Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tanzania project trip - Part III


The project team (L to R): Long-term volunteer Denis, Long-term volunteer Megan, Intern Ryan, Intern Suellen, Volunteer Ben, Intern Tim, Intern Andrew, and me.

The Master Plan, designed and sketched by Megan

Saturday May 23rd:

Presentation day – after a late night we got an early start to make sure we were ready for the presentation. Since we had finished everything the night before, it was actually a pretty relaxing morning. But just as we were feeling really good about being ready ahead of time, the power went out! All week, the power had only been out a couple times and for short periods. This time, it went off around 7:30am and stayed off all morning. So with the presentation to begin at 10am, we asked the hotel staff around 9:30am to turn on the generator. Unfortunately, they were out of fuel so they had to go get some. After waiting for an hour, they finally returned with gas and started it up.

The topographic survey, performed by Interns Ryan and Andrew. It's pretty impressive that they were able to survey an uncleared, 22-acre site in just 3 days.

The site 'area' diagram. The architects started with this to identify the various areas on site and how they would interact with one another. This stuff always impresses me because it's pretty foreign to any training I've received for engineering. But the great thing about leading these trips is I get to learn a lot from the talented volunteers and interns who come on the trip!

Fortunately, that was really the last hiccup, as the presentation went very well. We had great communication with the ministry all week, so there were no surprises to present (which is always a good thing). They really had just a few minor questions sprinkled throughout, so all in all it couldn’t have gone any better. We thanked them for their generous hospitality during the week and closed. Debra, the ministry director, was very touched with the team’s work and gave us a very heartfelt thank you for helping them. It’s always especially satisfying when the ministry is so appreciative of the team’s hard work during the week.

The floor plan and elevations of the children's home. The ministry plans to build four of these structures at a time, creating a cluster that would act as extended family. At full build-out of the site, there would be a total of 16 of these houses, housing a total of more than 120 orphans. A house mom will live in each house of 8 kids.

The guest house, where mission teams from the west will stay while they work at the site.

After packing up a bit, we ate lunch and then headed into town to do a little souvenir shopping at the local market. Pastor Richard’s nephew Alex, who had been helping the surveyor’s on site all week, accompanied us to the market so we would have an interpreter. It was fun to walk through the market, though again not knowing Swahili was a big difference with Uganda. People try to greet to you, but you really have no way of communicating with them except to wave. It really made me appreciate the fact that most people in Kampala speak English.
It was a late night the night before the presentation.

Me and Megan waiting for the generator fuel to show up so we can start the presentation.

After the market, we went across town to a nice hotel for our team closing meeting and a nice dinner. The closing meetings are always one of my favorite moments on the trip as it’s a chance where people can really open up with the team about their experience here as well as encourage the other team members. We each took a turn talking about our high and low points of the trip, what we feel God taught us here or what we’re taking away from this time and any prayer requests we might have. Then, each of the other team members takes a turn sharing a word of encouragement about that person.
Intern Andrew explaining the water plan - I loved this schematic plan the civil engineers created.

For me, my low point on the trip was getting the computer virus. Computer problems drive me crazy, so I was glad that intern Ryan was along on the trip to work on it. My high point was Friday night, the last night of work. We were all taking turns listening to music on our computers, and we landed on Keith Green for an hour or so. Since volunteer Ben and also intern Ryan are big fans of his music, I just enjoyed the time of listening to his music while we all worked. Every time I hear Keith Green I am reminded of a person who was so committed to his faith that his passion is both encouraging and convicting at the same time.
Our work room was perfect - it even had a pull down screen for our powerpoint presentation! Usually, we have to tape up blank white paper on the wall to make the screen!

What I took away from this trip was an appreciation for all of the talent that was there. It’s always a little hard to be the leader of a group of professionals since it seems there are preconceived notions that the leader is somehow more knowledgeable or spiritual than the other team members – and that certainly is not the case. I come at it more from a learning position, as there is always a lot to learn from the other team members. This trip was no exception, as we had some talented people working on this design.
Interns Tim and Andrew sitting down taking a break while volunteer Ben and I stand by waiting for the team at the downtown market.

Sunday May 24th:
The trip home. It sounds so easy to write - if only it was that easy to accomplish! It turned out to be a very long and ‘interesting’ trip home. Here’s what all happened.
We left the hotel at 5:15am to catch the 6:30am ferry. We wanted to be sure to make on that ferry so we could get an early start. When we arrived at 5:30am, there wasn't a soul around but the security guard, so he let us in and we parked, the first car in line. After about 45 minutes and no activity, Alex our driver went to ask about it, and was told that the first ferry left at 7:30am, not 6:30am as we had been told! So after standing around and waiting for a total of 2 hours and 15 minutes, the ferry finally left at 7:45am. We arrived at 8:25am and left soon after. So, 3 hours and 10 minutes in, we had traveled about 5km, with 695km to go!

The sitdown ferry had a nice covered outdoor area in back where we liked to hang out. A much more enjoyable 40 minute ride than the standing room only ferry, where we basically just filled in the cracks between the vehicles.

I had noticed when we got in the car at the hotel that our gas gauge showed a 2/3 full tank even though we had filled it up the night before. I mentioned it to our driver but he said sometimes the indicator takes awhile to rise. I thought he probably knew his car better than I did, so I dropped it.
After several dozen kilometers, I checked and the gas gauge was steadily dropping. I suggested to the driver that perhaps someone had stolen gas out of our tank the night before. He seemed skeptical of that idea, but after just 150km we were almost on empty. The car was also making a loud clicking sound whenever we accelerated, so Alex mentioned that the car was having trouble and that’s why he was driving slower than normal (60-80 km/hr (40-50 mph) the whole trip!) Overall, the first 85km were the worst road of the entire 700km journey, and took 2 hours to travel.
After driving awhile longer and the gas tank getting lower and lower, we pulled over in a small village and Alex drained the fuel filter, suspecting that the people who stole gas from us also put some dirt in the tank (which was causing the sound and forcing Alex to drive slower). While we were stopped, we also noticed one of the back tires was 50% flat, so Alex changed the tire with one of two spares we were carrying on the roof. But there was no gas for sale there, so we had to forge ahead another 50km to find a station.
Just as we were running out of petrol, we found a small town a couple miles off the main road that had a petrol station. It was a small joint, and the power was out so no automatic pump – they’d have to pour it into a jerry can to measure the amount and then fill. After filling up just 20 liters since Alex didn’t trust the gas, we were back on the road.
Some of the more sophisticated equipment I've seen in East Africa was being used to rebuild the road in Tanzania.

When pavement ran out about 100 kilometers further down the road, we were back on the dirt. Fortunately, there was no rain on this day, so what was a terribly crazy road on the way there was a much more easily traversed, dry road this time around. But towards the end of this second dirt section, we were running very low on fuel once again. Our driver, noting that the fuel prices were 50% higher in Tanzania, only filled up another 20 liters this time, so I spent the majority of the trip worrying that we were going to run out of gas out in the middle of the Tanzanian savannah!
Finally reaching the border at 5:30pm, it turned out to be the easiest part of the trip with no glitches. Moving into Uganda, nighttime started to fall, which was unfortunate since the Ugandan roads, though paved, were covered with pot-holes, making it difficult to drive on at night. The team was getting hungry since we hadn’t really eaten anything all day other than snacks (except for me – I don’t eat anything on these trips to help combat motion sickness and also to avoid having to stop for the bathroom). So after driving around for an hour in a town called Masaka, (which is about 3 hours from Kampala) we finally found a little roadside stand selling some stuff the team could snack on.
At 8:30pm, we rolled out of Masaka for home. At that time, our driver started complaining that he was feeling feverish and overall not well. After about an hour down the road from Masaka though, the trip took another turn. Intern Suellen just barely happened to catch out of the corner of her eye that one of our steel hand-auger rods had flown off the top of the car. It took us nearly a kilometer to stop, so when we went back it was a bit hard to know where to look since it was pitch black out. But, after an hour of searching with flashlights (my Surefire flashlight I love so much was the hero!), we finally found it, and after briefly losing one of the team members who had wandered way off down the road looking for the lost item, we were back on the road at 10:30pm.
We finally rolled into Kampala at 12:30am, and by that time our driver was shaking with the chills and feeling terrible. We stopped off at the guesthouse to drop off the volunteer. When we arrived, a very sheepish and worried looking manager met me at the front door and asked why we were here. I explained that we had a reservation for one made weeks ago, and confirmed 6 hours earlier by Alisha when she stopped by to put a pizza in the fridge for the volunteer and a homemade brownie on his bed. The manager explained that she thought we had cancelled and that she was full. What’s worse, she thought Alisha was with the other party so she had given them the pizza and brownie!
I’m not sure if you could see flames coming out my ears, but I could feel them! Fortunately, I stayed calm and told her we would figure something else out and I would be by the next day to discuss what to do. (Mainly, I just wanted a refund for the pizza!)
So we stopped by our house, picked up some spare mats and sheets and had the volunteer cram into the boys place – 7 guys in a small 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment with 3 on the hard tile floor with mats! The volunteer, Ben, was a great sport and I think it turned out Ok in the end.
So, after dropping all the team members off, I finally arrived home at 1am – 20 hours after leaving the hotel! By that time, the driver would curl up into a ball and just shiver while we were waiting to unload at each stop. I felt very badly for him, but there was nothing I could do. So after winding down and getting settled, I went to bed thoroughly exhausted around 2am!
Again, this doesn't have to do with anything, but there were a bunch of these signs and I thought they were funny. Entering the town, it's the same sign without the diagonal line. Then when you're exiting town, they have this sign! I don't know why, but I just thought it was funny. I can't imagine driving out of Los Angeles and seeing a sign that has 'Los Angeles' crossed out on it!

The next morning at 9:20am, I received a call from Chad that our two local staff members, Stephen and Semei, had had some terrible tragedies happen. Semei, our office manager and bookkeeper, had found out a couple days ago that his twin brother (around 32 years old) had died earlier in the week, just a few days after being diagnosed with AIDS. Then Stephen, our head of security, had knocked on Chad’s door the night before around midnight and informed Chad that his 3 year old daughter, Comfort, had suddenly died. She had cerebral palsy since birth, but had been healthy otherwise lately. It was quite a shock and a terrible loss, especially since Stephen had just returned from the village the day before after attending his Christian Father’s (similar to a Godparent in the U.S.) burial (another unexpected death).
It’s unbelievable that all of that happened in a span of 6 days, and a terrible tragedy, though sadly this culture sees such tragedy like that routinely. It doesn’t make it easier though, and I’d ask you to join me in praying for Semei and Stephen’s families in this very difficult time. Semei is not married and has no children. Stephen is married and has a 2 year old son remaining.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Tanzania Project Trip - Part II


Tuesday May 19th:
This morning, we sent the surveyors and civil engineers off at just before 8am to the site to begin their work. We then set up a work room on the top (4th) floor of the hotel. The entire top floor is an open conference room. We checked and no activities are planned for the conference room all week, so the whole thing is ours!
The architects Megan (on right) and Suellen get to work while intern Tim sets up his computer. Our work room was fantastic - a huge open room with no people traffic and a great cool breeze that blew all day since we were 4 floors up.
About mid-morning, intern Tim and I went into town with Pastor Richard to do some research on various building materials. Since our office has extensive data on material costs around Kampala, we picked about 10 things to price so we could compare with Kampala prices to get an idea of what the comparative building prices are.
Having Pastor Richard with us was a necessity, as very few people in Tanzania speak English. Being downtown, I really noticed how different it is being in a culture where you can’t readily communicate with people. Almost everywhere else I’ve been that has not been the case. Rwanda was a little similar, but a few more people there could speak some English. But even in Europe and the parts of Africa where I’ve been thus far, you can pretty much get around with English. But here, Swahili is the only language people speak. On one hand, it would be nice to be forced to learn the language since that’s really the only way to learn it quickly, but it would certainly make life a lot more difficult.
So we made our way around downtown finding various building materials such as concrete, pvc pipes, toilet fixtures, metal roofing sheets, and 2x4's. Mwanza is much smaller than Kampala, but is still a good sized city. It feels comparable to Jinja, though a little busier in town. Still, there’s little traffic and getting around town is no problem during the work week, unlike Kampala which is one big traffic jam Monday through Saturday during the day.
I also noticed there are far fewer mzungus here than in Kampala. I guess it makes sense, but I was expecting a major city like Mwanza to have more westerners. During our 2 hours or so in town, I think I only saw 2 other white people! Surprisingly, white people don't seem to be as big of a novelty either -which is opposite of what I would have expected. There was a lot less fan fare while we walked around the markets. Back in Kampala, people would've been talking to us left and right.

Wednesday May 20th:
After a quick breakfast, I decided at the last minute to join the surveyors and civil engineers going out to the site. So we crammed onto the early ferry (most of the locals take the early ferries, presumably to go to work), just making it on as they started to raise the receiving platform much like they used to raise the wooden bridges over castle moots. After the 40 minute ride across where I stood between two buses, we went to hire some motorcycles to take us to the site.
Crammed between two buses, I was able to carve out space to see out so I wouldn't get sick. The ferry was pretty stable, though I was a little leery on some trips that were rougher since the vehicles would shift some.
Intern Andrew (thumbs up)and volunteer Ben enjoying the ride.
The busses and trucks unloading the ferry. There were two ferries that ran, this one which was standing room only and another one, which had some nice seating areas.
Since there weren’t enough for all of us, the civil engineers and I decided to walk.
After the 30 minute hike, we arrived at the site. The civil engineers began digging holes, while the surveyors got back to the survey. Since the land is mostly covered in tall grass, moving around is a bit tricky. It’s also a little unnerving walking around not being able to see your feet when you know there are some undesirable critters out there (namely, snakes!). (Later that night, one of the interns surveying reported seeing a large black mamba snake (2 inches thick) on site just 4 feet from where he was standing earlier in the day! Fortunately, it quickly slithered away.)
The holes the civil engineers dig are used for a few purposes. First, they chart the soil types as they go down, noting the depth where any changes occur. Changes to the color, texture, moisture and content can each have a big impact on both the structural qualities of the soil, as well as the soils ability to filter waste water. Second, the depth to either the water table or to bedrock is important to note, again for both structural and waste water purposes. If the water table is too high, putting a soak pit in the ground to dispose of waste water would not be a good option. Third, the holes are filled with water and the rate of percolation is measured to see if the soil is a good candidate for filtering waste water in a soak pit or leach field (a leach field is a much shallower pit that is spread out over a large area, as opposed to a soak pit, with is a smaller rectangle but could be 4 meters deeper).
Cleaning out the hand auger can be a tedious process depending on the soil. This site had a lot of sand so it came out pretty quickly.
Intern Ryan taking a survey shot of one of the boreholes dug by civil engineers Denis (left) and Ben. I gave intern Ryan a hard time for wearing a flourescent traffic vest out in the middle of the African bush - you can never be too safe! ...But it turns out, it was quite handy since it helped intern Andrew (who was on the gun) spot him amongst the tall grasses in some areas on site.
Looking down on the site from Glory Mountain (where the survey gun was set up), you can just make out intern Ryan...thanks to the traffic vest! The civil engineers are also shown farther downhill to the left of where Ryan is.
After a few hours on site, as I stood on top of the hill where the survey instrument was setup, I could see in the distance the ferry was coming. I knew if I walked back I would never make it. So Dominic and his brother Alex, two young Tanzanian men who are the nephews of Pastor Richard and who are helping us out while we’re on site, called ahead to the ferry and asked a motorcycle to come pick me up. After descending the hill and making my way to the road, I took off jogging. After a full kilometer, the motorcycle finally arrived and gave me a ride to the ferry, making it just as the passengers were loading.
Intern Andrew, setup on top of Glory Mountain. It was an ideal land feature for surveying, as it allowed them to do a full topographic survey for the 22-acre parcel in 3 days. Not bad since it was Andrew's first time running the gun. Intern Ryan knows his stuff so he trained him and the two of them got all of that work done pretty fast. eMi East Africa gets the cream of the crop when it comes to interns! The young people who come through our office are pretty impressive.
Not a bad work environment, even if it is 10,000 miles from home!
For the rest of the day, we worked up in the workroom on the top floor trying to start putting the pieces together. Since the electrical engineer helping out for this project is not on the trip, we’ve been gathering as much information for him as possible. I’ve also been working on the report, and then just supporting the team as needed and coordinating meeting times with the ministry.
There’s a construction site in back of the hotel that we’ve kind of been watching (I think it's the hotel expanding). Today, we saw these two workers working on forming the columns on the 2nd floor preparing it to pour concrete soon. They were each on a wooden ladder about 10 feet tall, right near the edge of the 3rd story. No harnesses, no ropes – not even the ladder was tied off. Then I noticed that one of the ladders wasn’t even resting on the floor, but the bottom rung was supporting the entire weight as it rested on a board propped on top of the partially built wall. There’s no way to explain it, so I took a picture:

From this guy's feet to the ground is probably about 20 feet.
Look at how this ladder is supported - resting on the bottom rung!!
It’s incredible how life and safety just don’t seem to be valued as highly here. Not that Tanzania needs an OSHA necessarily, but some common sense rules that we take for granted are the furthest thing from people’s minds here, whether it’s at a water slide, on the road, or at a construction site.

Thursday May 21st:
Today is Brodie’s 8th birthday, so before breakfast I called to wish him a happy birthday. He was getting ready for school after being out sick the past two days, so I got to talk to him. Boy, time flies. He sounded so old on the phone, just carrying on a normal conversation. I think turning 8 is starting to move out of ‘little boy’ and into the ‘kid’ stage. I hated being gone for his birthday but there were a few things going on at the office that kind of dictated this time frame for the project trip. I remember last year I was able to just barely schedule the trip around his birthday, but unfortunately this is when the Summer eMi trips go out. If I stay with eMi for awhile, I’ll have to figure out a way around this since I don’t want to miss his birthday every year.
This morning, most of the team headed out to the site right after breakfast. I stayed back to try to solve a problem we’ve run into. A program needed to download our survey data and create contours of the land is not installed on any of the computers we have here. So I called back to the office in Kampala to have them email it to us. Since the internet has been on only 5 minutes a day thus far (the hotel says they are coming to fix it today), I went downtown to an internet café to download the email. So, for 75 cents, I got online for an hour and was able to get the program! It was pretty important to get since we couldn’t import the survey information into AutoCAD without it.
Otherwise, it was a pretty low key day. Since 6 out of the 8 team members were out at the site all day, there wasn’t a lot of action going on around the work room. My main objective for the day was to solve the program problem, so since it was solved by 11am I had time for other things. As is the case on all project trips, most of my work (structural, report, etc.) has to wait until we get back to the office since I have to wait for the architects to get most of their work laid out before I can begin. This time, since I have a structural intern (Tim), I’ll be passing a lot of the work off to him back in the office. It’s good because it gives me more time to figure out logistics and make sure everyone else has what they need information-wise to do their work.
About an hour after I got home from downtown, the internet came on at the hotel and stayed on for the rest of the afternoon – go figure! I actually got to skype chat with Alisha for awhile which was a very nice treat! Whenever I am gone on project trips it always reminds me how much I treasure Alisha. She is an amazing person and wife and I am so blessed to have her in my life, for life! It sounds like all is well on the home front, though after planning and hosting a birthday party for 8 little boys Alisha sounded exhausted when we spoke on the phone tonight.

Friday May 22nd:
This day marks our last work day before the presentation, which will be tomorrow (Saturday) morning at 10am. This was the first day where all 8 team members were in the work room all day – that is somewhat unusual. I think the reason it was the case on this trip because it took so long to get to the site. By the time you add in waiting for the ferry and then transporting to the land after you arrive, it’s about a 2 hour process.
It was fun having everyone around, though much of my day was interrupted by a computer virus! I knew going to the internet café and downloading a file there was a risk, but we really had no choice. So after plugging in my flash-drive and copying the file there, I plugged it into my computer to copy over the file. Apparently, that’s not the only file that copied over (even though I had immediately scanned my flash-drive upon plugging it in). Anyway, the virus is call ‘furio.exe’. So far, it hasn’t caused any major problems, but it has an ‘autorun’ function that is forcing itself to try to run virtually non-stop. One of my virus protection programs has caught it, but when it removes it the virus reinstalls itself. Arrg!
The work room, running at full tilt.
Not too many late nights this week, though the night before the presentation is always the latest. On this trip, Friday night was that night as most of us were up until about 1:30am.
Intern Ryan worked on a fix for a couple hours, and he did make progress, but I’ll have to wait for a solid internet connection back in Kampala to fully solve the problem.
Another interesting experience today has been the food service here at the hotel. Both at lunch and dinner, it took 3 hours from the time we ordered until the time when our food was ready! It was definitely a test of patience for the hard-working team. Fortunately, since all of our meals have been ordered at the hotel, we were able to continue working up on the top floor in the work room until they came up to tell us our meals were ready. Overall though, the accommodations have been really nice. The ministry was very nice to have put us up in a nice hotel and paid for us to order off the menu all week.
After a long day and a late night, I think we are finally ready for the presentation at 10am tomorrow morning. It’s nice that everything is coming together. The ministry has had a lot of input and seems very happy with the design that has been developed thus far.
This doesn't have to do with anything, but it's a picture of the lot next door from the 4th floor of our hotel in Mwanza. I watched this family for about 10 minutes...
It's amazing to me how much time people in Africa seem to have. It's good and bad - bad because I know boredom is a problem. A lot of people don't have a job or have an inconsistent job schedule, so they're left with lots of time to kill. But the good side is, families spend all day together. If this was America, the little boy would be playing video games, the older sibling would be on facebook, and the baby would be in a baby seat watching a video while the mom worked on chores or was at work all day like the dad. But it amazes me that families just sit there, doing nothing, and talking. My kids wouldn't sit this still for 60 seconds!