Thursday, October 4, 2007

Fast Forward Button Please

I am usually complaining that time moves too quickly. My four years at Princeton seemed to fly by and I often found myself wishing I could slow down and savor life a bit move. Ironically, the opposite is true for me right now. I have been here for 48 hours give or take, and I wish time would please stop moving at what feels like a snails pace. I feel like I have been here a month and it here for 48 hours or so, but it feels like a month has passed. You think I am kidding, but I’m not. Remember the first day, the first of school. Remember having to sit through the teacher explaining the syllabus, their restroom policy and why you shouldn’t be tardy to class. Yeah, I really did not like those first few days. I really just want to get things started. So here I am in Ouagadougou. The first day was a crazy whirlwind of meeting people driving to town to get some essentials. Someone was with me most of the time showing me where to go and what to do next. When you start college most of the time you have a week long orientation, when you start a new job you have training that can last for months. Well my friend, if I may call you on the basis that you are reading this, one day was all I got for a new position, in a new city, in a new country, on a new continent. Sure there were a few things to do today such as getting an official ID (which is pretty sweet I might add), getting an office (which is also pretty sweet), and setting up my computer. Ah-ha I just killed a mosquito. I am like paranoid about mosquitoes. I haven’t seen many and I just realized I left the door to my living room open. The doors and windows in that room only have overlapping slats and bugs can get in. So I closed it. Hopefully that will be the end of any more mosquitoes tonight :). Yes, back to my post. Day two has been very very slow. Mainly my problem is I don’t speak French. The professors I am working with have a basic knowledge of English, but don’t get to practice often so it is very rusty. There are also not many other students around yet. Last night I met a few at dinner. One was very nice. His name is Pascal I actually met him at lunch as well. Anyway, he spoke English and it was nice to have a friend. He said that only the second and third year students are here already. The rest will come on Monday. So I go to the cafeteria today for lunch and have sit by myself and the same is repeated for dinner. Not because I am shy, but because I am literally the only person in the place. So then I head back to my room and read a bit, read a lot and then read in French, which I can surprisingly understand. I am writing this post at night and will post it the next day when I get to the office, which is pretty sweet I might add. A/C, a nice window, right next to the lab and the other people I am working with… I wish I had internet in my room though. I guess the student dorms have wireless, but I am in guest housing which does not. I also don’t have a shower curtain. I had been putting off showering like a 6-year-old would, but the heat here is pretty intense and well, I needed to shower. The shower thankfully has hot water, which thanks to my lack of a shower curtain gets all over the floor. I am so glad I brought a cleaning towel. It is definitely handy. Anyway this morning I talked to Ali and the maintenance guy about getting a shower curtain. They said they would get one, but didn’t know how long it would take. Fan-tastic. Back to before, so I wish time would just speed up so that the other students could get here and I do not have to be in my room all night. Also, the guy who was supposed to be here teaching English apparently bailed out and so they have no English teacher as of now. BUT there is talk that the Susan, the lady from the last two years, might come back. Nice. I really hope she does. I think that would help me immensely. I am going to talk to someone tomorrow about finding/hiring someone to help me with my French. I think I know a lot already. Like I can formulate sentences in my head, but I have no one to practice them on. The lady at the cafeteria recognizes me now which is nice. The other thing is I am only girl I have seen on staff here that is not a secretary. There are other girl students, and I have heard of another girl researcher, but I haven’t seen her yet. Anyway, one small observation. Not a big deal though. I met with Prof. Maiga and Konate today to go over my work plans. I am actually really really excited about my research.

Water Treatment Research

So they have a pilot water treatment plant that intercepts water on its way to the city treatment plant. The city treatment plant processes the water and sends it out to the people to use. The water is good after it is treated and the treatment plant for the city works great. However, plants like that are expensive. The real problem with water in Africa is in the rural areas where they can’t afford and it doesn’t make sense to build a treatment plant. Ah-ha got another mosquito. I think that is all of them. I saw two in total and I have killed two in total. Good (unless they are different mosquitoes… they aren’t very distinguishable…). Ok, so where they can’t build a classic plant, the idea is to build biological filtering plants. These systems use gravel, sand, and microorganisms to rid the water of suspended particles, turbidity, and coliform bacteria among other types of bacteria. The water entering the system, however, has very high turbidity (i.e. it is pretty murky). This is common in this sahaelian region of Africa. Anyway, the water first goes through a pre-filtration gravel bed. The gravel bed that they are using works well when the turbidity comes from organic matter. Think of rivers in the US that are murky form rich organic soils and forest decay. Contrast that to the barren dusty areas here and you see the difference. The suspended materials are non-organic and therefore don’t adhere to the gravel. The water then flows into slow sand filtration beds where it percolates to the bottom via gravity. On the surface of the sand, microorganisms form a thin layer that processes the bacteria in the water. This would all be well and good except that the first step isn’t working right remember… Imagine this nice sand filtration bed getting clogged with particulate matter in the water. Not good my friend. So my work will be focused on getting the gravel to do its job; namely adding a flocculent to make the particle clump together so that they can stick to the gravel. The system is really pretty remarkable and really needed. The motivation behind the project makes it exactly the type of thing I wanted to work with. This system holds great promise of treating water for people in regions where they can’t build a plant with fancy expensive technology.

There are four slow sand filtration beds which work in parallel. I will be setting different parameters for the beds and periodically testing the water produced at different depths of the sand filters. I will also be running different tests on the water as it enters and exits the pre-filtration gravel bed. There is unfortunately only one of these so I will have to test one scenario at a time. I will be taking the water samples back to labs at 2iE and running test for physical, chemical and, biological.

So I really like what I get to do. The first couple of weeks are going to be spent with me reading as much as I can on this subject, planning a timeline for the different tests and project as a whole and getting the pilot plant back online. By the end, Prof. Konate and Maiga hope to write a paper based on the results. Good. Phew, that was a mouthful.

I really look forward to the day when the feelings of anticipation in this post are long gone. Also, for dinner tonight it was spaghetti. The same red sauce, but didn’t care it was excellent. And the flavoring on the rice today at lunch was also different. Much easier to stomach :)

To end this post I will leave you with two thoughts.

1. I seem to have a problem with the air conditioning. With it off I am hot, with it on I am cold. If I turn the air conditioning temperature up a little the air smells funny. So I go through this cycle of turning it on getting cold and then turning it off and getting hot until I have to turn it on again, and the cycle continues…

2. There are geckos everywhere :) I walk around and see them scurrying about or just very tropically chilling on the wall. The building here remind me of the Dominican Republic when I was there in high school. Except it is way hotter here. It is also super quiet. I want to put on my music but the sound seems to travel so far, and I don’t want to disturb people.