Saturday, October 6, 2007

40 degrees C, A new friend, and Loss of appetite

Vendredi 5 Octobre 2007 (Friday October 5, 2007) So, I set my computer clock to French. One small step in the right direction if you ask me. Two days have past since I last wrote, so I will start with yesterday. I went to work and was desperately trying to fall asleep all morning. Around 10:30 Ouaga time, 5:30AM Chicago time, my brother signed on to Skype. We had arranged to talk the day before. It was great. The connection was great and it was the first time I had gotten to talk to my family I got here. Skype is free which makes this the preferred method of communication. In the middle of the call as I was gripping about not being able to get off the Institute campus, Drew called me. I met drew the day before. He is an American also interested in hydrology, groundwater to be more specific, and he is working with the IRD in Ouagadougou. He was also here two years ago for the peace corps so he is pretty familiar with everything. He wanted to know if I had been to the US Embassy yet. Of course I hadn’t so he offered that we could go there and have lunch at the American Rec Center. It was pretty cool. He had a moto bike, so I rode on the back. It was kind of surreal at first. Motoring along down the main streets of this third world country, I think I was on sensory overload. I went into town on Monday with Ali in a car to get my essentials, but they didn’t explain much and we drove too quickly for me to really get a good idea of what was there. The American Rec center was cool. I think I would like to join either that one or the one at the ISO, International School Ouagadougou. It costs like $20/month for membership or $2/visit. Anyway, at the restaurant I got a chicken salad sandwich and a milkshake which was very good. Jordan and Ryan, you guys would really like them. Very sweet and creamy. After lunch we rode around to buy a map of the city for me so I could better understand where I was and know how to go somewhere if I wanted to. The problem is that pretty much everything closes down here between 12-3. It is crazy! I mean it is pretty nice when you are working and then realize you have a 3 hour break in the middle of your day. The work doesn’t even seem that long which is good. Side bar: The bank we rode past after lunch said it was 40degrees C outside which is roughly 104F. When I said hot, I wasn’t lying…

Drew dropped me back off at 2iE so I would there in time to take a call from Professor Soboyejo at Princeton we had scheduled the day before. Turns out though, that he had a scheduling conflict and we had to move the time. No problems Prof. Maiga and I at 2iE called him later that afternoon. The call was to discuss how I would help connect the work at Princeton on clay filters with the work here on gravel pre-filters. Basically, now I have to come up with a document describing the area where there is a material science component that Princeton can coordinate with us on. That is what I will start on Monday (Lundi).

After work I decided it had been too long since I last worked out and decided to try out the workout DVD Ryan had so kindly created for me. It was great. Oh, sidebar, it rained in the afternoon here. It was bizarre. I look outside and all of the sudden it is really really windy and then snap it started down pouring. The rain lasted less than 10 minutes and then it was over. BUT it effects lasted a while. It was SO humid. Like Alabama humid. Like ehh, nasty humid. But regardless of this fact I decided I needed to sweat a little bit. So I set my computer on top of the mini fridge in my completely vacant living room and started dancing around. My workout of choice is Buns of Steel 2000 “Platiun Edition”. It is quite choice. A little aerobics a little toning. Anyway, I finished dripping with sweat and decided that instead of taking a shower right away like a normal person would, I am still avoiding the shower, I would unpack my stuff into the room. I put my clothes in the closet, shoes under the bed and arranged my desk. Man, I wish I had internet in my room. I also wish I had brought some DVDs for entertainment. I might try and remedy that in the near future. Once I felt adequately moved in I took a shower. And wouldn’t you know they got me shower curtain. Hallelujah! It was way nicer showering now. I went to through more French lessons and then crawled into my mosquito net bed and went to sleep. I read for quite some time before I turned off my headlamp. Major props to Caroline who decided a headlamp would be more useful to me than a Joy of Cooking book as a graduation present. Right now I am reading “Cadillac Desert” a book about the American west and water. It is well written and I am really enjoying it :)

So onto today. I woke up with a major weird feeling my stomach. I should mention that last night after working out, organizing, and showering I ate dinner in my room which consisted of a bowl of Red Berry Special K with skim milk and bread. Yum… Anyway, I work feeling not so great. After headed to the restroom I took 2 Imodium AD and went back to sleep after I texted the office that I wasn’t feeling good and would be in late. No problems on that end of things so I slept another and got up feeling better, but still a bit blah… I couldn’t eat breakfast as the thought of food made me queasy. By lunch time though I was feeling better and got lunch at the restaurant. It was a yam stew. I had about a third of what they gave me and didn’t touch the fish, which is still not looking very appetizing. I sat with some new people at lunch which was nice. I tried out a little French and did ok. After lunch though I went back to my room and took a hour nap before heading back to office to do some personal online stuff before 3:00. Not that anyone seems to care what I am doing all day long. I do feel like for the most part when I am there I should be working on my research stuff. And then, surprise an email from Drew about the housing question I had and the motorbike rental/purchase I am thinking about making. Drew likes to run and I mentioned in my return email that I would like to run sometime and practice a little French with someone who is a little more patient than the students at the cafeteria. Drew is going to Togo this weekend to visit his fiancĂ©e who is the peace corp there so he suggested we go tonight at 6:00pm. I wrote back that sounded good. Then I remembered my weak stomach and well it gets dark here around 6:15 and I hadn’t been outside of the campus at night. But I figured I could gut out the run and I would appreciate getting to see Ouaga at night. It was cool. The roads we took were not as nice as the ones the day before and let me tell you holding on on a motorbike as it goes over potholes is not easy. So we were going to go to a forest preserve type forest, but we figured it would be closed since it was night time. So instead we kept going and drove to a barrage (or a reservoir) that is lighted. It was pretty cool. We parked the motorbike at what Drew described as probably the nicest hotel in Ouaga, and made one loop around the reservoir. I did fine. But as I was running I realized I hadn’t put on any bug spray there were a ton of bugs. I hope everything turns out okay with that… One loop was all I was up for so we headed back to 2iE. On the way back we took a detour to see where the ISO school was located. It is not far from me at all. There are also a ton of people out at night. I don’t think I would like to go out alone, but it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. They only really bad thing was that there was a ton of smoke in the air that smelled terrible. I guess they burn a lot of plastic here and man can you tell. Phew, it smelled terrible. The little huts are all open at night, which is good to know. Once I got back I determined to eat something. Still not feeling great I realized I really just lost my appetite. I sat at my desk, all alone, staring at my cup of yogurt. I forced myself to eat it and wasn’t any worse off. I also managed to down two digestive crackers, which if you heard anything about my London experience it probably included how much I love these little biscuits. They are so tasty. A bit like a butter cookie, but not as sweet and bigger. I also broke into one of my power bars and had a bit. That proved a little too sweet for my stomach so one bite was all I took. I will put in the refrigerator for later. So tomorrow I have a 2iE group meeting from 9-11 that occurs every week and the researchers go over their work that week. I think I am just observing this week. My work so far has included reading books and articles and webpages online to learn about pre-filter gravel beds, flocculation and slow sand filtration. As I am reading these things I get some pretty new ideas of ways to clean water, like a vortex thing, or maybe using solar heat to boil water and collect the steam on a clean surface.

So the water situation scene here is pretty bad. I didn’t realize it since I am at the institute and have a pretty western style room, ect. But when Drew and I were riding around downtown Ouaga it was pretty astonishing. We were on this dirt road near some new construction and I saw a cart on the side of the road with full of water bottles. Like they were for sale or something. That is all well and good, but the water in the bottles was brown like brown, brown, like you can’t see through it brown. Wow. That is pretty gross. But poor people here don’t have any other option I guess… Drew mentioned that Ouagadougou is one of the nicer African cities he has seen. Ouaga has an up and coming feel to it, like you see new building going up and there are cars and nicer things some places. I guess the other cities a much more stagnant feel. If this is good, then I can’t imagine the water situation else where. Since turbidity, or clarity, of the water is the main inhibitor to using effective slow sand filtration, I am going to work on using chemical techniques as the institute is proposing, but I am also thinking I would like to experiment with wholly new ways to remove the suspended sediments. I am going for outside the box here… Bottom line is that it is pretty sobering to see the state of water here. And it is SO hot. Without good water, what can you do?!

Closing observations:

1. I really feel like I am getting a much clearer view of what living without clean water in a developing country really looks like.

2. The reservoir was pretty amazing. Also, the water along the edges was very turbid from the recent rain which carries sediment to the waters.

3. The door to the communal kitchen is across from mine, and I frequently think that my door is opening when it is really the door across the way. Freaky. But the nice thing is my door gets stuck as you open it so you have to push really hard to open and close it which is annoying, but also a nice safeguard.

4. I emailed the people at the Christian Missionary Alliance in Ouagadougou to see about getting connected with them. My church in Princeton was and Alliance church and I am hoping to make some friends how have experienced the transition I making that can help me get acclimated. I will let you when I hear back from them :)

5. There are housekeepers that wash my floors everyday and today they gave me fresh sheets. Nice.

Bon nuit! (Goodnight)

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.