Thank You

November 16th, 2013

 

So, the thank-you post. This has been long coming and I will be grateful long after it has been posted. I thought it would be interesting to write, not just for the purpose of thanking people, but because it would help me (and any interested supporters) know all that went into this project, and all that simply couldn’t have done by myself.

 

Without further ado, then, in no particular order…

 

Mariya S., for letting me e-mail her countless times saying I’d be coming to Holland, despite the fact that I never made it. It’s among my greatest regrets of the project, and I’m still planning on coming, even if it has to be a few years from now (I might not be going to fix bikes; hopefully What The Fiets won’t need any more help at that point!).

 

Freesia C., for being the first person to donate, without my even asking. You expressed a confidence in me that I wouldn’t have in myself for a long time after.

 

Luke S., for donating, of course, for the unique way that you did it, but most importantly for always being supportive, for letting me bounce ideas off of you, and for always being there for me. For not hating me when I chose Zambia over Abamath. Okay, for not hating me as much as you could.

 

Marilyn, my mom. I think only the word “everything” can encompass all you did for me and this project, as anybody with a mom will understand. During the Watson, editing my essays, doing practice interviews, and keeping me calm over the phone right before my interview. During 90:90, always being supportive, commenting on my blog, and having positive suggestions. Letting me “leave the nest.” On March 15th, when I suggested doing it on my own, you were supportive without hesitation. Thank you.

 

Bryan S., who not only donated a lot, but was a great salesperson — one of the people you talked to was my second biggest donor and brought the first “holy ****” moment of the project, the moment I began to think it could really happen. Spreading the word is an uncountable way to be supportive, and you did great.

 

The Physics Department at UPS — Greg E., Rand W., Paul W., Bernie B., Bill B., Jim W., Marcus, and others — for your donations, sure, but also because you put up with my initial less-than-good ideas, and because you continued to be suggestive and supportive even after 100 iterations of everything. Also, Bill, you proofread the entire website… wow.

 

Kirstin H., for supporting me despite what our student government had to say about it. That really meant a lot to me.

 

Graham R., for donating without knowing me personally or having any connections to me, saying basically, “Yes, awesome project.” For letting me know I’m not the only one who has blind faith in strangers.

 

Cynthia H., for being one of the few I canvassed who opened their door, and for being so supportive otherwise.

 

Tim, the skycap luggage checker, who was the nicest luggage checker I have ever met despite the time of day (4 AM). You started off Guatemala on a good note.

 

“Amon CG” and the kids at Fauji Cycles, for putting up with me while I tried to fix things the “right” way, and for teaching me to fix them the Indian way. For all the tea, camaraderie, jokes, and for your friendship. I hope we meet again someday.

 

Prabhat A., for basically being my father figure while in India. For giving me a place to stay; a family; a map of the area (in so many ways); for feeding me; giving me endless, much-needed advice; letting me travel with you; taking silly pictures of me; and, in general, putting up with me while I figured out just what exactly I was doing with myself and how I was going to survive three months in India. For making my first trip outside of the U.S. such a memorable and positive experience.

 

Viju V., for giving such good advice, putting up with my terrible Hindu, translating so tirelessly, and for hooking me up at Firefox and working out so many of the awesome experiences I had. For being such a good friend during what could have been such a lonely time for me.

 

Shiv, for being so open-minded, supportive, and in general for being such a cool guy despite being so high up on the corporate ladder. That’s not always how it goes, and you should be proud of yourself.

 

The guys of Pedal Yatri, for their camaraderie, friendship, and for some good rides, even if they did start at 5 AM on Saturday.

 

Carlos, for giving me a place to stay and putting up with my terrible Spanish.

 

Sarah and Charlotte, for being such good housemates, and for being so supportive and open-minded when I needed it most. You kept me sane when I really wasn’t doing well. Things would not have gone well without your support.

 

Chiqui, for cooking really good food while I learned how to live without a refrigerator.

 

Laura E., for hosting the website at a sibling rate, for helping code it, and for being supportive without end. For suggesting people to talk to when I needed various bits of advice and you couldn’t give it yourself.

 

Jenna C., for diagnosing me with various foreign illnesses — I mean, for thinking my foreign diseases were really cool despite the aggravating symptoms — I mean, for telling me I was going to be just fine.

 

Mike S., for being the coolest Dean of Students one could ever ask for and for handing me an envelope as I walked to the graduation ceremony, making every other student in my class just a little bit jealous.

 

Diane B., for basically being awesome, for offering to host dinner party after dinner party in support of my cause, but mostly, for reminding me that there are crazy good people in the world if you just know where to look (…Craigslist. Duh).

 

Todd at Urban Tri in Minneapolis, for being the U.S. bike shop that supported me financially, for being genuinely interested despite the fact that I didn’t buy anything, and for being an all-around cool guy.

 

Sue and Joel, for giving me a place to stay, for feeding me and giving me advice on how to survive in Africa, and for reminding me that the starving children were right outside.

 

Paul, Tik, Mwewa, Israel, Benjamin, and the other guys at Zambikes, for being great friends, making me feel welcome, teaching me so much about Zambia and bamboo bicycles, and of course, for letting me return the favor.

 

I could go on, but honestly, it would be a while before I stopped. If I didn’t mention your name, that doesn’t mean I forgot about you. In fact, if you’re reading this, I probably have something to thank you for. Suffice to say I couldn’t have done this by myself. But I guess when you put your heart into something you’re passionate about, the world has a way of helping you out.

 

– – –

 

There will be one more blog post (Statistics/Final Thoughts) about a week from today, and then I have to go do that whole “job” thing.

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In Retrospect….

November 8th, 2013

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I honestly have a hard time believing it’s already been two weeks since I got back.

 

I wish I could say I was saying that just to excuse myself from not having written anything yet, but I’m not. I have gotten a lot done, but to be completely honest, mostly I’ve been… sleeping.

 

Yep. Sleeping.

 

Nobody wants to hear the details of my sleeping, though, so I’ll just get to the good stuff.

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Missed this one, didn’t you?

First off, photos are going up on facebook as I type this. For whatever reason, I hadn’t put up my Guatemala photos, so those will be up, too! You can check all three albums (India, Guatemala, Zambia) at https://www.facebook.com/90Bikes90Days/photos_albums. Comment, ask questions, all that jazz. Mostly, enjoy.

 

Second, I have a lot of people to thank. Too many to put here — it would kind of ruin the flow of this post. But I haven’t forgotten about you. Chances are, if you’re reading this, I have something to thank you for. So thank you. I will be doing a post exclusively for thank-yous some time next week. For now though, suffice to say, I am incredibly grateful to a lot of people. I had a great time, I really believe I changed some things for the better, and I have a lot of people to thank for that.

 

Third — general thoughts about what just happened.

– I (evidently) did not get enough sleep, ever. This makes sense, given the copious amounts of dogs barking, chickens clucking, doves copulating (see: India), monkeys who-haaing (again, thanks, India!), fireworks shows at 5 AM (Guatemala gets that one), roosters crowing at 3 AM (and 3:30, and 3:45 — Guatemala)… really, all those third-world noises we’ve completely forgotten about here in the States.

– My computer (the “netbook” I took with me) hates me. It has seen dirt, dust, extreme heat, extreme cold, eight airports in five different countries, various kinds of animal sh!t, coffee spills, water spills, days without being plugged in, the slowest and fastest internet connections in the world, a plethora of different viruses, a hacked e-mail address, being on for days, being off for days, having a hard drive replaced, and probably a few things I’m missing out on. I have it to thank for keeping me connected to the world and often keeping me sane — you have it to thank for blog updates and photo storage. Best of all, it still works perfectly. If anybody’s wondering, it’s a Toshiba. Oh, and the hard drive replacement was really caused by an effective soaking that happened during my bike tour last fall.

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I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful for technology.

Okay, there was that one trip to the hospital…

– I have never spent so much time traveling. With the delay in Heathrow, my trip home from Zambia was 37 hours.

– I just did something awesome. I came up with an idea for a project, tried to get it funded by fellowship, got turned down, decided to do it anyways, built a website, printed business cards, made videos, started fund-raising, had some amazing support from friends and family, raised $9200, fixed a lot of bikes, met a lot of really cool people, did things I never thought I’d do (I could probably write a separate post on that alone), and came home in one piece. Okay, I did have a parasite for a bit. But besides that. Did I mention I went to three different developing countries and spent at least a month and a half in each country as a volunteer? I think I did. I must have mentioned that.

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So, like, I helped some of these kids get to school.

Fourth — statistics. I’ll be doing a statistics post briefly. Those are fun. I don’t want to ruin it by trying to integrate it with this post though.

 

Fifth, what I’ve actually been up to, besides sleep (feel free to skip this one if you care more about the project and its impact on my life than my life itself).

– Part of the reason I haven’t been blogging is because I’ve been spending a lot of time on the computer otherwise. In particular, I spent about two days straight on Craigslist, among other sites, looking for a place to live in Madison, WI, where my new job starts in December (more on that in a bit). I scheduled about six visits over a 24-hour period, drove to Madison, and fortunately (and as I was hoping), the first one worked out. It’s a pretty cool house with a garage for my bikes (I don’t own a car and don’t plan on it) and a five minute walk from the bus stop for those days when the bike path hasn’t been plowed yet (yes, there is a bike path all the way to work from my house).

– I’ve been spending a lot of time working on my new bike, a Bianchi San Jose, which will be my winter bike. Last winter I used my touring bike, which I still use for everything else, but snow, sand, and salt getting in the drivetrain (the chain, the gears, the shifters) was an absolute pain to clean out, and probably reduced the life of the bike by a year or two. The San Jose is a single speed, meaning it will stay a lot cleaner.

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– I would be remiss if I didn’t admit to playing a lot of Kerbal Space Program, my favorite computer game, a sandbox physics simulator where you build spaceships and do… well, whatever you want. Go to the “Mun.” Go to other planets. Do science to research new parts. *ahem* Anyways.

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It sort of looks like a bicycle…

– Working on various projects I won’t have time for when I become a “real person” in a month, including a wax-waterproof coat. My old jacket was getting… well, old.

– Tutoring at Abamath, my friend’s company that I helped start back in August. It’s doing rather well. If anybody in the Minneapolis area needs math tutoring… abamath.com. Just sayin’.

– Catching up with friends.

 

Sixth, what my plans are, both short- and long-term.

– Short term I’ll be moving to Madison, WI to work for Epic as a Technical Services Engineer. What that means is that I’ll be an expert in one of Epic’s 26 (possibly more by now) software programs and assigned a few clients. If they want to change anything or if anything goes wrong, it’s my job to make it happen. So I’ll be doing a lot of coding and problem-solving, and probably a few presentations.

– Long term I have a lot I’d like to do… (in no particular order):

(1) Pay off my student loans.

(2) “How many countries can I bike to on $10,000?” — Put $10k in the bank, get on my bike, and see how far I can go. Right now I’m thinking I can do South America, take a boat to Africa, and get at least halfway up if not well into Europe. This is, obviously, a few years out.

(3) Start a social enterprise in a developing country — right now I’m thinking either India or Zambia, most likely Zambia. I can’t say too much right now but I will say it has to do with bicycles, and that anyone who donated to 90:90 will have priority as an investor.

(4) Go back to school for Psychology.

Of course, it could be that I end up working at Epic for the rest of my life. It’s a pretty cool place. But I could just be saying that so I don’t get fired before I even start. Not sure. Needless to say, I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t plan on working there for at least a few years, but it’s certainly going to be interesting seeing how those few years play out. There’s a lot of potential in all sorts of different directions.

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But every direction involves a bicycle being close to my face.

In any case, that’s all for now. As it is, I’d rather do more shorter posts than one longer one. So the next post will either be thank-yous or statistics. Tune in…

One thought on “In Retrospect….

  1. Marilyn says:

    Yes, keep a bike close to your face! Always! Thanks for having the vision, ambition, guts and motivation to make the world a better place despite the challenges of things like parasites. Thanks for making good use of donations. Thanks for your blog posts. Thanks for enriching us all with your photos.

    Keep it up.

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Short Stories… Still

October 20th, 2013

 

More stories! Woo!

 

Sadly, this will probably be my last post from Zambia. Things are wrapping up here, which means only a post or two more until the end of the project. I won’t get sentimental just yet.

 

– – –

 

Travel Makes Us Richer

 

One of my favorite quotes is “Travel Makes Us Richer.” I like to think it has to do with the idea that travel is mind-opening – live in one place for too long and you become accustomed to that location’s rules, regulations, and basically, that culture. It becomes easy to forget that there are other people out there living in entirely different situations from our own. I guess I like to think that one of the best ways to grow as people is to experience new things – and one of the best ways to do that is to travel, especially to somewhere we’ve never been before, amidst people we’ve never met before.

 

I have to admit that after 6 months between India and Guatemala I was feeling pretty good about myself. Indeed, coming to Zambia, I saw many new things, but a lot of what I saw I recognized. Except perhaps for the heat, there wasn’t nearly as much culture shock as there had been.

 

Which is why it was great to meet Lenka.

 

On my way out to the guest house one day, I stopped at the Zambikes office in town, and there was a lady from the Czech Republic buying a bamboo bike who wanted to see the production facility. I was headed that way anyways, so I offered to take her along, as the bus system can be hard to navigate the first few times.

 

I won’t re-iterate the entire conversation we had, but needless to say, it was completely different from what I expected. Here I was in Zambia talking to someone from the Czech Republic. I suddenly had to deal with a completely new perspective on the way the world works – and especially, the way the U.S. works. It’s easy to forget, as a traveler, that you might be the only person from your country that others interact with – the sole representation for the ideas and actions that your country embodies.

 

I like to think I do a pretty good job, but of course, that’s just my opinion.

 

Again, without getting into details, it was just really nice to be “shocked” again – here I was all comfortable with Zambian culture, and here comes someone from a country we as U.S. citizens rarely think of (I admit that, while I know the general locale, I would probably struggle to pinpoint the exact location of the Czech Republic on a map). Also, she was awesome, so that helps (hi Lenka).

 

To make things better, Lenka had met a backpacker from Belgium, so the next day we all went out for lunch. I would be remiss if I didn’t give one example of what happened that day, so I’ll just top off with this:

 

We spent a lot of time talking about cultural norms (to which I readily admitted the U.S.’s very prevalent and wasteful consumer culture and obsession with buying things to make us feel good about ourselves), and food. I mean, we were going out for lunch, so it was pretty inevitable. Then a question came up – one I probably should have expected, but I found humorous all the same:

 

“Kyle, Kyle. I have a question that’s really been bugging me. It’s something I really want to know. Do Americans… eat hamburgers?”

 

“Yes.”

 

(gasp) “I knew it!’

 

– – –

 

Tarven

 

In India I noticed not spelling errors, but things that were phrased in, shall we say, not exactly perfect English (“Shiniest and Best!”). In Zambia these seem to be few and far between, or at least a little less glaring, but they’ve exchange word forms for the spellings themselves.

 

Point and case: Down the road from where I live there is a tarven… it sells alcohol late at night.

 

There are a few more I’ve noticed, but for whatever reason I can’t recall them just now.

 

– – –

 

Welcome to Africa… Still

 

When you travel there are often “welcome to [here]” moments. In India the it’s when you get swarmed by taxi drivers outside the airport. In Guatemala it’s getting on the chicken bus and realizing it’s more a dance party than a bunch of people sitting and staring out the window. In Zambia it was dialing my aunt’s number and hearing that it had been disconnected (it had not).

 

Most of the time these moments happen over and over and even after you’ve been part of a culture for a month or more, you still discover new things are just, well, different.

 

I’m not a pilot so I can’t say if any of the things I’m about to describe actually happen in the US, but I like to hope not. As a pilot though, Joel has a few stories to tell about the quality of air traffic control in Africa.

 

(1) When you come in to land at an airport with a control tower, you have to radio over and ask for permission. Usually the air traffic controller will inform you of other traffic in the area, the speed and direction of the wind, and the runway he’d like you to land on. This is, of course, to prevent crashes, and all in all to have a more efficient airport. It makes sense for many of the larger (and even some of the “smaller”) airports we have in the States and that are dotted all over the states. Then there are the “really small” airports that consist of a dirt (or grass) landing strip, but no hanger, air tower, taxiway, etc… usually a private airport constructed by someone who would rather have a two hour flight into town than a fifteen hour drive.

 

These “airports” might not get used more than once or twice a year.

 

Joel was coming in to land at an airport that about fits this description, but for some reason, it had a control tower. So he radioed in to ask for permission – no response. And again – no response. After a few minutes a meek voice came on the air and said,

 

“I’m just the sweeper, but you can come!”

 

The guy in charge (probably the only one) had apparently gone to lunch, or otherwise out for a stroll, thinking no planes would come in. So the janitor gave Joel (very informally) permission to land.

 

(2) Similar airport, similar situation, but this time, the controller was where he was supposed to be! Woohoo!

 

This time, as luck would have it, there were three planes who had come into the airport at the same time. This isn’t as uncommon as you might think in a place like Zambia – Flying Mission sometimes does multiple flights a day, and there are other private charter companies around. I wouldn’t say it’s likely at a small, private airport, but it does happen.

 

In any case, Joel radioed in and got back, “Cleared for landing no traffic to affect you.”

 

Immediately after, someone else came on and said, “Hey Joel, I’m first in line, please circle and wait for me to land.”

 

This plane and another looking to land had apparently received the same response: “Cleared for landing no traffic to affect you.”

 

The air traffic controller had never had more than one plane in at at time. He had his line down pat… the pilots had to figure out landing orders between themselves.

 

Welcome to Africa.

 

– – –

 

Relationships

 

My aunt Sue constantly reminds me that Africa is about relationships. In the United States, you can go into a store, buy something, leave, and that will be that. While it doesn’t hurt to form a relationship with the shop owner or the employee serving you, it’s not something that happens very often. Sure, you might ask the cashier at the coffee shop how they are, but that’s usually the end of it.

 

(1) In Zambia, on the other hand, everybody has relationships with everybody else. I notice this everywhere I go with Sue – she knows everybody she’s going to buy from. When we buy Talk Time on the way home from Lusaka, there’s a particular guy at a particular intersection she likes to buy from. He watches out for her, and she watches out for him. One time we drove up and he said, “Ah, Ms. Bolthouse, how are you?” They talked for a bit before he mentioned business was slow that day. As it ended up, I needed some Talk Time, so I bought some. “Thank you,” he said, “this is helping very much!”

 

(2) While waiting for the Zambikes’ guest house to clear up, I was working as a bike mechanic at MICS (Macha International Christian School). I had to go pick up some parts. Gil, one of the school administrators, went with me. We first went to his friendly neighborhood mechanic – the shop is out of his house – and sat and chatted for a bit. After maybe 30 minutes, we finally got around to asking about the parts. “No,” Harden said, “I don’t have that, I don’t think. But my brother does! Let me send you to my brother.” So he told us where his brother’s stall was in the market. We showed up, and his brother had all the parts ready. Of course, we stayed and chatted a bit before buying those parts, too.

 

(3) For commercial reasons, British Airways is canceling all service to and from Lusaka on October 25th, 2013. The last flight out is on the 26th. My flight was supposed to be on the 30th.

 

I remember when I changed my flight from Guatemala it was a bit of a pain. Actually, my mom changed my flight (thanks mom!), but it was still a pain. You know, you have to call the airline, get transferred, get put on hold, etc. etc.

 

Not here. Sue has a relationship with the BA ticket office in Lusaka. She just called up her friend Lufunda and explained the situation. “Okay,” he said, “I will fix this for you no problem.”

 

“And what happens to you?” Sue said, wondering, if the BA office in Lusaka closes, if Lufunda would get transferred or what. It had never occurred to me to ask that question. I’m just not practiced at having relationships with the people I buy things from. But everybody does it here.

 

Sue hung up, and ten minutes later I had an e-mail from BA confirming my flight out on the 26th.

 

– – –

 

Finethankshowareyou

 

I want to contrast the above post to something I’m going to call “etiquette.” When you learn another language there are a couple key phrases it’s usually important to know. These vary from language to language, but they are usually along the lines of “Hello,” “How are you?” “What’s up?” – generally, whatever introductions that culture uses frequently.

 

Which makes it interesting to note the English phrases people know… especially those who know little English.

 

I’m convinced the first phrase anybody learns here is “How are you?” As I walk down the street or around the airstrip little kids will shout at me, “How are you?” It’s adorable… until they shout it again, and again, and again… and you realize that’s the only phrase they know.

 

The next phrase people learn – let me take a note from The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – “finethankshowareyou.” I put it as one word because, well, sometimes that’s how it’s used. It’s not like people ever put in punctuation – “Fine. Thanks! How are you?” It’s one word said end over end, tumbling out of the mouth as if it’s a speed competition, like the faster you say it the better your English.

 

Even better, sometimes people will just interject with that phrase randomly. You don’t always have to ask people how they are to get “finethankshowareyou.”

 

“Hello.”

“finethankshowareyou?”

 

(a nod of the head)

“finethankshowareyou?”

 

It is at some times, funny… and at others it’s a bit frustrating.

 

I don’t want to judge the style or level of education here – and certainly, there are some Zambians who are smarter than I am – but it reminds me a little bit of consumer culture in America – people just programmed to do one thing or another without really understanding why. I kind of wonder if, as the five-year-olds shout “How are you?” they really understand what it means; if the cashier at the grocery store really knows what they are saying when they say they are “fine.”

 

Certainly we have niceties in the U.S., but I like to think that if people stopped to think about it, they would know the meaning of the word “fine.” I worry that the regimen of rote memorization is becoming a cultural standard, as if the rest of the world now agrees with the U.S. that teaching students how to memorize is akin to teaching them anything beneficial.

2 thoughts on “Short Stories… Still

  1. Marilyn says:

    Great post. What’s Talk Time? Can’t wait to see you on the 27th! With bells on!

  2. Dad says:

    You have become quite a reflective and insightful writer, and I very much enjoy reading all your blogs. You’re as good at this writing as your Aunt Susan is at “having relationships.”

    Safe travels. If you keep writing, we’ll keep reading.

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Short Stories 2


Country/Day: Zambia/34

Bikes Fixed: 21

Bikes/Day Avg: 0.61

So, I’ve passed the halfway point for my stay here, and I have to admit, it sometimes feels I am well past the halfway point. I mean, 34/60…something is a whole five percent past fifty percent (excuse me while I go all math major), but I think what I’m really feeling is the “end of an era” feeling – the same feeling one might get upon entering senior year of college, or before starting a new job, or finishing a 4,032 mile bicycle tour.

Or, apparently, 9 months of self-arranged international travel and volunteer work.

I can’t, of course, write a wrap-up yet, as that would be unfair to my audience, and probably unfair to myself, as well. I just wanted to iterate the feeling of closure, because I’m having it. And now you have a disclaimer, too, that my posts might seem a little less open-ended.

– – –

The Well

I spent the week at my aunt’s house, coding and, well, coding. You might be asking, what does coding have to do with fixing bikes? And you know, that’s a great question.

My family is full of storytellers, and one time my dad told me a story about a Peace Corps worker he knew. There was no name in the story (or, I don’t remember it), for simplicity’s sake, let’s call this person John. John was a civil engineer, and his assignment was to go to Africa and build a well.

The problem is that when John arrived, he found that the people did not want a well. They wanted a bridge. John contacted the Peace Corps and told them, “They want a bridge.” The response, unfailingly:

“Build them a well.”

So John built a well. And the well went unused.

A few years later John came back, and the well was still there. But there was also a bridge. And as he stayed, he realized that the bridge brought people from across the river who played soccer. Soccer made the village happy; in turn, they were more productive and well connected. They did not need a well, because they had a bridge.

I prefaced the entire 90 Bikes, 90 Days project with a disclaimer along these lines: To teach, learn. Fixing 90 bikes in 90 days was an easy way to quantify the project. In reality, I knew – and I hope I communicated to my supporters — that it’s almost never that simple (if you want to learn more about this, take a peek at Poor Economics – quite a good read).

Zambikes has been around for a while. They seem to have things pretty much figured out. They can make steel bikes. They can make bamboo bikes. They aren’t perfect, but no company is. When I arrived, I wasn’t instructed to do one thing or another. My instructions were, “Make improvements.”

These guys are great bike mechanics. So my contributions came more from my experience as a manager and computer scientist. Among other things, I think that Zambikes could see a lot of improvement if they let computers do some of the work for them.

To be sure I wasn’t “building a well,” I ran this by the management team, and they loved it. So I got to work, writing scripts for Google spreadsheets, in an effort to make a spreadsheet that was, essentially, axiomatic. Because computers.

And internet is free at my aunt’s house… but it’s about $500/mo at the guest house (see a few posts ago). So to work on Google scripts, which is internet-based, I decided to spend the week at my aunt’s house.

To be fair, I don’t expect this project to magically make Zambikes a 300% more efficient team. I think those would be false expectations. I acknowledge that working with spreadsheets, and working with computers, except for e-mail, is largely new to these guys. So it’s entirely possible I will finish this project, leave, and the implementation will crumble to pieces. And if that happens, I don’t think it will be because I’m a terrible person, but just because, despite my enthusiasm, things might work better another way. And that’s okay. It’s all part of the experience.

(naturally, I want the system to get implemented, to increase productivity by 300%, for Zambikes to get filthy rich, and then to get a check in the mail. Let’s just be honest about this.)

*ahem*

– – –

Soccer

It’s complete coincidence that I just told a story about soccer in Africa, and now I’m going to tell another story about soccer in Africa. Actually, this isn’t really a story as much of an interesting educated speculation, but who’s counting anyways.

One of the things I noticed about Zambia is that there are soccer fields everywhere. And in my travels, I’ve gotten used to soccer fields. Far greater than the love of soccer in the US is the love of soccer in India. I saw a surprising number of soccer fields in India… and as an aside, a lot of them were when I was in the mountains, and they were on the edges of cliffs. How else do you teach people not to miss? Chelsea stickered cabs would honk at Man-U stickered cabs, people would ask me who I followed, and what position I played. It was nothing, of course, compared to culture around cricket (“What’s that?” I can hear my U.S. readers wonder), but that’s another story.

Then I went to Guatemala, where soccer was even bigger (!). Instead of just soccer fields on the edges of cliffs in the mountains, there was one soccer field in every major city. It was played in the city centers on a regular basis. On my way home from work I would stop and cheer and wonder if there were any pickup games, and how they found so many referees.

And now I’m in Zambia. And in Zambia, there are soccer fields everywhere. Not just in major cities, but in minor cities, and in not-even cities. Flying Mission, the organization my uncle works for, has their own soccer field. Zambikes has their own soccer field (This is the part where I would calculate how many soccer fields there were per square mile, if the internet would be so obliging. Alas). All the vans have soccer stickers, not just the ones in the mountains. You can buy soccer jerseys in the street (to be fair, you can buy anything in the street – even puppies. But, shh). Soccer is everywhere.

The cool part is (okay, the extra-cool part, because everybody knows soccer is the best sport ever), it’s a positive part of culture. I think in the U.S. we think of sports in general as having a positive influence on our youth. And yea, there are some sports fanatics. But I have to be honest, compared to some other places, the US is pretty lousy when it comes to enthusiasm about sports (and especially the most popular sport in the world – soccer, duh!). Here, though, when Zambia scores a goal, all you can hear is cheering. And I don’t mean you have to be in a bar to hear the cheering. I mean that sitting in the living room in my aunt’s house, you can hear cheering. It comes from people living in grass huts with radios, from people who walked three miles to the tarven (not a spelling error – more on that later) for the TV, from people who hear the cheers of their neighbors and just know what happened. It’s electric.

Additionally, soccer, for lack of a better phrase, keeps kids off the streets. They are still on the streets, of course, but what I mean is that they get exercise, they make friends, and they have something to do every night at 6 PM besides get into trouble. This is, again, something that will make my US readers go, “Yea, we have that here,” be we have that in the US in the same way we have enthusiasm for sports. You only see it in movies. Here, you see it every day. You meet people who are best friends because they kicked a ball together. You meet people whose dads are drunkards, but they are alright, because they have a community to support them, a community born out of soccer.

This is why I find Flying Mission’s soccer field to be an especially potent investment. And it really makes the story about the bridge ring true – there are just forces at work that you can’t understand until you’ve lived them.

– – –

Side note:

I realize I’m addressing my U.S. readers a lot in this post and I apologize to those of you from other countries. It’s not that I don’t care about you, it’s just that I don’t think I can speak with authority about, for instance, the opinions of a french person towards soccer. FYI.

– – –

Muzungu

Pronounced “moo-zoo-n-goo,” “muzungu” is an African word for “white person.” You figure this out pretty quickly, usually because someone tells you, and then because people start addressing you by it. As you walk through the street, someone will shout, “Hey, muzungu, how are you?” or “Muzungu, come into my store.” Sometimes people just shout “Muzungu!” as you walk by, waving, and wanting you to wave back.

I experienced a little bit of this in India and Guatemala, but not to the same extent. As someone of a different culture, people of course have questions. But that they would want to address you in their language isn’t something I’ve experienced before (everybody in India seemed to want to use me to practice their English). I don’t think it’s something a U.S. citizen would ever understand, either, seeing as how we expect everyone to learn English. But it would be along the lines of shouting “Hey Asian person!” every time we passed an Asian on the sidewalk.

They also really like it when you give them a thumbs-up. It’s just the darnedest thing for them.

 

– – –

 

Zamquestion

 

I don’t know why, but for some reason, putting “Zam-” in front of most words makes them sound ten times better. You’ll notice, for instance, I’m working for a company called “Zambikes.” After spending some time here, I really have to applaud Dustin and Vaughn for that choice, because it’s very Zambian of them – two very American guys, born, raised, and college-educated in California.

 

Up until recently I just thought it was a clever name, but once you get here, you see that it’s very much a part of the culture. There’s Zambeef, the leading beef company; Zamleather, a company with many subsidiaries making, among other things, shoes and soccer balls. In response to the international cell service provider Airtel, there’s Zamtel. And I’m sure there’s many I’ve missed.

 

Aside from just names, some companies have taken up slogans based on this trend. Zamtel’s service plans are, fittingly, “zamtelligent.” And sometimes they are “zambitious.” I’m not sure which one is pushing it more. But at least it’s memorable.

 

I find this actually to be really cool. I can’t speak for the company owners, of course, but it seems to me like these companies are taking pride in their product. The only U.S.-ish named company I can of is Amtrak, which doesn’t really make a fit about being American (interesting, because that’s kind of “in” right now). In an age where many countries are importing, Zambia is, for lack of a better phrase, making a name for itself (not all of it’s products are made local, of course). It’s pretty cool to be in a country that makes much of its products locally, but it’s extra cool that they make a culture out of it.

 

You might even say it’s… Zamawesome.

 

Okay, I tried.

 

(Zamcool?)

 

– – –

 

Languages… Lots of Them.

 

The first thing that becomes readily apparent to most U.S. citizens when they go abroad, I imagine, has to be how many languages other people speak. The vast majority of U.S. citizens only speak English. About 20% speak one foreign language, but “speak” is usually in quotes, as if to say, “I took this in high school, but I’ve never been there before.” I’ll own up to this one and say yea, I “speak” French.

 

U.S. citizens, you see, enjoy the privileged position of speaking the second most popular language in the world, which is the international language. We don’t “have” to learn other languages. Let’s be honest, we’re ignorant jack… if we don’t, but it’s not like bad things will happen if we don’t. If you live in the U.S. and want to start a multinational corporation, you can do it in English.

 

Most other countries don’t enjoy this position. They enjoy, in my opinion, a better position (a less ignorant one, I would say, but that’s just me). They learn not only their local language, but they learn English. They can communicate with each other, and they rest of the world – whereas, for the most part, we can only truly communicate with ourselves. Perhaps this is me being idealistic, but I think it’s difficult to really get to know someone if you don’t speak their language.
But okay, I’ll get down off my high horse and get back to the facts.

 

During my visit to India, everybody spoke Hindi, and most spoke a state language (each state having their own). Anyone well educated spoke English. A few people had learned European languages as well, but this was rare. Bottom line, India is probably more multilingual than the US, but not by much.

 

Zambia has seventy-two languages.

 

Well, sort of. Let’s see if I can get this right, as there seems to be some debate (so if you read this and think I’m wrong, know that I’ve probably heard your side of the story, but I’m just typing the one I’ve heard the most of): There are seven major tribes in Zambia. Each of them has between five and ten dialects – a dialect being a bit more than what a “southern accent” is to English; more like what Mandarin Chinese is to Traditional Chinese. On top of those dialects, there’s the foreign languages – English, and a surprising amount of Hindi.

 

But basically, everybody here speaks at least three languages. Even the “uneducated” people I’ve met speak at least English, the dialect of the tribe where they are from, and two or three dialects surrounding the area where they are from.

 

It is so cool. And it makes me feel so… American.

 

– – –

 

Believe it or not, I actually have more stories I could put here, but uh… my fingers hurt. And also I’m tired. So, more later. Pretty good though, right? Given I haven’t been posting as often as I’d like, I think 4 pages and sore fingers is a good result.

 

Anyways, ’till next time.

One thought on “Short Stories 2

  1. Marilyn Cook says:

    One of your best blogs yet! Love the stories. You’re a great story teller. Zambulous!

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Short Stories Zambia

September 30th, 2013

So I’m at my aunt’s house for a few days, partly to use the internet, because I’m writing some things in Javascript and don’t know Javascript. As with most coding languages, if you know one, you can usually pick up another – if you have a quick reference to the syntax. Often, the syntaxes themselves are very similar (try comparing any two “for” loops – in Java and in C++, for instance. The fact that both Java and C++ have “for” loops should be telling by itself).

Of course – welcome to Africa – AfriConnect is aware of intermittent internet availability and is working to resolve the problem. And even more African, There is currently no time frame given for resolution. And by “intermittent” they also mean “when it works, it’s doesn’t work very well.” So I’m afraid there won’t be any photos for this post.

So since I can’t work on, you know, work, I figured I could at least write a blog post. I’ve been promising a Short Stories post for some time, and I think it’s about that time.

– – –

Computers

I’m sure many people are still going, “But what! What does Javascript have to do with Zambikes!” So I’ll just do that one first. It’s not really a story, but it’s still kind of interesting, and I feel I should explain any task that supersedes bike fixing.

Zambikes doesn’t currently use computers. Not really. They e-mail each other and their clients. But (I think) they could communicate better with each other and have a better awareness of their production process if they computerized some things. And just so you know I’m not going all first world on them… they agree. In fact, it’s been decided I should design some web-based spreadsheets for them to use. In order to make these spreadsheets more user friendly, I’ve also offered to write some scripts for them.

Scripts are (usually short) bits of code capable of doing a task that would otherwise be mundane or time-consuming. In the case of people who aren’t very familiar with spreadsheets, it can also do tasks that would otherwise be hard to learn, or that can be very tedious and therefore lend themselves to mistakes (like copying information from a work order to a production sheet, for instance).

Microsoft Excel even has really fancy ways of implementing scripts, which it calls macros, like buttons and pull-down menus and such (Microsoft Excel is capable of a lot more than most people think). The idea is that by pushing a button you can accomplish a lot more than you’d otherwise had to do by hand. The capabilities are really impressive and you can build some really slick stuff.

Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn’t quite mastered database management in a useful way. The easiest way to synchronize still involves remembering to push and pull your data (fancy terms for “putting it on the server” and “getting it off the server”). Google Docs has a much nicer interface – a non-existent one. It’s non-existent because all the synchronization is automatic and real-time. You can even see what other people are typing as they type it. So it’s impossible to, say, type in a production order, push to the server, and find out that while you were typing that the production team closed down for the day.

And the language that Google Docs uses for its scripts is Javascript. Hence… needing internet to learn Javascript. And also to test that script on Google Docs.

– – –

Clear Your Plate

Growing up in my family, we had the general rule that you should only serve yourself what you can eat. It wasn’t set in stone, of course, but it was present enough to teach us not to waste large amounts of food – which was, I think, the point. It’s sometimes impossible to guess just how much something is going to fill you up, but most people can get pretty close.

Once I reached college and had a bit more of a global awareness (or less, I suppose, depending on which college you went to), my friends and I would sometimes joke, “Ah, but there are starving children in Africa!” We had to finish our plates, see, because there was somebody else who needed it more.

That was the idea, anyways. Of course, there’s enough food in the world to feed everyone – the problem is distribution (actually, the problem is that nobody wants to give anybody free food. I’ve been to the grocery stores here and there’s definitely no shortages happening. But ignore this, because it ruins the story). The food isn’t in Africa, and by the time it got here and starving children found it, it wouldn’t be very good anymore. So we could always rebut, “Ah, but we’re not in Africa,” and compost our food instead.

That doesn’t really work here.

For whatever reason, I have a tendency to to able to stomach about 1.9 servings of the meals that my aunt cooks. Yesterday we had fish, for instance, and I took two filets. I could not, for the life of me, take the last two bites of the second one (they were big bites). “Finish your food!” my aunt said. “There are starving children in Africa!”

Of course, this is a lot more pertinent. The pretext was not, “These children are far away and it doesn’t matter anyways.” The pretext was, “These children are right down the street – you see them every time you leave the house, actually, and sometimes you can even see them from the house. You are actually wasting food, because it could actually go to someone who needs it.”

Clear your plate.

– – –

Food

As much as I’d like to give food its own post, I’m not really sure there’s enough content for that. If you recall, Zambia is a British colony, which I’m guessing is the reason why a lot of the food here seems British/semi-familiar. They have burgers, french fries, stir fries, etc – for the most part, I eat a lot of what I ate at home. The only major difference is the ingredients available, and sometimes the quality of the ingredients available. To be honest though, given that I’m abroad, I really have nothing to complain about.

There is one food item I’d never had before, though, which I believe is exclusive to Africa. It’s called nshima. It’s essentially corn ground into a meal that is boiled to a consistency you can pick up and mold with your hands. It’s very similar to grits, except that you can’t pick up grits and eat them with your hands (okay, you can, but no more than a thick soup. Nshima is more the consistency of cookie dough).

In any case, it’s easy to make in bulk, easy to eat (no utensils), and easy to clean up (everybody eats with their hands from a community bowl, so it’s just the cooking pot and the bowl for dishes). It’s also easy to eat with other things – it’s usually served with what’s called relish, but I’m not sure I’d call it that. Actually, I’m not really sure how to define relish. In any case, the “relish” is usually finely chopped leafy vegetables that have been boiled as well. There might be chicken as well – the chicken and relish each get their own bowl.

To eat nshima, you pull off a chunk and roll it in your hands. This is, I believe, to shape it into a more convenient shape – a bowl – as well as to make it a better consistency. Sometimes the nshima on the top will get hard as its moisture evaporates, so when you roll it in your hand you blend the dry nshima with the wet below it, and end up with something a bit more consistent and a bit more pleasant to eat.

Anyways, after you roll it, you push on one edge a bit with your thumb to make a sort of pancake sticking out. You can use this pancake to scoop up relish or chicken, and then you bite off the pancake. For whatever reason the relish or chicken are always really drying (they have both been boiled), so as you eat you take more nshima from the glob in your hand.

Repeat until the glob is gone, then repeat.

It’s pretty good. The relish doesn’t have a great aftertaste because of the leftover water, but it’s nothing to complain about. Plus, it’s cheap, and easy to make.

In any case, nshima is slow to digest and expands when you add water. So if you have it for breakfast, then for lunch you can just drink some water, and you’ll magically be full again.

I wasn’t quite conscious of just how long a lump of nshima could take to digest, so one day for lunch I was feeling particularly hungry and I had, well, a lot. I’d like to say I don’t believe it can stay in your system for more than a day, but for whatever reason, I just wasn’t feeling great for about a week. Nor could I eat much. If you’ve eaten with me you know I eat, well, a lot (an ex-girlfriend once called me, perhaps affectionately, the “garbage disposal”). For that week I was not eating much. I was hungry all the time because I wasn’t getting any nutrients, but I couldn’t eat because it didn’t feel like there was any room. I couldn’t drink much water because there wasn’t any room. Needless to say, I survived, but I’m going to be more careful about how much I eat in the future.

– – –

Let’s Go… Fly a Plane?

As I’ve (hopefully) mentioned, my uncle is a flight mechanic for an organization called Flying Mission. He occasionally gets to fly as well, but the point is, I live on an airstrip, and every now and then there will be a spare seat with an offer to ride along. Needless to say, I get a little giddy, and then I accept.

One of these flights resulted in some volunteer work in Macha, which I posted about rather aptly a few weeks ago. Both on the way there and the way back, I got ride shotgun, wear a headset, and have the really rather tempting flight controls right in front of me.

On the way back: “Did you want to fly?” the pilot asked me.

I graciously accepted.

As it ends up, visibility wasn’t much more than a mile. This is unfortunate because when learning to fly, a lot of instructors recommend covering up the instruments and flying “by the horizon –” that is, using the horizon to know how level your plane is. This way you know where the plane is as well as how level it is, instead of just staring at the flight instruments the whole time and running into poles (and yes, those cell towers are tall enough to cause a problem if you’re not careful). On that day, I got the stare-at-the-instruments treatment.

But I still got to fly a plane.

I’d sat shotgun once or twice before, and of course, ridden in planes, but being able to take everything I’d learned from Flight Simulator (an apparently very legitimate program, the pilot told me, as some flight schools will count those hours as time towards a license) and use it in real life was a very cool experience. I know what almost all the instruments were, how to use them, and what effects the controls would have on them.

If flying wasn’t so expensive I would have picked it up a while ago, but alas, I was one of those teenagers who would have rather had a Wii than 2 hours of flight instruction. It’s always been on my to-do list, though, so don’t be surprised if I retire by a field and buy one of those DIY-biplane kits.

I swear, officer, it just took off by itself! I had no choice but to do a few loop-di-loops before landing it again. And my pilot’s license? That must have fallen out when I was upside-down…

– – –

Okay, the internet is back – for a bit anyways – and I was supposed to be working these past few hours (not all of which I spend typing this blog post, by the way). So, that’s all for now.

2 thoughts on “Short Stories Zambia

  1. EmmyLou Hanson says:

    Your stories keep us light headed! Keep loving the Zambians. E n R

  2. Marilyn Cook says:

    Great post! It’s fascinating to hear about Zambia and what you’re doing for Zambikes. Glad you’re feeling better.

    Ah, your dream to fly. I’ll bet you were good at it after all the hours you’ve put in on Flight Simulator. I can’t wait to hear more about it.

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Quick! Type Something!

September 24th, 2013

Country/Day: Zambia/30
Bikes Fixed: 20
Bikes/Day Avg: 0.66
Pages of Recommendations Written: 20
Diagrams Drawn: 1
Spreadsheets Generated: 4
Forms Drawn Up: 2

Hello dear readers! Yes, I am alive, and yes, I have been fixing bikes, among other things (see just above). I find myself now far behind my promises – it seems Zambia has a way with things. Also, I’m in the process of making cookies, and the cookie sheet is only big enough to make six at a time, so excuse the tone shifts as I up and put in another batch periodically.

In any case, I promised to write, so even if I can’t write when I promise, I can at least write… you know… stuff. That I promised. Sort of. *ahem*

So first, an update on the sickness front. I’m significantly less dehydrated now than since I last posted, but still not feeling one-hundred per-cent. I recognize the feeling now from my first few weeks in India, it’s the feeling of foreign cooking. It fits, too – for the first few weeks I was staying with my aunt, who is from Minnesota. Her cooking is at least a little familiar, even if it’s restricted by the available of certain goods, and the ridiculous expense of butter over margarine (but butter is always worth the cost, and yes, I’ve used it in my cookies. Speaking if which…).

At the guest house, Staz, the housekeeper, does most of the cooking. I have yet to do my food post, mostly because it would be… well, not that exciting. Staz is a great chef, don’t get me wrong, but most of the food here is surprisingly American-ish. I guess it’s because Zambia was a British colony, and so was the US. So even though it’s been a couple hundred years, the foods are very similar. Why, then, the stomach upset? I assume it has to do with variations in diet – rice instead of bread, that sort of thing. I mean, it’s possible. I mean, at least a little. Right? Or it could be still sore from all that nshima, which I have since rescinded from the privilege of being eaten. Well, here I sit trying to justify my stomach ache, and there are better things to be talking about.

– – –

I probably should have opened with the disclaimer that there will be no photos in this post. It’s tragic, I know, but I may have mentioned that internet is horrendously expensive – 5K for 20 MB, or about $1. For those of you with infinite unlimited super extra all awesome internet packages at home, let’s say you use 10 GB a month. That leaves you plenty of data to check your e-mail, watch videos on YouTube every now and them, download some word documents. You won’t be pirating movies on a regular basis, but 10 GB isn’t as bad as most people think. In any case, 10 GB is 10,000 MB, so that would cost me $500 here at the guest house. Which is, you know, all of what I budgeted for rent.

Now I could probably get away with uploading a few photos but… I’m stingy. Forgive me. I like to think it’s part of the reason I can live so comfortably here — unlike the crew that just arrived from Texas, who brought along Starbucks Coffee, a french press, organic peanut butter, protein powder, and Luna bars, among other things (sorry ladies. You have great personalities! (I really do enjoy your company and was just trying to be funny with that whole personality thing. Don’t hate me)).

Anyways, I’m headed to my aunt’s this weekend, so I should be able to upload some photos then. It will take an hour, as usual over here, but they are worth a thousand words, right? This post, on the other hand, will just have to be… well, really long, at the least (I’m only at about 680 words as I finish this paragraph… you think college would have helped me realize how many words 1,000 is, exactly).

– – –

So. Business. I’m at the guest house. I’ve been here for more than a week now, having moved in last Monday. Just like in India and Guatemala, there was, at first, the feeling of, “Now what?” What do I eat? Where do I go? Will spiders eat me in my sleep? You know, that sort of thing.

(having now realized this happens once per country, I am all the more grateful to Prabhat, my host in India, who let me a room in his house, had his housekeeping cook me food, found me a place to work, and basically had his driver escort me around for the first few days. He really went out of his way to make me feel welcome… like, wow. In Guatemala and here in Zambia I kind of got left on the doorstep. Which is what I expected. But it still makes me all the more grateful to Prabhat. THANKS!)

Fortunately enough, there is a housekeeper, named Anastazia, or Staz, for short, who is quite simply one of the best human beings on the planet. She cooks. She cleans. She does laundry – BY HAND. She shops. It’s really quite wonderful.

And yes, dear followers, I do cook, clean, and shop from time to time. I’m not missing out on any experiences there. But it is nice to be able to focus more of my efforts on bikes from time to time.

Anyways, on Tuesday, I walked the 200 feet to the production facility and got to work. For the first day this mostly involved introducing myself (again) to the production team and answering all of their questions. I also spent a lot of time in the office talking to Ngwazi, or more, being talked at by Ngwazi, because he’s that kind of guy. I mean, it’s peaceable and all, he just doesn’t shut up. You know the type.

For the next few days I made my rounds, getting to know everybody a bit better, jumping in and offering a hand where I could (which is where the few bikes I’ve “fixed,” but more, helped build, come from), but mostly asking questions. See, I’ve been deemed the “Improvement Suggester.” Zambikes has decided they want to be the world leader in bamboo bike production. They want to produce them faster than anybody else and in better quality than anybody else. And the way they figure they are going to do that is by getting advice. Lots and lots of advice. So frequently, they have people visit. As I went around and asked questions I would sometimes be told, “Oh yea, so-and-so came from such-and-such company in Germany and suggested that to us.” Or, “Oh year, so-and-so client in Brazil said we’d be better of if…” and so on.

So it seems to be working pretty well for them. And frankly, for a team of 16 guys making a fairly new-to-the-market high-end product in a developing country and exporting it to more than 10 other countries around the world, I’m impressed.

But of course, everybody has room to grow.

So after I asked questions about how things worked for a few days, I started asking questions about how things could be made better. “What if” and “What do you think” and “If you had” or “If we could” and “Why did that” and “Hmmmm,” which isn’t a question, but there sure was a lot of it from my end. And then the “Hmmmms” turned into “Okays” and then those turned into a 20-page document of suggestions, four sample spreadsheets, and two sample forms.

Which is what I got done when I was sick. Instead of blogging for you guys. So you know, I don’t feel too terribly about that.

In any case, I had a meeting today with the three highest people in the company, next to, of course, the owners, who aren’t terribly involved anymore (which is to their credit, as part of the point of social enterprise is to hand the keys to the country you start it in). It went well. They want to put almost all of my changes in place. And I’m in charge of making it happen.

WOOHOO!

So I’ll spend the next week writing macros for my spreadsheets and getting them to be awfully self-sufficient, and then the week after that teaching the staff how to use the spreadsheets, and then the week after that turning them from a jumbled mess of “What’s this new thing?” and “What’s that new thing?” to a fully-fledged well-oiled professional-looking fast-acting production machine.

And then I celebrate for a week and go home.

Hey, time flies.

– – –

Okay, so I admit it. I got up there to do a batch of cookies and when I sat back down again, my mind was completely blank. And after sitting for a few more minutes, it’s still blank. I know there’s stories up there, but nothing that won’t sound like it belongs by itself. Which what a “Short Stories” post is for. Which is what I will do… shortly. Or there’s always describing things, but I don’t really feel right doing that without photos. So for now, I think what I’ll do is rest. And read my book! Yes. That sounds nice.

‘Till next time – I’ll shoot for this weekend but, seeing how my promise-making is going lately, I don’t think I should promise.

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The Sickness Prevails

September 22nd, 2013

Country/Day: Zambia/28

Bikes Fixed: 19

Bikes/Day Avg: 0.68

 

Hello everyone! Yes, I’m alive, and fixing bikes. I hope to get my ratio up to 1:1 at the least, if not 3:2, which would be 90 bikes in the 60 days that I’m here.

 

I’m afraid, however, that this must be a short blog post. I’ve been staying at the Zambikes’ guest house, which has limited and expensive internet. I was planning on going back to my aunt’s this weekend to use her internet, but that didn’t quite work out.

 

Additionally, I’m sick. It’s not too bad – I’m not throwing up or anything – I think I just had too much nshima a few days ago, and my stomach is complaining. It’s probably partly that I’m not used to it, but mostly, I imagine, it’s dehydration. See, nshima digests slowly, and absorbs water quickly. This is great if you’re out in the field, as if you get hungry, you just drink some water and the nshima will grow in your stomach and make you feel full again. If you’re like me though, you ate a lot of nshima, and you need a lot of water to keep from feeling dehydrated. But if the nshima expands anymore, your stomach will explode. So I’ve been unable to eat or drink very much without feeling sick – and as a result, I’ve been dehydrated, etc.

 

Sure is complicated.

 

In any case, I’ve been trying to take it easy. There has been plenty happening, and I hope to have a more substantial update within a few days (by tomorrow, if possible). For now, this will have to suffice… and now I’m going to sleep some more.

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Time Is Coming


Country/Day: Zambia/18

Bikes Fixed: 12

Bikes/Day Average: 0.66

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MICS students arrive at school via bicycle.

As I mentioned, I’m back in Lusaka. The guest house is cleared up, but I don’t want to move in today only to work Friday and have the weekend off. I’ll be moving into the guest house on Monday, and that will likely be my first day of work at Zambikes.

In the mean time, I never finished up my Macha story. So let’s start there…

– – –

I last left off with the start of my trip to Macha, and hinted that there were many things that needed doing. Indeed, there were. I already mentioned the first trip to Choma, the nearest “city,” for groceries. We had bought some corn and at some point we needed to process the corn into corn “flour.” I put flour in quotes because there’s three different levels of “flour” you can process the corn into here. It basically has to go with the size of the grain you’re left with. In the same way wheat can be processed into crushed wheat, flour, etc., so corn can be processed into crushed corn, corn flour, and an inbetween quality called “mealy rice.”

(bonus fact: corn is the second-most produced grain in the world, rice being first, and wheat being third, by weight)

Anyways, we loaded the car with 150 kg of corn (any “large bag” you see is likely 50 kg, that’s a standard size for delivering grains, feed, etc.) and headed off to a mill.

There was a line.

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And lots of stacks of corn.

I did get to peak into the room with the grinder, which was less exciting than I thought it was going to be.

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Hello grinder. Hello line. Hello corn that is mine.

So we wouldn’t have to wait in line, we dropped off two of the bags there to be processed into corn flour. Then we headed across the (dirt) road to another building with a processor for mealy rice. They were out of power, so we ended up driving somewhere else altogether.

The whole process way very time consuming and it put a lot of things in perspective for me. Namely, being from a developed country, I’m used to going to the store to buy flour. I don’t have to buy corn, then have it processed, etc. You can by flour here, but obviously there are people who can’t afford to, or for whom the store is far enough away not to be worth it. If we didn’t have a car, we would have been among that population. Yet at the same time, it would have been a three or four hour walk to the mill, then a four hour wait in line, then three or four hours back. And I’ve no idea how I would travel with 150 kgs of rice. That’s a 12 hour day – pack a lunch.

Frankly, it made me think about how valuable having a bicimaquina on hand, or in the community, would have been. Depending on the size of the community, there would be around an hour’s walk with little to no wait. The only downside is the processing time would be slightly increased. Obviously this is speculation, but I think it’s pretty well grounded.

Anyways, this isn’t the post I use to tell you about my idea for a social enterprise. So let’s get back to Macha.

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We’ll take the car. You can take the ox cart.

– – –

As is the case with most cultures, Zambia has some sayings. The one I’ve heard the most (granted, my aunt Sue says it the most, and she’s always around) is, “Time is coming.”

In the States especially we have the sense that time is going. Time is running out. Time is short. Most of us are in a hurry. Many of us are impatient. We try and cram as much into our day as we can, worried that we might miss an opportunity, that other people might think we’re lazy, that we might somehow be unfulfilled if we don’t spend every minute of every day doing “something productive.”

If you know me at all, you know I’m the opposite way. So this Zambian philosophy really resonates with me. “Time is coming.” Relax.

The idea is around, I think, for a few reasons. First, everything is far apart. When Misheck was showing me Lusaka I asked him what we’d do if we couldn’t find a bus out to the Zambikes production facility. “Walk,” he said.

“How long will that take?”

“Oh, three or four hours,” he replied. No big deal. People are used to walking here. People are used to spending their time covering large distances.

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Just waiting around. Time is coming, you know.

Second, there’s the heat. If everybody here ran around like headless chickens as much as we do in the States, they would all die of heat exhaustion. Granted, it is the hottest time of year, but right around 3 o’clock the only thing I really want to do is sleep.

Lastly, and probably more importantly than the reasons I bring up, are the historical regions. While I don’t know for sure, I imagine hundreds or thousands of years ago the people here had to be very patient. Patient for the rains. Patient for their crops. Patient for their prey. Etcetera. Obviously this is unfounded, but there you have it.

The reason I bring this up in the middle of my time spent volunteering at Macha is because, well, I spent a lot of time waiting. We’d often do only one or two things per day. One day we’d go to Choma. One day we’d get our corn processed. And so on.

– – –

Side note: From here out I’m probably permuting the days. Just know that these experiences happened, even if they didn’t happen in the order I’m presenting them in.

Gil and Ronda have a few neighbors. I mean, you always have neighbors in the bush, but these neighbors are particularly close with Gil and Ronda. Linda is a teacher, so she’s particularly close with them. She has a son with spinal meningitis who started having seizures in about eighth grade. Since his attacks, he has been a bit more difficult to communicate with, but it was believed with medical attention he could be at least partially cured.

Linda had asked Gil to drive her and her son to the hospital a few times. This time, most of the medical work had been done, and she just needed to go to get his stitches removed. It would normally be about a 45 minute walk, and she would carry him on her back as he has trouble walking. Gil and I turned it into a ten minute drive.

While her son was in the hospital, I got a small tour.

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Many of the hospital buildings are connected by outdoor foyers.

Not very Minnesotan.

It felt surprisingly modern, and at the same time, surprisingly ancient. I’m sure this has a lot to do with my expectations, even though I’m not sure what they were. The hospital reminded me of a hospital one might see in a movie about WWI – little to no electronics, nurses wearing hair crowns, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bed and other equipment were dated around that time.

Except for exam rooms, there was no patient privacy – a male and a female ward, subdivided into (for lack of more technical terminology) sick patients and really sick patients. The really sick patients are those typically HIV or TB (tuberculosis) positive.

That was the inpatient building. In addition, there was a building for outpatient care, pediatric care, family care, and a malaria research center. Smack the middle of campus was a pretty cool looking chapel.

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I didn’t feel comfortable taking a photo from inside of any of the patient care buildings, which would really round out my explanations. Like I said though, an interesting combination of modernity and… less modernity.

Later in the week we had the fortune of being invited to dinner by some of Gil and Ronda’s friends, the Dubois’s, who are from the southern US. James Dubois happens to be a doctor volunteering at the Macha hospital. He had to do a round after dinner and invited me along. His tour, along with Gil’s tour when we drove for Linda and her son, provided the information for this section.

In addition to him telling me about the hospital in general, he had an interesting story to share. One of the patients he visited in his rounds that night was a newborn just a few weeks old, who had TB, was probably HIV positive, and who had been severely dehydrated. He was pretty frank with me because he said he expected her not to have survived since the last time he’d seen her. On top of that, he explained what a process it was to get the grandmother to be okay with treatment. “No needles,” she kept saying. “No needles.” To get her to change her mind, he took two chest x-rays – one from a healthy baby, one from her grandson – and pointed out the differences (TB presents a milky-white lung in an x-ray; healthy lungs are the black of the background). Hesitantly, she agreed to the treatment.

On the way into the hospital I had noticed a lot of people sitting around outside. On the way out, Gil told me that this are was called “the fires.” He explained to me that the hospital can’t afford to provide food for any of it’s patients, so the family comes and camps outside the hospital. They keep fires going to cook food for their loved ones – hence the name, “the fires.”

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– – –

I can’t say too much about the next day because I don’t want to hang out the dirty laundry, as it were. Suffice it to say, some things had been stolen from MICS, and Gil and I did some detective work that day. Instead of detailing the incident, I’ll just detail the adventure.

In order to, for lack of a better phrase, collect evidence, we had to visit some of the teachers at their homes. The teachers weren’t implicated in the theft, but we wanted to talk to them. In any case, one day after school, two of them hopped in the truck and we started driving. It would be faster for us to drive them than for them to walk, as I’m sure by now you could have predicted.

I’m glad we did this, and I’m glad because I got some nice photos of the way housing is set up in rural Africa:

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Namely, you can see the different methods of building construction. Buildings are made from sticks, thatch (hay), or bricks, or a combination of any of the three. Most plots have at least a few raised buildings for chickens, to try and keep the snakes out – otherwise snakes will eat the eggs. Many snakes can climb, especially tree snakes (yes, those exist), but it helps enough that everybody does it. So, worth mentioning.

Then there is usually a central building with incomplete walls. In the photo above you can see a building thatched together that doesn’t go completely to the floor. Sometimes that will be the case, or sometimes the walls won’t go completely up to the roof. This seems to be a communal living area of some sort.

Last are the living spaces. These are usually the sturdiest spaces – not the brick house on the right. Yonder are the beds and sometimes the cooking facilities.

While driving I also got some good shots of Africans commuting by bicycle:

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And after dropping of the second teacher… our battery died.

Welcome to Zambia.

Fortunately, Gil’s Range Rover is a manual transmission. You know what that means… (right? I can’t be the only US citizen left who knows how to drive stick)… push start!

So yea, myself, the teacher, and her sister all push started the car while Gil rode in the king’s seat and popped the clutch. It took us about three tries, and in a front yard in the bush, there wasn’t a lot of flat space. But Gil and I were determined to sleep in our own house that night. I don’t even want to guess how long it would have taken AAA to get there.

– – –

Fortunately, the next day the car behaved itself. Gil had promised to drive some of the teachers to Choma to do their shopping, and to drive anything back that they wanted to buy. This was quite a treat – it would normally be a three or four hour combi ride (combis are the VW-sized busses I’ve talked about) with little room for groceries on the return trip. With Gil’s driving it takes only two hours, and with the roof rack on the Range Rover we had quite the carrying capacity.

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I was in charge of the roof rack.

Ronda and Sue came along as well – it seems we all had errands to run. We left the teachers in town for about four hours while we exchanged some currency, got lunch, bought some hardware for the house, and did some grocery shopping of our own. The way back was a bit more crowded than the way there, even though some of the teachers had to take the combi (the deal was that we would promise to carry all of their things back, at the sacrifice of not being able to take all of them).

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Thank goodness for the roof rack.

On the way back we stopped at “the truck stop” (if you remember it from my previous post) to buy some tomatoes and cabbages. Some vegetables are apparently cheaper and/or better there than in Choma. In any case, I got a great picture of what it’s like to be swarmed by sellers.

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We had a small truck. The large ones practically get tipped over by sellers.

For some reason, the car stopped working again after that. So for the rest of the trips during my stay, we had to push start it. Welcome to Zambia.

– – –

And now, a picture of a dust devil.

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– – –

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At some point during my stay I did get around to fixing bikes. MICS has twelve “loaner” bikes that the kids can use for fun – if they want to bike to or from school, they use their own. Some of these bikes were in remarkably good condition, given they were all donated and probably none had come in brand new. But almost all of them needed work, ranging from a tube patch to a complete overhaul.

My workshop was the storage room. I did my best to arrange my tools and spare parts on storage bins, and used a coat hanger as my bike stand. It’s funny, it was only until my last country that I ended up working how I thought I was going to end up working. Looking back, I’m surprised at how well-equipped my volunteer locations in India and Guatemala were.

This means I got to do some things I’ve never done before. For starters, drawing inspiration from this guy…

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…I used a new kind of tire lever. I used… spoons.

To be clear, tire levers are a device used to get the tire off the rim. Between the tire and the rim is the tube, which holds air. It’s the part you inflate when you pump up “the bicycle,” and it’s the part that gets punctured and needs to be repaired or replaced. You might also need to take of the tire if you’re replacing it or working on or replacing the wheel. “Modern” tire levers are sturdy plastic, strong enough so they won’t break when prying off a tire, but smooth enough they won’t puncture the tube.

I’m not sure if I’d had that idea already or not, but when visited Misheck’s plot my first weekend here, I saw the fellow above using spoons as tire levers. I hadn’t brought mine, figuring hey, India and Guatemala had them, why not Zambia? – oops. But as it ends up, spoons work just as wekk.

Something else I go to do was boot a tire. You have to boot a tire when it tears but you don’t want to replace it. Most tires are strong enough to last many thousands of miles, but inevitably, they will tear apart. When this happens, it exposes the tube, often deforming it. In any case, the tube becomes much easier to puncture. So the tire has to be replaced or booted.

Replacement is obviously the best option, albeit a bit American. A boot, on the other hand, is a piece of rubber you apply to the inside of the tire that holds it together. It’s essentially a patch for the tire, but because it’s for the tire and not the tube, it’s much more robust than a patch would be.

I did not have any boots. But as some of you know, I did do a 4,032 mile tour of the US. And on that tour I learned a lot of about impromptu bicycle repair. Namely, that any sturdy, flexible item will do. I never had to boot any tires, thank goodness, but I did know it was possible to take a dollar bill and fold it many times to make a boot. When you fold money, or a sheet of paper, it gets very strong and thick very quickly.

Thankfully, Gil and Ronda had some printer paper around.

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Good as new.

So yea… I feel pretty good about this whole “volunteer bike mechanic” thing now.

As an immediate reward for my efforts, Sue told all the kids about the bikes. Of course, they all wanted to ride them. So we pulled out the ones I had repaired and had a bike corral. There weren’t enough bikes for all the kids, so that day things were learned about lines and turn taking. All the same, it was really fun, and really rewarding.

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Ready…

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As the one who fixed all the bikes I left the order of things to Sue.

Thanks!

Something that really surprised and impressed me was how easily the big kids taught the little kids how to ride. Most of the students, I would say, knew how to ride bikes, but for some reason it hadn’t occurred to me that some might not. Usually this is an activity, I think, reserved for a father-son or mother-daughter couple to tackle. I don’t think it’s hard, I just think it’s sort of a bonding ritual many Americans, as suburbanites, do in a certain way. So I was caught a bit off guard when, quite nonchalantly, the older kids would up and help the younger kids who didn’t know how to ride. It was cool, impressive, and satisfying.

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I’m sure part of that culture comes from MICS. After just a week there I noticed how the students, and especially the boarding students, look out for each other. I can’t help but feel though, that it’s part of African culture. People like helping each other, and they aren’t afraid of it, either.

– – –

As some of you who follow me on Facebook know, I also repaired a wheelchair. There’s a student named Prince who was born without knee joints and has had stunted growth in his legs. To be frank, nobody is really sure what his condition is called. In short, his organs are growing, but his bones aren’t. It’s possible it could be a form of achondroplasia, which is strongly associated with dwarfism. Most children with his condition are abandoned, however, so his condition specifically is largely unresearched.

Prince’s father has abandoned him, but his mother has stuck around. Almost unbelievably, Prince is a positive guy. He could be so angry at the world. I am really impressed by his outlook on life. He wants to be an accountant.

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Before I replaced the tubes in his wheelchair, he would be pushed around in a stroller by the other students (another example of how they look out for each other). Shortly after I put him in his wheelchair, I saw him roaming around campus.

“Hey Prince. What’cha up to?”

“Oh, just exploring.”

He was pretty content with himself.

I was pretty content with myself.

I think if there is one thing I get out of this project, it will have been meeting Prince. He’s a truly remarkable kid.

2 thoughts on “Time Is Coming

  1. Grandma says:

    I remember Prince’s smile ==he always had a BIG smile on his face. And yes, the other kids always were looking out for him.
    Lots of good stories, Kyle – would make a good book!

    • EmmyLou Hanson says:

      We need time to develop meaningful relationships. We need to choose time as there is plenty of it. Less developed cultures help us to examine our hearts We appreciate the work you are doing. Your friends at the Mall SLP. EmmyLou n Richard,t

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Machado About Nothing

September 11th, 2013

Country/Day: Zambia/16

Bikes Fixed: 12

Bikes/Day Average: 0.75

Note: If there’s been a lack of photos in previous posts, I did my best to make up for it this time.

Note (written after posting): I hope you like them, uploading alone took me an hour. Hey WordPress… get on this pls?

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Whoa! I fixed some bikes! I’m still at less than one a day, but to be fair, I wasn’t expecting to fix any bikes at all while in Macha. Also, one of them was a wheelchair, and I wasn’t expecting to fix any of those… ever.

– – –

First thing is first: Business.

British Airways is suspending all service to Lusaka starting October 25th, 2013 for “Commercial Reasons.” The last flight out is October 26th. I was scheduled to depart on the 30th, but because I don’t want to spend the rest of my life here (sorry Sue), I had to bump up my flight.

The other option was to depart another country (say, Kenya) via BA, but I’d have to “provide my own transportation” to Kenya… that is, fly there via Emirates or similar. While regrettable, I decided the extra four days wasn’t worth $600 (especially since the original ticket was already more than I expected it and budgeted it to be).

Long story short, I’ve now only 60 days to fix 90 bikes. We’ll see what happens.

– – –

Anyways. Macha. For those of you who missed it, the Zambikes’ guest house is full. Without staying in the guest house, I’d have a 3-hour commute one-way to Zambikes. So when my aunt Sue offered to let me volunteer with her in Macha until the guest house opened up, I jumped on it.

There are, of course, some other stories between the days in Lusaka and Macha that will go in a “Small Stories” post. That aside…

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Poor lighting brought to you by the sun being wrong.

As I mentioned, Sue’s husband Joel (Sue is my aunt) works for Flying Mission, a Christian aviation ministry with various locations around the globe. The idea is that, with a small plane (you might call it a “bush plane” here), you can cut transportation time by a significant amount, enabling doctors, aid workers, and volunteers to reach more patients, students, etc. In this case Flying Mission had been hired by Macha International Christian School (MICS) to fly Gil and Ronda, the MICS founders and owners. It’s a 6 or 7 hour drive with some one-way traffic and plenty of dirt roads, or a 30 minute flight.

We took off from the FM airfield just as the sun came up over Lusaka. I’ve got a thing for airplanes – if I logged all my hours in Microsoft Flight Simulator as a teenager, I’d probably be good to go for a license – so it was a treat to sit in the front seat. My headset wasn’t the best quality, so I couldn’t hear everything that was said, but I still got to ask Joel all sorts of stupid questions about his flight instruments. Namely, the GPS unit. Microsoft didn’t put any of those in their flight simulator…

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So that’s how Garmin makes all their money.

On the way there I saw a lot of bush, but I also saw a lot of modernity. It was a nice reminder that even though I was in a developing country, there are people with money and nice things. It’s easy to forget that sometimes.

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Is that… a suburb? *gasp!*

It was an eight minute flight to Lusaka International, where Gil and Ronda were just disembarking from their British Airways flight. The teen inside me was squealing and gawking as we made our approach on a huge paved runway designed for Airbuses and other huge aircraft…

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We will take approximately none of the runway to land our airplane.

…and after taxiing to the visitor parking area (ha), I got to watch the few commercial planes do their stuff. It was pretty cool.

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This guy’s job is to be ready with a fire extinguisher.

I also had a brief stint as an air traffic controller.

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He can totally see me.

(we had to do that photo twice. The first time, I handed the camera to Sue and ran for the pose. “Did you get it?” I asked.

Replace the battery pack,” she replied.

Sadly, that was the only opportunity with a big airplane we got. Less sadly, I had a replacement battery.)

Anyways, after about a 45 minute wait Joel strolled out of the airport with Gil and Ronda. They are swell folks, but hey had a lot of baggage… literally. Joel did “the balance test,” which just means he pushed the tail of the plane to the ground and waited to see if it would come back up again. It did. If it doesn’t, we’d have had to shuffle things around a bit to get the balance of the airplane right. It’s a great test, if you ask me. I’d like to see an airline try it… *ahem.*

Gil and Ronda were pretty jetlagged, so they slept in the back on the way to Macha. This left me with the front seat again – plenty of time to pretend like I was flying us there.

We landed in Macha after doing a flyby to scare aware the cows. Welcome to Africa. In small airfields like these, the runway is often the taxiway, so we turned and went back the way we came, parking at the start of the runway. Shortly thereafter, the people came.

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All the people.

Out in the bush, airplanes are apparently the most exciting thing that happens. So for the entire time we unpacked the plane and loaded up the truck (someone had driven to pick us up), people kept arriving and crowding around the plane and speaking to each other in Tonga as if mystified. As we walked away, I asked Joel if anybody had ever ruined the plane or anything.

It’s usually okay,” he replied.

Usually.

The car took Sue, Ronda, and the driver, Ms. Dubois. Joel, Gil, and I walked to the school – just past a treeline. After some time to relax, Gil and Ronda gave us the tour.

MICS uses a lot of donated material. A lot of donated material. It was pretty cool to see the end result of some of the donation programs in the States – I’ve probably given notebooks, pencils, etc. to kids in Africa, but it’s different being there and seeing the final result. It means something.

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Hey, kids actually use this stuff!

Apparently, in some schools U.S. schools they put boxes out at the end of the year, and some kids will just put their whole backpack in. So in places there were “student kits –” backpacks complete with notebooks, pencils, calculator, etc.

– – –

This was all on Saturday, the first of September. On Monday the teachers would arrive; the first day of school was Tuesday. This would be the third semester of the year. Semesters are three months long, and there’s a month-long break between each one. So Gil and Ronda had been back in the states for roughly a month, and needless to say, we had some shopping to do. In Africa, your nearest supermarket isn’t always that close. We drove two hours to the nearest “city,” Choma, and loaded up.

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I was the designated loader/don’t let it fall while we drive over these bumpy roads/guinea pig.

Okay, so mostly the guinea pig.

It was pretty cool to be in a “city.” I put that in quotes because Choma is probably a typical African city. It’s not as big as a capitol city like Lusaka, but there’s a supermarket, among other things. On the other hand, it’s not a village, like Macha.

We saw, among other things, various modes of public transportation.

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The high-occupancy version.

 

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The low occupancy version. Don’t look now, but it’s complete with a breastfeeding mother.

(I did not mean to take a picture of her and only noticed after. Sorry!)

Chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

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What is it with developing countries and Cadbury’s chocolate?

On the way back we passed something that reminded me of India. I call it “the truck stop.”

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Except instead of “I give you good price sir!’ they just put it in your face and look sad.

I’m not sure what village this is, but it was basically a market village. There were stalls for many things, but it seems like the big attractor was the vegetables. We bought some vegetables ourselves – much to the dismay of the people crowding our vehicle though, we only bought from one person. But yea, they just surround the truck, hold up their goods, and wait for you to ask them how much it costs.

Also, Gil and Ronda have two cats and a dog. The dog is a yippy little fellow, but the cats are pretty swell. I caught them on top of the truck while we were unloading:

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– – –

When I asked Sue what all I would be doing while in Macha, she sort of said, “Well, whatever needs doing.” As I type this I’m back in Lusaka, and I don’t think I could have answered it any better. A school has complex needs, and with a small school, it’s not like you can afford to have one person for every task. MICS has a few cooks, a groundskeeper, and a mechanic, and it’s up to the volunteers to fill in the rest.

…which is exacty what my next post will about… later this week.

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In the mean time, here’s a picture of the MICS courtyard.

2 thoughts on “Machado About Nothing

  1. Marilyn says:

    Who does the school teach?

    • Kyle says:

      K-7. At the end of grade 7 they have a national exam for acceptance into a government boarding school. They would still have to pay for that, but it’s better than the local schools, of which there aren’t enough anyways.

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Two Days in Lusaka

September 4th, 2013

 

(starting again from this post. I was going to Lusaka with Misheck, who was calculating how much change I was about to get)

Note: In a minute here I’ll add photos to that post as well.

 

..and then I got change.

 

So Misheck and I (I had been spelling his name wrong, it’s correct now: Misheck) were on mini bus to Lusaka. It quickly became quite crowded (it was already crowded – I mentioned there were four people per row in the back three rows, and three in the front row including the driver, for a total of 15 people in a car the size of a VW “hippie” bus), and this was, as Misheck put it, a “low-roof” van, so I was hunched over the whole time. Every time we went over a bump, if I didn’t duck, I would hit my head. “I am thinking for the way back we should get a big roof van,” Misheck said. I concurred.

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 It was approximately THIS crowded.

After a little more than an hour (for about a ten mile ride) we exited the bus in the heart of Lusaka. Okay, southwest of the heart of Lusaka, but we were inside the city, and there was a lot going on. We didn’t exit right at the bus station, but soon came to it. There were a lot of buses.

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More than this many buses.

I’m not convinced Misheck knew how to read a map, but I would later find we were headed the right way. The way he guided me through the city reminded me of the guide I had in Darjeeling, Dawa. When I asked Dawa how he knew where we were going, he simply said, “It’s in my blood.” I get the feeling Misheck just knew because, you know, he lived here. I don’t think he’s spent a lot of time in the city, but eventually he got us where we were going, and there aren’t even any street signs. So whatever the case, points for him.

 

On that note, he did have to ask for directions once, but only once we were practically across the street. He commented to me that people here are really good at giving directions, and really want to help. If they don’t know, they will tell you. This is unlike people in Guatemala, who will apparently give you directions even if they don’t know where you are going so they don’t have to be embarrassed. Just a cultural anecdote.

 

Anyways, after some confusion about which building it was exactly, Paul, one of the Zambike’s employees, came out in the street to meet us. Zambikes shares a lot with Southern Steel, but has no signs, so I think our confusion was justifiable.

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I mean, except for the bikes.

(you couldn’t see the bikes from the street)

Anyways, we were brought inside, and Paul entertained us for the next half hour or so. “I am a historian,” he would say, before launching into a lecture about the different tribes in Africa, or how Zambia was the heart of Africa.

 

Something I noticed was the Misheck wasn’t the odd man out. I was paying him for the day so I wasn’t too worried about it, but I sort of did think he would just sort of stay in the shadows for the day. In fact, he was just as engaged as I was. The folks at Zambikes seemed to take a genuine interest in him, asking him where he was from, what he was doing, etc. They even asked him to stop by and volunteer next week. I thought that was pretty cool. I imagine that in India, depending on the caste of my guide, there may have been some issues (or just some complete and utter silence). But – a theme I will perhaps touch on more and more – it seems like everyone here just wants to be friends.

IMG_9579_small

Misheck is on the left. Really fast biker dude is on the right.

After a while, Mwewa, the head of Zambikes Zambia, came in and introduced himself. We had never met in person, but he was my Zambian contact via e-mail after Dustin (the founder of Zambikes) moved to Uganda to start Zambikes Uganda. We spoke for a bit and he invited me to the production facility, an invitation which I graciously accepted. After another ten minutes or so (there is a lot of waiting here – patience is part of the culture, I think), we all hopped in a truck and got going.

 

On the way I had a few questions for Mwewa. As I think I’ve indicated, Zambikes isn’t completely transparent to me (not their fault, just, you know, they have been 4000 miles away from where I live). Most of my readers know by now I’m interested in starting a social enterprise, so I had (and will continue to have) questions there, too.

 

Of the more relevant things we discussed, I asked about their client base. Who do they sell to? At what rate? Are there discounts? Mwewa said they sell primarily to people are social butterflies. That is, people who need regular transport for their work, and whose work is to help other people. Teachers. Priests. Social workers. Agricultural educators.

 

It seems like a pretty cool market.

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I mean, this guy’s cool, and he’s in the market.

As far as prices go, Mwewa indicated that Zambikes receives no subsidies or discounts from the government. As such, they have to sell their bikes at full price. While this isn’t ideal from the standpoint of a social enterprise, it is absolutely necessary from the standpoint of a business. At the least, Zambikes isn’t “a bunch of white guys trying to make money.” The vast majority of the workers are local. Even Dustin quickly forfeited his position as head of Zambikes Zambia to Mwewa, a born and bred Zambian. So while they aren’t giving bikes away to the people who need them, Zambikes is providing sustainable jobs to the local economy. And to be frank, they sell great bikes at a great price.

 

They have really justified, in my mind, a “full price” social enterprise. In my naivity, I think I have always believed that any real “help” from another country has to be offered freely. In just the past few weeks, with the combination of having read Poor Economics, having asked Zambikes the right questions, and having done some research on my own, I’ve come to believe the opposite is true more often than not. I’ll talk more about this later, in any post about starting a social enterprise, but I wanted to mention it here.

 

In any case, it’s 18km from town to the Zambikes production facility, about a 20 minute drive or probably a 1 hour bus ride (the busses are constantly starting and stopping). We arrived at the facility and basically hung out for a few hours. I already knew I wasn’t going to start work yet, because I didn’t want to work a day, take two weeks off, then start work again (see my previous post on what I’m currently doing in Macha instead).

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But we were still happy to be there!

(that’s Misheck)

I will detail the facility more once I start work there. For now, suffice it to say, Zambikes has the space they need to make things happen. They aren’t working out of their garage… *ahem.* So the first time I visited, I just met the workers, explored a bit, asked some good questions (like “Can I take a picture of that cool looking patented device over there?” – No), etc. It was interesting to talk to the employees, who are all locals, and who have been with Zambikes for various amounts of time. Israel, for instance, was the “metal cutter guy –” he cuts the metal pipes they use to make the Zambulances. He’s taking night classes at a community college for computer science. We got to geek out a bit. It was funny – for some reason I find myself expecting the people here to be fairly uneducated. It’s not entirely unfounded, and I’ll talk more about that later, but I am impressed and often happily surprised when people have a good amount of schooling.

 

I also got to see the guest house, which is pretty cool. I’m not sure if there is housekeeping or not – I think it might be impromptu. Both times I met a woman living there named Staz, short for Anastazia, who was very kind and bright. The second time, she made lunch for everyone visiting. It seems like it will be a swell place to live.

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If you don’t mind living in the bush, that is.

Anyways, at some point we went back into town. Misheck and I hung out some more, then were given a ride to the bus station. I bought lunch for Misheck and Paul, and we chatted a bit (Paul gave us another history lesson – he’s a talker) before Misheck and I caught the bus. The busses don’t leave until they are full, and if you get on before the leave, people try and sell you things. It’s sort of the same as India, with people walking around shoving things in your face saying “I give you good price sir!” except they… hiss. Yea. Somebody waved Frito Lays in front of my face and hissed. It’s how they get your attention. It’s certainly less intrusive than, “Okay sir, okay. For you I give special price.” I just didn’t expect it.

IMG_9639_smallAlso, did you know Coke recycled so much?

(you’re looking at three stories of empty Coke bottles)

At the bus station the second day, Paul had to get going, so we didn’t stop for lunch. Misheck asked that instead of paying him for the day, I bought his sister a pair of shoes. I thought that was a pretty reasonable request. I might actually want to do that more than paying him – I know Mischeck isn’t going to spend it on alcohol or anything, but it’s somehow ratifying to know it got put to a good cause. Again, it’s none of my business what Misheck does with his money, and I know he’s a good guy. It was just… new.

 

So, a bus ride back, and we were at home again. On the first day, we arrived just as “the children” were headed home – the kids who worked in the field until about 5. When we got off the bus they walked behind me and whispered between themselves. I turned to say hi and they scattered… which I sort of expected after the orange incident (two blog posts back). So Misheck and I kept walking until about 20 of them were behind us. Then, I jumped, turned, put out my hands, and roared like a monster. They all scattered, and then they all fell to the ground laughing. It was pretty great.

 

The second day after the bus ride, we stopped to play soccer. Flying Mission sponsors a soccer team – the is, they own the land a soccer field is on. At 4 every day, the under-15s play, and at 5, the over-15s play. We got back about 5:15, so jumped in with the over-15s. We didn’t play a game, we just played for possession, but it was really good to play soccer again. It’s my favorite sport next to ultimate frisbee, and I hadn’t played since early college.

 

My (American) pre-conceived notions told me all the Zambian kids were going to be really good at soccer. Many of them were, in fact, quite good – better than me. But at the end of day, I think they were just kids having fun. There will undoubtedly be a soccer post; for now, suffice it to say that playing soccer is a better way to occupy your time than doing drugs or begging.

 

(side note: The pre-conceived notions I mention aren’t entirely unfounded. The Zambian national team is one of the only teams in the world that doesn’t buy or sell players – it’s composed entirely of Zambians)

 

So, that’s all for now. I’ve raked up quite the queue of posts for everyone. I think I can cover Macha in two posts; plus I’ve promised a soccer post now, and my sister wants a food post… *ahem.*

 

‘Till next time.

IMG_9631_smallOr till forever, if you get a Zambian friend with a Leatherman to carve your name into a 10-foot tall aloe-lookalike.

2 thoughts on “Two Days in Lusaka

  1. Marilyn says:

    This is fascinating! Keep posting!!! and, more photos please.

  2. Grandma says:

    Glad you got to play soccer on “MY” field. I have told my family not to give me gifts but to do or buy something for someone less fortunate than us – so that was my gift one year. And it has been moved from the first one because of changes in the air strip I believe.
    It’s great to hear about the places you go and see – and the bus travel!! I could never understand how so many people could get on one of those.

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