Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Kenya Project Trip Part III of III

The project team, overlooking Lake Nakuru National Park. (L to R: architect Jill, civil engineer Elisa, Jason, architect intern Jaclyn, civil intern Travis, architect Casey, ag engineer Roger, and me)

It's a small national park compared to Masai Mara and the others in Kenya, but it was loaded with rhinos and flamingoes (we saw about 20 rhinos). We did a 4-hour safari drive on the last day as a closing time activity. The park was actually about a mile down the road from our hotel.


On Thursday, as we returned to work on the project, we began to hear reports from back home that riots had broken out in Kampala. Since this is not all that unusual of an occurrence (maybe once or twice a year), we weren’t too concerned about it. But on Friday morning, Alisha called me with panic in her voice telling me that they had just announced that they were closing the school for the day since the riots were spreading out from the city center into other parts of town. Alisha was pretty scared and started crying since it was sounding like her worst nightmare could be playing out – that is, that some type of mass chaos would break out while I am away on a project trip. After we hung up, I thought through a plan for her trying to think of any and all contingencies – if these riots were to explode into a civil war (a la Rwanda or Kenya), she would likely need to be supplied for several days or weeks and could possibly not be able to leave the compound. If things progressed from bad to worse, she could possibly even need to be ready to evacuate in a moment’s notice (obviously a very dire, worst-case scenario and highly unlikely, but nonetheless a possibility).
So I called her back and told her to run to the store on her way home and take out as much money as she could, pickup any food supplies she would need for a week, buy as much phone airtime as she could, and then go home and pack a small backpack of money, our passports, and our external hard drive containing all our information backed up.
It turns out she was stuck at the school for another 2 1/2 hours after talking to me waiting for all of her students to be picked up. Apparently, the town had been shut down and getting from one place to another was very difficult for some of the parents. As she waited, she began hearing some of the stories and rumors from people arriving – gunshots heard down on Gaba Road (about a kilometer from our house), the rioters trying to shut down the communication towers (i.e. cutting off cell phones), and people seeing bodies in the street. Of course, most of these were an exaggeration to some degree, but when you’re in the middle of a crisis it’s easy to believe some of these stories. One friend said her husband was stuck at the ARA club since the security guards wouldn’t let them leave. There was rioting out front and someone had been shot by the police or military that were now moving in on the city to try to restore order.
After the emotional day we had had the day before, I could not believe that we were again in crisis mode. I couldn’t stop pacing, trying to think 4 steps ahead for Alisha, and plan for contingencies that would include her and the boys being evacuated out of Uganda, or us losing cell phone contact. I felt bad for her, as she usually doesn’t have to think of such things since she knows I am the paranoid, planning husband. The boys were also a bit scared; though she did an excellent job of shielding them from knowing what all was going on.
What scared me about this particular situation was the reason for the riots. In the past, it’s just been the taxi drivers or some other group who is mad about the police deciding to start enforcing some law. But this was a much deeper issue that could have potentially affected the stability of the country. Apparently, a feud has long been brewing between the central government (the President) and the traditional King of Buganda. The majority of the people generally support the King since he is a figure head of their heritage and tradition. However, the King has little power otherwise (though it could well be argued that having the support of the people is power enough!). Well, the King had planned to visit the Kayunga district area of town that weekend – an area of Kampala inhabited by a tribe of people who claim to have their own king and who didn’t want the Buganda king to visit without permission from their own king (even though many if not most consider the Buganda king the king of the entire country).
Jason hard at work, 'two-fisted', with Ag engineer Roger in the background.

Final preparations for the presentation

Well, sensing an opportunity to show its power over the monarchy, the central government backed the Kayunga district’s position and set up a road block for one of the king’s ministers who was to make a pre-trip visit to plan for the king’s visit. Well, this very public event started the rumor mills, which quickly turned the blockade into the minster being arrested and the kingdom under assault. The streets flared up immediately as the rioters sought to keep people from entering the downtown area of Kampala. On the road to Jinja in the town of Mukono (historically a place all too willing to join in with any rioting going on, I learned from Farouq), the main highway from the east was shut down with burning vehicles and demonstrations (this is also the road our team planned to travel on to return that following Sunday!).
In the end, Friday turned out to be the worst of things as the military moved in and restored order. But not after 20 to 30 people were killed – mostly by gunfire as the police shot at rioters to disperse the crowds. And though order was restored, a long-term solution to the problem is still needed, especially before the elections here in 2011. If the government and the kingdom don’t figure something out before then, it could result in a terrible tragedy in Uganda at that time. With the crisis in Kenya still fresh in people’s minds, and the Rwandan genocide serving as the recent historical backdrop, there is a sense of uncertainty that has some people on edge. And while such a large scale problem like what happened in those countries is unlikely in Uganda for a number of reasons, we can all be praying for the people of Uganda to be spared of such atrocities, even on a smaller scale.
The final presentation - shown on a laptop propped up on our storage box in the absence of our newly thieved projector!

As we finished up the project trip that week, I was impressed with the team’s ability to fight through the distractions (and the limitations of having half of our computers gone) and finish the project just as well as if nothing else had happened. The presentation went very well as the ministry was very pleased with the master plan.
The presentation went very well - the ministry was happy, which is our job #1
The architects did an impressive job of not only fitting everything on the site but orienting things in a way that provides proper circulation between the ministry functions. The water issue was also discussed by the civil engineers, with the 3 options all presented: buying water from the neighbor’s pipeline, trucking in water to the site, or spending the money to drill the borehole despite the water surveyor’s recommendation.
Roger the agricultural engineer also presented his findings and recommendations. Roger turned out to be a major Godsend on the trip, as he had a very wide knowledge and experience base that served the team in many areas (he was also a great guy with a great sense of humor - I even forgave him for being from Texas! :) ).

The final Master Plan (or at least the sketch of what will be the final Master Plan in the final report to be completed sometime in November)

More of the sketches produced by the architects for the presentation

The trip home was uneventful, though still long. As we neared Kampala and passed through Mukono, we could see remnants of the week’s activities – with vehicles burned out, lots of burned marks on the pavement where bonfires had been lit and traditional decorations set out in a symbolic support of the king. We also saw a conspicuously heavy presence of armed military throughout the route.
One of the burned out vehicles we saw in Mukono.
Fortunately we weren't involved in this head-on collison, one of three big accidents we came upon during the 10-hour trip home.
The whole 'team', including the ministry

It’s always sweet to return home to Alisha and the boys after project trips, but in this case, it was an especially good feeling to be able to hug them and just be back together again since a few days prior we weren’t assured of when or where that might take place!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Kenya Trip Part II of III

"The Heist"

Wednesday morning started out normally enough. I woke up early to shave before breakfast. Afterwards, I typed out my blog journal for the previous day. Since I wanted to finish what I was writing, I was late for breakfast at 7:37am. I left my computer on my bed since I didn’t want to wait for it to shut down. I also left my backpack next to it without thinking – usually I load my computer in the backpack and carry it with me everywhere on a project trip. It’s annoying to lug around a heavy laptop everywhere, but I’m always paranoid about it being stolen. I remember pausing as I closed and locked the door, looking at my computer on my bed and wondering if I should wait for it to shutdown, and then deciding that I wouldn’t be obsessive compulsive this once.
The Jumuia Guesthouse in Nakuru. A very nice and comfortable place...but security could apparently be better! Our room was on the back side of this building on the second floor. This picture was taken from out front the office.

The team was all down there eating already, so I hurried to catch up so we could get to our morning devotions at 8:00am in the work room. After finishing, I ran up to my room to brush my teeth and pickup my bag and computer. I went in and quickly went t0 brush my teeth. As I left the bathroom, I glanced at my bed and noticed my laptop was not there. I immediately knew it had been stolen since I knew exactly where it was and how I’d left it partially closed and sitting on my bed. Instantly in a panicked state, I asked Jason if he had touched my laptop and he said he had not. I ran (walked quickly, actually) out of the room and down to the front desk in the other building across the parking lot. I told the manager on duty that I had a big problem. She couldn’t believe it when I told her and walked back to my room with me to look. I knew time was wasting but had little choice but to go with her. We returned to the office and she asked the desk workers if anyone had left that morning. They said the couple in room 227, who had checked in at 9pm the night before and paid their bill ahead of time, had walked out earlier without dropping off their key. We went to the gate and spoke with the guard, who confirmed that the couple had walked out about 5 minutes prior, each carrying a small shoulder bag. Meanwhile, Jason had gone to the work room to tell the team what had happened, and they all returned to their rooms to check out their stuff. Sure enough, both Jill and Jaclyn’s (Jaclyn’s was actually owned by eMiEA) laptops were missing, and Roger’s wallet and iPod were missing as well.
Proof that we locked our door. We even took a picture of us locking the door - that's how paranoid we are.

At that point, one of the hotel workers came out of our building and motioned for us to come see him. He led us up to room 227, and where we found some of our bags, now empty, along with the room key for 227 that was supposed to have been dropped off at the front desk before leaving the premisis. The eMi projector bag was there also – I hadn’t noticed before that it was missing from my room. I went back to my room to look for what else might be missing, and realized that my backpack had been gone through, and missing was all of my Kenyan shillings (about $500 worth), Ugandan shillings (about $300 worth) and $50 US. Fortunately, my wallet, mine and Jason’s passports, my camera, and $500 US were all still in my pack. Also still in the room was the survey total station, which is worth up to $10,000 new! Obviously, the thieves felt it was too big to carry out (or the had no idea what it was!).
As we were looking through this stuff, Pastor Sammy called Farouq and asked him to come immediately, not telling him why. About 5 minutes later, Farouq arrived, and when he found out what had happened, he said, “I just saw them!” Apparently, as he was driving just down the street from the hotel, he saw the two people running while carrying shoulder bags. The man riding with him said, “Those are thieves!” Farouq suggested they go after them (as he would do in Uganda) but the man told him that in Kenya thieves are usually armed so you don’t want to approach them.
So we hopped in the van and took off driving to find them. As we did, the security guard got on a bike and road off to look as well. After about 15 minutes of driving around, we returned without finding them. I was starting to realize that the stolen items were very likely gone for good. The hotel wanted us to go to the police to file a report, so we decided to do that. I really was against the idea since I knew that would just slow down the process of trying to find the thieves and likely end any chance of finding our stuff, but that is the process the hotel insisted we go through. So we went anyways, and as I expected, the process was painfully slow. Pastor Sammy and the hotel worker explained the story a couple of times to a couple of different people before finally we all got back in the van and were followed by a police truck full of detectives and officers. We showed them up to room 227 and our rooms, and then discussed what to do in the hall. I told them that our concern was to try everything possible to get the stuff back, and that it would likely only happen now by finding and hiring someone (probably another thief) who knows where the local thieves gather to sell stuff and see if he could buy our stuff back (this is what Farouq was suggesting we do as well). But the police pretty much ignored me and said that it would take time to go through the process but they would do their investigation. They were nice enough about it, but I knew at that point that our stuff was gone. They may actually catch the people eventually, but the stuff would be halfway to Nairobi by mid-day, never to be seen by us again.

The Dining hall (behind Farouq's van). The theives calmly walked out of the building on the left (out from the door under the round arch), then right along side the low hedge just in front of the van, and out the main gate of the grounds located just off screen to the right. They were in plain view of the office staff, but they didn't raise suspicions by dressing very nicely, fitting our stuff in their own bags, and paying ahead the night before so they didn't have to check out with the office. The guard should have asked for their key, but nothing else would have made him suspicious.

All told, we lost a combined amount of $5400 worth of equipment and cash from three separate rooms. But we were feeling fortunate for the many things not stolen; including our external hard drive where most all our work to that point of the trip was stored (we did loset about 2 hours of work on Jill’s computer). We were also feeling fortunate that no one was harmed. Elisa was in her room the whole time with her head phones on lying down, so if they had gone into her room who knows what could have happened.
Jason and I in our room. Awfully happy for a couple of guys who just had a bunch of stuff stolen. (Ok, so this picture was taken the day before - we aren't that good at letting go!)

I also remembered earlier in the morning when I was shaving in the bathroom hearing the room door open 3 or 4 times – I had assumed that Jason had left to use the restroom, but after the 3rd or 4th time hearing the door open, I peaked my head out to make sure it was just Jason. He was just returning to the room so I asked him what was going on. He said he had just left to use the bathroom and was coming back. When I asked later if he had opened the door several times, he said no. I’m pretty sure it was the thieves entering our room who then noticed that I was still in the bathroom. I also thought that if one of us had returned to our room to get something (this happened a number times during the week) and found the thieves at work, who knows whether they were armed or not and what might have happened. So all considering, we felt blessed that the situation wasn’t much worse.
But the rest of the day was pretty much a down day work-wise. I spent the day working with the hotel and the police filing a report (I had to return to the police station the following day as well to give a statement). The team traveled to the site, minus Roger and me who stayed behind, to visit with the children from the two day-care facilities who had been bused to the site for a few hours. Roger wasn’t feeling well, and my head was focused on damage-control as I began realizing the ramifications of losing the information stored on my laptop. Fortunately, I had 95% of it backed up, but I was on the phone off and on most of the day with Alisha, who had gone home from school to secure up all of our personal affairs. I also worked with Janet who was taking care of the office stuff too, and notifying eMi headquarters in Colorado as well. What a mess! But again, I had to keep reminding myself of how much worse it could have been. That kept me pretty thankful that God had protected the team members and a lot of other stuff too.
One of the thieves caught by a hidden camera...Has anyone seen this man? Ha! Actually, this is Jason, calling the thieves out (after they were long gone). A brave, brave man! :)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Kenya Project Trip - PART I of III

My most recent project trip was to Nakuru, Kenya to help design a new orphanage project for a ministry called Miracle House. Miracle House was started by Deanna Bjork and her husband Dan (from Breckinridge, Colorado) in response to the huge need for orphan care found in the slums in Kenya. About 5 years ago, God spoke to Deanna's heart the message, "How about an orphanage here?" Though she had been on many missions trips before with other organizations, she had never entertained the idea of starting her own orphanage. A message she heard early on in the process remains at the heart of their ministry. She was told by someone to “not be motivated by the needs of the people, but be motivated by the heart of God.” That really resonated with me, as I realized that that statement is the reason eMi exists as well, and it’s an important distinction to make and remain cognizant of.
Miracle House (MH) began with a day-only care house in Limiru (just outside of Nairobi) where children could come and be fed and educated during the daytime. A couple years later MH opened another such facility in the western Kenyan town of Webuye. Over the past few years, God has continued to confirm and provide for this vision, and earlier this year they completed the purchase of a 10-acre site near Nakuru where they plan to transition the existing 50+ children to full-time boarded care. The eMi team was asked to come help them master plan the new site and provide design information for the buildings and utilities on the site.
Coming into the project, we were aware that a water survey had been performed at the site and that MH had been told that there was no water to drill for. Obviously, this was going to be a major constraint for the design team and could possibly severely restrict what the ministry could do with the land.
Our team consisted of 8 design professionals: Elisa Wheeler (civil engineer) and Roger Glick (agricultural engineer) flew in from the states directly to Nairobi, where MH picked them up and drove them 2 hours to Nakuru; Casey Snell (architect), my friend from Medford Jason Prins (structural engineer), Jill Eckloff (eMiEA long-term volunteer architect), eMi-EA interns Travis Greiman (civil engineering) and Jaclyn Miller (architecture) and I drove in a van from Kampala 10 1/2 hours to get to Nakuru. The van we rented was driven by Farouq, a driver we’ve used a number of times and one of the nicest people on the planet.

Our driver Farouq, doing what he does so well. He is a very safe driver and never complains about early starts (4am) or long days (10 1/2 hours).

The drive to Nakuru was long! The roads in Uganda (the first 3 1/2 to 4 hours) were good, but that changed at the border. The roads had been resurfaced in the not too distant past (5-7 years), but the subgrade was done poorly so there are huge ruts from the truck tires that pass through. These ruts were 12 inches deep in some areas! There are a ton of trucks on this particular road since it is the main route from the shipping port in Mombasa to Nairobi, Kampala, Kigali (Rwanda), the Congo and other East African cities.

This is the view we had for much of the trip! (Note the painted slogan on the bumper, "Don't mess up with Texe's!" Classic!)
There are also a lot of speed bumps, which I can’t figure out why in the world they were installed on a major highway (can you imagine I-5 having speed bumps sporadically throughout California?!).
We stopped at the day-care facility in Webuye for a couple of hours, and then continued on to Nakuru, arriving at the guesthouse a little before dinner.

At the existing day-care facility in Webuye mid-way through the trip to Nakuru. The children had prepared a presentation of reciting bible memory verses and singing us some songs. It was great to see some of the children who will live in the homes we'll be designing.
We were met by 4 people from the ministry: Deanna and Dan, their friend Andy, and Pastor Sammy, a Kenyan pastor who has become a part of Miracle House. It was a nice place with a homey feel that was just down the street from the entrance to the Lake Nakuru National park (home to 4 of the ‘big 5’ safari animals and a bazillion flamingoes on the lake).
The next morning the scratchy throat that had started on the trip turned into a terrible sore throat. We went to a local church, which was very unusual in that it very much followed a typical western format and style – no dancing in the aisles, and no 3-hour long service. Afterwards, we drove to the site (about 20 minutes out of town) and walked around as Deanna shared the vision and history of MH.

The team hearing the vision from Deanna of Miracle house, on the site.

Much of the 10-acre site was cleared, which would make the survey much easier. You can see how dry it is - the area surrounding Nakuru is currently in a very bad drought. All the corn crops around town are half-grown and dead. Pretty sad to see knowing that this represents a lot of people's food and livlihood.

The team near the site entrance - a great tree-lined path that will remain in the new master plan layout.
After returning to the guesthouse, we went through the opening programming meeting where the team asks all the questions necessary to move forward with the design. The vision was big, so the architects had their work cut out for them to fit it all on the site: an orphanage for up to 200 children, a pre-school, a guesthouse for up to 50 people short-term mission trips, a babies home, a chapel, a multi-purpose hall for conferences, a dining hall and kitchen facility, vocational training center where things like welding, sewing, and ag and animal husbandry can by taught, and then as much agricultural land as possible!

The team in the workroom at our guesthouse in Nakuru. After the opening meeting we had a time of worship. The ministry joined us for all of our devotional and worship times during the week, which was a nice twist.
On Monday and Tuesday, as my sore throat turned into a terrible head cold, my friend Jason and I spent the days on the site surveying the land. Though I wasn’t feeling that great, it was fun and my first time actually running a survey on a project. Since the land was cleared and pretty uniform in slope, we were able to do all 10 (actually 10.9) acres in a day and a half. While we did that, the civil engineers dug boreholes to check the soil for wastewater seepage, the Ag engineer did a bunch of research with the locals and neighbors to find out about water options, and the architects stayed back at the guesthouse working on the master plan. By the end of day 2, a master plan was relatively set, some building floor plans were laid out, and some Google sketch-up models had been created (Google sketch-up is a 3D modeling program that is simple to use, free to download, and produces a nice 3D vision of buildings, layouts or even the whole site if you have the time).

Me, running the instrument. It was fun to have another role on this trip...I may just do this again on future trips!

My friend Jason Prins, the "rodman". Jason probably logged a few miles of walking while taking all of the topo and locating shots on the site.

The architectural team, working their magic in developing the preliminary master plan to review with the ministry.

The architects reviewing the master plan with Deanna and Dan after a day of work. It's amazing to me how fast the architects on eMi trips are able to take the spoken vision of the ministry and put it down on paper in the form of a master plan. After one day, 90% of what would end up being the master plan was in place. Very cool.

By the way, they not only had a master plan to review with MH after day 1, they had three different options for them to consider! Impressive!
Looming large was the water issue, as the number of people on site during phase 1 alone could require nearly 7000 liters/day. After talking to the neighbor, we discovered that he plans to drill a borehole at a spot about 5 kilometers away where water is supposed to be, and then pump it to his property. He is willing to either share the cost of that process with MH or to install it himself and then sell water to MH. We also learned that a different neighbor had purchased a water truck and trucks water to their site to fill their storage tanks. They too are willing to sell MH water. The last major consideration the team began looking into was rainfall collection – especially for the agricultural land. The ministry hasn’t fully given up hope on finding water on their site too. They have had several people pray over the land and they feel like they may have identified a spot where they feel God is telling them to drill. But since the water in that area is supposed to be 250 meters or more deep, it could cost close to $20,000 to do an exploratory drilling!