L’eau, Ye, Water — Our Universal Life Force

My site-mate, Kelly, recently made a connection with a woman from Chicago named Helen who is working on clean water solutions for Guinea. Her connection to Guinea is through an artist named Fode Camara. Fode happens to be from the same village we are working in — Koba! 

The world is funny and small.

This weird chain of connections led to this weekend. Me, Kelly, and Christine (another volunteer in the nearby area) traveled to Conakry this weekend to Fode’s house to learn how to make a biosand filter. Kelly was heavily involved in Engineers Without Borders when she was in college and actually made the same exact filter in El Salvador.

Did I mention how funny and small the world is?

Biosand filters work by using a column of gravel and sand with a biofilm to filter water. In the field they have been shown to remove 70 – 80% of heavy metals, turbidity, bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. The model Fode and Helen use was designed by the Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology — check out their website here for more information on the engineering and science behind these filters. Here’s a quick run-down:Image

 

 

So, we made one this morning. Fode already has a mold made, so all we had to do was purchase a bag of cement for 70,000 FG — $10 USD. This is enough cement to fabricate two filters. Factoring in the other costs — making the lid, the basin, the plastic hose, and the sand and gravel — I am guesstimating that the total cost for one of these filters is $10-15 USD. And it lasts a life time. 

The mold, however, is the problem. It can cost between $1,000 to $2,000 USD to make. But Fode has made 63 filters using his mold so far, and they are working on more every day. It took us about 1 hour to make the filter, and then it takes 24 hours to dry in the mold.

Here is the mold:

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Mixing cement:

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Pouring the cement into the filter. You have to beat the side of the mold and simultaneously push the cement down to insure that no air bubbles are trapped inside. The air bubbles would cause the mold to crack later on after it has dried:

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Here is a finished filter that they made the previous day:

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A close up of the drainage basin — this is in place so as to not disturb the sand when you pour water into the filter:

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After we made the filter we talked for a little bit. As I mentioned, Fode and his crew have already made 63 of these filters and distributed them throughout their community in Conakry. I wanted to see them in action so we walked around and visited about 15 of the nearby houses who had filters. All but one were using them and loving them. Fode said he will return to the one that wasn’t using it tomorrow and if it is still dry, he will take it and give it to a family that wants it. While we were walking around, several people stopped us and asked Fode when they could get a filter of their own. 

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So. We are looking at an expensive start-up cost with inexpensive routine costs. In the coming weeks and months Kelly and I are going to move forward with this project — finding grant funding (and calling on friends and family from home to fund the project), figuring out the best way to implement it into Koba and possibly Basse Cote at large, how much people can afford to pay for one (because giving them away for free will not foster a sense of responsibility and ownership), who will get the first ones (because Guineans are very jealous), how to educate people about the importance of clean water, etc etc etc. I am very excited and so inspired by Helen and Fode’s actions I almost cannot find the words to express it.

Big things are coming to Koba.

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The American Dream is Alive and Well

 

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This is Alison Camara. He is a 21 year old resident of Conakry, Guinea. He is good at soccer and loves Lil Wayne. And he desperately wants to come to America.

Practically everyone I meet in Guinea describes America as their “pays du reves” — Dream Country. The photo of the young man above was taken in front of my house, only after Alison begged me to show it to my American friends in the hopes that one of you has the means to send him to the USA. I have to repeatedly assure him that I do not. I will not marry him. I do not have visas to hand out. This is a very frequent request — and once I deny it, I am immediately asked about my American friends. Do any of them have the means? So, ladies. If you’re in the department for a Guinean husband, have your pick.

I’ve been here for over 3 months now and I’ve done my fair share of describing America. I try to dismantle the fantasy of the red, white and blue. It’s not like a Guinean who moved to USA would suddenly “have it all.” We work, often tirelessly. We have political and social issues. Everything is too expensive and the price of gas is always going up. And comparatively with Guinean culture, we as Americans are kind of cold-hearted, self-centered bastards…to put it bluntly.

Really, I want to shake some sense into the people that look at me with Red, White, and Blue stars in their eyes. “You wouldn’t be happy here!”, I think. “People wouldn’t help you like in Guinea, people would ignore you, you’d be lucky to find a minimum wage job and cheap rent in a shitty area!” I’ve felt this way since I arrived — that they’d honestly not be happy in our cold, capitalist world.

But then the other night happened.

I was sitting in a circle of plastic chairs (high quality furniture here, reserved for the most important members of the group, manufactured and produced here in Guinea!) with a group of about six 20-something’s. All men. Inevitably we talked about America, their desire for an American wife, and I tried to steer them back to ‘sanity’ — you should want to stay here! In Africa! We’re mid-first world problem. I’m describing the poor economy, the difficulty to find a good job, when one of the guys stops me and says, “Moi, je peux couper le fleur bien!” 

Me, I can cut flowers well!

With 100% sincerity and desperation. My thought process slammed to a halt. Have I been thinking about this all wrong? It’s always “Yes, there’s running water and electricity, but…” even writing it now seems silly. When your country has no infrastructure, no running water, no electricity, and little law enforcement, do you give a damn about the “BUT”? 

I imagine a hard immigrant labor position as something bad, but for someone else — like a 21 year old Guinean — it could be a dream come true. In America we have opportunities that cannot be found here. I’m happy here in Guinea, surrounded by the natural and cultural beauty. Every day is an adventure and I feel like my life has true meaning. But I haven”t lived here. I haven’t fetched 21 years of water from the well. I haven’t lived 21 years by candlelight. I haven’t had friends and family die from malnutrition, infection, and disease.

I need to have more pride in America. I need to see the America that Guineans see, and not the petty problems and dissatisfaction I left behind. 

I will end this post with some newly released data from the 2013 United Nations Human Development Indicators:

Guinea

Life expectancy at birth: 54.5 years.

Mean years of schooling: 1.6 years.

Mean total income per year: $941

Rank: 178 / 187

United States of America

Life expectancy at birth: 78.7 years.

Mean years of schooling: 13.3 years.

Mean total income per year: $43,480.

Rank: 3 / 187

There’s a fine line here between recognizing the privilege and opportunity we have in America and also fostering pride in Guinea and promoting change here. I haven’t quite found the proper viewpoint to take but, if anything, 3 months in Guinea has helped me appreciate the country I’ve left behind.

Oh, and if anyone wants to marry Alison, please do let me know.

Life Through Photos

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My counterpart pounding leaves of a local tree species rich in Nitrogen to make an organic fertilizer.

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Group shot of a gardening collective, or groupement in French, I visited to learn about their practices, what they’re missing, what they’re interested in working on and how motivated they are. They grow corn, pepper, eggplant, and okra during the dry season. 

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My counterpart, Mangue TP, at his (our? I work with him there every day) garden. We just created those garden beds behind him and he is standing next to an orange tree nursery.

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Garden beds at a groupement I visited.Image

My friend Marijo and my host-sister Djenab. They are in their school uniforms and are about to walk 10 kilometers to attend class. They are both mothers.

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My counterpart and his wife in front of their house. Mangue is a trained architect and built and designed the house himself.Image

One of the older brothers in my house family is a serious enterepeneur and extremely intelligent. He lives in the capitol but when he comes back to Koba for work or to visit the family, I give him English lessons. He called me out of the blue yesterday and asked me if I was home because a carpenter and an electrician were on the way to install an outlet and a socket in my room to run off of the family generator. Good karma has brought me LIGHT!!!

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The view of my house from the front door.Image

My brand new screen door to keep critters out.Image

Garden beds mulched with hay at a groupement I visited.

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My friend Mariam and her two sons, David Jr. and Papi.

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Members of a groupement posing in front of their garden bed — pepper and corn and the Guinean stare-down. Guineans don’t have the same desire to say “Cheese” when the camera pulls out.

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Took a bike ride along the beach.