine how much water the villagers took from the borehole each day as information to help us know how much water we would need to pump into the water tank that we plan to build in the near future. At first we needed to pump water into our 17 liter bucket and then pour that into everyone else's buckets in order to determine how much was being taken out, but as the day progressed itbecame easier to identify buckets and remember their volume gave us reprieve from pumping everyone's water for an entire day.

Sitting at borehole 2 all day doesn't seem very interesting, but it is a popular hang out spot for the kids,especially with us "obronis" around. We had a great time with all the little kids, including Ebenezer and Kwobe. Even though we had made lofty plans for the day to take a trip to the money exchange location, buy a phone that works and topurchase materials to fix the latrine, we were only able to focus on borehole information which included total volume for day, the maximum flow rate from the spout, the time lapse between five minutes of pumping and the restart of the Artesian flow and the Artesian flow rate. Our other goals weren't met because we were now on Ghana time which is much slower than New York or Columbia time.
By day three we were moving at a decent stride. Mike, Suraj and I began the day at borhole 1 around 6:20 am, while Sammywas off tending to business on his farm. At around 7:30 am Suraj and I took water samples from borholes 1 and 2 to test for total coliform. When Sammy returned he and Suraj left to exchange money, purchase a phone, and send emails. In the meantime Mike and I performed the same tests on Borehole 1 that we had performed on Borehole 2 the previous day (with the exception of timing the return of Artesian flow after 5 minutes of pumping, since Borehole 2 doesn't leak water). During our downtime we began Twi lessons with a student from the girl's school, Dora. Dora also helped negotiate some space for usin the shade with two women doing laundry. At their invitation Mike and I tried our hand at washing, but we were quickly asked to resume our tasks counting liters of water. Several hours passed, full of photoshoots with the children, handball, and broken conversations in Twi and English. Eventually Suraj and Sammy had returned with their tasks completed, and Mike and I collected a second set of water samples from Boreholes 1 and 2. By sunset we were both tired and hungry, facts that weren't lost in translation on our hosts in the shade. To our amazement, Mike and I were presented with dishes full of jalarice with chicken and an orange Fanta. Eating that rice was the best minute and a half of the trip so far. That night I began the test for total coliform on the water samples. After a brief power outage we decided to call it a night with Pirates of the Carribean 3.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Proxy post - Ghana Winter 2011 trip begins!

Hello everyone,

Our three intrepid travelers, Suraj, Garrison and Mike, have arrived in Obodan and started testing for the latrine and water projects. Since they are all so busy, I've decided to help share the news of their work. Here's a summary of the most recent updates:

"So far we did some pump tests, did the borehole water usage study for
both boreholes, and hopefully Mike and Garrison are doing the water
quality testing as we speak. We also went to the two satellite
villages of Obodan to see their latrine facilities and they seem like
good candidates for future latrines since they have no current
latrines. One of the satellites is that village that has the broken
water distribution system a bit past the girls senior high school.
Sammy and I are going to go see a plumber right now to see if we can
fix a problem with the latrine, we're probably going to have to buy a
new pipe since the urine flow is clogged. So today/tomorrow when we
fix the latrine we'll also be able to remove some waste samples for
testing and storage. It looks like we won't be able to go Valleyview
until next week, so we'll go when Winnie arrives. We should be done
with all of our testing and household surveys by the time we meet up
with you Winnie [in a few days...!]" - Suraj, Jan 4 2011

Great work guys!