Yesterday, visibility was about 4k. As in I could just make out Mt Bassar rising through the dust from 4k away. Today, even the slopes of the mountain outside of D’s house look misty. If one looks off into the distance, it looks like the landscape is obscured by a gentle snowfall. Then one wipes the sweat off of one’s brow, hocks up a gob of mucus, and remembers that one is in Togo during harmattan.
Our pump project was done until we sat down to do our accounts this morning. Between over-budgeting, frugal spending, and a good exchange rate, we have enough money left over to do at least one more pump.
By “doing” a pump, what do I mean?
So, there are 3 basic types of mechanical pumps in Togo—human powered pumps, not electric. One is a hand pump. It is made of galvanized steel pipe and metal parts. Another is a foot pump. It is made of plastic pipe with few parts. The third is called a UPM, which is what I will call it because I do not know how else to name it. It looks like something out of a gym. It has a massive metal structure and plastic pipes. Its use can allegedly cause miscarriages in pregnant women. The latter 2 types of pumps are difficult to repair, due to the fact they are plastic and due to a scarcity of parts.
A totally new hand pump costs, depending on the depth of the well, about 2000$ USD. One can buy a decent car for less than this, or 3 brand new motos. The cost of a new pump is beyond the means of the rural villages in which we work. Furthermore, pumps break a lot. An NGO working in sub-Saharan Africa estimated that 2 out of 3 pumps in this region are broken. Rural villages do not have the financial resources, nor the expertise to replace a pump when it wears out or breaks. When this happens, their only source of drinking water during the hot season is usually holes dug in a stream bed
Our project replaces old/worn out/broken pumps with new, hand pumps in existing wells (a well being a vertical groundwater extraction point for our purposes here). In other words, we replace the device for extracting water from borehole wells. At the same time the pump is being replaced, members of our team hold informational sessions for the pump’s community about the importance of clean water, sanitation, gender equality (girls are usually the ones who get water), and pump maintenance. The funds we raised for the project pay for 75% of the project. Communities must contribute the remaining 25%.
Last year D and I did a tour among villages that had applied to be in the project. We collected over 20 dossiers and estimates. We narrowed these down to 15 based on a variety of factors, such as proximity to other pumps, population, location of the village etc. Once the money came in we were able to add another pump because the exchange rate was higher. Thus, the school children at Nampoch now have water.
Once the money came in, our main counterpart, Kader, ordered the parts from his supplier (Kader is a water technician), and had them delivered to the villages. This process began in October.
Finally, the first of December, we began installation. We have a team of 5 Togolese—a pump mechanic, 2 helpers, Kader, and his helper. D and I are the PC team, but we have had a rotating group of other Volunteers who help us out.
The project in action looks like this. Our cavalcade of motos rolls into a village, that has been alerted a week or so in advance that we are coming. The mechanic, Daré, and his helpers, start dismantling the old pump, although in some cases it is already out of the well. Villagers bring out the parts of the new pump and we prep them for installation—like wrap the pipe joints in teflon tape. At the same time, Kader and D are talking with the villagers—getting people together for our informational sessions, making sure they have their 25% of the money together, etc. Once the old pump is out, Daré and Gbandi, his main helper, start installing the new pump. Daré tests the cylinder to make sure that it works, then they attach the first pipe and piston rod, then Gbandi gingerly lowers it in the well as Daré fixes a clamp over the throat to hold the pipe. The only problem with hand pumps is that they have to be installed piece by heavy piece.
If a pipe falls down the well, it is all over.
With deeper wells Daré recruits some villagers to help him and Gbandi lower the sections. While all this is going on I am usually yelling at people to lower slowly and be careful, or I am prepping the pump head for installation, or I am handing Daré wrenches etc. D is doing her hand washing talk, or her water health talk while Kader or Usman, his helper, is translating. Or maybe another Volunteer like Bry or Saye is talking about gender equality and how girls will not do as well in school if they have to spend their evenings making trips to the pump.
The last pipe section screws into the reservoir which bolts down over the throat of the well. The whole pipe/cylinder/piston rod assembly hangs from this down into the well. Once it is in place, I always breathe a little sigh of relief because there is no longer any danger of the pipe falling. Once the reservoir is bolted down, Daré measures and cuts the piston rod for the pumping assembly (you have to install the pipes and the piston rods at the same time since the rod runs up through the middle). He uses a die (or the opposite of a die?) to cut threads into the end of the piston rod. This is easily the most fascinating part for Togolese, as well as for Volunteers who have never seen threads cut on the end of a steel rod before. The chain screws onto the piston, then we lower the head into place, Daré connects the chain to the handle, and the head housing is bolted onto the reservoir.
In the meantime, the information sessions are usually finished and D has made sure we have the money. Kader is helping the villagers fill out a questionnaire that we will use to write our final project report or is explaining to them how to buy replacement parts for the pump head. Gbandi has begun packing up tools.
Daré usually starts pumping as soon as the bolts are in place. It takes water a long time to mount up 30 meters of pipe. Koutchala, the second helper, is still scrabbling around tightening nuts as the first flush of water spurts out of the spout. I wash my hands. The water is warm from the pipes that have been in the sun, and red from the dust in them. As excited villagers crowd into the pump enclosure Daré lectures them on the importance of pumping correctly—work the handle straight in smooth strokes. My last job is to give the person responsible for the pump a set of wrenches and the lock/key to the pump. The wrench set allows the community to do basic maintenance and the lock allows them to control the pump.
Usman, Koutchala, and Gbandi are packing up the motos, we Volunteers are receiving the village’s customary gift of yams and arguing over who has to hold the chicken (usually me). Then we shake hands all around, fasten dust masks, ear buds, and helmets in place, and climb on to the motos for the next village.
D and I were shopping in Kara yesterday and found Cheez-its. And tortillas. And cheese singles. Seriously, words cannot describe how awesome this is.
If snot was exportable, Togolese kids would be millionaires during harmattan.
We found Mountain Dew too. It was awesome. But I could only stand to drink half a can.
this is what people drank before the pump
getting to work
Daré showing a girl how to use the pump
D trying out a new pump
Um. this is D. on a pile of pump parts. with children. and a woman who is posing for the photo