Saturday, December 11, 2010

Next-to-last Blog

About 3 weeks ago my infrastructure colleagues threw a going away party for our consultant's Project Manager who resigned, and me. There were some very nice speeches, a slaughterhouse of meat and an adequate amount of booze. Everybody had a good time.

Here are Ntsane, my counterpart, and I. We've become good friends over the last year, but I'm sure he'll come visit the states sometime soon.

Thanksgiving was kind of strange day because it was 85 degrees and I had to go to work. I had an invitation to go to the Ambassador's house for dinner, but we opted to roast a chicken and kick back instead. It was a bangin' chicken, by the way.
After a year of struggle on this Rural Water Supply and Sanitation project, contractors finally got started. This is a picture of a spring that has been caught. The contractor has to excavate until he gets down to rock, where there is usually a spring "eye". They then make a concreate catchment around the eye. The water coming out of this spring was perfectly clear.

Gender equality in Lesotho isn't perfect, but there are many instances where equal opportunity does exist. For example, you can see both a woman and a man digging trenches below. Casual Laborers make roughly $8/day.

This picture is of the sanitation portion of the project. This mason is building the sub-structure for a Ventilated Improved Pit-latrine (VIP). They made it a little to short the first time, so he was digging out some earth to push the wall back. Every household in the beneficiary communities will receive a VIP, which totals to about 26,550 for the whole project.

This trench was roughly 4 km long. The spring was right behind where I was standing when I took the picture, and the storage tank will be placed on a hill that is obscured by the ridge here.

It was very satisfying to get out into the field and see work being done. Many of the smaller systems will be handed over in mid-January, and the majority of the systems should be complete by April.

Moving from that excitement to my medical procedures as I exit Peace Corps, I received my PPD on Friday, which is used to determine if you've been exposed to Tuberculosis. Based on my expert opinion, which has been informed by 3 different online articles, I'm going to have to go on antibiotics for roughly 9 months to get rid of the TB in my system. Thank you cramped-taxis-where-nobody-would-open-the-windows-because-they-didn't-want-to-"catch the sefuba"-(cold),-while-people-were-hacking-their-lungs-out-and-spreading-TB-to-everybody.
Below is a picture of the affected area. It's difficult to see the slightly raised, swollen, tender area in the middle. I hope they let me on an airplane. Ugh.
*UPDATE: I have a 13mm induration. I'm not contangious, but I do get a chest x-ray and 9 months of antibiotics when I get back.

Anyway, my time here is short. Just three days left. On Wednesday at 2pm local time I will takeoff from Maseru to begin my 40-hour journey home. I'll write more then.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Site Visits

A couple of weeks ago my Counterpart, Supervisor and I went on a site visit tour to map out villages in which construction will be starting soon. 80 villages, 8 in each district, will be receiving water systems and latrines in this first phase, and their accessibility needs to be determined in order to create a plan for construction supervision and oversight. It was a long week, and we saw 18 villages. Here are a few shots of the week.
We got kind of a late start on Monday, and stopped at a nice park next to a river for lunch. Ntsane, my Counterpart (on the far side of the car making the face), made some bangin' roast chicken with peppers and onions and some homemade steamed bread. It was a great start to the week.
Just outside of Quthing camp town are some dinosaur footprints.
My supervisor was unimpressed with the size of the footprints and suggested to the steward that he get in there with a chisel and get something that people would want to see.
The scenery was amazing in the South. It was difficult to really capture how rugged the mountains were. The views will be more spectacular in a few weeks when it really gets green.
I just liked this shot. I need a little more practice taking photos out of a moving vehicle.
This is a village we drove through that already has a rural water systems. These panels are used for solar pumping, which has a high capital cost but very low recurrent and maintenance costs. The big challenge is making sure people don't steal them. DRWS puts them next to a home, pours concrete in the 6 meter pole and wraps the whole thing in razor wire.
This was a crazy road. There were 12 or so switchbacks to get up to a group of 3 villages that will be receiving systems. Access during wet weather will be a challenge, but at least they have improved dirt road and a good bridge.
There were 3 or 4 villages and a health center on the other side of this river. MCA will be renovating that health center, so the contractors will have a challenging time getting materials across. There are a few rowboats that provide access to those villages when the water raises.
This was the "road" to one village. It took about 30 minutes to go 2 km. The next village is inaccessible via 4x4. Contractors will have to bring materials in on animal driven carts or on the backs of donkeys directly.
Another view of the "road".
This is next to a mountain pass that is inaccessible in the winter because of snow.
This hand-pumped borehole will be replaced with a solar pump.
This is an unprotected spring that will be caught, protected and gravity fed to the village.
Another challenging road.
This is the chief of a village that will be receiving a system. She was hilarious and said that, "Once I see the water run, I can die in peace." Below is the unprotected spring where her community members currently get their water.

This valley was particularly impressive for its agriculture. It also had a stunning view.
Here is Ntsane getting water from the decrepit system at a village. Their sources dried up, so a new solar pumping system will bring water up from a spring well below the village. One nice thing about water in Lesotho is that it is overwhelmingly clean and needs no processing.
This is a hand washing station. The jug has some small holes in the bottom. When the cap is screwed on tight the water tension in the holes is strong enough to maintain the pressure balance. When the top is unscrewed the water flows freely through the holes and you can easily wash your hands. In conjunction with new Ventilated Improved Pit-Latrines this village's hygiene will be improved.
We visited this site with the contractor who will be building the system. We had a Pitso, or community meeting, and discussed some of the particulars of local labor and the contractor's work plan for the village. It was all in Sesotho, but Ntsane translated for me.

This is an old busted hand pump. DRWS policy is to do away with hand pumps and instead create gravity fed systems. It makes water more accessible to young children and elderly people.

It's been a while since I've been out to rural Lesotho. The accessibility of many of the communities we visited will mean that contractors will have to use local labor, including animals, to transport materials in. We should see ground breaking in the next couple weeks, which will be a great sight.

Hope you're all well. I've just got 5 weeks left at MCA and will be back in the US on the 16th of December.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

World Habitat Day

Last weekend a number of PCVs and I went to help out at World Habitat Day. A former Peace Corps Volunteer from here in Lesotho (Lorian) finished her service in May or so and took a position with Habitat for Humanity Lesotho. We caught a ride out there around 8:30, stopped for some snacks and showed up in the village around 10.

There were three tents set up around the village’s soccer field and people were running around finishing setup and getting organized. We circled around the swag to get our shirts and then were put to work trying to get banners, which are meant for the indoors, to stand up to 25 mph gusts outdoors. The light-weight aluminum clearly was not meant to work as a mast, and I eventually chose laying down the banners on the ground in favor of them getting bent or ripped. I was later openly mocked by other volunteers when an industrious Mosotho used a guy wire from one of the tents to put up the banners. Oh well. Maybe my oft-used claim of "having degrees in this" should be curtailed a bit.

We moved on from the banners to mull around for a while, then a commotion erupted when John rode up on his horse and velvet riding helmet and flip flops (no spurs). "Rode" might be the wrong word. I think it was more of a prance. All in all it was very cute. He later gave pony rides to some local kids, which was a highlight of the day for them no doubt.

Eventually we all got organized, the Minister of Natural Resources showed up and got some face time with the TV cameras and we moved off to our project houses. The house we were working on was mostly complete, we were there to just finish up a few tasks. Interior plastering and painting were the tasks available, so I took up a trowel and did my best. After 5 minutes my arms ached and plaster was sloppily applied to a 1 square foot area. It had certainly been a while since I’d done manual labor, and plastering is not as easy as it looks. Turns out it's heavy and sticky. Who knew?

45 minutes later or so about half of my wall was plastered and a blister was forming on my hand. A few minutes earlier the Minister had made his way into the house and was charming the workers. He picked up a trowel and put in some time on a few walls before ducking out to another appearance somewhere else. It was great to see such good press come out to an important charity. There wasn't too much excitement in the day, but it was fun to get out and work on something that had a clear change from the beginning of the day to the end. There are some pictures of the day below.

These horses had some great burlap sack capes on. They looked like they were the kings of the village.

There was a big turnout for the event. Probably a couple hundred people.

This guy had an impressive homemade Hobbit hat on. I don't think his feet were big enough or hairy enough to pull off the whole look.

These are some of the women from the village checking out the work going into the house.

Mel (eating the banana) and some other volunteers turned over and planted a garden for the future occupants. Habitat in Lesotho focuses on serving Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs).

The village women again. There was a family from the US Embassy that put in an enormous amount of work on the house. They outworked everybody for sure. You can see their youngest daughter painting a window.

Sim got the high parts of the wall while I got the low parts. Here is was showing his versatility with Blue Steel impression.

Ryan is an education volunteer in Leribe. He was an all-star plasterer. The house had 3 rooms and, as you can see here, was wired for electricity.

Carrie decided to touch up some window corners. The wall to the right is one of the ones that Sim and I tag-teamed.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Summer is Here

Spring is having a battle with Summer. Flowers are out, most of the trees have filled out with leaves, and days are getting hot. But, once in a while, Spring comes through with a delightfully cool morning. Which is how today began, and it must be an omen for what will surely be a crazy Independence Day celebration here in Lesotho (Lesotho gained independence on October 4th, 1966 after 92 years of being a British protectorate).

I forgot my running shoes at work on Friday because I was so excited for the week to be done, so I came into work this morning to fetch them and thought I'd write a quick post after taking some time off.

I'll start with a work update, because that's what consumes most of my time. We received bids for the first phase of construction for the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation projects back in early August. The phase consists of 80 rural water supply systems and accompanying Ventilated Improved Pit Latrines, about 8700 of them. Those 80 schemes were then broken into 28 Lots, for which we received 24 bids. Three team members and I spent the next 5 weeks evaluating bids and producing a 1300 page report recommending award of the 28 Lots to 16 qualified bidders. MCA and MCC both cleared the report and we are now preparing contracts that will be sent to recommended bidders next week. All that to say that in the next two weeks we should have signed 16 contracts worth USD 16.9 million and in the following month we will handover the 80 sites for construction to start. It should be a frantic and exciting time.

So, my last 10 weeks in country will fly by with meetings and trainings and site visits and reports and, hopefully, it will go smoothly. Regardless, all of my tasks will be handed over to my counter-part roundabouts December 10th, I'll close my service on December 15th and catch a flight back to the US on the 16th or 17th. It's too far away to have a retrospective, but stay-tuned.

There will be lots of pictures as construction starts, so hold your horses.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cape Town

I just got back from a very needed vacation to Cape Town. Mel and I took a taxi to Bloemfontein, rented a little red Kia Picanto at the airport and started the 1000km (620 mile) drive southwest towards Cape Town. We didn't make it very far (downtown Bloemfontein) before finding a McDonald's to pick up some McNuggets, fries and fountain soda. It tasted like America.

We left Bloemfontein at around 10:40 am and got to the hostel in Cape Town at around 10pm. It was a very long drive, but it ended up being very handy to have a car with us in Cape Town and the price was about the same as flying or taking the bus. Our first full day in Cape Town we went up to Table Mountain. It was so windy that they weren't running the tram to the top, but we found this tree and bench, which was a great alternative.

After Table Mountain we decided to spend some more time in the care and drove down to Simonstown to see the penguins. Before we got to the penguins we stopped and had some fish and salads near the marina and found these cool little boats moored there.

After lunch it was off to find the penguins, which were not difficult to find. They were adorable if not terrible active. We did see one penguin that had somehow climbed up on a rock in the middle of the bay that must have been 2 meters out of the water at it's lowest point. We named him King Penguin because he kept waddling around to different sides of the rock to survey his territory.

The penguins were only entertaining for so long, and because we were so close, we decided to head down and check out the Cape of Good Hope. Along the way a troop of baboons crossed the road and Mel caught a good picture of this big boy. That thing around his neck is a tracking device of some sort I think. There were a couple guys with "Baboon Monitoring Team" on their vests who were just watching the troop take over the road.

The land around the cape is pretty barren, which is understandable considering the gale force winds that were pummeling everything over a foot tall. We made it out to the cape regardless and got the necessary photo documentation.

We both somehow forgot our cameras when we went out to wine country, but be assured that it was gorgeous and the three wineries visited all proved to have deliciously smooth wine. I'd go back.
We didn't have a very packed schedule, so we took a few walks along the beach and ran into a teatertotter, which Mel had never been on before. It was thoroughly amusing as you can see below.

This last photo is from the V&A Waterfront and that big red guy is made out of Coke crates. In the background there is Table Mountain.

Overall the vacation was terrific. We ate huge amounts of delicious food, walked on sidewalks, drove ourselves around (Mel learned how to drive a manual transmission), went outside at night and found some delicious wines. Work starts again for me on Monday, and it's going to be busy, so this might be the last post for a while. Much love all.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mounting the Panels

I just started a two week leave from MCA (it will be a good break before a very busy 5 months), and so I took the opportunity on Sunday to head back up to Ha Sefako to install the solar panels. Thursday and Friday I had missed work with a nasty virus that left me with cold sweats and a 103 degree temperature, it later moved to my small intestine, and on Saturday it had made it's way into my lungs. So, traveling up to Sefako on public transportation Sunday was not a pleasant prospect, but it was kind of a now or never moment. Long story short it took me roughly 8 hours, 2 hitches and 2 taxis to get to Sefako. I arrived at about 4 pm and immediately got a small crew together to get to work. We prepped the panels, bolted the first two in place and ran some conduit before it got to dark and cold to work anymore. The picture below was my attempt at a night shot of the office with lights on. I wanted a little more, but without a tripod and my good camera, there wasn't much I could do. Although it's not pretty, it tells the right story.

The next morning I asked the boys to be there at 8 because I wanted to make it back to Maseru the same day. They showed up a little late, so I took some pictures of what we had accomplished. Below is the concrete for one of the long support struts off the back of the contraption. I was very happy when I showed up and saw how stiff the structure had become with the supports placed firmly in concrete a meter deep. It's certainly not going anywhere.

This next picture is just of the first two panels that we installed the night I arrived. I was happy working at night because it meant that we weren't going to get shocked wiring up those panels...

When the boys did arrive, we started work right away. We quickly had the next two panels in place and I wanted to make sure we had some documentation of the installation. I handed down my camera to one of the boys who was helping and asked, "Have you ever used a camera before."
"No, Sir."
"Okay, push the little button on top to turn it on." There are only two buttons on top, so he pushed both and the lens came open, which gave him a little start.
"Now push the round button down halfway, and it will beep and you will see some green boxes. Then push it all the way down and it will take the picture." After about 4 minutes of this, not knowing if he had actually taken any in-focus pictures, I told him good job and got back to work. In the end he had nailed it and had taken about 15 pictures, one of which is below.

While we were working a small crowd formed, loitered, gossiped and occasionally helped (see below). It took them about 20 minutes to disassemble and move the scaffolding because there was a big weekend to catch up on, but they seemed pretty interested and proud of the solar installation.

The scaffolding we were using wasn't exactly in pristine condition. It was bent all over the place, had no treads, had not levelers and generally shook. In some cases we even had to stand on the top rung to reach where we needed to. It was precarious, definitely not OSHA approved, but also the only way we could get the job done. Here Tlobello is standing in a very uncomfortable position putting in a hard-to-reach bolt. I couldn't have done this job without him, he is a serious handyman.

This is just me doing some wiring. The wind picked up towards the end of the installation, and despite the flimsy scaffolding the reinforced structure was rock solid.

The very last bolt that needed to be installed was very difficult to reach, so I got down and recruited the tall kid in the group to go do it. He hopped up, and with Tlobello's help, they locked everything up.

This is the crew from up high. Unfortunately only older kids were attending winter classes that day, so I didn't get a chance to see students that I'd had.

Above is the finished installation. The office building blocks the view from the front, but this does a good job of showing the 810 watt array.

Below you can just see the array against the school. It's big, but out of way behind the staff room and office.

So that project is all done. The two top pieces for the battery encasement were curing while I was there, but they should be installed by the end of the week, and there are a few pieces of conduit that need to be installed, but it looks great and is all ready for use. We'll have to wait to hear how it's working later in the year.

Cheers, all.