Sunday, July 11, 2010

Rob's Update

11 July 2010

It has been a banner weekend out here at the Clay International School. It all began on Friday with the awards ceremony in Kathonzweni (a town 45 kilometers from here) which Peter mentioned in his last post. Early in the morning, we all piled into the Toyota SUV and the rented bus with sharply dressed teachers and students for the occasion. In true Kenyan fashion, we were generously welcomed and treated as guests of the school and thus the whole educational district. Being such distinguished guests from the US, we were invited to breakfast with a member of the Kenyan Parliament before sitting down to listen to several hours of speeches (all alluding to the importance of not wasting time) before the true ceremony began.

This was the first awards day for the district and the first time that the Clay School was eligible for any prizes given that they just graduated the first class in March. We were invited to sit on the dais overlooking the thousands of students, parents, and teachers from both primary and secondary schools in the area.

When the secondary school awards began, it wasn't long before the Clay name was heard. From there, it seemed as though a beaming Principal Peter, dancing parents, and leaping students never left center stage. When the dust had settled, the school took home awards for 10 of the 11 subjects offered and trophies for environmental conservation and being the best secondary school overall.

Needless to say, we were eager to celebrate with the students and teachers, and it wasn't long before we were fighting our way through crowds of primary school students enthralled with our white skin to give hugs, hoist trophies, and exchange high fives with the students. It was truly a great day for the school and an indication of just how much they are doing right in terms of education. These teachers care so much about the students, many of whom are immensely grateful for the opportunity to attend a free school, and these awards helped to recognize the model on which this school operates. It also set a bar for the next group of graduating students to achieve.

At the conclusion of the day, Benson, Linda, Peter, and I went to Wote for a late afternoon trip to pick up a few supplies including more wire and another solar panel and battery for the staff office. Benson had arranged for this panel before our arrival with the intention of adding lighting in two more classrooms to make four in which students can study after hours. The panel was not there and had to be picked up the next day, so we got the rest of the supplies and headed back to the school, stopping on the way to pick up Principal Peter and Samuel, the assistant principal, in Kathonzweni. The rest of the night was uneventful as we took it easy in preparation for lowering the "Rocket of Reclamation" in the morning.

Saturday we arose with a mission to lower the Rocket and try and clear the well if the pipe wrench would allow. With the rod and chain securely attached to the rocket, Ethan, Benson, Peter, Evann, and I sent it on its maiden voyage down the well. Slowly we lowered it, adding rods as it sunk toward the top of the pipe. Suddenly, about 50 meters down, it stopped. Figuring we were at the top of the pipe, Peter and I slowly rotated the Rocket and tried to lower it past the pipe, but it wouldn't go. We tried every orientation, or so we thought, until finally, with ease it slipped down and continued its descent. A few seconds later it was caught again. Now we felt we must be resting the funnel on the top of the pipe, so again we turned to get the hook behind the pipe and center it under the Rocket. On the first try, the Rocket smoothly continued sliding down. One and a half rods later (4.5 meters), we figured we must be past the first coupling in the pipe and so could start pulling up. We attached the rods to the chain hoist, securely fastened the chain as a fail safe, and began to raise the rods. I pulled slowly on the hoist with relative ease until suddenly there was resistance. The hoist refused to move though I pulled harder until finally with a mighty tug, it gave way. The chain was still substantially heavier than it had been before the obstruction, giving hope that we had caught the big one. Up we went, pulling slowly and removing rods as we went, all the while securing the chain slack in case it slipped.

By early afternoon, however, our smooth ascent was interrupted. As we pulled on the rod with the hoist, suddenly something snapped and the chain and rod jerked downward a few inches. Scared and stunned, we looked at each other, checked the rod and found no weight on the end. Ethan pulled it out to find that with four rods left, somehow the Rocket had come unscrewed at the bottom and was no longer attached. Luckily, the chain, our fail-safe, had caught the Rocket and was still taut. We quickly made a loop in this and began hoisting once more with weight still on the other end. However we hit another snag soon thereafter. The Rocket and whatever it held suddenly hit a tough patch and would not move higher. We had hit snags earlier in the day and had always gotten past them by pulling harder, but now this wouldn't work. Furthermore, we couldn't go back down either. We pulled so hard that we heard casing give way and sand begin to pour into the well. Stuck in this predicament, we took a lunch break.

While we had been having fun with the well, Ozzie, Isabel, and Evann had been working on the power house, equipping it with all of the electronics necessary to run the pump and the battery systems. Despite some difficulties with wiring sizes, they were making excellent progress and were planning to have everything in place for the World Cup match in the evening. After lunch, they returned to this task and the rest of us headed back down to the well to try a bigger hammer. Using the rods and a square washer, we banged the top of the Rocket in the well until it suddenly gave way and put the chain in tension again. With this and a mighty heave, we were moving again. This happened about 9 meters below the surface. Soon, 6 meters had passed, then 3, and then suddenly, from the blackness below emerged the top of the pipe--a sight we had not seen since it went crashing down into the depths on our first full day here. As it breached the surface and came into sunlight, we began to celebrate and cheer. The others ran down to join us in the celebration as we pulled the first segment out. When this had fully emerged, our Rocket came out, still riding the pipe and gripping it tightly. It had performed gloriously on its maiden voyage and deserved a retirement in the sun. We quickly secured the pipe, removed the Rocket, and kept raising the pipe. Segment after segment emerged from the well as we raced the sunlight to empty the well before dark. As we removed each section, we received a very tangible confirmation that the pump at the bottom was still in tact. As each section was unscrewed, water gushed from the joint all over Ethan and me. At that point in our giddy mood at having raised the pipe, no water could have been sweeter. Yet again, we hit a tough patch as the pipe once again would move neither up nor down. We decided to tie it off for the evening and attack it in the morning. Though when all was done for the day, we had pulled up not only everything we had dropped in the well, but also 9 sections of pipe.

To sweeten the day, the electrical team had installed all of the devices in the power house, the parents of the school children had dug a trench up to the staff office for wiring, and we were connected to watch the World Cup on the solar battery. It was a celebratory evening as we watched the match, though we were also exhausted from the hard work.

Sunday morning, we once again rose and headed down to the well to finish the job started the day before. Using the same trick of banging the pipe with the rod which had worked the day before, we freed the pipe from its resting place on the well casing and continued to raise. As before, torrents of water erupted from the pipes as we removed each one, drenching Ryan, Ethan, and me. With only a few minor snags, we removed 8 more segments of pipe, and as we raised the ninth, we saw the pump and our nemesis, the pipe wrench.

Eagerly, I reached down and grabbed the wrench handle only to find that it had broken at some time during its stay in the well. The jaws fell off and went crashing down to their final resting place 100 meters down at the bottom of the well. With a mighty heave, Ethan pulled out the pump and pipe and it was done--the well was clear! Giddy with joy over our achievement, we took photos, patted each other on the back, and celebrated an accomplishment 5 weeks in the making.

There is an interesting side to this story as well. Back when we were trying to fish out the wrench, Benson had promised us that he would slaughter a goat if we removed it. Though as of Sunday morning we had not, Benson still had felt our achievement in raising the pipe and pulling half of it out was worthy of fulfilling his promise. So in the morning, a goat was led into the compound and then slaughtered and dressed by the cook for our celebratory dinner at having removed all of the pipe. It was a special and memorable day all around.

The rest of the afternoon was consumed by laying conduit and wire up to the staff office, preparing the new pump for being placed in the well by waterproofing the electrical leads, and sorting out a few other electrical problems which arose. So when the sun finally set on this magnificent weekend, we were preparing to watch the World Cup on a battery charged on solar power knowing that the well was completely empty save for the jaws of the wrench, and that the new pump and lighting is ready to be installed. Even now as I write, there is great excitement in the room both because of the game and because everyone including the teachers knows that this has been an incredible weekend and has relieved so much of the stress we have had during this trip.


  1. Thank you, Rob and everyone, for this thrilling tale with the happy conclusion -- what a relief!

    Isabel, we're in Lake Lure right now -- I think of you while swimming in the lake. I also spent 24 hours with Dominique and family in TN -- fun! Tomorrow we drive to CT and see Megan on Friday morning. Love Mama

  2. YAY!!!! I'm so happy that you got it out!!!

  3. just linked this article on my facebook account. it’s a very interesting article for all.

    Student Project