5 Weeks in Uganda

As many of you might already know I left for Uganda on the 27th July for volunteer work in Fort Portal with a company called Africa Sustainable Tourism Care Foundation. The reason I chose Uganda was because my father was originally from there and I wanted to see the country he grew up in. After I finished my volunteer work I spent two weeks with my dad looking at his old home and school, and also going on a safari. The rest of this write up looks at all the activities I did whilst I was in Uganda.

Fort Portal: Volunteer Work

Some of you may have ready my other blog page where I talk about the different tasks I was given whilst I was working on the water wells.

First, I worked on a water well they had already started, and I was helping them to finish it. This allowed me to see they way they were currently constructing the spring water wells.

The second well I worked on was where I spent most of my time during the three weeks. Originally the foundation had built this well in April of this year, however within a week of construction the water in the well was no longer coming out the tap they had built. The locals of the village removed all the rocks from the well, so that I was able to see the way they had constructed the well. They were trying to capture spring water through a wall which had a tap in it to let the water pass through. However, they were not blocking the sides or the floor meaning the water was able to leak out the sides through the soil and not travel towards the tap. I suggested we build a concrete floor and side walls to create a box like structure to capture the water allowing it to then reach the tap.

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Fort Portal: Amabere Caves

Translation: breasts – because apparently the formations in the caves is like breasts.

The caves themselves were tiny and not fascinating. There were stalactites and stalagmites forming in the caves and according to the locals the stalactites look likes a pair of breasts that’s why they named the place Amabere caves. Be warned to anyone who wants to visit, the way they take toy means that at the end you have to walk up a little hill, but the trees are so low down that you end up having to crawl up the hill. My bag got stuck a few times. After the caves they take you for a walk where you can see crater lakes. Unfortunately, it was rather misty so the visibility was poor. I then went up a hill which was tough, and it started to chuck it down with rain making it very wet. The view at the top was great, and I got to see all the crater lakes in the area. I just wish the rain would have stopped whilst I was at the top and not once I got back to the floor.

Fort Portal: Ruboni Hill – Rwenzori Mountains

I feel no sense of achievement having climbed 2300 m in 3.5 hours. I actually felt so tired, drained, and wanted to cry. My legs hurt so badly and I they felt like they would buckle on the way down. I fell so many times when I went down the steep sections. The guide was a local to the area and lives on the hill so was used to climbing it every day. For a novice like me it felt like torture. The area was nice and I am sure I would have appreciated it if I was able to casually walk up there.

Entebbe: Lido Beach

My dad used to be able to swim in Lake Victoria, but now there is a snail which has taken over the lake meaning no one can swim in it. Lots of businesses have bought properties along the lake making the lake private, meaning just so that my dad could see the lake we had to pay. It was the equivalent of £2 so not too expensive, but when beaches in the UK are free it seems silly we have to pay.

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Entebbe: The Zoo

We went to the zoo to kill some time and because it was recommended but don’t go. After I saw the animals in the wild enjoying life in the open space, looking back at the zoo was a waste of money. Yes you get to see animals if you can’t go on a safari but they keep them in such small enclosures.

Kampala

My dad and I visited Kampala and stayed there for a few days because this is where he lived when he was younger and he wanted to visit the area. I got to see his old school, where his house used to be, the streets he walked on etc.. Unless you have a reason to visit Kampala do not go. It is so busy and manic and everyone just drives everywhere, it definitely doesn’t feel safe. I do recommend seeing Kabaka Palace. It used to be where the King of Buganda Kingdom lived but now he doesn’t stay there as previous presidents who claimed themselves as King’s killed and tortured people there.

The following was all booked through Uzuri Safaris. 

Murchison National Park

Hotel: Murchison River Lodge, a posh style tent with all food included.

On the way up to Murchison National Park from Kampala we visited Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. This Rhino Sanctuary houses the few remaining Rhinos in Uganda, but they hope to expand and breed the White Rhinos to allow the species to thrive. You walk through an area in hope to see Rhino’s. I was lucky enough to see about 10.

The next day we woke up for a 6:30 am start and drove to the other side of the park to where we were staying. We had to get a ferry to get across the river first. Then we drove for about 4 – 5 hours around the national park. I was able to see giraffes, a lion, hippos, monkeys, elephants and so many other local animals that I don’t remember the name of. After the safari we went back to the river and went on a three hour boat ride towards Murchison Falls (waterfall), and long the way we saw animals feeding at the river and also a crocodile sunbathing.

The last day at Murchison National Park included visiting Budongo Forest first, then we visited the top of the waterfall. The forest was my favourite part, you walk around for a couple of hours in hope to see some chimpanzees in the wild. My favourite animal by far and my favourite experience. We were walking through the forest for 30 minutes and then we heard the chimps so we followed the noise. Even the guide could not spot them but I saw 3 chimpanzees sat on the floor within a 5 meter distance from me. Then I looked up and I was surrounded by chimps even babies just feeding in the wild. It was amazing, I never want to see chimps in an enclosed area anymore. After seeing the swing through the trees and feed off the leaves and floor, I couldn’t imagine them being kept in a small area. I learnt that chimps make nests to sleep in, and how they were very clever at knowing which trees would help them if they were poorly. After this we drove to the top of the waterfall and it was so powerful, the sheer force of the water being forced through the narrow neck from the larger upper course of the river. It was amazing to see the fast flowing waterfall entering the calm river lower down.

Jinja

Our time in Jinja was short and my dad was able to see where his cousin used to live and the streets he used to visit. We had two activities in Jinja, the first was an ATV drive and the second was a boat trip to the source of the Nile. The ATV drive was fun, going around the River Nile and seeing the locals living in the more countryside locations. I chose an automatic ATV where all you had to do was press a button and you went. It took time to get used to turning corners though, and we even went on the road with them. The boat trip was really boring and I wanted to sleep, however seeing where Lake Victoria started as the source of the River Nile was very interesting and you were able to get off the boat and take pictures too.

When I was in Uganda the time went slowly, but now I am back I feel like the past 5 weeks have flown by. I really enjoyed getting involved with the local community and helping the locals with the water wells. The last week in Uganda was great and I strongly recommend people visit the places away from the City. 

 

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A filter, a pump and a water well…

Africa Sustainable Tourism Care Foundation was created by the board members in order to help provide a better life for the locals surrounding Kibale National Park near Fort Portal. Originally the local wildlife were able to enter local villages destroying their gardens and taking the available water supply. Unfortunately the government were in favour of the animals as they brought in money from tourism, however would not help the locals after the animals would destroy their property. The foundation promotes sustainability and has set up different projects allowing for the local community to thrive and develop. They have already provided local rural areas with their own water supplies, and set up local crafts and markets allowing the community to sell their produce and earn a living. They created their own style of bee hives to allow the locals to protect their gardens from the animals whilst also earn a living from the honey. They involve the locals and ask them what they need whilst also training them to have a more sustainable future.

With the water related projects, not only are they trying to provide clean water, they are also training the locals to keep their containers clean, install pit latrines and train local school children on sanitation techniques to help reduce the spread of diseases.

I initially thought I’d be coming out here to create a well from scratch, but this was not the case. This first week has been a learning curve and involved me researching different ideas to help the locals to the best of my ability. Instead of building a well they wanted me to use my water engineering knowledge to help them with three main tasks. Now, I’ve never done anything like this before and my research doesn’t focus on how to use limited supplies in developing countries so it has been really important to research and tailor the designs to equipment and supplies that they have. For example, the local community do all the manual labour, no machines are involved and that even includes mixing the cement by hand with gravel to make it stronger. When they are building the cement wall for the water well they have no support structure to pour the cement into, instead they create the walls from wooden planks and tree branches to provide them with what they need. It is very resourceful.

Task 1: design a home filtration system for each house

Unfortunately, even once these water wells are designed and are producing clean water the containers that the locals are using are dirty. The children and women who collect the water normally have to walk a far distance and climb up muddy stairs and walk along dirt roads. The containers can be heavy and have no lids, therefore they are frequently placed on the ground meaning the clean water is able to become contaminated. Not to mention the locals are being told to clean out the containers regularly but don’t always do so. One of the project managers thought it would be a good idea to design a cheap simple home device that would allow the locals to clean their water when they get back to their homes.

Task 2: a pump irrigation system for a local crop field.

The foundation was successfully able to install a well at the bottom of a crop field for a local community. However, this was one of the first wells they installed and originally they had not put a stop valve on the outflow pipe meaning that currently the water continously flows. They would like a way to capture this water so that it isn’t wasted and then use the excess water and pump it up the hill to allow the locals to use the water for irrigation purposes.

Task 3: fix an existing well which isn’t producing water through the outflow pipe

This is the task I am currently working on. Let me explain the existing well design first. They are trying to capture streams that flow undergound and use this water for the locals. They currently just build a wall structure where they want the outflow pipe to be and to stop water flowing around the pipe, then in some cases they build walls either side to stop water leaking out | _ | like so. They fill this area with sand, gravel and charcoal to act as a filter allowing the water to be treated as it passes through. This existing well has water flowing into it but the water is flowing under the wall structure and not reaching the outflow pipe. The well has been all dug up and initially I spotted some problems. The location of the inflow water is lower down near the bottom of the wall; therefore the water is passing under the wall, the outflow pipe is a lot higher than the inflow so for future well designs I have recommended this be altered. Lastly, they are not placing any cement on the base allowing the water to seep down into the ground. I have found a design for a spring box well and we are going to try alter this existing well to incorporate some similar designs, however there are two big rocks that are making this a little difficult.

This is all new for me, and although it is giving me a chance to help the local communities, I want to make sure I do it right. So if anyone has any ideas on how to help with any of the tasks or can think of local supplies and equipment that could make these tasks easier then I know both myself and the foundation would be extremely grateful.

From Entebbe to Fort Portal

I arrived in Entebbe airport, which was so small, you come off the plane walk a few meters and already you reach immigration. I had to present my boarding pass, then my yellow fever vaccination card and lastly my visa. They took my picture and prints of all my fingers. I collected my bag and decided to convert some US dollars into Ugandan shillings as you can’t in the UK. Bad idea to do this in the airport, the conversion rates are awful but unfortunately I didn’t know my project team would allow me a chance to convert the money in a shopping area and I found out too late. I came outside to a swarm of people holding signs. I’m not joking when I say there were close to 100 people. I scanned the signs but struggled to catch them all, luckily I saw my name halfway through the swarm of people. I was introduced to Joyce who took me to the car where James was waiting. I had originally corresponded with James so it was nice to put a face to the emails. They took me to the outskirts of Kampala where I was put in a cheap hotel for the night. Little annoyed I had to pay the next day as it clearly states they accommodate you and feed you from the day of arrival. The hotel was located down a dirt track and wasn’t situated near anything within walking distance. I went into my room which just fit a double bed and maybe the space of person to stand around the outside. The bathroom was adequate and the water was warm which was a bonus. The bed was actually really comfy as I fell asleep again when having a nap. I woke up around 7 pm and went to the in house restaurant where I saw menus on the side but was not offered one. I was told one option I didn’t understand or chicken and chips, tea or cold drinks. So I got water and chicken and chips which did the job and was nice and plain. After a good night’s sleep I had breakfast which was a red onion omelette, extremely dry toast, African tea (just normal tea but milky) and a fresh glass of mango juice.

Joyce and James came to pick me up to start our 5 hour drive to Fort Portal. I got to see a mix of roads from dirt roads to built highways with a few cars on them. They drive on the left like in the UK which felt weird as normally abroad it’s the other way round. We had stopped at petrol stations on three seperate occasions for toilet breaks and so they could do a mini shop. I only went for a toilet one time and was welcomed by a typical developing country latrine which involved hoisting up my trousers and squatting down. Didn’t shock me having been to India so many times in fact I felt surprised more toilets weren’t like that here.

I enjoyed seeing the change from the city of Kampala to the villages along the way. Seeing the locals selling their fresh produce at the markets or the way businesses were set up along the roads. What I also liked was how much green I was able to see, it’s beautiful the way the tea plantations go on for miles and the plantain trees go in large areas. From small plants to tall trees there is so much green to be seen.

I finally arrived at my volunteer house were I was welcomed by the owners niece and grandson, and another volunteer David who is working in the health clinic and has been for three months. I was shown to my room which was nice and had space for all my belongings and the bathroom which again was very westernised.

Joyce and James then took David and I into Fort Portal which is 23km away and the nearest town. That car journey was so bumpy! The roads aren’t fully constructed and it’s mainly dirt roads that have holes in them or bumps across them. My head definitely hurt after that. However, as you drove through Kibale National Park to get there I got to see baboons wondering the streets and chimps swinging in the trees. Fort portal was very clean and full of a wider diverse culture with lots of tourists and even local Indians. I visited the local supermarket where I was able to buy water as you can’t drink the local water and also saw the other shops. I’d like to go back there to see it properly as it was a quick visit. I bought 12 bottles of 1.5 litre of water for £5 (cheap!) and only have 7 left. I hope they do another trip into town this weekend.

There isn’t much to do around where I am staying, just local villages so I will need to find something to do at the weekend. The project (details in my next blog) finishes by 2 pm most days and I’ve been struggling to entertain myself in the evenings. I might start going for walks now I know the area but there is literally nothing to do here.

The food has been nice, quite bland though which has made some dishes off putting. I’ve had matoke (plantains), cassava (mashed and friend; preferential to the second), beans and peas in curry form, chicken curry, chapattis, spinach, rice, noodles (pasta, butter and onions), avocados, French toast and omelettes. I thought I’d lose weight by working but with the amount of food I’m eating I’m not sure that will happen.

I’m enjoying myself so far and am enjoying working on the water projects. I can’t wait to travel and go see what else the country has to offer but that will come near the end. Currently I’m finding it rewarding contributing to providing the locals with water.

45 hours later…

Friday 27th July, was supposed to be an easy day. I had everything packed, everything organised, I was ready to leave for Entebbe, Uganda. Unfortunately what should have been a 17 hour flight journey from Gatwick Airport turned out to be a 40 hour journey! What made it even worse was traffic. I definitely would not have the patience my sister did being sat in traffic, she clearly didn’t want to be there either though. Who would?! A simple straight journey from my parents house to Gatwick should take 1.5 hours max, however due to three different areas along the M25 it took close to three hours. Thank you big sis for taking me.

I feel like that set the tone for the rest of my day. I got to Gatwick and went to check in, now because my bags had straps on it it got classed as oversized luggage. Little annoying as it meant I had to carry it round to another side to place it through. Now onto security, where for once the queue was small. I did have another negative happen here, I went to collect my hand luggage bag through the other end of the checks and as I’m collecting my bag this teenager decides to stand directly behind me meaning I leant back onto him and headbutted him. It was so painful. Then obviously I’m wanting to move and he’s just stood there. I don’t understand people that just stand there or walk infront of you or don’t move.

Gatwick was manic, I read on the news later the next day that a plane had to emergency land causing all flights from Gatwick to be delayed. Although mine said on time. It was mainly easy jet flights that had people waiting angrily by the boards for their gate number to become available. My gate appeared about an hour before the flight was due to depart. Gate 506 or something similar. Then as I walk down to the gate there is an announcement saying it is now 102. This gate was the other end of the airport across a bridge and in another building, it took a while to walk there. So I’m on the plane which is very fancy, the screens are huge, complimentary bag (which contained socks, ear plugs, an eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste) and the seats had lots of leg room. Maybe by this point we are 10 minutes delayed, then the pilot talks and says we can’t move for 2 hours! 2 hours! I thought surely not, they have to say that but we will move. No it was exactly 2 hours. Instant panic. A lot of people on that plane had connections in Doha to other countries all over the world, and instantly everyone was worried about flights. If you calculate it most transits at the airport were an hour so being delayed by 2 hours was not good.

These planes now have WiFi, so I emailed the people meeting in Entebbe to say I probably won’t get there but I’ll let them know when I land. It was the right move to do that; with only one flight to Entebbe per day I knew if I didn’t make my connection I’d be stuck in Doha. In the meantime on the plane I was also contacting my mum as she has cousins in Doha who I could meet up with. When I landed they said ground staff will assist. Now for most flights there was someone standing with a sign to help the people, but no one for me 😦 I asked a lady for help and she just told me to go to the desk which wasn’t very helpful. At the transfer desk I was reassigned a seat on the next flight which was on Sunday and also given a hotel and food allowance. I got put in the Golden Tulip hotel.

A fancy hotel with a chandelier the size of my bedroom, a rooftop pool and spa.If only I was able to use the facilities, but unfortunately the airline keeps your main bag. I did enquire about getting it but they said it would take up to 2 hours to locate it and send it through customs. Who wants to sit in an airport for that time. No one. At the hotel I was assigned a room that wouldn’t lock, the WiFi wouldn’t work and the room was constantly open so the key card was pointless. Luckily they changed my room. I wish I was able to use more of the facilities that’s the one thing that made it feel like a waste staying there. I had a nap when I arrived and had to sleep in a robe they provided as I only had one spare top and underwear in my hand luggage. I washed the rest of my clothes in the sink so I could wear them the next day on the plane and that way I could wear a fresh top around Doha.

I managed to get about 20 hours in Doha, where I probably had 5/6 hours sleep max and that was including naps. Firstly, my mum’s cousins so technically my aunt and uncle arrived to collect me from the hotel. They took me out to eat at a place called Desi Dabar, fresh Indian food which burnt my mouth for sure. We went back to their flat where I had a nap then we set out in the evening because it was too hot during the day. We visited Katara, a place along the sea allowing me to see the outdoor theatre too. We then visited the Pearl and took a boat trip along the water by the corniche and ate kebab in the local Souqs. Such a different experience in a different environment. I’m so lucky I got to see another country. I would recommend Doha as a stop over or to stay for a few days just to witness a different lifestyle, the humidity and amazing architecture too. The Souqs are a must, I even saw one filled purely of animals. But my favourite was this dried fruit, nuts and sweets one were as long as you buy something you can help yourself to the fresh produce.

A four hour sleep back at the hotel followed by a wake up call around 4:45am. They gave us breakfast of pastries, cheese, meats, eggs and a cucumber salad (random). Got to the airport with two hours to spare. The airport is huge! They even have a Harrods. Finally off to Entebbe I go.

The 13th International Hydroinformatics Conference #HIC2018

For those who don’t know hydroinformatics focuses on the ‘application of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in addressing the increasingly serious problems of the equitable and efficient use of water for many different purposes’. There were 6 main themes at the HIC conference: A) Technologies for Water Management and Monitoring, B) Remote Sensing, C) Big-data, Knowledge and Water Data Management, D) Hydraulic and Hydrological Modelling, E) Climate Change and F) Environmental and Coastal Hydroinformatics. Each of the themes had multiple sub themes which you can see on the website (https://www.hic2018.org/conference/) and my paper was included within sub theme D4: Water Quality Modelling. The conference ran from the 1st to the 6th of July, with the main conference running from Monday to Thursday and the days either side were for special sessions or tours.

The chosen location for the conference was the University of Palermo, which was easily accessible and luckily there were blue banners on two of the buildings making it clear which one the conference was going to be held in. It was a gamble as to which of the two buildings I needed to enter, as they were on opposite sides of the street. I just chose the one that had more people walking into it, and luckily the decision paid off. I followed the few people into the building and up the stairs feeling so lost, especially not being able to speak the main language of the country. I looked around the entrance at the top of the stairs to find a few desks all laid out with HIC banners and names on them. I looked for the table that covered the end of the alphabet and went over to tell them my name, so I could collect my badge. The lady behind the desk signed me in, and then passed me a bag that had lots in. The bag contained two programmes, leaflets, a book from Xylem Water but in Italian, a pen, a pencil, a CD of a local guitarist, some local treats and a portable phone charger.

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After I collected my badge and bag I wasn’t too sure where to go or what to do. The introduction talk and first few keynotes were being held in a different building but at the time I didn’t know that. I sat down on a chair looking up and down the hallway a few times trying to see if I could match the room names. Whilst I was sat there looking confused, a girl came up to me who recognised me and called my name which confused me as I wasn’t 100 % sure who she was. When she mentioned the University of Exeter, I realised she was a masters student who knew some of the WISE people. I was glad she recognised me, as she was volunteering at the event as it was her home university, so it meant she could help me find out what I was doing. I then saw a few people I knew including WISE students and lecturers and headed over to the other building where the introduction was held. The organiser mentioned that there were around 400 delegates who would be attending the conference including industry presenters and academics. We had the introduction talk followed by moving back to the original building for coffee and cakes. The sweets treats during every coffee break were delightful and I was definitely tempted to try them all. The programme highlights the intensity of the conference with 6 parallel sessions being held at one time. It was difficult choosing which ones I wanted to go to and most of the time the talks I was most interested in were being held at the same time in different rooms. It would be great if I could be in two places at once. Luckily the conference gave us a USB in our welcome bag which I forgot to mention, which contained all the papers and abstracts so at least I can read the papers of the ones I missed.

The Presentations

Okay lets get the negatives out of the way. The clickers in some of the rooms to change the slides didn’t work, people weren’t talking loud enough so I couldn’t hear if they didn’t use a mic and some slides had such small font on them that there was no way I could read it. However, there were some really great presentations and really interesting talks starting with the keynote from Dragan Savic. I liked how he went through a personal history of his time in the field of hydroinformatics and he also made me more aware of those who are important in this field too. I went to a lot of talks and made notes on the ones I attended so I could look back and remember the key points. It would probably be a blog in itself if I wrote about all the talks I attended so instead I will pick out some, however if anyone is interested in hearing more then please send me a message.

  1. Advanced Loop-flow Method for Fast Hydraulic Simulations (Zeljko Vasilic, Milos Stanic, Zoran Kapelan and Dusan). They introduced TRIBAL method which was a new algorithm for optimal loop identification and used triangulation based loops.
  2. Decision making methods for water resources planning in England and Wales (Damian Staszek, Dragan Savic and Guangtao Fu). What stood out for me was that this presentation highlighted the key challenges for decision making: increase in demand due to population growth, climate change impact, customers expectation and value for money.
  3. Bringing modern biology into water quality modelling using agent-based techniques (Ferdi Hellweger). This poster presentation focused on how we could include modern biology into water quality models and how we are able to compare the transcript levels of genes/enzymes and proteins to detect water quality issues.
  4. Impact of water supply on energy use and carbon dioxide in Jing-Jin-Ji region, China (Guohua He, Yong Zhao, Jiahua Wang, Yongnan Zhu, Haihong Li and Shan Jiang). 81 billion kwh is currently used on the water industry and in 2014 they were using mainly surface water and interbasin transfer. However, they hope that by 2020 they can change the water supply to groundwater sources and desalinated water and in 2050 the main supply will be recycled water. Agricultural water use consumes the highest proportion of energy.
  5. Remote sensing, mobile applications and open data science tools for better monitoring of sanitation systems (Lars Schoebitz, Stuart Woolley, Jaime Sanchez Ferragut, Alison Weber, Jeff Hallowell, Jeff Wong and Jeff Piascik). I liked this talk a lot as it focused on a different aspect of the water industry which is sanitation. It is an area I am interested in and I liked that this work looked at improved sanitation facilities for developing countries. It included sensors with a database that could monitor each of the sanitation systems set up and provided heatmap visualisations. washdata.org
  6. Characterizing a controllable urban watershed: using web services to control and coordinate stormwater flows (Branko Kerkez, Matthew Bartos, Brandon Wong and Abhiram Mullapudi). I thought that Branko was a great presenter and he really kept me interested and focused on his presentation. It looked at valves put in place that would be able to capture water to create ponds where natural treatment could occur allowing for a coordination of a steady flow between the sites. This in turn would reduce erosion downstream of rivers.
  7. Adsorptive removal of phosphate from wastewater with magnetite particles: a study on the particle size optimization (Yunjung Kim and Younggyun Choi). Now this presenter admitted that his work didn’t fit into the theme of hydroinformatics, however I was still interested as he used magnetite to remove phosphorous which had me intrigued as to whether I could try this with emerging contaminants. Also, I was mainly interested in the method he used of batch adsorption and column experiment where he used a pack bed column reactor as I considered that maybe this could be a way to test the graphene adsorbents I will be creating.
  8. Simulating the impact of water quality improvement measures for nutrient-sensitive river basins with the Aquatox model (Alper Elci, Selma Ayaz and Sebnem Aynur). This stood out as a potential to apply to the modelling of emerging contaminants as different models were discussed. The first Aquatox which is a water quality model, then WASP which focuses on flow and lastly SWAT which looks as the diffuse sources and is a soil and water assessment tool.

 Gala Dinner

Now this was definitely one of my favourite parts of the conference. Now if you ever get a chance to visit Palermo, I strongly advise you head to Mondello and in particular the restaurant Alle Terrazze (http://www.alleterrazze.it/en/). I even went back there after the conference finished so I could enjoy the beach and other bars and restaurants that were on offer. The food is great, and the views are amazing. Now I wouldn’t say the food at the dinner was what I would normally have, and I did struggle to eat it. However, the experience, the freshness of the food and the views of the sea as the sun set were definitely worth the fact that the main was all fish. What made me laugh the most was that during registration when I was handed my badge for the conference, well inside was a pink card that said ‘Meat Menu. No Pig Meat’. Now automatically I assumed that this meant there was pig on the menu, as they told us to hand our cards into the restaurant, so they knew what you could eat. There were ‘no fish cards’, ‘vegetarian cards’, ‘gluten free cards’ and a few more I didn’t get to see. When I sat down at the table, I was a little disappointed to see the whole menu contained fish and was wishing I ate more of the tasty canape style snacks at the beginning with my complimentary prosecco. The starter was a plate of different fish dishes, most of which were raw which is what put me off. There were anchovies, orange wrapped in cod, tuna tartar, octopus and aubergine. The only thing I tried was the octopus which actually tasted okay and reminded me of calamari and the aubergine. No food was wasted though as I passed it off onto Josh (another WISE student) who was sat next to me. The other courses that followed consisted of a citrus risotto, a swordfish pasta dish and lastly fish served with courgettes and potatoes. Not the best food for me, but many enjoyed it and I am sure those who enjoy that much fish in one sitting would have loved the meal.

My Talk

I wouldn’t say many people came to my talk, maybe 20 max but for me that worked better having less people to present to. I was so nervous beforehand, so nervous that I didn’t indulge in the afternoon treats and instead went to my allocated room early. I let the chair know I was there, so she could sign me in and checked my presentation was there. Matthew Johns, who is a co-author on my paper and a post doc at my university came to my room to watch my presentation. I was speaking to him beforehand telling him how nervous I was and how afraid I was to present. I was the first person to present in my session and went up to the front and took the clicker in my hand, so I could change my slides. I was so nervous during my talk; my legs were shaking so much and I found myself placing one hand in my pocket to stop me moving it around. One of my questions at the end was about the optimisation of the tool I had used, and naturally I panicked. I was so glad Matthew was in the room to answer my question, and when he answered it I realised the answer was simple and had I not panicked maybe I would have been okay. I thought my presentation was okay, but not great so it was really nice to hear people say it was the best presentation they saw at the conference and how natural I seemed. I did not feel natural that is for sure, and no matter how many presentations I give I still feel so nervous.

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Closing Ceremony

During the last day, Dragan came to get me from a room I was sat in and he informed me that the organiser wanted to see me. Now I will be honest the way Dragan called me towards him I thought I was in trouble and as it was before I had given my own presentation I thought that there was something he didn’t like and he was going to tell me I wasn’t able to give my presentation. Instead he gave me amazing news that shocked me a lot. As part of this conference all students (under the age of 35) could enter into a competition where the best paper from each of the 6 themes would win a prize. Well this was the amazing news Dragan had to share. My paper was selected from my category and he wanted to introduce me to the organiser so that I could be told to stick around for the closing ceremony. The closing ceremony consisted of thanking the organisers, followed by the student awards. I went up on stage with the other winners to receive my certificate and a book. I was also told that I will receive two years free membership to IWA or IAHR and receive free registration to the next HIC conference which will be held in Mexico in 2020. There was then an introduction to the new conference location by the new organisers with a video on Mexico and a brief outline of the new themes. Lastly, the closing ceremony finished with a live performance of a local guitarist of whom we were given the CD of. It was a great end to the four days.

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Summary

Overall this was an amazing experience for me, being able to learn about a side of water engineering I am less familiar with, whilst being surrounded by some of the top academics in the field. It was interesting to see a range of presentations on Hydroinformatics and I hope that some of the techniques used can be applied in my future work. It has also allowed me to see how this conference works and to gain experience presenting so that if I attend the 2020 conference in Mexico I am better prepared. I want to say thank you to my supervisors, lecturers and colleagues for their advice and help but more importantly to the organisers for running a great conference and for choosing a wide range of talks that I was able to learn from.

Preparing for the 13th International Hydroinformatics Conference #HIC2018

I remember when I received the email to say my abstract was accepted, then the paper a few months later. I was delighted that my work got accepted but more so that the conference would be in Italy in July. Actually, if I am being honest the sweet gelato and fresh pasta excited me even more. But it wasn’t all happy thoughts when this whole process started. Let’s go back to the beginning first, the stressful time period of writing the extended abstract and even more stressful time of reaching the deadline for the paper.

I received an email from my supervisor Prof Fayyaz A. Memon on the 20th October informing me and Seyed Sadr (acting co supervisor during my MSc Dissertation) that we should submit a paper for the conference. I read the first line thinking okay a conference, no problem, this could be exciting, until I read further to see that the deadline was the 31st October. My thoughts instantly change to ‘no, this is impossible, I don’t want to do this, I won’t be able to do this, this is a bad idea’. I think the first lesson that any PhD student can learn here is that it is okay to be scared but ultimately your supervisors know what is best for you and they are there to push you and guide you. Looking back, and if this situation was to arise again I would handle it in a more calmer way. Of course, though I kept all these thoughts in my head and emailed my supervisor back as if everything was fine. Maybe that is another thing though, that you need to have a relationship where you can voice your concerns to your supervisor or the stress will build up. It did for me (as you can see in previous blog pages), but all that has changed now as I have learnt how to cope and learnt to trust in my supervisor. Anyways moving on to the abstract due on the 31st October. It wasn’t an ordinary abstract, it was an extended abstract, 5 pages long, that involved an introduction, methodology, results and conclusions section. 11 days and 5 pages to write may seem easy to the advance writer, or any post docs or lecturers reading this. Let us just remember that I only started my PhD in September and at this time I had another conference presentation on going. I had planned a Halloween night out with the other WISE students for the 31st, but unfortunately wasn’t able to go and spent my evening sat at home skyping Seyed and trying to complete this. It was a stressful week. I had to rewrite, and restructure and learn how to plot graphs via matlab in order to present my work in a better way. My supervisor had no time to read my work that week which agitated me. I felt this way because he was the one who suggested I apply, so surely, he should read it. Unfortunately, supervisors have other priorities that take precedence. Although that week I probably disliked Seyed a little, all the changes he was sending, but through all that dislike came a lot of thankfulness. I was thankful that he was taking the time to go through my work, that someone who had their own work and life was taking the time to spend it with me and helping me. So yes, at the time all the changes and late nights were horrendous, Seyed has a huge role to play in my success. Even throughout the paper writing process too, he has pushed me enough and taken the time to help me understand the work and changes. So, thank you Seyed for making me realise I can do this and the stress will pass.

Waiting, waiting, waiting for an acceptance email was a very long process. I had to wait until the 2nd January to find out if I was lucky enough to get accepted. I remember before receiving the email hearing about different levels of acceptance and not knowing what the different numbers meant for a conference paper. What I found was the following:

Strong Accept (+3)

Accept (+2)

Weak Accept (+1)

Borderline (0)

Weak Reject (-1)

Reject (-2)

Strong Reject (-3)

With all the options that I had found, I wasn’t expecting to get very far and thought it would be a reject for the pure fact I had such a short time to write it in. I was wrong. That is another lesson I have learnt, I would never want to be a cocky person who thought they were good at everything, but I have always put myself down and I shouldn’t. From submission to presenting this conference has shown me that I am able and every time I have doubted my abilities I have been given positive feedback which has made me change the way I will look at my work.

My acceptance email went like this..

Overall evaluation: 3 (strong accept)

———– Overall evaluation ———–

Very interestin study about the application of an already developped DSS tool WiSDOM, for pollutants of emerging concern from WWTP. I suggest to report more information about the applied software in particular equations. From the abstract is almost impossible to evaluate the innovative aspects of the presented reseach

Looking forward to receiving the full paper

As you can imagine this was the first feeling of shock I felt, where I was excited and happy that I received the highest evaluation score. Reading the feedback was useful as it provided me with constructive comments on how to extended the initial abstract to turn it into a conference paper.

The deadline for the paper was changed a few times, which was irritating as one of the times was when I was in Colorado for the poster conference, and Seyed emailed them asking for a deadline extensions as I was away and more changes were needed. That was great, we got the extension, but then I came home and stressed myself out trying to make changes only to find the deadline was moved anyways after I submitted the paper. I finally submitted the final version of the paper towards the end of March. The main changes to the paper was detail and an equation. As per the comments the reviewer felt equations used were needed. Now I struggled with this, trying to figure out a fancy way to write a line of excel code. Seyed managed with great perfection though. I don’t even know how he did it.

How he converted this…

=𝐼𝐹(𝑂𝑅(𝐷7≤=0,𝐷7=𝑁𝑜_𝑡𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑡𝑚𝑒𝑛𝑡,𝑁𝑜_𝑡𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑡𝑚𝑒𝑛𝑡,𝐷7×(100−(𝑉𝐿𝑂𝑂𝐾𝑈𝑃(𝐸3,′𝑊𝑎𝑡𝑒𝑟 𝑄𝑎𝑢𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑦′!𝐴2:𝐶𝐵44,3,𝐹𝐴𝐿𝑆𝐸)))/100)

Into this…

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Where, m: Contaminant ID; k: Stage of treatment; S: Maximum number of stages considered in the proposed treatment train; Im: Influent quality with respect to concentration of m; Ym: Effluent quality with respect to concentration of m; and Rm,u,k: Contaminant removal rate of the unit process u in treatment stage k.

Of course out of context that won’t make much sense to anyone, but I am waiting for the conference paper to be published, so can’t share it just yet on here. It took some time and great persuasion but eventually my supervisor had time to read my paper. That was a tough period for me, as at the time I was writing my journal paper and my supervisor wasn’t too happy with it, which is fair enough. But unfortunately, this meant that this conference paper sort of got pushed to the side until changes to the other one were made, but the deadline for this conference paper was first. I definitely struggled to find a balance here but it’s done now and I can only move forward and learn from that process.

I never really received a formal acceptance email for the paper, just an email telling me where to find the template for presentations and how long my presentation was. I assumed that meant great news and that I was going to Palermo. Next on my list was to prepare the presentation. For this I have Dragan Savic to thank, as he took the time to go through my slides and make comments on them slide by slide providing feedback. Some of the slides had to go, but some he really liked so that was positive (see the next blog for a copy of the slides). Now this was by the far the longest presentation I have ever had to give, with 15 minutes of talking. I wrote my speech of what I was going to say before I got to Palermo but I hadn’t practised once. I have Emily (my travel buddy) to thank for my presentation going well at the HIC conference (write up of the conference in another blog page) because she made me practise the presentation and learn it for close to two hours and wouldn’t let me play in the pool until I had.

Read the next blog to find out more information about my time at the conference. #HIC2018

Palermo…so far

I left Plymouth at 11:30am on Friday 29th June to head towards Bedfordshire where my parents live. What should have been a 4 hour journey (max) resulted in an 8 hour car ride, stuck in every bit of traffic that existed that day. Nightmare. I should probably mention now that I took a travel buddy this time round before I confuse everyone if I mention her name (Emily) or say we during this. We both got to my parents and had to re pack as I didn’t have a good suitcase in Plymouth and wanted something a bit more sturdy than my existing one. Eventually we managed to get the weight of our suitcases down to something reasonable, although they were slightly over the limit. After around 4/5 hours sleep I woke up the next day at 2 am feeling rather fragile and went to wake Emily up who really struggled to get out of bed and even managed to sneak back to sleep whilst I had a shower. Both dressed and ready to go, my dad turned up from his last Taxi run and came to get us. We arrived at Luton airport a little earlier than expected and we were able to check in early using the self scan machines. The machines weigh your bag for you and you scan your boarding pass then it prints off a label. I went first, and mine was 24 kg, the limit was 23 kg. The screen highlighted a message saying that the staff member has to come over as it required a charge. Luckily, I had a nice man who said as it was only 1 kg over he didn’t mind and that I could have it free of charge. Emily weighed her bag next and it was more than 1 kg over, so the man wouldn’t let it through free of charge. Instead of paying, we told him we would move things around and I just put a pair of shoes from her bag into mine. Cheeky I know. We had a nice breakfast at Frankie and Bennys and then it wasn’t long until we were due to board. We were delayed setting off by 30 minutes which was a little irritating. I can’t tell you much about the flight as once we reached the air I fell fast asleep and woke up with about 30 minutes left to go.

The Hotel

I had already arranged a pick up with the Hotel from the airport as I knew it was a bit of a distance. So we picked a hotel with a pool, only so that when I was at my conference Emily had a means of keeping entertained too. I will be honest, I am so glad we got a place with a pool as it is so hot. Hotel Bel 3 is a 3 star hotel, which means maybe I shouldn’t have expected much from the place, but the pictures online looked amazing. We booked an economy room and it is very basic, which is what we paid for I guess. The balcony over looks the road, but also has great views down into Palermo town as we are on a ‘mountain/hill’ (not too sure what to call it). The bathroom is basic too and is decorated with way too many orange tiles about a couple centimetres in size. They make the bathroom very bright. The shower head is off a bath tub and although there are places to rest the shower head against the tiles, it isn’t possible as the water sprays all over the bathroom; it is just easier to hold it. There are three pools, one is for children only and is very small, one is classed as a jacuzzi but has cold water and a few bubbles, and the last is the main pool. If you stand in the jacuzzi the water only comes up to your knees and in the main pool a couple of strokes of front crawl and you have touched the other end. Neither pool has any swimming possibilities. Yet I still blew up a float and have been making the most of it. Emily and I even started aqua gym where she tells me exercises to do. There is a gym here but everything is outdated and there is no AC, it is just too warm in there. The restaurant is okay. I wouldn’t rate it highly at all, food if you need it, but it is better to go elsewhere.

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Palermo

I will say I am a little disappointed by Palermo, which is shocking. The views from my hotel are great and the main buildings and sites look great but the actual town as a whole seems very poor, like it is lacking something. I felt like I was in India, yes I am sure the heat contributed to that thought but what I mean is there is rubbish everywhere, graffiti all over the place, it smells of sewage and waste walking through the streets, and I have probably had 5 beggars come up to me each day. Including ladies pushing babies in prams and even getting their kids to beg for them. It isn’t as busy as Rome, you don’t have set areas full of restaurants and bars. In Palermo you must find the right street, to find what you want or know the area well. That was my first impression into the town, it probably didn’t help that our transfer dropped us off right on the outskirts and we had to walk through some rough areas.

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Quattro Cantri, the four corners mark the main streets and when you spend time walking up each of the four streets there are nice sights and food on offer. Palermo cathedral is beautiful, the building itself is mesmerising. I didn’t think you could go inside with shorts on, but no one was at the door, so we went in. Then suddenly the bell rings and a ceremony started with signing and music and we realised the people sat down weren’t sat down to admire the beauty but to take part in the service. I then looked to the door to see a guy blocking off the place and quickly grabbed Emily so we could get out. It was nice to see a service, but maybe they should have blocked out the vast percentage of tourists from the building first.

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The Piazza Marina also has some lovely restaurants and drinks. Not to mention this lovely gelato place where I was able to eat Strawberry and Lemon Gelato in a brioche roll. Sounded weird to me at first but was actually one of the tastiest things ever.

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The Italians definitely get sweet treats right, and I have the worst sweet tooth. I also really like their granita, which if you ask me is just a more solid slush puppie and less artificial. Pizza’s are also something they don’t get wrong, but I do find their pasta rather al dente and don’t order a Bolognese if you can’t eat Pork as there isn’t beef Bolognese here. I learnt that the hard way. I recommend the bar Ai Bottai and the restaurant Pizza e cucina.

After the conference is finished we hope to check out Mondello beach, Trapani, Catania and some other places around there. However, whether that will happen is debatable as transport around here is limited and we didn’t want to hire a car as driving around Sicily is mental.