Saturday, May 30, 2009

Project trip to Mwanza, Tanzania - Part I


Sunday May 17th:
The trip to Tanzania got off to an early start – up at 3:30am and on the road by 4:00am. We’d packed the van the night before and parked it at the office so we could get right on the road.
The 220km (137 mi) to the border was pretty uneventful. At the immigration office, we almost got stuck as one of the interns was about a month past due on his visa. The immigration officer was threatening to send him back to Kampala, but after about 15 minutes of apologizing and asking what we could do, he finally stamped it and allowed him to continue (free of charge, surprisingly). The Tanzanian side was a breeze, and we were on our way in Tanzania!

This is how we sat for 14 hours before finally arriving at the ferry.

The first 150km was amazing – the road was better than anything I’ve seen in Uganda so far, and the surrounding terrain we were bisecting was so beautiful. The terrain is hilly, but with large, circular valleys between the hills covered in green grass with clusters of trees, including the occasional palm and banana trees that give it a distinctly African look. Light grey rock outcropping speckled the landscape as well, helping to make it one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. But from there, it got interesting.
Like it had been cut with a saw and taken away, all of a sudden the pavement just ended, giving way to a wider than normal dirt clearing. It was clear that they were rebuilding the road at first glance, and this was confirmed after 500 meters when we saw the first of what would be over a hundred new concrete culverts crossing the road. For the next 100 kilometers, the path we took was dictated by the tire tracks from vehicles that had traveled before us. But it varied from the dirt surface of the main (future) roadway, to a makeshift frontage road on one side, to a drainage ditch slash road that was chosen because it was the best option at that point. The weather also made things interesting as small thunderstorms were blowing through every couple hours, so the roadway was at times engulfed by seasonal streams.
One of the many flowing streams we crossed on the way. This one was nearly 3 feet deep up ahead where the truck had just passed.
At one point, the roadway was almost completely underwater for a couple kilometers.
A few spots were particularly hair-raising: one spot, the depth of the water was close to 2 ½ feet and it was flowing at a good pace; another spot was deep and rocky, so a small throng of local kids walked us through the best path to take. Our driver, Alex, clearly not trusting the kids, charted his own course and nearly got us stuck as we hit a number of large rocks! (He should have trusted the kids!); another spot, we came across a truck stuck in the middle of the road, so we had to take a narrow path around it to the left which was very steep – everyone in the car leaned hard to the right fearing we’d tip; in another spot, the road was narrow and very slick with ‘gushy’ mud as it winded down a slope on a hairpin curve to the left. Coming around the corner, we came upon two trucks who were stuck – one going uphill and the other downhill. We took a narrow, gooey path around to the right but we were sliding just like we were on ice as we just made it around the trucks. A group of about 15 Tanzanian young men were out trying to dig and reinforce the road in front of the trucks to allow them to proceed (hopefully they’ll be successful sometime in the next week before we have come back through!).
But just like it had ended, the tarmac reappeared and we were back in business, soon forgetting the adventure of the dirt road behind and marveling at how good the road now was. However, our luck would soon end and we were faced with another 50 kilometer stretch of the same situation.
The last 100 kilometers (the trip was 100 kilometers longer than we’d thought) was hard dirt with potholes, so while it wasn’t nearly as harrowing, it was definitely the least comfortable to drive on. At 5:20pm, I got a text from Pastor Richard with the ministry in Mwanza that we had to be at the ferry by 6:00pm, otherwise it would close and we’d be stuck on a different ferry that would add an hour to our trip! So Alex started driving like a maniac to make the ferry, which was 65 kilometers out at that point. Since it was a terrible surface, this made for a very bumpy ride – a couple times we landed so hard I thought sure our tires would burst or the axle would break! But at 5:56pm, we rolled into the waiting line for the ferry – we made it!
The line waiting to get on the ferry
Standing room only on this ferry (there were two that alternated, and the other one had benches inside to sit down on)
Our safari van (off center, to the left) coming off the ferry
After an hour long process of ferrying across Mwanza bay (Lake Victoria), we were greeted by a friendly Pastor Richard who led us to our hotel just 3 or 4 kilometers away, arriving at 8:00pm – 16 hours after we left Kampala. After a quick greeting to the ministry people (who had flown in earlier that day), we ordered dinner and ate, and then made our way to our rooms to clean up and go to bed. Me and one other team member, long-term volunteer and civil engineer Denis, each have our own rooms – the rest of the team paired off into two’s.
Not everyone in East Africa is poor! I have no idea how these homes are accessed as they are located on a very narrow and almost solid rock strip of land that juts out into Mwanza Bay. The lower house has a staircase down to the water that was chiseled out of the rock!
Monday May 18th:
I haven’t had as solid of a night of sleep in a long time! When the alarm went off at 6:30am, I opened my eyes and thought, “Where am I?!”
The team ate breakfast and then met upstairs in the 4th floor conference room for a short devotion and worship time. After that, the 4 ministry people came up and met with us to give us the background on their ministry. There are four ministry people here: Debra – the director, her husband Wayne, and then Shannon & Christine Wentzel – the couple who plan to move to the site with four of their five children. All four ministry members are from Minnesota.
Hearing about the ministry is always a crucial time for the team as it allows us a chance to connect with what they are doing. This ministry, called End-Time Glory Ministries, is focused on bible training and evangelism in nearly 20 countries around the globe. This trip is Debra’s 90th trip out of the U.S. They have bible training schools in Kenya, Uganda, Guyana, Burundi, the Philippines, and the U.S. This project is their first orphanage project of what they hope to be many more in the future in many different countries. They’re vision is big – but they are trusting in God to develop what they feel He’s put on their hearts.
After the introductory meeting, we headed to the ferry to visit the site. The whole ferry process takes about an hour and a half, since you have to arrive early, load, and then wait for the ferry to begin the 30 minute trip. Once on the other side, we all piled in the van and drove towards the site. After just a few hundred meters, we turned off onto something that looked more like a seasonal stream coming down the mountain than it did a road. It took our van two tries just to get over the hump on the side of the main road. After that, it was probably the worst excuse for a road I’ve seen in Africa yet (which is really saying something!).
One stretch of the terrible access road to the site. This picture doesn't do it justice, nor is it the worst part of the road, but it was solid rocks up near the top of this picture.
There were large rocks, 4 foot deep trenches down the middle, holes and deep ruts, and at times it was only a few feet wide with 3 foot deep ruts on each side! With 15 people in the 8 passenger van, there were a few times where it looked and felt like we were going to tip. Before we’d even reached the site, we had already decided to walk back to the main road on the return trip!
The team walking back to the ferry

Walking the site was beautiful. It’s mainly covered in tall grass (4-5 feet) with some bushes and a few large trees. It’s gently sloped, but with a pretty large hill in the middle the ministry has dubbed ‘Glory Mountain’. The ministry has planted various crops on about 25% of the land while they wait to develop. We walked the entire perimeter and much of the middle as well, including a quick hike up the 100 foot-tall Glory Mountain. Pastor Richard saw a small, black Cobra, but he didn’t tell us until later for fear we would have been scared so sorry, no pictures.
After about 2 hours on site, with off and on light rain mixed with piercing sunshine and sticky humidity, we walked back to the ferry (the walk was much more pleasant than the drive had been, and probably only took 10 minutes longer).
'Glory Mountain', with team architect Megan and Pastor Richard's nephew Dominic helping read the survey map in the foreground

After ferrying back, we ordered lunch around 3:30pm with a plan to do the big programming meeting afterwards. Well, the food didn’t come until 5:00pm, so lunch turned into dinner.
The programming meeting finally happened around 6pm, and went very well. This is the meeting where we ask tons of questions of the ministry to get details like how many people in each function on site, what kind of toilets they want (flush, latrine, squatty’s, etc.), how they want the different functions on site to interact with each other, etc. It also was a chance for us to talk about how to phase in the project, and what the priorities are.
The site viewed from atop 'Glory Mountain', with Lake Victoria off in the Distance

Overall, the meeting went very well. I think we all realized that the land, at 22 acres, is a little small for their vision which includes: an orphanage for up to 64, guest housing for up to 24 short term missionaries, a radio station, a medical clinic, a primary school and secondary school for up to 300, a bible training school for up to 100, local staff housing and long term missionary housing! Plus, they would like to farm as much of the land as possible in hopes of being self sustaining. Fortunately, the ministry was realistic and realized that they will have to purchase more land before some of their future phases can be built.
All in all, it was a good first day, though things like the ferry and the late lunch made it a bit unorthodox timing-wise. Tomorrow will finally be a full work day, so we should be well on our way to having a good first draft of the master plan by the end of the day.
This rock outcropping is called 'Bismarck's Rock' and greets you as the ferry brings you to Mwanza - the balancing rock is actually only resting on two small places. You can see air under the rock between the two places where it rests.
Bismarck Rock - it's amazing to think that centuries of people have looked at this rock and no one has tried to tip it over!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

One project completed, heading out on the next one Sunday!

This past week, myself and interns Ryan and Lindsay completed our project report for New Hope Uganda's new Musana Camps site. Since we've been back from the project trip, I have been overseeing the staff, interns and volunteers from the trip as we've finalized the project report. This process typically takes 3 months or longer, but due to time constriants with my next project our timeline was shortened to 7 weeks!

Civil Engineering Intern Ryan, working on site during the trip

Architectural Intern Lindsay, sketching renderings on the project trip
Last week, the process of making corrections, printing and binding the reports and preparing them to mail out to the ministry and trip volunteers has kept us all busy. In all, the eMi team has spent over 1700 hours working on this project! I don't have any pictures of the completion process, but our outgoing Director Chad Gamble made up a great photo essay of the whole process for his trip, which printed this week. So if you'd like to see a bunch of pictures of what the process of finalizing an eMi report looks like, check out this link Chad created. Thanks Chad for the great idea!
Chad Gamble, the Director of eMi -East Africa. Chad founded the eMi-East Africa office back in 2003 and has been the Director ever since. Next month, he will be moving back to Sacramento with his wife Shanthi and 4 children. We are all mourning his departure as he has been a great boss, leader, mentor and friend.
This coming Sunday morning at 4am, I am heading out on my next project trip. This time, I am leading a team of 8 staff, interns and volunteers to Mwanza, Tanzania to design an orphanage, school and medical clinic for End Times Glory Ministries. The trip is 600 kilometers (about 375 miles) but we're estimating will take 14 to 16 hours! We've hired a minivan and driver to drive us, so at least we won't be stuck on a bus (the trip on a bus takes 20 hours!). I'd appreciate your prayers for safety as the roads here in East Africa are the most dangerous part of being here. If you want to check out where we'll be, the Google Earth coordinates are: 2-deg, 31', 25.38"S, 32-deg, 49', 55.18"E. Check back in a couple of weeks for posts and pictures from this trip.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Normal life

Graysen dressed as Jack Sparrow for a Pirates and Princesses birthday party a friend threw. (We brought this costume back with us from the States in February). In this picture, Graysen is eating a fried grasshopper - the first in our family to try one of these local treats. Even though he thought it was ok, he may be the last of us to try one too!

The last few weeks have felt very 'normal'. No major sickness, no major problems - just typical life stuff. We did go away to Jinja for a couple of nights since the boys were off school for their 2 week Easter break. We went with our neighbors the Kelly's and another family (the Stride's) here who are a part of a small group of families who we hang out with. We had a fun time, visiting the Welcome Home orphanage (we love going by and checking in with the kids and goings-on there), letting the boys swim, going to see Bujagali Falls where I rafted last Summer, and mountain biking (my neighbor Brian and I went for the morning) through a rain forest.
Last Sunday, Alisha and I also ran a 10K here in Kampala. It was terrible! The first 2K was all downhill so you started out too fast, then most of the rest of the run was grueling uphill. We were surprised at how fast we'd run it given the terrain (me-41 mins., Alisha-51 mins, second for women ages 20-39) - until our neighbor Lynne told us her GPS clocked it at only 8.9KM! Hilarious that the race organizers could be off by more than a full kilometer!
Anyway, enjoy some pictures of these last few weeks. Work-wise, this coming week we will be finalizing the design report for my Spring project. Two weeks from today, I'll be setting off for my Summer trip to Tanzania. We're going to try to take the ferry across the lake, though it's a 19-hour boat trip on an old boat and that lake can act more like an ocean during storms. I say 'try' to take the ferry because it depends on when it arrives - there is no set schedule so we have to check a couple days before to see when it's coming! The backup plan is to take the bus, which will be 18 hours! Both cost about $50 round trip, which is a lot cheaper than the $500 round trip plane fare. I'm praying against any motion sickness, whether on land or sea!

Alisha, with friends Jenny (hot pink), Lynne (white tank top), and Dawn (yellow visor) before the 10K race. The race started 40 minutes late and was 1.1km short of 10K...but it was still a lot of fun (Alisha would disagree witht he fun part), despite the intense heat and gruemsome hills!

Me, Alisha, Lynne and Jenny before the race - the asphalt we're standing on was some of the only paved roads we'd see that day!

Stephen, eMi's Head of Security, was stationed at our house for the day. His 2-year old son named Bless-You came by, so he borrowed a pair of swim trunks and all the boys took a dip in these bucket pools.

Neighbor Brian and I went on a 25km mountain biking trek through the Mabiri rainforest between Kampala and Jinja. It was probably better suited for a walking trail with all the roots, but it was a lot of fun. It was very humid and dark in the jungle!

This clearing was at the destination of our trek, a waterfall in a nearby stream. The Mabira Forest can be seen in the background.

The waterfall was a little dissappointing actually. The stench in this little river was so bad we didn't get within 25 feet of it. It smelled like fermented fruit, and wasn't exactly the pristine water you'd expect flowing through a rainforest. We found out later that the sugar factory upstream dumps their byproducts into the stream. Sad - it actually gave me an appreciation for the EPA back in the U.S. that I hadn't really thought of before.

This was one of our bikes - note the brand name: Panasonic. We thought that was pretty funny. I haven't googled it, but I think it's safe to say there's a 0% chance that this is actually a bike made by Panasonic! ha! If so, they should stick to electronics! The seat was so uncomfortable our rears were killing us after only 15 minutes.

Our neighbors - Brian and Lynne Kelly. Brian is the pastor at the Calvary Chapel Kampala church we attend downtown. They've lived here 7 years and are great people. Having their family live next door has been a big blessing to us, and a big answer to prayer.

Our kids and the Kelly kids playing in the pool at the Kingfisher Safari resort where we stay in Jinja. The prices are pretty cheap and the kids love the pool.

The bottom of Bujagali falls (the first class V rapid in the Nile River rafting trip). The person in the water is one of the local guys who brave the rapids with nothing more than their swimsuit and a jerry can (a 5 gallon, plastic jug). There are a number of them that do it all day, every day as their job. The going rate is usually about 5,000 Ugandan shillings, which is about $2.50. It's pretty dangerous - one of them died a few years back.

Family photo at Bujagali Falls

Alisha and the boys with Lynne and her 3 kids: Judah (2nd grade), Julia (1st grade) and Liana (almost 4 yrs old).

Visiting Welcome Home orphanage is always one of our favorite parts of coming to Jinja!

Alisha and I thought little Veronica was so precious - and we loved her even more when we found out that she used to follow our new niece Becky around everywhere before Becky came home to San Diego with Alisha's brother's family.
Veronica says 'hello' Becky!