Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rob's Update

Since Peter has talked a lot about the challenges we’ve experienced with the pump, I thought it might be nice to talk a bit about the other activities in which we’ve engaged at the school. As I learned last time, one of the most important and rewarding components of this partnership is the interaction we get to have with the students. The first form this took was through sports the first weekday we were there. Last time I was here, I taught the students a little bit about baseball, though it was a difficult game to teach in an hour. At the request of some of the teachers, I collected some equipment and came back with enough gloves to equip a team and so Peter and I tried again to teach the game. The kids loved to hit and laugh at their friends who missed the ball, but had some trouble understanding what an out is and where to run after they had hit the ball. It seems as though we need more time with them to truly teach the game. While this went on, Isabel and Evann taught jump rope to many of the girls. I had no idea until we got here that Isabel had participated in competitive jump rope, so this was something about which she was passionate, and the students enjoyed it immensely. They were good at skipping rope and even turning double dutch to rhymes about the Obama family and others. However, the biggest hit of the day was Ozzie teaching soprano saxophone. We had been welcomed with song and dance earlier in the day, and Ozzie then had introduced them to the horn. Now, he got to teach a large group of students who all wanted to play the new instrument. They were getting the hang of making a sound, and hopefully he and I can teach them more throughout the trip.

Since the first day, we have also gotten to teach other things to the children. The next afternoon, Evann and I taught some students about graphing calculators. They had never seen the devices before and were fascinated when they plotted figures from their textbooks and saw the same shapes crawl across the screen in their hands. It is amazing how quickly these students catch on and how appreciative they are of chances to learn something new. They have a true passion for learning and understand the importance of having an opportunity to go to school. While we did this, Isabel and Peter taught basic computer skills on the One-Laptop-Per-Child computers we brought. The kids loved these new toys but still have a lot to learn!

Since then, the highlights of our interactions have been a physics lesson given by Peter on optics and lenses, Ozzie’s daily saxophone lessons, and a few soccer and volleyball matches between us and the students. Peter was a big hit in physics and looks forward to giving more lessons in the future. We didn’t fare as well on the field as all of us realized that our talents in American football, baseball, jump rope, and other sports didn’t make us automatically skilled in the others--the students defeated us handily in each. But maybe in 6 weeks we’ll be better!

I have to say that the whole trip one of the things that has impressed me the most is how much the school has changed in the short year and a half since my last visit. It is much closer to being complete and self-sustaining than the last time I was here. The pump down at the river has provided enough water that the school has lush fields with ripening tomatoes, cabbages, and other fruits and vegetables. They are harvesting and selling these products regularly and beginning to have some cash flow to pay for the school expenses. The assembly hall is now almost complete (it was only walls when last I was here) and they hope that this will generate more revenue as well as provide a space for assemblies and graduations. At the rate the school has grown since I was here, I hope that it soon will be much closer to its goal of economic sustainability. The community really supports the project and has already given us a great deal of help on our project, so it would be nice to see it be a success. I am very hopeful that the HMC groups that travel here in the future will see the same amount of improvement that I have witnessed, and that soon the school will be self-sustaining.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

26 June 2010

We await the start of the US–Ghana match here in Mara West and I will attempt to produce a blog post that offers some details of our attempts to retrieve the pipe and pump from the well. Rob has written a post that resides, unfortunately, on one of the XO’s that are still back in Ngomano. He will either recreate it or we will post it when we get back to Ngomano. Meantime, here’s a picture of the “harpoon of death” that was supposed to slide inside the pipe, expand against the inside of the coupling between pipe segments, and then get hauled out of the well. A strong chain was looped around the hook at the right of the picture, which would provide a torque pressing the sharpened edge at the bottom right against the wall of the coupling and the bottom edge of the first pipe segment.

Rob and Peter played tug-of-war with the pipe to test the harpoon and it seemed to hold quite well. Of course, the trick would be to install the harpoon inside the upper end of the pipe, which almost certainly was resting against the side of the casing inside the well, roughly 50 m below the top of the well. To manage this guiding, we designed the “skirt of salvation,” shown in the picture below. It was made from various available materials, including the mouth of a 20-liter water bottle, some wire mesh, plastic cable ties, and the walls of the water bottle. The skirt would be lowered with the harpooned located in the mouth of the water bottle, which should end up centered over the entrance to the pipe. At least, that was the theory.

In practice, the skirt and harpoon were lowered together, but because the chain holding the harpoon was so much heavier than the rope holding the skirt, it was fantastically unlikely that though they began the descent together, they ended up that way. After lowering the pair to level of the top of the pipe, and then lowering the harpoon another 4 m, we started raising the chain hoping and expecting to feel the resistance grow suddenly stronger. It didn’t. So, we raised both and were deeply saddened to see no harpoon attached to the chain and only the small top piece of the skirt still tied to the rope. Fishing with the sand-filled Coke bottle showed that the rest of the skirt was lodged about 7 meters below water level.

We went back to the drawing board to design of sturdier hook and came up with the “rocket of reclamation,” which is shown here.
It is made of 2-inch pipe, which will be dropped over the end of the pipe. The curved structure at the right is designed to pull the top of the pipe away from the wall, and the dark portion is a funnel to guide the pipe into the rocket. When we return to Ngomano after our safari in Masai Mara we will attempt again to fish out the skirt of salvation, which has be renamed the “apron of annoyance” and then lower the rocket to draw out the pipe. Keep your fingers crossed!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Isabel's Update

Since the pipe disappearance episode last Sunday, we have been hard at work designing and fabricating a means of fishing it back out of the well. We estimate the pipe and old pump to weigh about 3 kN, so we have been trying to design a piece that will be strong and robust enough to lift that weight. The piece also needed to find the 1.5 inch pipe in the 6 inch well, hook onto or into the pipe, and be easily fabricated with the materials and tools available in Wote.

We came up with a couple general designs: the "jaws of life" and the "harpoon of death." The jaws of life would essentially be tongs that would be held open by a spring as they are lowered down by a rope. Once positioned around the pipe, a strong chain threaded through the handles of the tongs would be pulled to close the tongs and then pull up the tongs and pipe. The harpoon of death would instead slide down inside the pipe. It would be made of sharp hinged arms that could easily slide down the pipe, but that would spread and thus get caught on the way back up. Once below the first pipe junction (where there is a small gap between pipe segments within the coupling), we will begin to pull the harpoon back up and hopefully catch the pipe at that junction and carry it up to the surface.

We chose the harpoon design because we thought it would be more sturdy and thus less likely to break or slip with the weight of the load. We spent the day yesterday in Wote having our harpoon made by some blacksmiths. We designed the piece in such a way that seemed easy to fabricate, but we didn't take into account the difficulties of working with hand tools: there is very little precision. Thus the pieces we received from the blacksmiths still required a lot of work before they would even fit inside the pipe, let alone pick it up. So the past evening and morning we have spent some quality time with a hack-saw and file in an attempt to shape the piece to the necessary dimensions.

We have also been designing a cone structure that will guide the harpoon into the pipe. If all goes well, both the harpoon and cone should be finished soon and we should be fishing by this afternoon. And that will be the real test of our design....

But enough of the technical information. I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts about this wonderful country. Within 36 hours of landing in Kenya, I was in love with the place. After the excesses of Dubai and the luxuries of Emirites Airlines, it was comforting to land in Nairobi, which felt more like a real place (rather than an amusement park or Las Vegas).

Nairobi was a fine city, but it was my first morning run in Wote that really made me happy to be here. Wote is a small town with a few main streets full of little one-room shops packed wall-to-wall. I was surprised by how much was available there -- you could find basically everything you need, from clothes to food to construction materials. And the town has much more lighting and running water than I was expecting. The roads were all made of hard-packed dirt (runner's paradise) and the views were stunning. The land around here is so much more lush than I imagined -- the red dirt is covered by yellow grass and lots of large green trees and bushes. And while there are rolling hills (with little round brick huts tucked into the hillsides), this is definitely big sky country -- big, blue, and covered with fluffy clouds.

I ran past boys walking their donkeys with supplies loaded on their backs, a family cooking breakfast on an outdoor fire, and plenty of chickens and stray dogs. But even more than the scenery and the dirt roads and all the donkeys and chickens, what I loved was the people. I just could not stop smiling the entire run because every person I passed would wave and offer a "hello," "good morning," or "how are you?" Everyone was friendly and seemed so content with life. And the little children screamed happily and pointed as I passed, then ran behind me until I turned around. Then they'd stop, smile shyly, wave and say "bye, bye," then run off. So adorable.

The people here seem to live such rich lives. I love that the pace of life is slow and relaxed, and everyone seems to have a wonderful attitude towards life. They seem to be very happy with where they are and what they're doing. And it is contagious.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

June 15

Star date, 15 June 2010

Much has passed since we arrived in Ngomano, and we have been poor correspondents. Where to begin?

On Sunday, June 13th, we began working on the well. The first step: removing the bolts holding the handle mechanism to the top of the well. Happily, we managed to loosen them all without rounding too many corners, and managed to get the handle off, which dropped the rod supporting the pump mechanism a few inches. Now, how are we to hoist the pump and pipe?

Benson contacted some friends in a nearby village, who brought a chain hoist. Meanwhile, we prepared a tripod by binding together three 10-foot pipes using a segment of polypropylene rope that we bought at Lowe's.
To the top of the tripod we attached the hoist using a rope we had bought the previous day in Wote. It was then child's play to raise the rod until the flange supporting the pipe down to the pump lifted off its base to reveal the top of the pipe. Using a large pipe wrench to hold the pipe, we disconnected the hoist and reattached it to the pipe, allowing us to hoist the pipe until the coupling to the second pipe segment emerged from the bore hole. We then set the pipe wrench to hold the second pipe, but realized that we also needed the wrench to grasp the pipe to unscrew the first pipe from the second. So, Benson sent someone to fetch a pipe vise.

While we waited for the vise to arrive, Benson asked Rob what was the silliest thing he had done in college. Before Rob had a chance to reply, the rope holding the hoist broke and the pipe began to fall, upending the pipe wrench, which tumbled down the bore hole. The pipe continued to fall until the flange attached to the top of the pipe crashed against the well head. Luckily, nobody was hurt.

When we calmed down and had removed the stand from the pipe vise, we retied the hoist using better rope and started hoisting the pump rod until we could see that the pipe had sheared off at the top of its threads and was now down at the bottom of the well. Damn! We started hoisting the rod segment by segment until 18 3-meter segments had been removed. Not surprisingly, the bottom was no longer connected to the pump. So, we managed to remove the rod that formerly activated the pump, leaving the pump and the 1 1/2-inch pipe at the bottom of the well.

Some fishing with flashlights and a Coke bottle filled with sand allowed us to determine that the water level is about 23 meters down and the top of the pipe is another 27 meters below that. So, we're now designing fishing apparatus to hook the top of the pipe and haul everything out. Our first design we called the jaws of life, but we're currently more keen on the harpoon of death, which we will attempt to thread down the pipe to the first coupling. We plan to head to Wote tomorrow to see if we can get someone to weld up our designs.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

First Kenyan post

(This picture is from the center where we got the solar panels from)

We have arrived at the school and have been very warmly received in rather sumptuous quarters. Patricia cooked us a very tasty dinner of rice, spaghetti, and lentils, which we washed down with Coke (since we forgot to get water in Wote, and didn't really have space for it, anyway). I am writing this post onone of the XO computers, which brings all sorts of challenges, so please excuse the brevity of this posting.

Everyone is very well and the weather is glorious. My thermometer reports 75 F at 9 pm. Now it is World Cup time: America v. England.

We have texted many of you from at least one of the cell phones, so youmay already have the number. For the record, the two numbers that we have at the moment are 0711-592-124 and 0711-678-612. I'll try to post some pictures shortly.