Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ecuador 2008 - part 2

It sounded so easy -- fill the filter from the bottom with water from the elevated water tower to alleviate air binding. It seemed even easier after we were able to get the entire bottom flow installation taken care of within the first three days of our stay in Santa Ana. We thought we could fill it up the next day and have lots of time to troubleshoot the slow sand filter and train everyone in the use of the chlorinator. But then we found a leak in the pipe that ran down to the filter. We patched it, and waited 24 hours for the glue to set. On the next attempt, part of our installation popped apart under the pressure (Noe and Esteban who had been doing the gluing of PVC parts had missed one section). Glue, wait, try again. Another part popped off, dumping the activated carbon on the ground. Glue, wait, try again. It holds. By then it was Thursday, and all day long we kept checking back, hopeful that we would see a layer of water rising up out of the sand bed. Nope.

It wasn't until Friday morning (our second-to-last day of work) that we finally saw water break through the surface of the slow sand filter, indicating that we had successfully filled it from the bottom. After much celebration we were finally able to put the filter back online along with the chlorinator. Luckily that all went smoothly and effectively, so the system is now officially working!

On Friday we also did a set of activities about water, bacteria, hand washing, and chlorine with the first through sixth graders at the elementary school in Santa Ana. The photo is of me explaining to some 1st-3rd graders how to measure chlorine using the test kits we left with them.

On Friday I was reminded of something that I am always underestimating -- how complicated the chlorination part of the process really is. The operator has to measure how many seconds it takes to fill a 10 liter bucket of water, use that to calculate the flow rate in liters per second, and multiply by 236 to find the number of milliliters of granulated chlorine required for three days. Then he/she must add 300 liters of water to the chlorinator along with the right amount of chlorine, and assure that the solution is dripping out at a rate of 100 milliliters in 86 seconds. Francisco did an admirable job of learning this process in the space of two days, Friday and Saturday, over which time we made him do the whole thing twice through.

Saturday night, as always, the community cooked up a big feast served on large banana leaves and strung out wires for a boom-box and two lightbulbs. With that we danced all night long -- everyone from grandmas to toddlers dancing to traditional Kichwa music and Ecuadorian cumbias, periodically interrupted by performances from various youth groups. Along with the usual traditional dances, this time we saw a few break dance numbers from some of the young boys in the community, spinning and twisting to some kind of rap in Spanish. Every time the wiring went bad for the boom box they would switch to the traditional drum dance with one man and one woman while they worked to reconnect the cables. I can truly say that these parties in Santa Ana are by far my favorite of any I have attended.

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