Friday, April 30, 2010

First Day at my New Job

My first day on the Job as Ukarumpa’s engineer began with a walk to a house that had been the site of an attempted break-in the night before. The construction manager, LaVeryl Voss, and I were walking down to the river to see the site for the proposed RAM water intake when the distraught home owner saw LaVeryl and came out to tell us the story. She and her husband are translators and she was home alone during the incident. After spending an hour assuring her that larger bars would be installed in her windows LaVeryl and I continued our walk towards the project site. The project site is in one of the oldest parts of Ukarumpa. As we walked LaVeryl pointed out one of the houses, the one right next to the project site actually and said that a national man named Sam lives there. Sam had been terminated from a job in the construction department, and as such was required to move out of Ukarumpa and back to his village. Sam was over a month overdue on his scheduled departure and there was really no good way to remove him as he is a “big man” in his tribe and the powers that be at Ukarumpa was concerned that if he were removed by force he would send the young men of his tribe to make trouble for Ukarumpa.
After looking over the proposed site for the RAM water intake LaVeryl and I walked back to the construction department, got a truck and took a drive around the center so he could give me a tour of the water system. We drove to several water tanks and pump houses. LaVeryl showed me a couple of spare pumps that they have had laying around for years and told me that I could use them on the new RAM water intake project. I asked if he had any pump curves or other documentation for the pumps. LaVeryl just kind of stared at me and then said “I don’t know, you will have to look.” A pump house had been constructed a year and a half prior to my arrival and I asked if there had been an engineer that did the design and LaVeryl said that the project had been done in a hurry and there never was a design. The more questions I asked LaVeryl, the more apparent it became that he did not know much at all about the water system. I continued to ask questions until finally he told me that he is a carpenter and that he has never had much to do with the water system. He then told me that if I wanted a detailed description of the water system I would have to talk to some of the plumbers. We finished our tour and LaVeryl gave me a quick tour of the joinery (where all of Ukarumpa’s furniture is made) the sawmill and the hardware area. Apparently, all of these facilities fall under the construction envelope here in Ukarumpa. While we were in the hardware building I found an old water map hanging on the wall. As I looked at it I began to ask more questions regarding the elevations of tanks and pump houses and sizes and materials of existing water lines. The map was hand drawn in pencil and had faded very badly, almost to the point of being un-readable. As I looked at it I began to speak of mapping the existing water system using CAD and adding pipe sizes and materials as well as tank and pump elevations while I was in Ukarumpa and LaVeryl said “well, it sounds like you are writing your job description.”
I was then shown to my “office”, it was a large room that had at one time served as office space for three people. Now it housed a carpenter trainer and me. My desk faced a window that looks out at the main gate, which is interesting as national people are constantly coming and going throughout the day. I had the pick between 3 different office chairs each of which were broken a different way, and the promise that eventually they would get me a computer. I was introduced to the resident drafts person in the construction department. A young national lady named Melody. I saw that Melody was working on AutoCAD and I asked her what version she was running. She showed me that it was the student version from 2000.
I rounded out the rest of my first day by digging through all of the drawers I could find trying to dig up some information on the water system. Eventually I did find a notebook kept by a water guy that spent time in Ukarumpa in the 1970’s and up to 1986. I also found some old (and slightly moldy) graph paper. I picked the least broken chair, cleaned the dead cockroaches from my desk drawers and took up the task of defining, refining, and designing towards the goal of improving the water distribution system for Ukarumpa.

Some Background and Definitions

Kim and I came to Ukarumpa specifically so I could work on the new RAM water intake for the water system. Ukarumpa uses two kinds of water which it gets from two different places. The two kinds of water are potable (drinkable water) and non-potable (non-drinkable water) and the sources are rain water collected off of roofs and stored in tanks, and from two creeks respectively. The creek water is known as RAM water here in Ukarumpa. Rain is a very clean and reliable source of water during the rainy season. During the dry season an alternative water source becomes necessary. That is where the RAM water comes in.
Years ago, Ukarumpa installed a network of perforated pipes into the gravel at the bottom of a creek that runs along the north side of the community. Water seeps down through the gravel at the bottom of the creek, is collected by the pipes and conveyed via gravity to a pump house where it is then pumped up the hill and into Ukarumpa’s distribution system. This proved to be a good source of RAM water for Ukarumpa for many years, until about a year and a half ago. At that time some of the local tribal leaders got together and decided that they owned the creek and that Ukarumpa had no rights to the water. This is not legally the case, but laws mean nothing in the area of Papua New Guinea where Ukarumpa is located as the police force is corrupt and lawlessness prevails. At any rate, the men from the village attacked and disabled the collection pipes at the stream bed. They then proceded to defend it with bows and arrows and bush knives. This became a very big problem for Ukarumpa very quickly as tank water is the only drinking water we have here and many houses do not have large enough tanks to allow it to be used for showers and flushing toilets, ect. Eventually, a police force had to be brought in from one of the large cities in Papua New Guinea and they were able to force the village men to back off and allow the water source to be repaired.
Shortly after that incident in was decided that Ukarumpa needed a second, more secure source of RAM water. A second creek flows along the south side of Ukarumpa. It was decided that that creek would be detained with a pond and the water from the pond would be used as a second, secure source of water. The pond is considered secure as it is located within the security fence, the infiltration pipes in the other creek are located outside of the security fence. There was not an engineer at Ukarumpa when the pond was created and the pump house built. As a result, no pump sizing was done. Conveniently there were old pumps laying around so they grabbed one plugged it in and started using it. It is 180 vertical feet from the location of the pond to the tanks at the top of the hill, so a second pump and a few tanks were constructed half way up the hill, just in case the first pump could not lift the water high enough.
Shortly after this new detention pond was constructed a new problem arose. The creek that feeds the pond runs through acres of gardens belonging to the local villagers. As there is no season in the highlands of Papua New Guinea when you can’t grow produce, the gardens are being constantly tilled, year round. Also, during the wet season we get monsoon rains every day. The result is a very large amount of soil carried from the gardens into the creek. The creek in turn carries the soil into the pond and it eventually ends up in the water system and finally at our taps. When Kim and I first got here we were in a house that was old and the only tank water was the cold tap in the kitchen and the cold tap in the bathroom sink, everything else was RAM water. The first time I took a shower the RAM water was so dirty that it looked like I was showering in hot chocolate. Needless to say, I did not feel super clean after my shower.
Naturally, after a year and a half of showering and doing dishes in severely dirty water, and not being able to see the bottom of your toilet bowl, (go look into your toilet bowl and imagine how dirty the water would have to be to not be able to see bottom) people here are ready for a better source of RAM water. The new RAM water intake that I am working on designing and will build will collect water from the Bae’ River, a much larger, much cleaner source of water.

Our New House

Our first Monday at Ukarumpa was very busy, we spent the day with our host couple, Benji and Esther.  They showed us how to get a post office box, and told us how the mail works here.  They got us set up at the bank and told us how to get access to our money.  The bank is interesting because in many ways Ukarumpa runs on credit.  Everyone has an account number and if you give it at the store they will just debit your account.  The interesting thing is that the account numbers for everyone are posted for all to see.  That way, if someone owes you money, you just go to the bank and get it from his account…without him.  It seems very strange to Americans who are so used to being careful about identity theft, but it works here. 
After we completed our errands with Benji and Esther, we went to the housing department and asked if they had any other houses available.  Ukarumpa is able to support a population of up to around 1,000 people and currently supports somewhere between 350 and 500 people, so there are plenty of housing opportunities available.  The population fluctuations are a result of translators being out at villages and people going on furlough and stuff like that.  At any rate, we were able to get a different house that was still very close to our jobs, right across the street from the store, close to the market, and in a much busier neighborhood, which makes us feel more secure at night.  Also, the new house has solid floors, so fewer geckos come in, Jacob found three dead ones in the old house, and at the new house one gecko did come in when Kim opened the door to enter once, but that is still two less geckos then we found at the old house!  Our new house has five bedrooms, which is obviously too large for us, but it is very nice with hardwood floors and a fireplace.

Our new house has two two-thousand gallon water tanks that collect rain water from our roof gutters.  We then use the rain water for drinking and bathing.   The old house we were at had one one-thousand gallon tank and was plumbed so we could use the tank water for drinking, but not bathing.  For bathing the old house used what people here call ram water.  Ram water is the water from the water distribution system; it operates much as water from distribution systems in the states, but it comes from a muddy creek and receives no treatment prior to being piped to the homes.  Being that it is currently the rainy season, the ram water is very muddy and you can imagine how fun it is to shower in smelly water that looks like chocolate milk.  We are very thankful for the rain water system this new house has.