adventures in water

recently i spent two weeks in and around the capital of uganda, kampala. one of the many perks of visiting “the big city” is staying in what the members of my organization generally refer to as “the house”. the house is our base when we’re in kampala…team meetings happen there, our country representatives live there and there is enough room for the whole team to stay/eat/laugh/live together. another major perk of staying at the house is the constant and reliable access to power and running water. these two things are not always readily available to us in our placements in other parts of uganda.

so i spent two weeks being very spoiled: i was able to take a warm shower every day (operative word here is warm!), and was able to electricity 24 hours a day. (i should mention that there is finally a functioning refrigerator in the kotido house, but it can only be switched on during day-light hours and when the solar batteries are charged enough to power it.)

upon returning home to kotido i was met with a fascinating and mildly-trying water situation: it has been raining (a lot!) in kotido, but the running water isn’t working.

a little water background for the project (the compound i live on): we have a windmill. a large beautiful windmill that seems to be made from metal or tin, that happily turns and pumps water from an underground source into our large water-tower.

the water in the tower is pumped to taps and personal house tanks by a huge generator. the generator runs daily, as it also provides power to the offices on the compound as well as the health clinic. however, it would seem that the generator is broken. housemate says that the people of the project were not informed of said generator being broken and therefore were unable to create a reserve of water or change usage habits to make it last longer. (another thought for another day: the generator is loud. did no one notice that it wasn’t invading the morning air with its constant rumble?)

therefore: no running water in the house and no water coming from the tap outside our house.

thankfully for us (and the environment!), some previous occupants of this house set up a water-catchment/harvesting system. there are gutters all around the house that lead to pipes. these pipes empty into a larger water tank that is at ground level.

the rain tank is large, and as mentioned previously it has been raining a lot in kotido. the rain tank was at least mostly full. this makes is amazingly lucky: the distance to haul water inside for use is only about 20 feet. (the average kotido-ite has to go many kilometers to fill their jerrycans and then carry them back home again, often at least twice daily.)

this is a jerrycan

this brings us to the adventure part of the story. i knew you’d be excited.
while the rain tank was mostly full, it wasn’t totally full even though the rain has been much. for about a year now i have been meaning to “do something” about the main leak in the gutter, but never really had much cause to do so since the upper tank was functioning and we rarely used the rain water. but now that we were in a position to enter a water-crisis if the rain slows or ceases and my determination to fix the problem was heightened.

on thursday afternoon is began to rain. an earth-pounding hard rain that i knew wouldn’t last more than an hour: i had to act fast. i wanted to wait until it was raining to attempt to remedy the problem because this would allow the trial and error process to be limited to one day. if what i was doing didn’t work, i would know immediately because the water would still be leaking from the gutter. i leapt up from the couch where i was reading, grabbed the buckets and basin from the bathroom to fill with flushing water, grabbed the duct-tape (thanks m&d!), the golden scissors (photo at bottom of post–they are the most awesome scissors ever) and clicked my brain into “fix-it” mode.

step one was to fill the buckets and basins from the main leak that i wanted to fix. once that was accomplished i climbed up the guava tree to be at eye-level with the gutters. after a lot of turning, swearing, shoving/pulling and getting soaked i finally was able to level the broken piece so that the water wasn’t gushing out between the two pieces of gutter.

the feeling of accomplishment only lasted about two seconds. about three feet away the same piece of gutter connects with the pipe that leads to the catchment tank. now all of the water was coming out that spout, but not down the pipe. silly me, i thought this would be a simple fix of moving the pipe to under the spout. wrong. wrong. wrong. the pipe is stationary, fine. then i’ll move the gutter spout. that moved fine, but when i moved that, the water started going back out the other side where the original leak was. i am not ashamed to say that more swearing ensued.
however, i will not be beaten by a mere gutter. heck no, tech-no.

i don’t remember which austin powers movie it is, but in one of them austin gets his golf-cart stuck between two walls and ends inching forward and backward about half an inch. repeatedly.

not really getting anywhere, hitting either wall on either side. that was kind of like what was going on with my gutter. fix one side, the other side is out of whack. and visa-versa. however, twenty years [20!] of education from excellent institutions (yes, that includes kindergarten, thankyouverymuch) and inherited-stubbornness prevailed over tin and water. (see also: the great power of extra-strength-duct-tape.)


VICTORY IS MINE. but, wait. dang it. the pipe is leaking.

this problem, was easy to solve: MORE DUCT-TAPE! bada-bing. bada-boom. done. standing on upper part of my verandah i was able to see that the water was moving at a lovely clip through the pipe and into the catchment tank. this is when i noticed that the pipe from the other side was only delivering water at about a drop every twelve minutes. still in battle mode, i decided to tackle this problem as well.
the rain was still coming down in sheets, so it was absolutely no problem whatsoever to figure out where the next leak was. the gutter at the back of the house, again at the end of the line, was gushing water straight out and creating quite the mud-hole.

i found a large stick and started poking at that end of the gutter, thinking that it was just bent and needed to be moved back into its original position.

an aside: people, i never took physics. i mean, i have a basic understanding from––you know––living and being at least semi-intelligent. but someone who had taken physics and done well would probably have figured this out earlier and avoided what happened next…

basically, i got drenched. i mean. i was already soaked from standing out in the rain and messing with a gutter, however… well i’ll just tell you what happened. so there i am, poking at a gutter thats pumping water like the might nile-herself, when i poke a little too hard and the gutter dislodges itself from the pipe.

and this is when i discovered the problem with the connection.

as the gutter dislodges, and is at a level…uh…level the spout was able to clear itself of the blockage that was preventing the water from flowing down the pipe. all that to say, i got covered in nasty-slimy leaf goop. and a huge rush of cold rain water. submitting to the hilarity of the moment i continued to stand under the rushing water, still holding the gutter up with a stick, and let it wash all the leaf goo off of me. i was then able to connect the gutter back to the pipe and watch as the water flowed into the tank.

i am sorry to report that there are no photos of me covered in leaf goop/goo nor any photos of me standing under the niagara-type-rush of water that followed it. i’m just as disappointed as you are, believe me.

again i thought: VICTORY IS MINE!

and it was. only, a little too much victory was mine. now with the water flowing at an extremely high velocity the catchment tank was full and over flowing. crap. so there i was, standing in the yard–drenched, muddy, probably with a leaf on my head feeling guilty about wasting rain water rather than being happy that i just fixed two gutter problems all on my own WITH NO MAN (feminism, FTW!).
to remedy this problem i thought i would attempt to fill the upper tank with the water in the (lower) rain tank. a long story short: the distance is far to far for siphoning, and no i did not fall the 12 feet off the higher tank (that was scaled with skill, grace and luck) and break my neck when i became incredibly light-headed from attempting to move water through a 15-foot hose via an attempt at suction-siphoning.

in. my. defense. again i will mention: I NEVER TOOK PHYSICS.

also in my defense: it WAS working. the water would come out of the hose and into the upper tank. but at only about the rate of a table-spoon at a time.

i gave up, but housemate had come home from work by that time so she took the following pictures of my attempted heroine-ism which are following the last paragraph.  (also, don’t forget to scroll all the way to the bottom of this post for a photo of the amazing-gold-scissors-the-best-scissors-ever!)

stay tuned for the harrowing adventures of “washing dishes without running water” and “not having nearly enough drinking water and facing dehydration: something must be wrong with the filter and why is all the water oily?” you don’t want to miss it!