"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

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

No comments: