Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Zambia Trip - Part III

The new Samfya Bible School Master Plan

Part III
Thursday 9/9
This morning during our devotional time we had asked Donald (the pastor from New Zealand who has been our main point of contact) to give his testimony. One of my favorite parts of eMi trips is hearing the team member’s stories. When it’s someone from another country it’s especially interesting to hear how God has impacted a life in a distant land. After his testimony, he also shared a verse with us from Colossians 3:2-4: “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.”
It was a good reminder for me to not focus so much on the world around me, but focus on the things God would want me to focus on. I was thinking how much time I waste thinking and talking about things that really aren’t important, and how I could do a much better job of thinking about ‘the things of heaven’. I’m not even sure I know how to do that or what exactly that means, but somehow I feel like I need to spend some time figuring that out. I think this verse will become my ‘theme’ for this trip and when I get back home I need to unpack it all.
Anyway, work-wise we had another meeting this morning with the ministry and had some more fine tuning to do. On one hand, we’re making changes pretty late in the week, but on the other hand the changes we’re making will ultimately simplify the project completion process. The only drawback will be that we didn’t get as far through the design as I would have liked, so we’ll just have a little more to do once we get back home. But ultimately, the bottom line is the changes we’re making will make it much more likely that the work we do is helpful to the ministry. This is one project where we don’t have to worry about them building it – they plan to start on the first building not long after we leave and have funding for the first 3 to 5 buildings. A big pile of bricks is already on site for the first building, so that is exciting.
Problem-solving on site

Working late to finish for the presentation

Reviewing architect Gene's work while finishing up one of my favorite meals - white rice with sauce.



The couple hundred trees on the site made the survey much more difficult than it otherwise would have been. We located each and every tree so the architects could place the new buildings in such a way so as to minimize cutting down the beautiful trees.

Pounding in a control point during the survey
One other note – yesterday volunteer Gene saw a 12 foot long, green snake hanging from a tree. We aren’t sure what kind it was, but we were all about to make him sleep with the dogs because he didn’t tell any of us about it (we were all outside in a meeting with the ministry at the time, so he said he didn’t want to interrupt!). Making matters worse, he didn’t snap a picture of it! It’s Ok, we forgive you Gene. Apparently Gene sees snakes all the time back home in Florida so he didn’t think anyone would be that interested in seeing it. Also, earlier in the day, Donald had found a skin (about 5 feet long) that had been shed from a spitting cobra. He found it about 20 meters from the front entry to the guesthouse we’re staying at, right next to where we had set up the survey instrument just 2 days earlier!
Friday 9/10
Presentation day! Finally all of our work culminates into a presentation to the ministry. We finished the final touches (volunteer Robert stayed up most of the night finishing the master plan) and presented at 3pm. Overall, it went very smoothly with only a few questions and ideas from the local board. That’s good as it means we can just go to work once we’re home and don’t have to worry too much about making changes. The master plan looks really good and the ministry was very thankful for our work. It gives them both excitement and a physical way to begin fundraising – Donald is leaving the same day we are to begin a fundraising trip to South Africa, the UK and the US. And even more exciting, the first buildings will begin construction in the next few weeks!


Presenting our preliminary designs to the minstry for one last chance for input before we return home and finalize the report.




Civil Engineers Jason P. (L) and Jason C. (R) present the water and wasterwater findings.

Interns Melissa (L) and Rachel (R) explain the site survey


Volunteer Roger presents the preliminay Agricultural design, while I play Vanna White with the computer since the power went out briefly.

Architects Gene (L) and Robert review their design
That evening, we went out to dinner to celebrate and I had a very interesting conversation with Wathabu, the chairman of the board. We were talking about the difficulties of westerners coming to Africa and understanding and being accepted by the local culture. It was fascinating to hear him speak so candidly about something few Africans I’ve known have been willing to open up about. What’s interesting about Wathabu is that he gets to experience both sides of the dilemma, as his main ministry currently is to travel deep into the bush to disciple the local people in the remote villages. He said when he goes into these places, he is very much an outsider just as if he were a westerner. He said that getting to the point of the village accepting him is ry, very difficult and takes many years. Just as it is for westerners coming to Africa, it’s such a hard circle to cross into that it’s likely not the initial missionary’s generation that will be accepted, but rather his children! He spoke of how many westerners come and think they are figuring out the culture, but really it is almost impossible for them to do so even after many years of living there. He said that the differences in the two cultures run so deeply that he couldn’t even explain to me how or why things work the way they do in his culture.
The example he gave was about relationship, which is very important in the African culture. In fact, it’s everything. So much so that oftentimes minor little conflicts can shape the relationship between two families for years. He said if he were to have a small disagreement about something, even as small as mistaking a cup of water as his when the other person thought it was his. If they have a brief disagreement about it and then move on without resolving it, all relations between those two families would cease – they wouldn’t work together, spend time together, or associate in any way with them. To our culture, that seems petty and silly, but to them, it’s very important.
The conversation with Wathabu only lasted about 30 minutes, but it was a lifetime’s worth of golden nuggets, and ones that I’ll surely use when I teach the cultural training aspects at the eMi orientation for new interns and staff beginning this January.

Some of the drawings the architects produced during the week
Saturday 9/11
I was mindful today of the anniversary of 9/11, and all the lives lost in New York and Washington DC. It’s hard to imagine that was 9 years ago. So much has changed since then – particularly in air travel. I don’t think 9/11 would be possible anymore as no one in their right mind would sit passively by as terrorists flew their plane. It seems like the days of hijacking planes and holding passengers for days at a time like used to happen back in the 80’s are over. I suppose it could still happen, but I think a passenger revolt would keep it from lasting more than a few minutes. Anyway, I digress!
Today was a travel day - we got an early start at 6am. It was a very long drive (9 1/2 hours with stops) and I was really battling sleepiness the whole way. Fortunately, God watched over me and kept me awake, but I was really fighting it. It was like a form of torture really – I was so tired but was trying to will myself to be awake. But there was nothing I could do to get rid of the sleepiness – very frustrating to be so tired when you don’t want to be.

This was our view for over 9 hours today - not much change in terrain so this is pretty much what we saw the whole time.


This was one area that was different, right before we crossed the sprawling but shallow Luapula River an hour and a half out of Samfya. Those sharp, needled mounds are actually termite mounds. Much different from the mounds in other parts of Africa that I've seen. The sandy soil presumably is the reason.



The dry landscape along the road - much different from the countries that lie a bit further to the North along the equator.


Everywhere, people were burning the dry brush. We learned later that this is primarily to prevent overgrowth that would bring snakes when the rainy season comes.
We arrived at the guest house in Lusaka and for the first time in 11 days, I shaved! I have never grown my beard as long as that, so I was very happy to shave it off. I was going to try to make it the whole trip but I couldn’t stand it any longer. I snapped a few pictures – it looked terrible!

Judge for yourself...

You will probably never again see a picture of me with a mustache - this one only lasted about 3 minutes, just long enough to snap a photo. I think I look like a crooked used-car salesman! Terrible!

We had dinner in town tonight, and much to my surprise there was a Subway here! We didn’t eat there, but it was amazing to see it here since Uganda had no American chain stores whatsoever.
Volunteer Jason C. in front of the Subway in downtown Lusaka. The fact that Zambia is so close to South Africa means they have easier access to Western products. The prices at this Subway were surprisingly cheap too - about $2 for a sub.

The food we ate was really good, and then afterwards we stopped in at a grocery store to buy snacks for the bus ride tomorrow. Much to my surprise, there were a lot more American items for sale than there were in Uganda, and they weren’t exorbitantly priced as they were in Uganda. Overall, it does seem a little more developed here in Lusaka compared with Uganda, though Uganda has many more people in a much smaller area. It’s pretty clean here and the roads are very orderly. It’s weird to see the differences, even though many things are obviously the same (friendly people, the way certain things work, electricity outages and poor water quality to name a few).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Zambia Trip - Part II

The smoky skies make for beautiful sunrises at Samfya Bible School, overlooking the waters of Lake Bangweulu
The eMi team with the Samfya Bible School Board and Pastor Donald and family from the partnering church in New Zealand

Part II
Monday 9/6
We had our first devotional time this morning since all the testimonies were done. We studied Psalm 139 about how God knows us so completely, down to every action and thought, and the ramifications of that. It’s both comforting and a little scary to know that the creator of the universe knows every thought we have and has our days numbered. For me, it’s been a part of the process of letting go of fear, which plagued me for most of my life. But getting rid of that fear and placing confidence in God’s will for my life has allowed me to do things like this project trip – it wasn’t too many years ago when I wouldn’t have been caught dead flying overseas for 2 weeks.
So today, we met with the ministry leaders (four local Zambian men who comprise the majority of the Bible School Board) and Donald, the pastor from the church in New Zealand that partners with the school. We reviewed the preliminary master plan options volunteer Robert had developed in order to get their input on any changes. It went really well, and they gave some good feedback that will help us move forward.
After the meeting (around lunchtime), I went out and helped the interns survey for the rest of the day. We really started moving fast, and much to our surprise we were able to finish the bulk of the survey by dark (6:20pm here). We still have a few random points and trees here and there to pick up, but we’re pretty much done. If you would have told me on Saturday that we’d finish this survey in two full days (two half days and one full day) I wouldn't have believed it. So we were thrilled to have made such good progress. The next big hurdle to jump is to get the survey downloaded. It’s a new program we’re using and it’s fairly complicated, so we’ll see. But the rest of the group is now waiting on that, so we really need to figure it out quickly.
I spoke with Alisha (we purchased a calling card ahead of time as it’s much cheaper that way) and she has an even worse cold than I have. I feel so bad for her being home sick with the boys while I’m gone. It’s been good to talk with her each day though and keep up with what’s going on back home, though it does make me miss the four of them. I know people leave their families all the time but I just never get used to it. Someday I would love to bring Alisha on a project trip with me, and maybe the boys too when they’re a little older (one at a time!).
One other side note – the New Zealand family hosting us has fed us like kings and queens! We really aren’t toughing it one bit in the food department!
Me with Pastor Donald from Riverbend Church in New Zealand
Tuesday 9/7
It was nice to finally have a work day in the work room without having to be out in the heat surveying. We had a morning meeting with the ministry to continue hashing out a few issues. Apparently, the local leaders of the ministry made a deal with a nearby church to give them a piece of their land to build a chapel on. So, the church has been slowly building this chapel over the past few years as funds have come in – so far just the foundation and brick foundation walls are in place. Well, the chapel is located in a terrible spot, eating up probably 3 or 4 acres of space (even though it is a small building) when you factor in access and such. So we are trying to get the ministry to renegotiate with the church to move the chapel – which will likely require them to reimburse them for the work already done (probably just a couple thousand dollars, which is fairly small in the grand scheme of things). Anyway, the chapel and the location of the soccer pitch are probably the biggest remaining issues to be resolved. The biggest hurdle in resolving them has been finishing the survey drawing. We’re still trying to work out the survey kinks, so unfortunately the architects still don’t have an accurate site plan to work from. I think I’ve learned my lesson and will try to recruit a surveyor on future trips, even though interns Rachel and Melissa have done a superb job filling in!
We had dinner at one of the chapel elder’s houses tonight. It was a small house with 2 bedrooms and a living room. We all crammed into the living room and really enjoyed our time. The food was of course traditional Zambian food – white rice with a few sauces, fried chicken and fish, various greens (pumpkin leaves, cassava leaves and another spinach-like dish), some local breads and peanut sauce. We all really enjoyed the food and it was fun to be invited over to one of the local people's houses.
Me and Justin, the local church leader who invited our team over to his house for dinner.

The spread served to the team at Justin's house - way too much food!
Wednesday 9/8
One of the things about project trips that is ever-present but hard to predict is the cultural aspect of working with multiple cultures. One thing that can further complicate things is the donor side of things. Oftentimes, the ministry board is comprised of a mix of mostly local but some Western members. The donors, typically, come from the West. When it gets down to making decisions, the local board has the final authority, but donors have a lot of say too as their money is what allows the project to move forward. If the plan deviates from what the donors thought they were giving money for, the money may dry up and the ministry left with nothing. This can be a good thing - somewhat of a system of checks and balances, but it can also be a delicate situation to balance.
Often, part of our job is to bridge any gaps there might be between these two sides to make sure that the project goes forward. It’s a tricky balance and certainly has nothing to do with engineering, but it’s often one of the biggest roles we play in a project – we are consultants for the ministry and our job is to help them think through all aspects of their project. If we just show up and provide engineering and architecture, that is very often not enough to get the project moving forward. We have to provide a whole host of other services that include (but aren’t limited to) cultural context, strategic planning and fundraising direction. Many times, just being present and talking and thinking through ideas and plans with the ministry brings up these issues. It’s a good thing, and a vital part of what we can help a ministry with, but it definitely keeps us on our toes.
Me with Watabu, the chairman of the Samfya board and a very wise man. Listening and learning from him was a highlight for our team.
I mention all of this because this is the role we played today! I think things turned out Ok in the end, but there were a lot of meetings and discussions as we sifted through how our design needs to mesh with all sides involved. Fortunately, both Donald (the ministry contact from New Zealand) and Watabu (the local chairman of the board) were very helpful in explaining things to us. We can only help when we have good information, and these two guys have been great to work with. Watabu is a Zambian gentleman who is probably approaching (or at) 60. He is an amazing man. He is very soft spoken and wise, and his understanding is way beyond his actual cultural experience. He has been a critical player in our working with the local board to create a plan for moving forward with the campus. He is clear thinking and has an amazing ability to process a lot of information quickly and speak wisely and gently about how to move forward. He typically doesn’t speak directly about something to soften the delivery, but when he’s done talking you are clear on what he meant. He really is an impressive and intelligent, yet humble man. I am thankful for this chance to work beside and learn from him culturally.
At the end of the day, we had moved forward not just with our work, but in our understanding of the ministry and the project and how it needs to go forward, and how we can be the most help. We will change a few things to help bridge some gaps (maybe simplify some things and rework a few others), but overall they were very happy with the direction we’ve been heading.
At night, I had intended to go to bed early but found myself in a great conversation with intern Rachel and volunteer Robert about the nature of God and how each of us try to best understand how we as finite beings can relate to this all-powerful, infinite being. It was too good to go bed and miss, so once again I got to see the other 1 o’clock. I guess not getting enough sleep will hopefully help me battle jet lag when I return home in a week.

The 'War Room' - we only brought 3 laptops on this trip so a lot of work was done by hand

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Zambia Trip - Sept 2010 - Part I

Part I
Traveling - Weds. 9/1 thru Fri 9/3

Well, it’s finally our first night at the site. After 4 plane flights totaling 22 hours in the air and an 8 hour drive this morning, we have finally made it. In all, it took 52 hours to the minute to get from my front porch in Colorado Springs to stepping out of the car at the Samfya Bible School campus.

Me with interns Rachel (left) and Melissa in the Johannesburg airport in South Africa, posing with Nelson Mandela - he's a lot taller than I was expecting!

Just a few highlights – probably the worst part of the flying was from Denver to Washington DC. It was only a 3 hour flight but it was pretty bumpy. Fortunately, the 17+ hour flight from DC to Jonhassburg was relatively smooth for most of it. It’s actually 2 flights – 7 ½ from DC to Dakar, Senegal, where we stopped for an hour and a half but couldn’t get off the plane and then back up in the air for an 8 hour leg to Johannesburg. In Dakar, some people got off the plane and others joined the trip. As the Senegalese people boarded our plane, I instantly smelled some of the familiar African smells in their perfumes and food. It was weird how it made me feel at home. I realized how much I feel connected to African people and couldn’t help fight feelings of wishing we still lived in Uganda. That was the first time I felt that way on the trip, though not the last over the coming few days.
We only had a couple hours in the Johannesburg airport before boarding the final leg of the trip – a 2 hour flight north to Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. The plane was packed, but we didn’t care since it was our final leg. Once in Lusaka, I couldn’t believe how similar the airport was to the Entebbe airport. We sailed through immigration and even got a multi-entry visa which saved everyone $20. We drove (I actually drove one of the vehicles - a Toyota 4wd pickup) to the guesthouse, all checked our email and called home and went to bed. I crashed around 1am and slept surprisingly well.

Arriving at 10pm at Lusaka, Zambia

Breakfast was at 6:30 and we were on the road by 7:30am. What a long day of driving – nearly 700 kilometers and over 8 hours. I was really struggling to stay awake, especially as I saw those around me in the car sleeping soundly!

On the road to Samfya

The dry season leaves much of the country looking parched and scorched.

Stopping on the side of the road at a police check point - we probably passed through 10 during the trip. Most of the time they just waived us through, though once they asked for my driver's license and another time for everyone's passports.

The police check point at the start of the bridge. Most of the time it's just some cones and spike strips set up in the middle of nowhere, but this one actualy had a guard's building since it was protecting the bridge.

A team photo on the bridge over the Luapula River in Northern Zambia. We're actually within a mile of the Democratic Republic of Congo in this shot.

When we arrived, we walked the site with the ministry and began discussing the program. My first impression was a little panicky about the survey, as it looked to be much more difficult than I had imagined (lots of trees and buildings and other items to shoot). After a delicious dinner, we shared half of the team testimonies and then prepared for the following day, charging the survey equipment and strategizing.

The guesthouse on site where we stayed - it was nice to stay on site and not have to drive every day to get there. We were well taken care of by our hosts from New Zealand, Donald, his wife Gwen and their 12-year old daughter Katie. Donald is a pastor at the partnering church in NZ.

The view of Lake Bangweulu from the guesthouse porch.

Walking the site

My initial impressions of being here are that it makes me feel like I’m finally back ‘home’ after a 3 month furlough in the US! I realize I feel very comfortable in Africa – it’s really a weird feeling to describe. The people are so kind and friendly. I told Alisha that even though I’m away on a project trip I feel at peace – much more so than when Alisha was home with the boys in Uganda. So I guess that’s a positive of being back in the states. I think I feel like they are more secure back in the US without me than being in Uganda and having me gone. I did bring my old phone from Uganda so I bought a SIM card and airtime and talked to Alisha a few times - so good to hear her voice!
Saturday 9/4
Today started the work days. In the morning I helped interns Rachel and Melissa get setup for the survey while the rest of the team started some programming with the ministry. The survey looks to be a fair amount more challenging than I had expected – had I known what it was I would’ve tried to recruit a surveyor to come. I’m always hesitant to over-recruit a trip – my biggest fear volunteer-wise is to bring someone who feels under-utilized. Had a surveyor come and finished in one day, it might have been frustrating to spend or raise all that money to come for one day, and as the project leader I’d feel responsible. Since I knew I had intern Rachel coming, and she had done the survey on two projects while being in the East Africa office this past Winter/Spring, I felt between the two of us we could cover it.

The survey crew - (L to R) interns Rachel and Melissa and me. We worked from morning to darkness, which comes around 6:15pm at this time of year in Samfya


After the programming meeting and lunch finished up, I went out and held the rod as the interns manned the gun. We wanted to get as much done as possible so I was moving fast. It was hot (about 95 degrees) and pretty tiring, but by the time it was dark we had hit 117 points covering approximately 12 of the 20 acres – not bad for a bunch a crew who doesn’t survey much on a tricky site. It was a great start and though we were tired, it was also a nice stress relief to get so much done. The hard part of the site remains however, so hopefully we’ll continue having success. It’s not humid here at all, so that makes the heat much more tolerable than in Uganda when it’s hot. The climate and landscape is very different to Uganda – dry, sandy ground with dry looking trees and sparsely scattered yellow tall grass. Also, everyone burns their land here, I think mostly to prevent snakes from moving in when the rainy season comes. Of course, we are in the middle of the dry season so I’m sure it’s greener during the rainy season, but in Uganda it is always green and lush regardless of season, so there’s a big difference visually from Zambia. The lake we’re on is much bigger than I thought – you can’t see the other side and when there’s a breeze it looks like we’re on the ocean. It’s beautiful blue and swimmable, which is much different from Lake Victoria in Uganda (which is a little brownish and comes stocked with Bilharzia, a worm parasite that is tough to diagnose but easy to treat).

Meeting with the school board and Donald to review some preliminary master plan options


The team seemed to make good progress during the day too, with some master plan options being developed and water systems research done. Apparently, the town water treatment center is just down the road from us, so our water and ag engineers visited there. They were allowed to see everything except the room where chlorine was added – they figured that was for one of two reasons: either because there was chlorine in the room (i.e. toxic), or because there was no chlorine in the room!

The water test station setup by civil engineers Jason C. (sitting) and Jason P. (standing). They tested for various elements in the water, including chlorine, pH and alkali to name a few, as well as the turbidity of the lake and then testing for pathogens in a number of nearby water sources.

The mad scientist civil engineers performing their devious plot... err, water tests.

Amazingly, I’m doing really well with jet lag and powered through the day without napping. I slept through the night last night so hopefully I can do that again. Talked to Alisha and all seems well on the home front, so that’s good. As long as she and the boys are doing well I can manage being away for a time. When things are tough on her back home, it’s really hard to be away on a trip. I’m sure many of you can relate to that! Ok, church tomorrow in a Bembe speaking church – should be a great experience.
Sunday 9/5
Well, I’ve got a run of three straight project trips now where I’ve caught a cold. I’m sure I must’ve caught this one on the plane flight over. Anyway, it’s seems to be progressing quickly so those usually don’t last as long, and I’m really glad it’s early in the trip and not pushing the flight home – colds on airplane trips usually means motion sickness for me.
I got up and went to church with interns Rachel and Melissa to help with the childrens’ program. It started at 7am, but when we arrived at 7:15am (Africa time you know), there were only 5 kids there. Within 5 minutes of our arrival at the outdoor ‘classroom’ (which consisted of 6 wooden benches setup almost how a campfire would be), there were around 50 kids in the benches. Apparently, even the kids church starts when the pastor arrives! The interns led them in a short skit about the book of Jonah, and then we stood by as their pastor asked them a bunch of questions about the story and then led them in some songs in their native Bembe language. They asked me to pray for the kids, and by 8 o’clock it was time to dismiss. By that time, there were over 175 kids in attendance!

A small children's church crowd when we started

The crowd grew larger by the minute

It was standing room only by the time the children's church service finished

We stuck around for a bit and then attended the main service at 9:30am. It lasted just over 2 hours, and then they had us go out back and stand in a line while the entire congregation of 250+ people came out and shook our hands, one by one. I was wondering the entire time if I was passing my cold onto the entire community!

The greeting line after the church service. The service was surprisingly short for an African church - just 2 1/2 hours.

After they shook our hands, they got in line and everyone shook everyone elses hand. Apparently, they do this every week.

After church, we came back to the guesthouse to change and get back to work. Lunch was served and we were back out surveying. Another productive half-day of surveying had us feeling pretty good by nightfall. We had a traditional Zambian dinner, which was very good and similar to but not exactly the same as Ugandan food.
I realize I haven’t yet introduced our team. There are 10 of us: myself, intern Rachel (who was in the Uganda office this past January through July), intern Melissa (a mechanical engineer who is wearing a few different hats because there isn’t a lot of mechanical design on eMi projects), electrical engineer Jim and his wife Mary Ann (Jim is a semi-retired professor at the University of Kentucky and has worked on my last four projects from home when I couldn’t find an electrical engineer for the trip), Roger (an agricultural engineer from Texas who was on my Kenya project last September – Roger’s knowledge base stretches well beyond ag and he will be a crucial member of the team), Jason C. (a civil engineer from Alabama on his first eMi trip), Jason P. (also a civil engineer and also on his first trip, from San Diego), Robert (an architect from Denver who is on his 15th eMi trip and will be joining the East Africa office for a year-long, long-term volunteer position in January), and Gene (an architect from Florida on his 9th eMi trip). I really feel blessed to have this team. It’s the most diverse team age-wise I’ve had so far, with a good mixture of young designers and experienced veterans. So far, the team unity has been very good and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and doing a great job in their respective disciplines. It really has been a seamless project thus far, with the one possible exception of some small wrinkles we’ve had with the survey.
Oh, by the way, the water testing today showed there is no chlorine in the city water – I guess we now know why they didn’t let our team of engineers into the ‘chlorine’ room at the water treatment plant!