Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Work Update and Past Weekend

The past week was one of tedious but necessary work. Along with the help of the local volunteers, we moved the stones excavated the week before, gathered wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of variously sized stones and gravel, and then painstakingly washed and sorted them. Luckily a bricklayer from the village came with some friends to help us build up the existing filter an additional foot and a half. Anyone not caught up in these tasks was down by the filters connecting the outflow and inflow pipe networks. Alongside all this, our search for usable sand was kicking into high gear, and some people were called away to join the search – one car even made the two hour trip to Polokwane for the day to meet suppliers. By the end of the week, we were exhausted. The sand search was long and frustrating, but things were looking up. A supplier in Louis Trichardt (one hour outside Thohoyandou) had what we needed, and our research into alternative materials had led us to a man 50 km away with a large supply of granulated rockwool he was trying to get rid of. All of our sources listed rockwool as a preferred substitute when sand was too expensive or hard to come by, but little detail is available regarding its use and maintenance. The choice between sand, rockwool, or some mixture of the two is the most important decision facing the group over the next couple days.

Monday we installed the drainage system in the filter and began to fill in large gravel in all three compartments. We laid down a layer of water-permeable, soil-retaining cloth in one compartment and then piled on some finer gravel. We filled this tank and the one next to it with water to test the flow rate we would get first with just large gravel and then second with cloth and finer gravel on top. This morning we arrived to find a couple leaks which needed some minor fix-ups, after which we performed our flow rate tests. Both went well with strong and nearly equal flows recorded in each case. Our celebration tonight will be short-lived, however. Tomorrow it’s back to the grind once the remaining gravel is delivered. Now we just need to make a decision on this sand.

On Saturday we decided to go see a soccer match between the Tottenham Hotspurs and the Kaiser Chiefs hoping to see our fellow American, Clint Dempsey, score a goal or two. It felt similar to an NFL game. People came dressed head to toe in Kaiser Chiefs regalia, waving flags and shaking signs. One man dressed as a prophet was giving out blessings to all who passed. There were food stands along the walkways selling food and beer.
Coming into the stadium, we were a little worried. People were running to get seats. When we got to the seats we had paid for, a group had already posted up in them and had no intentions of leaving. We noticed some fist fights breaking out over seats in our section, so we decided to concede the seats and head up to the nosebleeds. We found some open seats and immediately the mood lightened as we immersed into the Chiefs fanfare. The vuvuzelas created a constant roar throughout the stadium, surging with each Kaiser attack. We cheered and danced along with the rest of the crowd through the entire scoreless game. The stadium went wild as the Chiefs finally snuck a goal in past the Tottenham keeper in stoppage time.
We shuffled our way through the rambunctious masses heading for the exit, even getting some jeers from the British Tottenham fans. Once successfully back in the car, we joined the line for the slow crawl out to the road. People had opened up their cars to play music while others gathered to dance in celebration. We couldn’t sit in the car and just watch, so we decided to park and join. Everyone welcomed us, all running up to take pictures with the pale faced newcomers. A dance circle quickly formed in which we would all take turns showing off our moves. The sheer happiness of those thirty minutes was overwhelming. When we all got back into the car our adrenaline was pumping with the heat of the moment. Unable to believe the day we had experienced, each of us rode home doing our best to take in all of our memories.

Just to top all that off, we woke up early Sunday morning to meet Chief Lucas of Tshibvumo so he could lead us on a hike to see the top of the waterfall we wrote about a couple weeks ago. It’s looking like we’ll have to draw our water from up there, so we’ll call this a business trip with scenic benefits. The vertical climb up the mountain was harrowing, but once at the top, the view was spectacular. And just when we thought that was it, we walked a little further to find a long chain of waterfalls seeming going up forever. A childish wonder came over everyone as we began to climb any way we could higher and higher, one beautiful ledge to the next. If only pictures could do this weekend justice (n.b.- look below). Of course, now it’s back to work.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Kruger National Park

Words can’t really describe how incredible our experience was at Kruger National Park. It was agreed upon that this past Sunday was perhaps the most stunning events any of us had done. We all got to see the ‘Big Five’ (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, White Rhinoceros, Buffalo) at least two times, which wasn’t anticipated in the slightest. There were many astonishing and spectacular moments at Kruger, but three individual occurrences seem to really stick out above the rest.
The first event was when we were driving along one of the main roads, not really expecting to see anything rare due to the terrain but then it hit us: we spotted a leopard right on the side of the rode and Ryan immediately hit the brakes. The leopard looked at us for a second or two, then immediately crouched down like it was about to pounce at our car. Locke, who was in the passenger side closest to the leopard, asserted to roll up our windows for the reason that it was going to strike through the car window. Instead, the leopard got up and walked right behind our car and into the woods, but we did manage to capture a picture of it (shown below).
The next incident was when we were driving along on our way out of the park, again not really expecting or looking for anything in particular, and saw a few elephants trotting along the side of the road so we stopped momentarily to take a few pictures. The next thing we knew, one of the elephants began charging up a hill towards our car. Ryan did the intelligent thing and began driving away before the elephant trampled us, despite the insistence of some to test the limits of our Nissan Tiida. As we got about 30 feet away (after slowly being chased away), another elephant came up on the road and tried to mess with the other elephant. After a ten second stare down and minor scuffle, they backed away from each other.
The last and probably most outrageous event was when a lion began stalking a pack of Wildebeests. The scene at first seemed to be something out of Planet Earth, with a lone female lion slowly creeping up on the pack, waiting for an opportunity to strike. We began watching and waiting for about 45 minutes to an hour for the lion to finally make a move, only to be recognized swiftly by the pack and spurned off. After acknowledging defeat, the female lion slowly walked off in the direction of all the cars that had been watching, but none of us thought that she would actually walk that close to all the vehicles. In a scene of mixed emotions, mainly comical, the female lion walked up in between 2 cars ahead of us to cross the road.

Currently, we have divided our main group into minor subsets focused on individual parts to make the whole system functional and fast track its completion. The bricks have been layed and pipe system connected. All that is left is to fill the compartments with the material. Our goal and belief is that we will have the Tshapasha slow sand filter operational sometime next week.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Rocky Road

The past few days have been very busy and consisted of completing precursor activities for implementation of the new plan for the slow sand filter in Tshapasha. Our plan consists of lowering the JoJo tanks about 1 meter, installing a new weir, constructing higher walls in the SSF, building a new pipe network at the bottom of the slow sand filter and a new grading scheme of the materials inside the compartments of the SSF. In addition, we are also going to install a new larger diameter 80mm pipe from the pipe junction at the bottom of the SSF to the weir that will increase the outflow rate from the SSF. We have spent the majority of our time digging out the area for the JoJo tanks but encountered a very large rock that required a bulldozer to remove. After two and a half days of hard work digging up so many rocks that we could not possibly fit them in the hole we removed them from, our team celebrated for a moment in a completed 7m by 3m hole that we be the final place for the Jojo tanks.
In preparing the new outlet network from the SSF and constructing the new weir we were fortunate to meet Sean, the owner of a local hardware and plumbing store in Thohoyandou. With his help we were able to get our new network in place, as well as fit our custom weir with fittings for the larger pipe. The purpose of the weir is a reservoir connected to the filter that is exposed to atmospheric pressure and placed at such a height to ensure the water level in the SSF will not fall below a certain the water level in the weir. New materials have arrived on site daily this week, including 50m of our new 80mm pipe, and close to 1,000 bricks that we will use to build up the walls of the filter to accommodate the adjusted layers of filter materials. Our daily lunch of chicken and pap is growing on us every day as we both grow more accustomed to the local dish and our work days get longer. Despite this, we are all still a long ways away from being able to eat even half of what our UNIVEN partners can somehow fit inside their stomachs. The long bumpy stretch of dirt road out to the villages has taken the first visible toll on our small Nisan Tida, as the metal latch on our trunk gave way after experiencing more than a lifetime of abuse in two weeks of travel with us. Now held closed with a short bit of twine we are carrying on, keeping our fingers crossed every trip we make out to the work site.
We celebrated the first of three team member birthdays occurring this month when Jimmy turned 22 on July 5th. To celebrate, we took a trip to the local casino Khoroni, which is only a few kilometers away. Fittingly, Jimmy had some incredible birthday luck and made enough Rand to cover our bulldozer expense, although these funds will most likely be enjoyed by the team as cold refreshments after long days in the field. Our team is excited planning a trip to Kruger National Park this weekend, which is the largest national park in the country. We hope to have some close, but not too close encounters with the big 5 (water buffalo, lion, zebra, rhino, and elephant). Next week will be a big week for us as we connect our system completely and make any final adjustments with the hopes that we can leave a completed system by week’s end. Shown below is the schematic of our system.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Makuwah! (A story by Daniel Saboe -- see first post below)

Beaten and broken, I staggered back to the homebase covered in dust after a grueling day of geo-coding. We had broken up into two teams this time, but my team’s GPS ran out of batteries early on. After taking a break to play 4-on-4 soccer in the sandy streets with some local kids, we decided to hunt for the other group. After spotting our companions up the street, I stood in the shade relaxing and waiting for them to approach. It was at this point that Pamela asked me earnestly what it felt like to stick out like a sore thumb everywhere I go, because obviously there were not many whites (makuwahs) around. I explained to him that after a while you get humorously used to it. Jimmy joked that he wanted a collage of the people’s faces after seeing us. In any case, I confidently told Pamela that it wasn’t a problem. Within seconds, my cool demeanor and confidence were put to the ultimate test as two girls around the age of 6 approached me.
It started with a point, followed by an amused smile, and then a single word that transforming into an immutable chant. “Makuwah! Makuwah!” The force of the words was deafening, and the pitch was at the limits of audible hearing. After the first two minutes, I realized that I had gotten myself into trouble. The eyes of locals began appearing from their houses. Children began appearing out of nowhere. Within 5 minutes, the chants had summoned around 20 children all beneath the age of 7 who all decided that the best thing to do with the makuwah was to hang onto his hand, arm, shoulder, neck, back. Fortunately, I was so much taller than most of them that my upperbody was protected… for awhile at least. After I had about 5 children on each arm pulling me I realized that I had to escape. After freeing myself, I began running as my teammates watched in hysterical delight as our geocoding team just reduced in size. As the children chased me, chanting “Makuwah! Makuwah!” and pointing, I tried to use my knowledge of the local dialect to protect me. First I tried saying “Wye?!”, meaning “Where!?”. I pretended to look as astonished as I could, then they pointed at me in response to my question. I slowly lifted my sleeves and screamed in feigned shock. The kids thought this was hilarious, but my jokes could not save me. I kept running, shouting at nearby kids, “Thusa!”, meaning “Help!”. Some of them just laughed, but others started running towards me. At first I thought they might help me, but then I realized I had just increased the size of the horde of kids who wanted to practice English, teach me Tshvenda, wear my hat, eat my orange, all the while possessing some ulterior motive involving smothering me.
Finally my companions and I realized it had gotten to the point where we would be prevented from continuing the work day. Khuthalani’s advice was to take the kids around to the next street so he the group could trek on. As I ran away, like my shadow, the children followed. I used the opportunity to practice my Tshivenda. “Ndo neta” – “I’m tired!” One of the first two girls who had spotted me acted friendly, and gestured for me to sit down in the shade. She sat next to me. Before I knew it, all of the other kids sat too. But they didn’t sit on the ground -- they sat on me! Their master plan had clearly been rehearsed, and perfected into an art. I was at the bottom of a dogpile, only managing to free one arm which reached to the sky in vain. Through the flailing limbs, my one last hope (Ryan) turned out to have cold feet. He just took a photo of the mayhem, proud that he had somehow managed to escape the onslaught.

Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls

Wednesday was another early morning as we packed the cars full of UNIVEN and UVA students and headed out to Tshapasha to begin our work. We were greeted by Tshilidzi (pronounced Chilidzi) and a pack of children giggling and shouting, “Makuwa! Makuwa!” (translated, “Whitey! Whitey!”). The first task on our list was to clean out all off the sand, gravel and water left harboring bacteria, a couple plants, and even some frogs inside the filter. While most of the team put on their work gloves and grabbed either a shovel or a bucket, Prof. Louis, Tshilidzi, Sid and “one makuwa” went to meet the town’s water committee to discuss the team’s plans. Six hours later, each filter compartment was cleaned out (with the exception of a frog or two), and we called it a day. After a quick group brainstorm back at Acacia and some grilled cheese sandwiches, we hit the hay, all of us sore in places we’d never felt before.

We arrived in Tshapasha again Thursday morning rejuvenated and with a recalculated plan of attack. The group split up into three teams, the first of which walked the village to log the locations of houses with standpipes and improved sanitation facilities. This team was composed of our most skilled Tshvenda speakers (a couple UNIVEN students and Dan), who spent the day meeting and talking to various people of Tshapasha. Jimmy, Ryan, and Thembi made up the second team. They took a string, a level, and a measuring tape and painstakingly measured the height drop from the filter and storage tanks to the lowest section of existing pipe. Finally, our third team (Ralph, Styles, Sid, Adam and Locke) stayed behind at the slow sand filter to wash out the piping and brainstorm solutions, a.k.a. dig up rock after rock after boulder. While we worked, some of the women from the village volunteered to make us a delicious meal of fried chicken and pap with a tomato and onion gravy. The suggested serving size for pap is two stomach-fulls, and a typical lunch includes three servings. On top of that, it’s rude in Tshvenda culture to leave anything on your plate. It’s fair to say work went a little slower that afternoon.
After coming to a good stopping point, we packed up and went down the road to Tshibvumo. There we met Chief Lucas who led us up a short trail to the breathtaking waterfall serving as the town’s water source. Over sixty years ago an impressive irrigation canal was built to carry water all the way from this point down to the village, making that part of our job that much easier. What a refreshing feeling that was -- almost as refreshing as the piercingly cold water pooling below the waterfall! Everyone took a much deserved break to wade into the water and clean off. It was a great reward after a long day.

The team took a half-day today to finish up the little bit left in our week’s tasks, leaving the weekend to regroup and formulate a decisive plan to complete our work in Tshapasha. As I write, we’re sitting around a campfire roasting s’mores and tossing back a couple “dumpies” (slang for bottles of beer). Neil Young and The Band sing from my laptop as a tribute to Canada Day. One member of the team, Daniel Saboe, has asked to write the blog post for today, and based on this makuwah’s experience in the village streets today, I think it’s only fair.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

UNIVEN, Tshapasha, and Tshibvumo

The past few days we engaged in several activities such as viewing the local sights around Thohoyandou and interacting with our counterparts at UNIVEN. On Sunday, Daniel and some members from other UVA teams attended a local church that lasted most of the morning and afternoon. The rest of the team went on a scenic drive around Thohoyandou in search of Phiphidi Falls or a trail to hike. Phiphidi falls turned out to be closed, possibly due to the dry season or because it was a Sunday afternoon. We still were able to see a gorgeous panoramic of the mountainous terrain and even came across some very large tea fields in the valley below the road (pictured below). At dinner on Sunday, all UVA students came together and had a potluck dinner at Acacia Park. Our task was to make the vegetable dish for the dinner, consisting of potatoes, carrots, onions, vegetable curry, and Chaka Flaka sauce. The boiled mix was deemed Chaka Flaka Flame.
Monday was our orientation at the University of Venda (UNIVEN). The University had a very similar layout to an American university. There were sports fields, dormitories, academic buildings, and dining halls (the image below shows the campus layout). Upon entering the main g ate, there was a soccer stadium to the left. We later found out t hat UNIVEN has a big soccer league that is similar to our Intramural sports league. Each UNIVEN student can join a team and play in the league. There were a couple basketball courts, but noticed that the baskets didn’t have any backboards. The actual orientation took place in UNIVEN’s “Senate Hall” room, which was very similar to a large auditorium in the States and could sit about 250 people. Seats alternated between UNIVEN and UVA students. Orientation began by getting to know the UNIVEN students around you. After several presentations of the overall goals of the Water and Health in Limpopo (WHIL) project, we broke for lunch in the UNIVEN cafeteria. For many of us this was our first chance to try the most common South African dish, pap. Pap (pronounced like pop) is made out of maize meal and can best be described as a really thick, grit-like porridge that you eat with your hands. Our meal consisted of pap, beef, salad, and cranberry sauce. Pap would be mixed with the beef or cranberry sauce to give it some additional flavor. Typically, pap is served with every meal and can be mixed with just about any flavor. In the afternoon we met with the UNIVEN students who would be working on the Slow Sand Filter with us, and we worked together to come up with a workplan for the summer. By the end of the day, a meeting had been set up with the Chiefs of Tshapasha and Tshibvumo so that we could tell them what we planned to be doing in their villages in the coming weeks and get their approval.

Today (Tuesday) our team along with Professor Louis and other WHIL counterparts ventured out to the villages of Tshapasha and Tshibvumo to meet Chief Hendrick and Chief Lucas respectively. We woke up at 5:30 AM to pick up the UNIVEN students and begin our trip out to the villages. We were able to see the sunrise over the mountains because of how early it was. All of us were a little nervous to meet the village chiefs because we were told that you cannot look the chief in the eye and you can only speak if you are spoken to. Traditionally, any visitors to the chief must bring small presents. We did not bring any presents as we did not have them yet, but Professor Louis made sure to let the chiefs know that we were bringing presents.
Our first meeting was with Chief Lucas of Tshibvumo who was a very kind man. When we arrived he was setting up benches and chairs by himself so that we could sit. This was very nice because if the chief does not offer you a chair, the men are required to squat like a catcher in baseball and the women are required to lay on the ground. Chief Lucas did not require us to follow all of the traditional rules, and he allowed us to look at him and talk to him. He was very excited for us to get started on our project. In the middle of the meeting he disappeared for seemingly no reason and returned with a tray full of extremely large mangos and avocados. The mangos were the size of soccer balls and the avocados were the size of softballs. When the official meeting adjourned, Chief Lucas asked us if we knew what all of the trees around his yard were. When none of us knew, he pointed out banana, mango, avocado, and orange tree all in the surrounding area to where we were standing. He joked and said how he grows everything in his yard, and that there is no need for him to go buy any food. We said our goodbyes and drove down the road to Tshapasha. We parked at the Chief’s brother Chilidze’s house which was next door to the Chief. Chilidze looked to be in his mid to upper 20’s, was dressed in a UVA shirt, and was very interested in Americans. He showed us his timberland boots that had been given to him by a previous UVA student, and asked to see our USA driver’s licenses. He even had an american football sitting in his yard. Throughout the day we saw multiple dogs, goats, and chickens roaming his property. We walked next door to Chief Hendrick’s house and sat underneath his big tree which was set up with benches all around it for meetings. This chief a little bit sterner and wanted to follow tradition more than Chief Lucas of Tshibvumo. He spoke little English so Khuthalani had to translate his wishes and concerns about making the existing SSF operational. Each morning we must check in with Chief Lucas and let him know what we will be doing on that day, and any meetings that we have with anybody must take place underneath the tree at his house. Once the meeting adjourned, we all took a look at the SSF in Tshapasha and found several problems and a seemingly daunting task ahead of us for troubleshooting. The main problem is the fact that the effluent water out of the SSF cannot flow to the storage tanks. We believe this may be due to a clog in the outlet pipe, and hopefully not a negative pressure difference. In Layman’s terms, a negative pressure difference could be thought about as the effective water level in the top of the storage tank is above the bottom of the slow sand filter, and gravity cannot be used to force the water up. If the pipe is not clogged, and the negative pressure difference is the issue, we could have to make some major changes to the system. After long discussion and calculations made today, we came up with several alternatives we could implement if there isn’t a clog and the pressure head will need to be increased. We plan to measure a number of elevation differences tomorrow using a clinometers and begin to clean out the filters so that we can see if the pipes are clogged. These elevation differences will be valuable in helping us evaluate alternatives if there is a negative pressure difference.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Acacia Park Arrival

Here we are in Acacia Park, a gated collection of chalets and campsites just on the outskirts of Thohoyandou in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.  The sun is going down as we put the chicken legs we bought at the local SHOPRITE on the grill.  We still haven’t seen any of the monkeys that allegedly scour the camp for leftover food, but we won’t be taking any chances tonight.  

 The group was up before the sun yesterday, each of us cursing our inability to adjust to the time difference.  After picking up our two trusty Nissan Tiidas (similar to a Toyota Prius), we took a quick trip to South Africa’s version of Wal-Mart (called Game) to pick up those last little odds and ends before heading north.  If we thought getting used to crossing the road was difficult, figuring out how to drive on the left-hand side was a whole new ballgame.  The lax enforcement or even nonexistence of traffic laws did not help.  Major highways seem to be no more than an automotive free-for-all with nothing separating us from oncoming traffic but a barely visible, dashed white line.   
 Knowing parents are reading this, we will leave any further details to future conversations between parents and their own son.  Let’s just say what would be considered a two lane road in America is no less than four lanes wide in South Africa.  I guess they know how to get the most utility out of everything.
Not to worry, we all arrived safely and in one piece.  We even saw a giraffe on the way.  The atmosphere of this place cannot be put into words.  People walk up, down, and across the street, dodging cars while carrying thirty pound bags on their heads.  Sidewalk shops bustle with activity, and the students play cricket in the streets on campus.  Monday, we begin our orientation with the students at the University of Venda.  Until then we will be attempting to assimilate into the culture.
At this point the sun went down hours ago, and we are all relaxing around a fire we built on top of the grill.  Still no monkeys in sight, but maybe these chicken bones will lure them in.

P.S. Thanks for the F-Shack, Acacia

-- Durty Dan and the Boys