"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

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.