"Transport is necessary in achieving a wide range of objectives including economic growth, personal welfare, governance and empowerment as well as security." ~ P. Njenga & A. Davis, Drawing the Roadmap to Rural Poverty Reduction

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Home at Long Last - But Not Quite Finished

So, I finally made it home. I've had a week to relax and recoup, get checked out by the doctor and hang out with my nephews and their parents. I've really missed my family quite a bit over the past few months, and it's been great to see them again. Leaving Jess is always hard, but this is thankfully the last time we'll have to do it. That made it easier, but it still sucks :) If there's one thing I learned this summer, it's that I love spending time with her - it's my favorite thing to do. Work, school and hobbies can wait, I'd really just like to go for a walk with Jess. But I digress.

So, now that I'm home I have my work to finish. I need to do some testing and finish the documentation packet so I can begin to distribute it to NGO's and some local resources around Meri. First off, I'd like to show some of the videos I didn't get a chance to upload in Cameroon. First, here's an example of a typical road in Cameroon (this one rates pretty well among the roads in the area). This is Jess, Yaya and I riding on a moto towards Maroua:

Next, here is one of the mechanics riding the HPUV. Notice when the other mechanic sits on the back (adding 150 lbs of weight to the vehicle) it barely slows the rider down:

Next, the HPUV at the market, surrounded by people who had questions:

It was exciting to see so many people take such interest in the vehicle. The most predominant questions were whether copies could be built, and how much they cost, and the mechanics answered them with quite a bit of enthusiasm.

The thesis is also in its finishing stages. My plan is to finish everything before school starts, and have the documentation packet ready before Jess heads back to Meri the second week of September, so she can take copies with her for the mechanics and anyone else interested. I'm finding home o be pretty hectic, and it's difficult to find time for all the things I want to do and people I want to see. Hopefully over the next few posts I'll be able to show some of the documentation packet, so the plans will be available here too! Out for now.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Testing the Human-Powered Utility Vehicle (HPUV)

So, I lied - this post is coming to you from Garoua, on my way to Yaounde. The last few days have been pretty busy, and I was able to get some more pictures of the HPUV uploaded as well as a video! You can paruse them here:


Friday we met one last time with the guys to give them certificates of appreciation, and to tour the village with the and the vehicle. It was great to hear feedback from so many people, and to get a good idea of how well the vehicle was being accepted by the community. All told, I think our mechanics are going to find themselves with plenty of work in the near future!

The HPUV turned some heads. Actually, it turned a LOT of heads. Everyone who saw it had questions about it, but one question that was pleasant to hear repeatedly asked was "Can you build more?" When we went to the sous-prefecture (the local government building), the mechanic driving the vehicle shifted into a middle gear and raced straight up to the front door, over some notoriously nasty ruts - without problem. The local dignitaries seemed retty amazed, and talked about the unique font end of the vehicle. Almost everyone, at first, asks if it is difficult to drive, and the mechanics are quick to say it just takes some getting used to.

Apparently in the few days I was gone from the village, they spent quite some time testing it. Pere Roger, the priest at the mission who wasn't sure the vehicle would be that useful, asked the guys to load up as much stuff into it as they could move with one person - he was reportedly delighted and surprised that it was over 100 kilos, a feat even two people couldn't do on foot.

As questions about the vehicle abounded, I directed most of them to the mechanics, who handled them with good preparation. Based on their knowledge and the small concepts that I taught them about frame strength and balancing, they've already figured out the changes they want in the next model they build. It was hearing this that let me know my work is nearly finished here. The guys don't really need me anymore, and that is the best feeling in the world. They understand that it's their vehicle and their knowledge, and they will be able to handle production in the future.

We also took the vehicle to the market. Ousman flew down the hill like he was on a simple bike, showing off how fast he could go on the thing. HE waited for us outside the market, and as we walked in with the vehicle, so many people gathered around that we couldn't even move. I have a good video of it, but I'm having trouble uploading it. Said and done, some revisions will be needed for future models, but the HPUV is a hit. I've never been so happy with one of my designs, and I can't wait to get a final document uploaded and sent all over the world.

I'll revise this post with some pictures later, but we need to get lunch for now.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Finishing Up in Cameroon

So, the vehicle is pretty much finished! It's been a heck of a couple of weeks since the last time I posted, and things are pretty rushed here at the end, but I think the results of the project are turning out well. Literally twelve hours after my last post, I found myself with another rather serious bacterial infection and amoebic dysentery, which put me on my back for several days. I just finished the meds today (with pleasure- Flagyl is some pretty strong stuff), but the first three dyas I was barely able to sit upright.

Once I was feeling strong enough to ride out to Douvangar, the guys and I were able to finish the vehicle to a usable state:

It was a weird experience getting on the thing for the first time. As soon as it started to look more like a vehicle than a cart and bike parts, quite a crowd of kids and men gathered to watch it in operation. I didn't even have the thing out the door before 6 young men hopped on it, straining some of the welds. These guys likely weighed in the neighborhood of a half ton - four times the maximum load I designed the vehicle for. After an explanation that people weigh a lot more than grain, I think they came to understand the vehicle's real uses.

I got to ride the thing around for a bit, and got a good feel for how it would perform. I think the oddest (why should this be odd?) feeling was that it drove almost exactly as I expected from my simulations. After a year of simulating the vehicle's performance with various tools, I knew in my head almost exactly how it would respond running over ruts, and how hard it would be to ascend a slope with it. To actually feel the thing under my legs, responding to the steering, etc., was pretty exhilarating. Jess said I rode around with a dumb smile on my face. I'm fine with that :)

I didn't get a whole lot of playtime, because I needed to finish my ASME paper to submit it today, so we rode into Maroua after doing some work with Jess's trees yesterday morning. Being sick had put me behind with writing the paper,, so I needed to take time to finish it now. I wish I had more time to test the vehicle, but I've already learned what I came to learn.

Leaving for home is always bittersweet. Sunday evening will likely be the last time I get the chance to see this part of the world. Another 6 days, and I'm on a plane bound for Detroit, drinkable water and the rest of my family. This is the longest I've been away from home, and it's going to be good to see my family. I hear my one nephew is starting to stand up, and I can't wait to see him, my other nephew and everyone else. I'm really looking forward to taking three weeks and relaxing before hopping back in the saddle again. It's been a hell of an experience, to be sure.

There's still a lot of work to be done and blog posts to be made, especially once I get to Yaounde, and when I finally get home - I'll be working on the documentation packet likely for the next month, and some other ideas I've come up with for the project, and I'll be able to upload some videos once I'm home to an actual broadband connection. Next post coming to you from Yaounde, Cameroon!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Almost Done!

The past few weeks have been busy. The power went out again for some time, halting the project (it's hard to run a welder on no electricity), but we're back on track now. Jess and I took a bike trip to Tokembere to see our friend Jamie, and we made it home in record time - 12 kilometers in 50 minutes over rough terrain with an average grade of 4%. Run those numbers with a 30 lb. bag, typical specs for a mountain bike and our bodyweights, and the fact we were both wiped at the end of the ride (had to sit down for a half hour), and it looks like we're right up there with the 'healthy men' curve on the human power capability charts. Not bad! I took some pictures on the way down, here's one of my favorites (we followed a rainstorm most of the way there):

The last time I posted we were finally buying the materials for the cart part of the vehicle, and I had worms. Now, Jess has all the same nasty infections I just got over (but she's on the mend), and we're buying the last few bolts and steel needed to turn the cart into something truly unique. Here's a picture of the cart portion of the vehicle from a few days ago:

The guys we've been working with have been amazing, and seem like they're excited to learn about the vehicle. We treated them to peanuts and soda after work one day, and we got to have some more normal conversation with them than usual. Turns out, people have been asking to buy this vehicle or a copy of it since the first days of production a few weeks ago. Apparently the prospects of the vehicle's design are so promising, the people are excited about it without even seeing a picture. I'm happy the guys might have business after I leave, hopefully the final product will have the same effect :)

I've found that I'm to the point now that I can explain things I need to to the guys. Last week, for the first time, I felt like I was helping them solve problems, even in French. Welding together complex 3-dimensional shapes can get really difficult based on the order in which you construct things. Especially when you're trying to be as accurate as possible, it can get to be an interesting puzzle to put together. I felt really good when I was able to help solve some of these ordering puzzles, and talk about the geometry. They started to resort to the jigging on their own, because, in their ownn words, they're finding it easier to use. At least I taught them something :)

I hope to have the vehicle done either Friday or Monday and ready for testing, although I believe at this point I've learned most of what I came here to learn. If we finish it Friday, Jess and I plan to take it to the market (Friday is Meri's market day) and give people rides up the hill with their market bags for free in it (and, of course, let them drive it if they so desire). Seeing the picture that's been in my head and on paper for the last few months turning into a real frame on real wheels in a real Cameroonian garage is really exciting!

Jess and I are getting to the hard part of the trip, where we have to start planning my trip home. It's always really hard to think about leaving - it's just too easy to get used to having her around. Coming home is bittersweet, because while I get to come home to my family (my new nephew rolled over!), running, drinkable water and flushing toilets, I am leaving Jess behind. The one thing we have to look forward to, though is that this is the last time we'll ever have to do this. Is it sad that the prospect of being apart for the next three months seems easy (compared, of coruse, to the five and a half at the beginning of the year)? When I get home, I get to go shopping for reception halls for the wedding! I can't believe that it's only about a year away.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I GOT WORMS! No, seriously.

On Toilets (an Ode to Dysentery)
When one travels to Africa, there is, without a doubt

a phenomenon that, simply put, one cannot do without.

It's the world's quickest weight loss plan, a miracle unsung!

A wond'rous thing of pit latrines, bacteria and dung!

You see, when one consumes some food or drink that's not so pure,

(it's three weeks 'till things take off, so it's hard to be quite sure)

bacillae or amoebas come to live in one's intestine,

and then begins the beauty of this marvelous infection.

It hits you like a freight train in the middle of the night,
with fever, chills and muscle aches - it's sometimes quite a sight!

At first, you think 'Malaria! My brain is gonna swell!'
But then you realize your tummy doesn't feel so well.

The next few days (or sometimes weeks) are spent between the john

and whatever piece of furniture you've chosen to lay on;

a brave man gets outside and does his normal day's routine,

but smarter men venture not far from their own pit latrine.

Oh, Pepto, Tums, Mebendazole!

(Can't take that with alcohol!)
Praziquantel and other tasty drugs!
Worms that make you have to poo!

Giardia and Schisto too!
Why did God create these awful bugs?

Twenty-five pounds later, when you're eating once again,
and after twenty minutes, it's not at the other end,
You can smile at the pounds you've lost off your grande patootie,
In Africa, remember, this is practically one's duty.

...pun absolutely intended.

If it's not self-evident, I've spent the last couple days inside with a case of ankylostomiasis. For those of us who don't know (I sure didn't), that's a parasitic worm that reproduces in the intestines and lays eggs around your body - I've just come top find out it's hookworm. Delicious. The downside is that I have to run to the bathroom every half hour and have lost a pretty substantial amount of water, but hey, I'm dropping weight. I like the way Sam Lightner, Jr. describes it in All Elevations Unknown, as having the upside of a 'Jenny-Craig-on-steroids diet'. Jess, for the second time, took my poo sample to the hospital and brought home some drugs that put me on my back for a couple of days. It's not fun, but it gave me a chance to catch up on some accounting and writing for my ASME article.

The past weeks have been very busy, and very exciting! We purchased all the materials for the vehicle, and are well into production. The production vehicle cost is going to be roughly half my initial estimate! This is very exciting, indeed! Jess and I spent the weekend of the 4th traveling all over the place, mostly by bicycle (roughly 50 miles), and mostly offroad. Next time I'm at the internet, I'll upload a video so you can see what it looks like over here. The mountains are really quite beautiful, but it was likely between 100 and 110 degrees outside during that ride - it made for an exhausting, sweaty trip.

The July 5 ride

To top off our long-awaited return home, our hot, sweaty, hungry, grumpy moods weren't helped when I (the genius), chipping out the bottles of cold water that were frozen solid to the freezer walls, managed to poke several rather large holes in the evaporator of the refrigerator, rendering it totally useless. All this, to find that night I had some sort of stomach bug that turned out to be worms. Awesome.

These things aside, Jess said when she had gone to a meeting in another village a few miles away, the farmers told her about my project (they had heard about it through the grapevine from Douvangar), and said they were really excited to see the results - they didn't realize that her 'mari' is the guy running that project. So, not only are my guys excited, but the farmers are excited too. Looks like a lot of the benchmarking and interviewing payed off, because they're saying if it works, a lot of their basic needs will be met.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


It's been a busy week so far. Jess and I traveled to Garoua on Sunday, which has its high points and low points - good food, electricity and internet, but a long, cramped voyage both ways. Touristique (the travel agency) pretty much screwed us over because not enough buses were available for all the tickets back to Maroua they had sold for the day - their solution was to cram 42 of us into a 30 passenger bus. Awesome.

On a lighter note, we did see our friends over at Chez Lyna (the restaurant owners we met on the train), and without a word they sent all 6 of us free dessert and gave us a ride back to our hotel in Garoua. They won't be there when Jess and I are passing through in August, but we plan to leave them our email addresses and some pictures of the project.

We also got to watch a thunderstorm roll in as we pulled into Maroua, which made for a beautiful light show. Jess and I had an excellent dinner at the Artisanat restaurant just outside of town (filet de boeuf with crème sauce and potatoes), and got to sleep in an air conditioned room! Yessssss!

This morning, we met with Heifer International, which is excited to work with my project and provide plans and training contact for anyone interested in learning about the vehicle in the future. They also suggested some other local people who would likely be interested in getting involved, so Jess and I will check that out soon too. I can't believe how quickly things are taking off! I'm buying the bicycle for parts today at the market, and if the weather isn't inclement tomorrow, we'll be starting to cut and weld! It's been very hot yesterday and today, so it may rain tomorrow, but we'll see.

We have a full weekend planned, as Friday is July 4 (hey, if I don't get to see firefworks, I'm at least having a burger, even if I have to make the ketchup from scratch), and there is a going-away party for a friend here in Maroua Saturday. We hope to have the vehicle finished in the next few weeks, and spend the end of July and beginning of August testing it and getting feedback from the people in different communities in the area. Exciting stuff.

On a side note, the Larium dreams have been weird and hilarious (thankfully not terrifying at any point yet). Malaria meds can be a bit psychoactive, and cause really vivid, very real dreams - to the extent that you can't tell they're dreams until you wake up. I've dreamt about just about anything, from showering in a restaurant bathroom (odd) to fixing the ever-problematic JJ crimper at Bucyrus Lamp Plant with a new design. Yes, I still dream about work. I suppose it's a sign that I do miss my job that I considered that a good dream, and not a bad one.

At any rate, life is good, and things are progressing nicely. More later.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Rain, Rain Go Away

It amazes me how much we are able to ignore the weather around us in the US. We watch the weather, more often than not, to decide what we should wear for the day, or to see if we need to take our umbrella to the office. Here, it's much different. Whether or not it rained in Douroum this week determines whether we take the long route or the short route home. High winds take the power down on a regular basis. Most importantly, when it rains, everyone stays inside. If I see clouds and hear the winds picking up before a meeting, I know my guys probably won't make it.

Most of the young men I'm working with live in Douvangar, a village about 4 miles down the road. Jess and I met them through a priest she was doing a project with just at the beginning of this week - we were due to meet them at the end of last week, but lo and behold - it rained. As the rainy season sets in, this will be a more regular occurrence (in late July it will rain almost every other day); we'll see how much of a problem it becomes. At any rate, the guys seem very excited about the project, and several sound like they've got some pretty good technical skills. I was happy to learn that someone here in Meri now owns a stick welder! This will make life much easier (stick welding is much stronger than soldering).

Unfortunately, even though I went over the details of my project and what all my equipment was for with the TSA, my bag was still held up for a day for extra security checking. Either in the search or in transit, I lost a good number of fasteners and small machined parts I had made for the modular ergometer, shown in parts below. Dr. Iz seemed to have a similar experience with airport security when he traveled to Europe for a stirling engine conference - sometimes carrying even the simplest of machine parts can get you carted off for some special attention from security officials. Anyways, I digress.

The ergometer, in pieces (minus wheels and a few other parts)

The ergometer is basically like riding a stationary bike (in this case, a recumbent) with a load on the wheels, which comes from two little black generators. These generators can be hooked up to any resistive load, like a light bulb. The higher the wattage of the bulb, the harder it is to pedal. By measuring voltage and current, we can figure out how much power was being put into the pedals. Such testing has only been done with Americans and Europeans in common literature, but these (African) people can manage feats like carrying large amounts of water (I've seen up to 75 lbs.) for miles in unbelievable heat - something an average American or European wouldn't be capable of.

Up until now, Jess has been helping to translate when my French all too commonly falls short. I spent my first day alone on the project two days ago, when our friend Issa (pronounced 'Esau') took me to Maroua with him to show me where I could purchase some parts I would need for the project. We rode his motorcycle to the city (about 25 miles), and he showed me where I could purchase bolts, wrenches, etc. As many times as I've been in Maroua, and as many times as I'm sure I have walked right by the vendor he took me to, I had never seen him. Back in a little corner of the Grand Marche (a big open-air market), there sits a shop with nuts and bolts of every size....in metric. I built the ergometer using English sizes. Lesson learned.

At any rate, I spent the day with Issa, trying to communicate as best I could. It's interesting that I have no problem understanding conversations - just the other day I was talking about politics to Jamie's friend Matthias - but when the talk gets technical, and a single missed word can change the entire meaning of the sentence, I have to concentrate much harder. Usually I find myself asking someone to repeat themselves quite a bit, because I want to make sure I understand precisely, and then it takes me another 20 seconds to formulate my response...it makes for some awkward pauses. In the end, I got what I needed for a good price and made it home with some sense of accomplishment, only to discover that I forgot to put on sunscreen...boy is my face red (pun absolutely intended).

We had our first real project meeting yesterday, and the three guys that Jess and I met last week have already increased to five. I was on my own again, as Jess had some work to do out in a field, but the meeting seemed to go really well. For the umpteenth time, I find myself learning more than those I'm supposed to be teaching. That's one of the things I love about this work - I have several years of practial experience and about six years of higher education under my belt, and I still have so very much to learn - even (especially?) from some high school grads who can't speak English. My guys are pictured below: Lamamsa, Jean, Jacques, Rigobert and Jeremi.

My guys from Douvangar