"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

Saturday, August 4, 2007

En Afrique

While the end of my trip is sadly about halfway through, I must admit I'm having the time of my life. I truly believe I've figured out what it is I want to do for the rest of my life. Not only have I been enjoying spending every possible minute with Jess, but it's been amazing to see how my project work has begun to take shape.

About two weeks ago, Jess and I threw a Christmas in July party (complete with Texican decorations - yes, I said Texican...sorry to Mom and Ross - and Tex-Mex food) to which a lot of the area Peace Corps volunteers came. One particular volunteer brought her Cameroonian boyfriend, Alaji ( I hope I spelled that right), who is apparently in a technical field himself. They live in a local big city, and they both got very excited when I explained to them what I was here to do. Alaji, it seems, will be an invaluable contact, as his English is about where my french is, and he knows the industrial world here rather well.

While I was in Tokemberé about three weeks ago, I found a book at Jamie's house left by a former volunteer titled 'Appropriate Technology Sourcebook'. It is full of very good examples of appropriate technologies for developing communities, and what's more, full of other sources that go in-depth about them. The book is, unfortunately, about as old as I am, but it may lead to some interesting finds. Alden (my Alma Mater's library) has a copy that I intend to pick apart even further than I have the one here already. Jamie was kind enough to bring the book when I forgot to take it with me back to Mèri, and I've been taking down quotes and information from constantly since.

Appropriate Technology, as explained in the link above, is an integral part of this project. The
Appropriate Technology Sourcebook talks in depth about the ins and outs of appropriate technology, and why it is so deeply needed. Essentially, to bring a developing nation from their current technology level (be the technology at hand a mechanical, electrical, industrial or other type of design) to a modern level, small steps must be taken. This can be seen in the use of OLPC's as light bulbs, and hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of foreign road-building equipment left on the side of the road where a single part failure rendered the machine unusable (picture coming soon).

It's easy to look at a problem and come up with a solution that would be acceptable in the societies we're used to. With this vehicle, we hope to bridge the two, by not only presenting an option that is affordable and sustainable in the developing world, but perhaps one that gives a person in such an area advantages not enjoyed by people in more developed parts of the world. The openness to different ideas makes these areas ripe for new schools of thought and applications of the design process.

For example, in the United States, it is nearly impossible to find an affordable recumbent bicycle. Why? Actually, it has much to do with the French, an (IMHO) inferior cycle design, and hubris. This has created a hundred years of manufacture and use of a bicycle that is so far less efficient at converting human power to usable work that recumbents are not allowed to race next to them. Parts of the world where this history has no place, however, are hot-beds for development of newer, better designs that can be optimized using today's manufacturing and design capabilities.

One of the things I love about Africa is the willingness of the people to adapt when they need to, using whatever they can to get ahead. The cultural barriers can be difficult at times (working 50-70 hours a week sounds ludicrous to an average West-African, etc.), but I'm enjoying everything that I'm learning (which has been a lot more than I bargained for a year ago).
It has been very nice to be able to pick the pace at which I'm doing things, and to take the occasional stormy afternoon off to read a Ken Follett novel, or to watch a movie with Jess. I know now that I'm where I'm supposed to be, doing what I'm supposed to do, and it feels great. I've never been so excited about a project in my life. Now, just to make it all come together....that's the easy part, right? :-)

No comments: