The first roadblock…..

Hey everybody, little late on this post since I have been feeling a bit under the weather as of late but things are picking up now and I should be 100% in no time. This is basically to everyone on what’s been going on in my life in the past week. So I have been living at the same place with the same great family having rice and beans twice a day because I think the family sees how much of that I eat compared to how much nsima (the common food, like a big ball of wannabe mashed potatoes made from corn flour and eaten kind of like a roti) I eat. Work wise I shifted my focus from just visiting communities and having conversations to actually going around and making some repairs on pumps that don’t work. With that in mind, I went around with my mechanic and attempted 6 repairs of which 4 were successful and the two that failed only did so because we ran out of solvent cement. Although most of these pump systems are relatively simple, the one commonly implemented by the government and used for boreholes, the Afridev is quite a mission to repair just because it goes so deep into the ground. I’ll try and draw a quick picture of how the Afridev (which is actually pictured in the header of my blog), actually works. So you start by drilling this deep hole into the ground to access an aquifer, next you take a big pipe and put it down there, inside that pipe you put smaller diameter PVC pipe with a cylinder at the bottom, inside this pipe you have 3m sections of aluminum rods with washers at every joint. Once put together, pumping the handle at the very top moves the rods which use suction to draw water upward and out of the pump. I hope that made sense, I will try and post a schematic of it or something if I can find one.

I will provide the example of the first community my mechanic (Ben) and I tried to repair. Going in we knew the WP was a borehole 35m deep with an Afridev pump, which was now entirely non-functional. So we started by opening up the pump, taking off the lid, the arm, and started removing each rod one by one. Got to the end of it and realized that the problem had nothing to do with the rods or parts on it so unfortunately we had to remove the piping. This involves taking out about as much pipe as possible at one time without it cracking (usually about 3-4m) and unlike the rods which are easily detached and reattached, the pipes had to be cut at each interval until we could get to the problem. Unfortunately the problem wasn’t found until the last pipe that had a miniscule crack in it which negated the suction effect required to draw water. So next the community scuffled around to find some pipe, and the fun part begins. So now all those cut pipes have to be reattached and put back in. Now in Canada we would have all sorts of sockets to do this but good luck finding any of those in a rural village, let alone having to pay for each one. So instead, normal pipe is taken, put into a fire so it can be deformed, shoved onto a pipe when it’s malleable, reformed by the pipe and finally quenched by immediately placing it in cold water to keep its shape. I spent 4 months learning about the details of all those states and methods so it was nice to see some of it in real life. Mind you burning PVC pipe releases some pretty bad chemicals into the air which aren’t really good to take in so I put some of my knowledge to use and let the people know this stuff wasn’t good to do, but understanding there was literally no other option I tried to help them understand that its bad to take in those fumes, so stay as far back as possible. So we continued doing this for some time until we had like 8 sockets, then slowly reattached all the pipes, then put back the rods and the casing and then the moment of truth, we began pumping. We waited for a bit, kept going, going, heard the water coming up and then finally, splash, cool clean water came pouring out of the pump, and everyone in the community had a smile. It felt good, although this isn’t my direct focus, it’s nice to go out and do things like this and be hands on in some direct repairs to see a difference right then and there.

The thing that hit me the most about these experiences was the ingenuity of the community and its ability to make something out of nothing.  The main point being reforming pipe to make sockets, but others are using cut up sandals as washers to prevent water leaks and simple weight to measure the depth of the well, where the water starts and where the water ends. A lot of these things we learn about engineering in schools become so theoretical at times that we can lose sight of what engineering is, or at least what I see it as, which is “An engineer creates solutions to the world’s problems”. It’s a very broad statement and it’s just my personal opinion, but it nice to see the other end of the stick and some real life problems like this at a relatively simple scale that doesn’t involve creating distillation columns or flash calculations. I also want to add that going into these communities for repairs I’m not really adding much technical insight that Ben doesn’t already bring, he knows these things in and out. I could have bored him on the theory of how he made sockets and how they held their shape but what good would that do. I’m there participating in the repairs just like anyone else in the community because my big picture goal is to study how communities actually function and what separates communities that can maintain a borehole to those that can’t to ultimately increase overall functionality.

I think that’s enough work stuff for the time being, Ill wrap this up with some key moments in the past little bit. The first one being a night where it was pitch black, the sun had gone down a while ago, the sky was cloud free and the moon was nowhere in sight which added up to the single most spectacular night sky I have ever seen. All the stars were so bright, the details so crisp, I just stood in the middle of a dirt field that doubles as a soccer field and stared with my jaw dropped. It was stunning, that’s all I can really say at this point. Being modest it was easily 2 times clearer and more detailed than any night sky I had ever seen, taking India and camping into account. The rest of the stories are small compared to that so ill fire them off, I saw a couple snakes, one of which was poisonous. I saw a kingfisher swoop down and catch a fish right out of the water like 5 feet from of me. Finally I was sitting outside reading a book (yea that’s right, I was reading a book) and a heard a scuffle in the bushes, I look over to see this lizard that’s like 4 feet long and a solid 8 inches in diameter. I stood up and it ran off but it was huge, I don’t know enough about lizards to tell you what it was but it was big. I explained it to Ben after and even he had said he had never seen such a thing.

Anywhoo that’s it from me, not sure when the next check in will be but will keep you all posted and until then, thanks for the support everyone.




About ajitghuman

Hey Everyone, I'm a 2011 Junior Fellow representing RYERSON!!!...I'll be working with The Water & Sanitation team in Malawi this coming summer
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