This blog represents my views, and not those of the Peace Corps, the government of Mali, or anyone else.

How to Repair a Top-of-a-Well

Ok! So This is a little brief, but here's how we've been doing it:

Day 1: The household is supposed to get tons of gravel and sand and screen it all out before we even show up. Most times, they say, "yeah, we're ready!" and then we spend 2 hours waiting for them to go get sand and gravel and screen it out. It's been 9-10 donkey carts for us, because we did all our wells down to 4m, which is a ton of bricks! They should also have their well-top all dug out before we show up, too. We gave them a dimension to dig out around the mouth of the well that was 80cm wider than the mouth of the well all around, which was usually more than 2 1/2 meters in diameter! It's a huge hole. Strongly encourage them to clear dirt away from the lip of the hole so people can work up there without kicking dirt (or bricks, or people!) down on top of the workers. Once everything is in place, go to town making bricks! Count out how many bricks you'll need by counting rings and multiplying. Because you mortar between bricks each ring is more than 25cm tall. We ended up needing 16 layers for 4 meters of repair and 2 rings above the surface, so 7 layers should get you 2m of well repair. We managed to get something like 20 bricks per bag of cement using a 1:3:5 concrete ratio. Your bricks need to be watered a LOT every day for 7 days. 3X a day if possible.

5 Days Later: Your bricks aren't ready, but they can stand a little (JUST A LITTLE!) moving around. Make a rebar grid for the bottom of your well. It should be 10cm wider than your well's diameter as measured at the bottom of your excavation. It should have 3 more rings, each 15cm further apart, and 32 cross-pieces should make roughly 15cm spacing. You make this on the ground, and you can do it on the day you make the bricks if you have the time. Anyway, you mix up 1.5 (or 2? depends on the size of your well!) buckets worth of cement and put down 1/3 of it on the bottom of your excavation. Get the rebar grid down there, and center it. Put some more cement down on top for a delicious bottom anchor! Yay! Ok, now while the cement is still wet, bring down enough bricks for your first ring! Lay them carefully, and level them, and let them rest. This should be watered for at least 5 days.

5 More Days Later: OK! Now for some fun. Get down in there (by this I mean get your homologue down in there), and start laying bricks! Mortar the tops, lay a ring catty-corner to the first ring, and seal up all the gaps. When you get up to about 5 rings or 6 rings from the bottom, take a lunch break and have people fill in the gap with dirt up to about halfway up the top brick. Repeat as necessary. People often leave the last two (above the surface) in sync so they look better. The mortar should be watered every day for a week, 3X a day if possible.

Sometime in There: The top slab is half an afternoon by itself, so it depends on when you have some free time during this process. You line up a ring of bricks as well as you can, then flip them out. Use a cement bag torn up to fill in the cracks, and fill the ring about halfway with dirt. You should do this as close to the well as possible, so that you don't have to haul this huge thing far. You can use sand to fill the ring in, but usually you'll have more dirt available, and the bottom layer doesn't matter so much. The top couple of centimeters should be sand, and there should be 10cm of space between the sand and the top of the bricks. Put down your lid, and start measuring and cutting rebar. Leave 2cm between the bar and the bricks (eg, take 4cm off of each measurement), and space the bars 15cm apart. Tie it all up. Set it aside and put 3.3cm of cement down, but not in the middle where the door goes!!! Put the rebar back down, and fill in the rest of the cement to the top of the bricks. Try to shape the cement so that water will run off the slab instead of into the well. Include a rock backstop for the lid. The backstop should be sunk into the cement about 3cm. Once your cement is in a rough outline of how it should be, mix a 1:4 sand mixture (what you need for mortar, too), but make it really runny so you can smooth it over the top and make a classy finish. Sprinkle dry concrete and smooth it to glossiness as the final flair. Malians like to write the date, and maybe somebody's name. The slab should be watered as often as possible (3x a day) for at least 7 days.

In the Nebulous Future: The well lid should go on top of the well one day. The trouble is, that if someone wants to get down in there to clean out the well, it's near impossible once it's lidded and sealed. For that reason, most of ours are just placed over the wells right now. Once the wells have been cleaned out, the lids will be sealed on. We also haven't done any aprons, because we are using nature (read: rainy season) to tamp down our backfill, so that can't be done until next year.