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
it looked like a major catastrophe loomed. Closure of the school until the crisis is resolved, strict water rationing, no showers at least. Kenya
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.