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.


  1. Sounds wonderful. We can't wait to join you. Just so you know, its 39-34 celtics up at the half. Will write more after a teacher celebration for graduation.

  2. Good idea on harpoon of death. Let's hope the pipe's not damaged.

  3. Good luck team Kenya! I hope the rest of the project goes more smoothly, but I'm sure you'll handle anything you come against!

  4. Hi Isabel! I loved hearing about your impressions of Africa; I hope you continue to share them. Absolutely nothing to report on this end -- all's well. It's partly sunny here and I'm about to run up Perseverance. I'll think of you and your runs through the African countryside. xo Mama

  5. JEALOUS. I want a fan club for my runs.

  6. What's happening? did you succeed in recovering the pump and pipe? Did the harpoon of death work? Inquiring minds need to know. Jeff

  7. Can't wait to share this blogspot with Armando. He will love it!

  8. Wow Isabel! What a powerful description of your African run. Running in Wote was one of the experiences that I cherished the most while I was there. I'm so glad you are making the most of your experience!