Saturday, June 5, 2010

Slow Sand Filters and Seeds

I woke up feeling terrible - not in the sick way, but in the home sick way. It's Saturday, and there is no one around on the compound I live at. It's a 25 minute walk to town, and even if I walk there, what am I to do? It's hot, and I don't need to buy anything, so why would I walk around for hours and hours? I ended up doing some laundry, showering, and then caught a ride with some coworkers who showed up and were going into town.

I started at Mok wereh, which, when translated, means roughly, "you use your hose". It's a "gardening" store - they had limited seeds, and when I asked for a small spade (shovel), they didn't have them. After going through packets and packets (and tins?) of seeds, I walked off with "F1 Shirley" tomatoes, "California Wonder" green peppers, and "Red Creole C-5" red onions. I wanted more, but they were expensive (3,000 UGX for 10 grams of Pepper seeds, about $1.50), and I figured I'd start with these, and see how I do. Gives me something to do on the weekends.

I wandered away from the Hose store in search of a bucket, my little project to make a Slow Sand filter. As I walked through the tight, dark alleyways of the market, I saw many of the pictures one sees when they are shown the alleys of raw sewage in developing countries. Fortunately, it hasn't rained since yesterday, so the "walkways" were mostly dry. I saw some kids playing a card game, and interrupted to ask where I could buy a deck (I stupidly forgot any cards...). They pointed me down the way, and I bought a deck - 500 shillings - and terrible quality. While $0.25 seems like a good deal, I can't tell if I am being swindled or not.

So when I went looking for a bucket, I asked around. It seemed there were two eligible bachelors: a smaller blue, purple or green bucket with a soccer ball on the side, or a larger, more durable looking orange bucket (imagine a orange 5-gallon bucket, but bigger). I ended up going for the smaller one - it seemed big enough for my purpose, and it was half the price at the large one. I didn't feel like carrying the thing around with me for the rest of the day, so I promised to return, and headed back to the winding paths for more exploration.

You know, I really do enjoy "getting lost" in a new place - I find things I never thought I'd see. I found my way through what seemed to be the Garment District - every other shop was buzzing with the melodic sound of pedal sewing machines, the walls covered in colorful African fabrics. I did my asking around, found the cost of fabric per yard (yards??), cost to sew different length dresses (the fabric is perfect for the typical Nepali kurtaa and might just have to get a few more made...), and fished out who would be the best deal. I still need to look a little more at quality - I learned that from Nepal.

After the fabrics, I knew I needed to find the fittings necessary for my Slow Sand Filter. The first shop was just for toilets and such - they didn't have what I needed. The owner pointed me down a few doors to what looked like a plumbing shop. Giant black water tanks outside - a good sign. It probably took an hour working with the guys, drawing pictures, explaining what I needed, going back to buy the bucket to show for size, explaining again what I need, looking at all the options (HDPE, PVC, GI, other plastic?). The limiting factor was the elbows. Other that GI elbows, there wasn't what I needed. I also couldn't go with the cutting-and-melting of HDPE pipe like we worked out in Nepal. After convincing my new-found friends that I didn't need threads on the end of the pipe, and that GI would probably rust, we managed to dig up some other plastic elbows. Normally melted together with the plastic pipes, it was hard convincing my growing crowd that I could cut, glue, and force the pieces together.

I got my pipes! And I managed to teach a couple guys how to build a Slow Sand Filter (the part about it being gravity-driven and that the system would stop spitting out water once the level inside had equlibrated was a little hard to convince), but I left and they made me promise that I show them what it looks like when I am finished. It's kind of nice, knowing at least someone learned something from my little project. Now all I need is the sand and gravel, someway to stick the pipes together, and water! Soon I'll be able to filter and chlorinate my own water, and not have to drinking bottled water!

I think this Sunday will bring gardening and construction around the ACF compound.

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