Tuesday, 31 January 2012

H2 Oh!

We had a timely reminder about the importance of water today. When I arrived in Kosele yesterday I found that our borehole was unserviceable. A couple of weeks ago I received a slightly worrying email saying that the generator that powers the water pumping gear had stopped working. This was a concernbecause it’s a very powerful generator and cannot be easily swapped out with our other generator. Trying to pump water using the Plan B backup facility is not possible because there is, effectively, no Plan B. It’s a bit of an all or nothing approach to operating the borehole and makes any equipment fault a major problem. Fortunately the generator was easily fixed so we breathed sigh of relief and moved on. Until yesterday.

It may sound a bit like talking up a basically simple story, but you only realise how crucial a resource like the borehole is when you face the prospect of not being able to use it. A fault in the pump control panel had been ‘fixed’ a couple of weeks ago. A quick consultation in Kisumu yesterday, with the technician who fixed it, suggested that a bit of loose wire tightening would sort the problem out. You may recall from previous posts that I am getting better at this type of electrical DIY. Loosening, tightening, poking, switching trip circuit on and off and general bodging about last night didn’t work. To add to our worries, (though probably, with hindsight, to the benefit of the electronics inside the control panel), the starter rope for the generator broke, making it impossible to start the generator up and try any more ‘fixes’. An SOS message was sent to Kisumu and Oliver, (the technician), agreed to come out to see us today.

As 1 pm approached and Oliver didn’t I began to worry about the water situation in earnest. We have been relying on the large water tanks we put up for irrigation for our drinking and cooking water and we only have about five thousand litres left. That doesn’t go far when you are feeding about two hundred people a day and trying to make sure that 35 young people are able to wash themselves and their clothes. Five thousand litres would, under normal conditions, last about 3 days. Given the speed that help, spare parts and problem diagnosis arrive at in Kenya it looked like a major catastrophe loomed. Closure of the school until the crisis is resolved, strict water rationing, no showers at least.

Fortunately Oliver turned up and set to work. We thought we’d try starting the generator with a car battery but that didn’t work so a very Heath Robinson repair was made to the starter rope. After a short experiment in knot tying we managed to turn the generator over and …….. still the control panel light stayed resolutely off. More poking about inside the control panel followed. Still no green light and pumping noises. Situation deteriorating by the moment. Emergency measures imminent.

At this point I noticed a switch on the front of the generator that I hadn’t fiddled with yet, (mostly because we had never tried using the car battery starter method before). With the generator running and nothing to lose I flicked the switch up and bingo. Ignition. Blast off. Water running into the generator house. Relief all round. Just to be on the safe side and to add an element of testing rigour to the solution we tried the new ‘fix’ out a couple of times. Switch down, no water. Switch up, water. It still worked.

There are a number of lessons to be drawn from this incident. First, the best discoveries are often accidental. Second, make sure you know your knots. Third, living on the edge is overrated – Plan B rocks. Finally, don’t take water for granted. A day will come when you, or your children, will wish you were worth your weight in H2O.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Is matatu travel linked to deep veined thrombosis?

Back in Kenya and back to blogging. It’s great to be in Kosele again but challenging being so far away from Judi, Ellie and Tom, (my family), for so long. I won’t be seeing them until July.

Being an avid people watcher the flying out to Kenya bit of getting going is always fun. There weren’t many people about at Birmingham airport when I set off but Dubai was, predictably, much busier. I was surprised by the number of people filming the walk through to their departure gate on mobile phones. Navigating the one way system through to the departure gates as a transfer passenger could form part of a personal training regime so I guess they could have been trying to commit the route to film in case they ever have to do it again.

As ever on an overnight flight I didn’t get any sleep and had to stay awake in Dubai for fear of missing my flight to Nairobi. I’m generally a very optimistic person but I tend towards being a bit of a fatalist in airports, (especially when I know I need to stay awake). After walking from one end of the terminal to another in search of gate 225 I managed to find a seat right next to the departure gate and a similar distance from the toilet – double bonus. If you have to wait at Dubai airport gate 225 don’t make the mistake of leaving going through to the departure lounge until the last possible moment in case you need the toilet. Unlike just about every other departure lounge I have ever sat in gate 225 had an entrance to the loo inside it. (I think the practise of not having an accessible loo in departure lounges is a form of torture which should be addressed by a suitably international human rights committee).

I arrived at Nairobi airport somewhat wired through lack of sleep. I decided to bite the bullet and put my new missionary status to the test at the immigration desk by declaring it as my occupation on the arrival declaration form. I got through the check at the immigration desk in a personal best time with no hassle! I am taking it as an encouraging sign that someone up there likes me and is actively on my side.

I eventually arrived in Kisumu, (nearest airport to our place in West Kenya), after an only slightly diverted internal flight from Nairobi to Kisumu via El Doret. This was definitely not advertised on the original plane ticket. I did at one point wonder if the diversion was a further test of my faith, (on two counts i) that we would actually fly to Kisumu from El Doret and ii) that my luggage would fly with us). I still think someone up there likes me. Finally got to the St Anna guest house in Kisumu at 8 pm. (I have, I think, previously blogged about why I don’t like travelling on the roads at night in Kenya so had an overnight stay).

I had an uneventful trip to Kosele, (our base in Kenya), from Kisumu today, (Monday), and managed to catch up on a bit of sleep crammed in the back of a matatu, (14 seater mini bus), that we had hired. It was packed full of mattresses and cushions, (long story related to 5 of our oldest students starting High school as boarders next week). As I was going through the ritual of trying to get wedged in comfortably enough to get to sleep I was struck by the thought that I had spent a considerable part of the previous 24 hours doing the same thing in a variety of locations, (3 departure lounges, 3 planes and a matatu). Having read about deep veined thrombosis, (but never really understanding the finer details), I fell asleep entertaining the slightly worrying thought that wedging myself into the matatu seats in the wrong position might set me up for a DVT. Fortunately it was only a relatively short journey so I didn’t have enough time to hit deep sleep and avoided the psychotic type of dreams that come as a side effect of the anti malarial I am taking. They seem to come from the deeper recesses of the mind and usually start off with your last thought before falling asleep. I arrived shaken, (see previous blogs about the roads in Kenya) but rested in the late afternoon with my veins intact. It was really good to see our place again and to start catching up with everybody’s news. So. It’s back to the blog and back to business as usual, (as it can be), in a hot dusty Kenya.

As I type it’s 11.55 p.m. The dogs up the road have been barking for about the last half hour, the mosquitoes are taking advantage of my slow reaction time and I’m looking forward to a busy day tomorrow. It’s going to be a good year.