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!


Ryan Williams said…
Sounds like another amazing trip Brad! Amazing work on the survey crew, I know exactly how you feel! I am really itching to go back on another eMi trip next season. Thanks for sharing your stories Brad, I love reading about your adventures!

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