Sunday, September 27, 2009

Home at Last

We arrived at Bellingham International Airport on Saturday 9/26/09 as scheduled about 3:30pm. A bit tired and sore from lack of activity, we are all VERY excited and glad to be home!! Thanks to all of you who have been checking our progress, we will try to post some follow up pictures after we have a chance to go through them. We also send our best wishes to Gail and Gary who are still traveling through Africa on a 4 week adventure.

Last Day

We were awakened on our last morning by the hotel clerk to let us know that we had a phone message that a meeting had been scheduled for us with the Chief Manager of the Planning and Development Division of Ghana Water Company. The scheduling of this meeting was exactly what we hoped for, however, it left us with only 45 minutes to get dressed, pack, eat breakfast and check out from the hotel! Afterward, we connected with the Vice President of Engineers Without Borders-Ghana and solidified the resolve of our future working relationship. Our last hurrah in the city was at the Arts Center about two blocks from the hotel. A VERY intense experience of bargaining and averting hopeful merchants, we left with a few trinkets for friends and family before heading to the airport.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Back in the Big City

As anticipated, the last two days have been a whirlwind. We are now landed safely in Accra where we hope to connect with the head office of Ghana Water Company as well as do some sight seeing. Two of our members left us in Cape Coast to do further travel so we are now a team of four.

Tuesday was a big day for meetings. In the morning we held our Town Hall meeting where members of the community were invited to meet with us to discuss water and sanitation. It started off with a prayer, and was followed by an overview of our objectives when we started and some of our findings. We then broke into three smaller groups where we asked community members for specific input to help us identify their priorities as we work toward a solution. We came out of it with a Memo of Understanding listing their commitments as well as ours. Each and every attendee signed the document. We later included further commitments from the Municipal Chief Executive, the local representative for the Ghana Water Company, and our project partner, Western Heritage Home. It left us feeling very positive that while our role here is not simple, we feel a commitment by the community and its leadership and hope we can really help to make a difference here.

Tuesday afternoon two of our members gave a "lecture" to 600 engineering students at Takoradi Polytechnic Institute with members from Engineers Without Borders - Ghana. The dialog was well received, and we feel the prospects of establishing a student chapter in this community is very likely. This is very important, as these future engineers will be able to carry on this important work not only in Axim, but in other areas of Ghana as they become professionals themselves.

Tuesday evening we held a "thank you and farewell" dinner on the beach for our friends in Axim that were so helpful in our week there. At the end of the dinner, we were each "presented" with a shirt/dress in fabric that looks like the beautiful kente cloth that is so sacred here. We were very touched by the generosity of our partners with Western Heritage Home. Good byes were difficult, but we managed to wish our friends farewell with only a few tears.

Wednesday was travel day. After settling the bill at the hotel and loading our things, we traveled easterly and, after a brief stop in Takoradi to say farewell to our host James Kainyah, we traveled to Cape Coast where we had lunch with Kathryn Roe, a part-time resident of Ghana and Bellingham. We then proceeded to the "canopy walk" where we climbed to the top of the tree canopy of the forest 180 meters high, and continued through a series of suspension bridges. An amazing experience! We then returned back to Kathryn's place where two of our members left us for further travels.

That is about all for now. We'll try to post some pictures soon. TTFN.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Last day of data collection

Our wonderful partners are working on a national holiday to help us to gather more data before our Town Hall meeting tomorrow morning. Because our time is now short, we are experimenting more with taxis and other types of transportation so that we can split up and cover more ground. Mike started early with draw down tests of the two "bore holes" in the system (known to us as deep wells). He is doing this not only to gather data but to train the Ghana Water Company staff in the process. Meanwhile, Gary and Gail finished "as- builting" the system components, a labor-intensive process, helped largely by the students last week. Colleen and Rod starting tying in all the local stand-pipes and shallow wells across the distribution system while Ravyn made the final preparations for the Town Hall meeting tomorrow. Probably our fullest day, tomorrow starts with the meeting in the morning where we will be all helping to facilitate a discussion on water and sanitation and hope that the outcome will result in a memo of understanding between us and the community. Afterward, Colleeen and Gary go off to Takoradi to give a lecture to 1000 engineering students in Takoradi while the rest of us meet with the King and Municipal Chief Executive to close out things here. We will conclude our time in Axim with a party on the beach, where we hope to thank those that have been so helpful to us in our work. We depart for Accra on Wednesday morning, stopping at the "canopy walk" north of Cape Coast, so may be out of contact for a few days until we land there. Stay tuned for the next segment soon...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A traditional meal followed by a day at the beach

After a long but rewarding week of work we were looking forward to the dinner we had been invited to at the Western Heritage Home. They were intending to make Fufu for us, a traditional and well loved Ghanaian dish that is not often found in restaurants. The dish is extremely labor intensive requiring a whole day to prepare. It is a mixture of cooked cassava and plantain that is pounded with a very large long stick, with one brave soul turning the mixture by hand after each strike! The children entertained us with their repertoire of songs which was very sweet and touching. After that we all sat down to our long awaited meal. The Fufu was served in a soup called light soup which contained both chicken and smoked fish and was extremely spicy! The way to eat Fufu is by using your right hand to "tear" off a piece and use it to eat the liquid with. The Fufu is supposed to be swallowed without chewing, something that we all found impossible to do. Ravyn, unfortunately, was the only one of us that could finish her whole meal. The rest of us tried very hard but between the texture of the Fufu, and the spiciness of the soup, we found it impossible to finish. After dinner we were shown around the home by the children and the staff, each of us with our own special little escort in tow. All in all, a lovely evening.

Saturday was our first day off, and we all decided a day at the beach town of Basua was just what we needed. Basua is a small village about 1 hour drive east of Axim. It is such a beautiful spot with long golden beaches and surf just perfect for novices. Gary, Colleen, and Mike all went boogie boarding or surfing and really enjoyed the big, but even waves. We enjoyed watching them from the beach side cafe where we met up with Steven and his family for the day. Wilson and Kingsford also joined us for the day so we had quite the table full of people relaxing and enjoying each other's company. As much as we all love Axim, it was really nice to see a different part of Ghana.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Progress Is Being Made

Now that our entire team is healthy again, we have been making better progress. Yesterday, we were able to gather rainfall and population data from various government offices which will be very helpful in our analysis. We have also been collecting horizontal and vertical survey data much more quickly since we decided to use a GPS instrument. Our mapping of the layout of each of the system components is also going well with the assistance of the students. Speaking of students, two members of our team will be going to Takoradi on Tuesday afternoon after the town hall meeting to give a lecture to the 1000 engineering students at the school. While there, our team will meet with the President of the local Rotary Association. Our survey loop should be completed today, so we will be able to expand our efforts to the location of the various design alternatives. However, it appears our role for the time being may be one of advocacy instead of construction. The best chance of seeing our efforts carried out locally is with the solid connection we have made with the EWB-Ghana Chapter in Accra. They plan to come here Monday evening and participate in all the activities on Tuesday, returning to Accra with us on Wednesday.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Culture of Music

Some things are universal, and when it comes to the joy that music can bring, that was certainly the case last night. Two ukuleles were generously donated by the Bellingham Ukulele Group through their Ukes for Kids project. Ravyn introduced these to the kids at Western Heritage Home last night. They will be doing a song exchange with the kids from the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship. Last night they learned the "C" chord by first watching Ravyn and gradually each teaching eachother. The kids are so polite, helpful and sharing with eachother which is so refreshing to witness.