September 3rd, 2013


So, hello again, and sorry for the delay. I’ve been busy, including some travel, and some taxing events via e-mail. But short answer, all here is well, and I am alive, and not sick… miraculously (getting sick seems to be the trend, anyways, when visiting a new country. Before coming here I was 2 for 2. Or 0 for 2, as it were).


I’m typing from Macha, a city in southwestern Zambia, mostly south of Lusaka. What am I doing here?


Well, believe it or not, I’m fixing bikes.


It’s a bit more complicated than that, of course. I’ve hinted here and there that Zambikes was a little more remiss than I would have liked them to be in arranging my stay. In fact, I ended up moving in with my aunt, who (thankfully) lives only about 10 km south of Lusaka and was able to pick me up from the airport. In my first few days, I visited Zambikes twice, which I will write about soon. All you need to know at this point is that because I have to go into town, then out of town again, and because the bus system here is… well, not ideal, but surprisingly functional, I had a three hour commute either way.


Naturally, I want to move in to the Zambikes guest house before I start volunteering. Then, I can have a three minute walk, instead of two 1u1/2 hr bus rides.


So when I found out the guest house was going to be full through September 7th, I decided to find another way to occupy myself. Hence why I’m in Macha.


Sue, my aunt, was going to come here to volunteer at a school, and suggested I come along as well. So, here I am. Indeed, I’ve been finding things to do. Most don’t have to do with bikes, but as I think we established on the tail end of Guatemala, as long as I’m doing earnest work, that’s okay. And the school does have some bikes, so I’m sure I can knock a few off the 90 while I’m here. At the least, there’s a wheelchair that needs its tubes changed. Is fixing one quadricycle the same as fixing two bicycles?


Macha has to be one of the smallest cities I’ve spent more than a day in. It has a population of 135,000, but in the same way Minneapolis/St. Paul has a population of 3.4 million. That’s really the Msp/St. Paul metro area, and Minneapolis alone only has a population of 392,000. Similarily, 135,000 is the Macha… area… (there’s no metro)… but that’s in a 35km radius around the city center, an area of 3,846 square kilometers. So the population density is only 25 per square km. Compare to Minneapolis (not the metro area), with an area of 151 square kilometers. It has one-twenty-fifth the “area,” yet three times the population, for a population density of 2,710 per square km.


So, yea. It’s… empty here.


To be fair, the US is much the same way, except most of us don’t realize it. We tend to forget about the farmvilles located just outside of the major cities we live in. I’m not here to give anyone a geography lesson – just be aware. Anyways, if you’re going to change lives, rural areas are a good place to start. If you can raise them up, so the urban and suburban areas will follow.


I’m afraid that has to be all for now. More will follow as I get back into the swing of things from yet another day of travel. It’s also quite hot here, and sunny as well, so I spend a lot of the time I’m not volunteering being sleep, or reading, or doing other things that don’t require much thinking or tap-tapping of the fingers.

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Possible AWOL

August 30th, 2013


Dear Readers,


I am to embark on an adventure starting tomorrow and lasting about ten days. During this adventure I may not have reliable internet access. Do not worry, for I shall be safe! Hopefully. Out there be monsters. Er, lions.


Anyways, fear not, I shall blog when I can, and when I can’t, I shall save it and post it later.


Love from Zambia,


One thought on “Possible AWOL

  1. Marilyn says:


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Let Me Calculate

August 28th, 2013

Now with photos!

Country/Day: Zambia/3

Bikes Fixed: 0

Bikes/Day Avg: 0.00

Wow, day three already? My jet lag is definitely having the best of me. That being said, I did get something done today. In fact, I can already feel myself falling behind as far as blog posts go… it brings me back to India. I’m already planning for a post on food and a “Small Stories,” if you remember what those are.


They are sort of like the amount of space on this road. Small.

So, I’ll just start from Monday and work my way through. No doubt I’ll miss a few things, but they’ll come back later.

First off, I got in Monday at 8 AM, and spent the majority of the day… well, to be completely honest, I don’t remember. Saturday through Tuesday are all blurred together because of my jet lag. Actually, I think it was the 32 hours of travel to get here. I did pretty well in India, being it was only 22 hours of travel, but man… this is ridiculous. Anyways, I’m pretty sure I spent most of Monday hanging out with my cousin.

On Tuesday I slept in until noon (oops). We hadn’t figured out how to get me to Zambikes just yet, but I wanted to get out of the house. Sue (my aunt) had to run some errands, so she dropped Ethan (my cousin) and me off at the mall, and we ended up going to see a movie. On the way home we stopped at the grocery store, where I also grabbed some cash at an ATM, because I had used all my emergency cash buying a visa (they were a bit more expensive than I had anticipated – $50 instead of $20. I had exact change).


Medium by American standards, frickin’ huge by Zambian standards.

Today (Wednesday) was the exciting day. To be honest, I either don’t remember much about Monday or Tuesday, or they weren’t significant enough to remember compared to today. To be frank, after India and Guatemala, Zambia doesn’t shock me as much as it should. I look at almost everything and go, “Yea, okay.” While there are some things my readers might find interesting that I’m not mentioning, hopefully I can get to the meat a little bit faster. This will be useful because I’m only here for 70 days.

So, let’s talk about SIM cards. You guys. Zambia has it FIGURED. OUT (to be fair, India and Guatemala may have been the same way, but I didn’t use a phone in Guate, and in India, my host managed my phone for me). Here’s the delio. You buy a SIM card. Your SIM card has your number on it and some credits (say, $10 (the currency here is Kwacha, but let’s keep it simple for my readers in the USA)). Every time you use your phone or send a text, it displays how much credit you have left. When you notice it getting low, you pick up a “recharge.” These are little cards about 1”x1” worth increments of money – say, $5, $10, $20, $50. On the card is a pin code. You text the pin code to your carrier (my carrier is Airtel, so I text *113*PIN-NUMBER). And your phone is recharged.

It is SO. EASY. And the best part is it’s actually pay-as-you-go. I know there are some US companies out there that think they are “pay-as-you-go” just because they don’t have a contract. False. True P.A.Y.G. is this. You buy minutes when you need them.

I couldn’t find a photo of this, but it exists. I promise.

The best part is, in any developing country, it’s cool to sell stuff in the streets. So when I put in Caleb’s SIM card (Caleb is my cousin from here, but currently residing in the US – thanks for the SIM, buddy!) and found out I only had $0.05 left, I just asked Sue to roll down the window and buy me a recharge. Because, you know, there are people selling them at every stoplight. On the way to work and need more minutes? Roll down the window and buy them.

Dear the United States: You need to get in on this.

(dear readers: They never well. The system in the US is designed to be self-perpetuatingly expensive)

Okay, anyways. Enough about how Zambia has their stuff together. More stories.

There are a few beggars about and Sue likes to give them oranges. She and I agree that giving handouts (money) isn’t really effective, and giving food might not be “teaching the man to fish,” but at the least, you know it’s useful — whereas money might be spent on alcohol, or who knows what. So whenever we drive by hungry looking kids (the ones with their hands out), Sue will ask Ethan (or whoever is near the collection of oranges) for a few. The reason I bring this up – besides the fact it’s not that common in the states – is because at one point there were some kids on my side of the car. I rolled down the window and held out a few oranges, and… they scattered. Sue told me to just be patient. After a few seconds one of them came forward. Then another. There were four in total, and only three came up. It was just interesting to me – here were these hungry kids asking for food, but as soon as you roll down the window they are wary. I don’t blame them, as I am sure bad things happen, and I think “don’t take food from strangers” is a great lesson to know. But I also know that Sue (and some of the other FM (Caucasian) volunteers) frequently give food, so it was just interesting. Oh and, Sue tries to give to different folks every time, so they don’t become reliant.

– – –

I woke up yesterday to arrange breakfast. There was some leftover quiche (well, crust-less quiche – egg bake, Sue calls it), so I put a slice on a plate and put the plate in the microwave. Just as I was closing the door, Sue walked by and said, “There’s no electricity, so that won’t be very helpful.”

Apparently we share electricity with some other plots. We get it on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; they get it Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; we share Sundays. FM has a generator they use when guests are visiting the guest house, so we did have periodic electricity that day. So, don’t be surprised if I don’t update my blog on certain days of the week…

This also explains why each house has its own water tower.

– – –

Yesterday after the movie I indicated to Sue I wanted to visit Zambikes just to say “hi.” I figured I wouldn’t be working just yet, but wanted to at least stop by, and if I was going to be taking the buses into town on a regular basis, I wanted to practice using the bus system. She said I probably shouldn’t go by myself, but could go with one of the kids who worked at the hanger. That is, there are locals who help Flying Mission maintain the airplanes, and they know their way around. She called a friend at the hanger, who called another friend, and so on, until we got a hold of Mesheck. Mesheck is 22 and lives… well, yonder (he’s from Zambia). Long story short, I spent the day today with him.


…and now we’re besties.

He came over today about 9:00 to take me to the bus stop. I wanted to show him a map of where we were going, so we fiddled with Google Maps a bit. I then indicated I needed to brush my teeth and asked if he needed the computer for anything. I expected him to want to check Facebook, but instead he asked if I had any games or music. I did – I opened up iTunes and told him to knock himself out. When I came back he was smiling and asking if he could have some of what he’d listened to.

It was a 15 minute walk from the airstrip to the bus stop. When I go by myself, I’m to go on the street, but Mesheck took me on a shortcut through the… er, neighborhood.

So, pictures will explain this better than words (and pictures will come shortly), but Sue and Joel live in rural Lusaka. There’s a collection of two or three houses around the airstrip that belong to the Flying Mission folks. Outside of the FM land, there’s the occasional collection of mud huts and a new tavern that just opened up (more on that later), but it’s mostly farms. So when I say “the neighborhood,” I mean we walked by the mud huts. There were many kids out and about (school hasn’t started yet), and since I’m the new white guy on the block, they all went (in dialect), “Ooh, white guy!” – thanks Mesheck for translating.


I didn’t feel comfortable photographing people outside their homes, but this photo of a fruit stand should give you a good idea of what it was like.

I asked Mesheck what it was these people did for a living, and he said they almost all work for a landowner. That is, many work on the nearby farms, a few work for the brick-laying company nearby (there’s a clay site on FM property), and many work for a charcoal company. Charcoal is very common here as it’s used for heating and cooking (gas is more efficient, but more expensive; electricity is unreliable). He said there was only one person who worked for himself, and that was a carpenter.


Rock cutting is also a popular profession.

We exited the mud huts to the bus stop, which was right in front of a tavern. I asked Mesheck what he thought about that, and he said he was not very excited. Apparently there are more drunks here than “social drinkers,” if you will. Drunks become debtees, and debtees become thieves. So Mesheck concluded that the tavern would lead to more theft, violence, and general disruption, and it wasn’t worth the few new jobs, which would probably be taken by folks from far away anyways.

As we waited for the van I asked what he was studying in school. Mesheck is in eleventh grade and his favorite subject is Physics. I indicated to him I liked physics as well, and from then on he was always showing off his math skills. He immediately began to calculate how long it would take us to get into town if it was a 20 km drive and the van moved at 60 km/hr. “Let me calculate…” he began.

After a while the van pulled up and we hopped in. The minibuses are no bigger than one of those old VW “hippie vans.” That is, they are about the length and width of a decent size sedan, but they have seating all the way back. These vans in particular have three rows behind the driver, and each row has a seat on the door side that folds down. So the van fills from left to right and back to front. As the rows in the back fill, so the seats go down to make room for more people. Fully loaded, they hold four people per row and two in the front (the third is the driver, there is no fourth to make sure the driver is never disrupted), plus the Transportation Officer (the equivalent of an ayudante, for those who remember my Guatemala bloggings). So… 16 people. It’s quite crowded. Oh, and these weren’t made for tall people – I have to sit hunched over and if I’m not careful, I’ll hit my head on the ceiling with every bump.

The minibusses are K6.50 per person per ride. The rate is $1 = K5.5, so K6.50 is about $1.18. Once we got moving, I handed K15 to the TO, expecting change (the ayudantes ALWAYS had change). After a few minutes, I asked Mesheck, “So, do I get change?”

“Yes,” he said, “You will get change. How much change will you get? Let me calculate.”

And then he calculated.

I’m exhausted, so that’s all for today. Short story, I found Zambikes and am going back tomorrow. All is well and stories abound. ‘Till next time.


And remember kids, biking is also a great way to exercise.

2 thoughts on “Let Me Calculate

  1. Marilyn says:

    Glad to hear how it’s going. Fascinating. Is it dangerous? Is that why Sue said that you shouldn’t go alone? If yes, I’m glad that she’s there to show you the ropes.

    Can’t wait to hear more, and about Zambikes.

    • Kyle says:

      Hey Mom —

      Still getting a feel for the dangers. Everybody seems to think going out at night is a bad idea, which is a change from India, at least, and small-town Guate. Other than that though, it seems common sense will go a long way.

      The main reason Misheck goes with me is because he knows Lusaka like the back of his hand, and I find myself getting lost very easily (there are no street signs!).

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And So It Begins…

August 26th, 2013

Country/Day: Zambia/1

Bikes Fixed: 0

Bikes/Day Avg: 0.00

So first of all, yes, I made it safely to Zambia. Hello from Africa!

IMG_9543Hey! A bike that needs fixing! I must be in the right place.

Second: My aunt thinks I should mention that I have just traveled extensively and am quite tired and jet-lagged. So, you’ll have to excuse the thematic ADHD of this post. To be fair, there is a lot to talk about.


I’m posting from my aunt’s house, which is about ten miles southeast of Lusaka. Lusaka, for the record, is the capitol of Zambia, and it’s where I’ll be spending the majority of my time. It’s right in the middle of Zambia, and Zambia is flat.


Anyways, I’m staying here accidentally-on-purpose. As a Watson proposal, this wouldn’t fly – you’re not allowed to visit any countries where you have relatives. Zambia was in the original proposal because at the time, my aunt lived in Botswana. I’m not sure if I would have been allowed to come if I just promised not to spend any time with them… but whatever the case, this isn’t a Watson anymore, and I am spending time with them. I was planning on visiting, at least, but with the “Ready, Shoot, Aim” mentality of Zambikes, I felt a lot safer starting out here and moving there than vice versa. That being said, I do plan on moving into Zambikes’s guest house at some point.


So, a bit about the current state of Zambikes. Dustin McBride is the president and a co-founder. When I wrote my Watson proposal, he was in Zambia, heading Zambikes. Since then, he has moved to Uganda to start a division there called C.A. Bikes. So I will not spend much time with him.


My contact here is a fellow named Mwewa Chikamba, who is from Kitwe, Zambia, with a degree from Zimbabwe. We haven’t actually met yet, as he’s very busy – the cause of all the commotion you may have read about in my last post, and the reason I feel safer staying with my cousins for now. To be clear: I’m not trying to speak down to him or his capabilities. Most of Zambikes’ employees have their work cut out for them. That’s why I’m here.


I do, however, have a phone setup (thanks Caleb! – one of my cousins who left his SIM card here for a job in the US) so he should expect some phone calls later today if he doesn’t call me first. I’m also going to stop by the shop tomorrow, assuming the address on Google Maps is accurate. As I said countless times in India and Guate, I’m not here to sit on my butt. At this point, I’m not worried… I’m rather enjoying having a relaxing day, actually. I mean, it feels like it’s been a full day, even though it’s only past noon… I guess travel does that to you.


Oh. So travel. All the people I sat next to were awesome. I flew from Minneapolis to Chicago, then to London-Heathrow, then to Lusaka. On the flight to Chicago, I met a military veteran named Bob, and we talked the whole flight. Everything from sales (relevant because of my recent experiences at Abamath) to psychology (a degree I will get if I go back to school) to bicycles (duh). He was a really interesting guy, and had some good stories to share. He had recently gotten a job at the Veterans’ Association as a “Peer –“ someone who offers support and teaches classes to veterans having trouble coping with civilian life. If you’re reading this, hey Bob! It was great to talk to you.


The flight to Heathrow, and Heathrow itself, was one of the most oddly diverse experiences of my life. I say “oddly” because it was quite obviously diverse, but not in the way I’m used to. I’m used to “diversity” meaning, you know, “different skin color,” “different income bracket,” “different language,” etc. EG, when I went to India, there was a wide variety in all of those areas. Obviously there’s more to diversity than those items, but usually they are involved. On the flight to Heathrow, as a generalization, all the people on board were white, middle class, and spoke English. To be more specific, it felt like we were all family – only we had different accents. I don’t know – I felt, somehow, accepted. Not that I didn’t feel accepted in India.


(excuse me while I struggle with my words. I guess this is what happens when you don’t blog on a regular basis for a while)


Okay, so not everyone spoke English. There were, I thought, a surprising number of francophones (either that, or there aren’t any direct flights to Paris), and even some who didn’t speak English. I say this knowing full well, of course, that francophones sometimes pretend they don’t speak English, but my evidence is this: Being unable to communicate with a flight attendant.


Which brings me to my next point: Why the Dutch are awesome. When I flew Royal Dutch to India, between six flight attendants, they spoke English, French, Spanish, German, Dutch, and Hindi. When I flew American into Heathrow, the crew only spoke English. I know it’s “our country” and all, but I just think there were enough francophones that AA could be bothered to hire one french-speaking flight attendant… *sigh* anyways.


For the record, French is probably my best second language, and yet I have never spoken it to anyone. I kinda forgot I spoke it, actually – I ended up asking some francophones for the time by pointing at my wrist, instead of just saying “Quel heure et-il?” During the entire flight, of course, all the French I knew came flooding back to me. Too bad Zambia is British.


Anyways, on the flight to Heathrow, I sat next to a Tibetan ex-pat. That is, she had been kicked out of Tibet about 65 years ago and hadn’t been able to go back yet. She was living a good life in the UK, but missed her home. Also, she squirted salad dressing all over me. Someone needs to design sterile containers that can depressurize as the altitude increases. Hm…


On the flight to Lusaka, I sat next to an Indian fellow who was an auditor for World Vision, a global microfinancer. Get this: For a living, he flies around to all the things they are financing and decides whether or not to continue financing them. Okay, while that job could be brutal, it also sounds awesome. I mean, not only does he work for a microfancing company, but he gets to fly all over the world on their dime and see all the finance projects in person. How cool is that? I was totally jealous. Also I took his card because he’s going to help me start a company in India. Right, Lauce? That’s what I tell myself. Truth be told, I still have a lot to learn. He did have some advice for me though – think rural. I tend to agree, especially with regards to India, but that’s another story.


So, back on topic… shall we?


I got way better at packing. I remember for the flight to India, my bag weighed in at 52 pounds. I had to carry my bike lock in my backpack to keep from paying the $150 overweight baggage fee. In Guatemala, I mentioned the SkyCap guy was awesome and said my bag weighed “about 48 pounds…” but I think we both knew it weighed much more than that. But for Zambia? I bought a new suitcase after AA destroyed mine on the way home from Guate. This suitcase is smaller. And I only half-filled it.


That’s right. I actually had to add stuff to my suitcase. And even then, it only weighed in at 26 lbs. My backpack was practically empty – computer, book, jacket, sandwiches.


I’m just saying… world travel does things to you.


(I did forget one thing: I was supposed to bring a charger for a Zune to my cousin. You can’t buy them in Zambia. Don’t know how I’m going to fix that one. Oops. But hey, it could be worse).


– – –


Okay, so let’s talk about Zambia. That’s why you’re here, right?


Well, as you might guess, I don’t have that much experience with it yet. I’ve driven from the airport to my aunt’s house, and to be completely honest, my aunt’s house is pretty sheltered. Her and her husband work for Flying Mission, a service organization that functions in a few countries around the world (their website lists Botswana, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, and the US). The idea is that they provide pilots that connect volunteers to the people they want to serve. So right in our yard is an airstrip. It’s nothing major (it’s not paved), but it’s still pretty cool. My aunt tells me a story about a doctor – well, every doctor, really – who won’t drive out to a village to treat someone. The reason is that it might be a two day drive, and by the time they get back, ten people have died, because they were the only doctor at X hospital. With a plane, however, they can get there and back in less than a day. Flying Mission doesn’t only transport doctors, but you get the idea. If you’re interested in learning more, you can visit them on the web at


Anyways, this “isn’t Zambia,” I don’t think. My aunt just ran through the list of other Flying Mission workers, who either live nearby or live in the guest house (which is next door) often, and they are pretty much all Caucasian. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great environment, especially for a global volunteer such as myself. But you can see why I’d want to stay at the guest house (answer: for the experience).


Driving to the airstrip, however, I noticed quite a few things. Most of what I noticed, I think, comes from my experience in India and Guatemala. I know the people walking on the side of the road are going to school or work. I know they’d get there faster if they had a bike. And hey, the cool thing is, I even saw some Zambikes.

 (this is the part where I’d post all my photos if they didn’t take so long to upload)

I saw people carrying things on bikes.


I saw streetside shops.


I saw a divide between where the people with money shop and where the people without money shop.


I saw cheap mass transit.


Here it is.

And yea, I’m well aware I’m making a few assumptions. I confirmed as much as I could with my aunt as we drove through. I was pretty proud of myself for not thinking any of it was “weird –” the only thing I hadn’t experienced before was that everyone was African, instead of Guatemalan or Indian. And yea, I know there’s work to be done.


I probed my aunt as much as I could about bicycle enterprising in Zambia. She doesn’t work much with bicycles, except when they have to be flown places, so I want to thank her for putting up with all the questions I couldn’t ask Zambikes just yet. She had been a small part of a distribution one time, however, and had an opinion on the matter. In short, bicycles are great, and everybody wants them, but there has to be a system for distributing them. In particular, there has to be a system for distributing them fairly. Apparently a bicycle was given to someone, and then another was accidentally given to their wife. Soon enough, everybody and their wife wanted a bicycle – that is, two bicycles per family, when one might be almost as effective and yet affect twice as many families.


I still have to probe into where the money for this sort of thing comes from. There’s always donations, obviously, but that doesn’t seem terribly sustainable. I tried to pry it out of Mr. Microfinance on the plane, but it didn’t work out so well. Namely, I think it ended up sounding like I wanted him to give me a business idea, when I was just trying to learn more about Social Enterprising in general. I guess this is the part of the learning process where I look foolish for a bit. Oh, well. I did explain to him why it didn’t make sense to me – that, when microfinancing, one expects small returns, so one would expect small investments. That was when he handed me his card and told me to call him when I had a business model I wanted to run by him.


So, that’s where things stand. I’ll spend the rest of the day today hanging out with my aunt and cousin, trying to stay awake in order to battle my jet lag (if I can just make it to 8 PM, I bet I’ll wake up at a reasonable hour tomorrow, and then it’s set). If Zambikes hasn’t called me by tomorrow, I’ll venture down there and get the ball rolling.

One thought on “And So It Begins…

  1. Marilyn says:

    It sounds like you are hitting the ground running as far as Zambikes and making a difference in Zambia. That’s great. Glad you arrived safely.

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Ready, Shoot, Aim

Country/Day: Zambia/-2

Bikes Fixed: 0

Bikes/Day Average: 0.00

So, gearing up to leave for Zambia. I head out in four hours.

And no, I haven’t packed yet.

– – –

Zambia is going to be different. Not different-bad, just different. I think this for a few reasons.

First, Zambia is in Africa, and I have never been to Africa. I have never been close to Africa. I mean, there are many places I have never been, or been close to, and Africa is just one of them, but whenever you visit some place new… well, that’s the obvious one, anyways.

Second, I’ll be spending some time with family. This is sort of inadvertent, but my dad’s sister lives in Zambia with her husband and one of their sons (the other is state side). How did that happen? She was on a missionary trip and he was her bush pilot. Very romantic, I know. Anyways, while it will be nice to see them, it does change things a bit. Namely, they are close enough to the city (a short bus ride) I can live there if I need to. Also, if anything goes wrong, I have a place to go. I’m kind of glad this is happening in the last of the three countries, because I think it would be cheating if it had happened any sooner. At this point, I’ve got the whole “international travel” thing down, so any safe guards are just bonus. I don’t need them.

That being said, it is nice they are there. And yes, of course, I am excited to see my cousins!

Third, Zambikes is very much a start up. They are past that “will it/won’t it” stage, of course, but I was perusing their website the other day when I came across an interesting page. It’s the goal page for Zambulance distribution (for more information on Zambulances, go here), and it looks like this:


— for a total of 20,000 Zambulances. Then at the bottom it says this:

Progress So Far:

Zambia: 950
Uganda: 50
Congo: 125
Malawi: 25

So, you know, 18850 to go.

Neither Fauji Cycles (India) nor Maya Pedal (Guatemala) were startups. Okay, Maya Pedal became BiciTec, which was being run out of someone’s garage… so that was fun, but Zambikes is already established in two (!) countries. I guess it’s just cool to me that there’s obviously so much to do. I think there are a lot of places you can volunteer nowadays that don’t have long-term growth goals. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good organizations. But I think working at the ones that are growing can be more exciting. As I learned in Guatemala though, it can also be more frustrating.

Fourth and finally for reasons Zambia will be different is the unofficial company motto: Ready, Shoot, Aim. Yesterday I was in a bit of a panic because I hadn’t heard from my contacts in about two weeks and wasn’t sure if I had a place to stay (sound familiar?). I ended up spending half an hour or so collecting e-mail addresses and phone numbers from the Zambikes website and contacting as many people as I could.

One of the people I ended up on the phone with was Executive Director of Zambikes USA, Tom L. He gave me some more phone numbers, and we talked a bit as well. He said, interestingly enough, that he wasn’t surprised this had happened. He said, basically, this:

“They have gotten as far as they have because they are okay with uncertainty. This has never been done before, so planning it out probably wouldn’t work anyways. Dustin (the President/Co-Founder) has always said, ‘Ready, Shoot, Aim.’ Sometimes it seems like it shouldn’t work, and sometimes it’s frustrating. But it seems to be working.”

– – –

Last of the reasons I’ll mention here — and perhaps the most significant — is, well, me. Since I got back from India I’ve been thinking a lot about starting a company. Don’t worry, future employer, it won’t happen for years. But there’s a lot of possibility in places like India, and there’s only one thing missing — I don’t know what a successful model for a Social Enterprise looks like.

For those of you who, like me, are still learning, a Social Enterprise is an organization that focuses primarily on improvements in human and environmental well-being instead of focusing on giving profits to shareholders.

The people at Zambikes know how to make this work.

I’ll be taking notes.

– – –

Anyways, I still have a bit of a to-do list I need to chug through. My next update will be from Zambia.


This is their overseas marketing campaign.

3 thoughts on “Ready, Shoot, Aim

  1. Marilyn says:

    I can’t wait to hear about your experience with Zambikes.

  2. Grandma says:

    Sunday p.m. here – you should be there now. Am anxious to hear your comments and what caught your eye.
    size of avacados in their yard – I did measure one but can’t fine what it was – they are huge – right?

  3. Dad says:

    Here’s to the development of your uncertainty tolerance!

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Do What You Love


Never thought you’d see me in slacks, did you?

Apologies for the cheesy smile. I was coerced.

Wow! Been a while. The clock is always been ticking, though: Two weeks to Zambia!

As they say, no news is good news — still on track, and Zambikes hasn’t faltered or fallen through like Maya Pedal did two weeks before I left for Guatemala. That being said, I wanted to check in and let everybody know how the world is treating me on my vacation-of-sorts.
First off, the extra funding from Guatemala was distributed per the requests of those sponsors — about half went towards the rest of the project (visa expenses, tools, medical insurance), and the rest went towards World Bike Relief. This divide was per the requests of the donors and how much they donated. Nobody asked for a refund.
Second — life. What have I been up to? Have I been volunteering? All this, and more. Tune in Wednesday… today is Wednesday… right:
Most of my time has been spent helping my best friend, Luke S., start his tutoring company. Abamath, LLC opened its doors in Knollwood Mall last Thursday, August 1st. There’s been a lot of work to do, and as one of Luke’s only two employees, I’ve been putting in a lot of hours (including one 21-hour chunk the day before we opened — yes, I’m still catching up on sleep). I’ve done everything from constructing mobile walls, to designing and mounting our storefront sign, to interior decoration, to PR, to… well, the list goes on.
Yup. I had a hand in that.
…on that?
Despite the fact that I’m working long hours, it did remind me of something. It reminded me that it’s possible to do what you love. I don’t think I had forgotten that, but after everything that happened in Guatemala, a reminder was certainly very nice. I’m really looking forward to Zambia, but at the same time, there’s got to be something after, right?
Excuse me while I get a bit existential.
The most exciting thing I’ve done at Abamath thus far has been implementing a program for low-income students. Fortunately, Luke is a good guy. An education — and especially one in math — is worth a lot of money; all the same, we expect most of our customers to be those with a little extra cash on hand. But not everybody who needs help can afford it. So I convinced Luke that we could have a sustainable program for low-income students. He basically said, “If you make it happen, I’ll allow it.” The next day I had drafted how the program would work and what it would look like. That’s when I realized I was doing something I truly loved.
So, it would seem that whatever the future holds for me, it’s going to be something involving helping people who need it. That sounds awfully idealistic, so excuse me, but those of you who know me know I’m a bit more practical about it than I sound.
As well, a friend of mine sent me a book called Poor Economics. It’s about — you guessed it — how to save the world. Okay, you almost guessed it. It’s a very dense read, but talks about possible changes in the current economic system that could help level the playing field, as far as income goes. The best part is, the authors aren’t afraid to ask hard questions.
Sometimes we tell stories when we should be asking questions. No offense, Fox News…
I think most people want an answer to poverty like, “Let’s just donate some cash and the problem will go away.” Of course, the problem is more complicated than that. Poor Economics asks all those questions, attempts to answer them, then asks even more. The first chapter alone is spent on the merits of donating bed nets to countries with high rates of malaria infection. It asks questions like, “If we give them bed nets for free, will they use them?” “If we give them bed nets for free, will they ever buy them again, or do they expect them to be free from now on?” “If we give them bed nets, will we put local suppliers out of business, and might this eliminate availability of bed nets in the future?” “If offering bed nets not for free but at a discounted rate is the right answer, what rate will see the highest use of the nets, and the highest reuse?” “What is the cost-benefit of spending money to educate people on the benefits of bed nets?”
You get it. Economics is complicated. Anyways, it’s a really good book — albeit really heavy, though necessarily — and I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the subject. And thanks to Aubrie B. for loaning it to me!
So, I’m not done yet — I haven’t had much time to read with the whole “helping a friend start a business” thing — but it has made me do a lot of thinking about 90:90 and the impact I’m having… or not having. A lot of the questions I had already asked, a lot I hadn’t. Perhaps most significantly, it’s let me know there are other people out there thinking about this sort of thing, and doing this sort of thing. It has, in a weird sort of way, inspired me to continue being a humanitarian.
Anyways, I’ll leave thoughts of the future out for now. They will come in November, once I get back from Zambia and start curing my sunburn. Which reminds me, I should probably go buy some shorts…
Expect an update in about two weeks, just before I leave for Zambia!
K-dawg, out.

4 thoughts on “Do What You Love

  1. Grandma says:

    Sounds like you have done well in your part time job project and a great idea to be helping those who need help.

  2. Kailash Singh says:

    It’s seems India effect.

  3. Jim says:

    I liked reading about your program for low-income students. It sounds exciting and very worthwhile.

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Country/Day: Guatemala/41

Bikes Fixed: 38

Bikes/Day Average: 0.93

Bicimaquinas Built: 0.5 + 0.9


Before I begin writing, I want to apologize in advance, as I have been binging on Sherlock Holmes in my spare time. It’s likely my writing style may be a bit more, er, old-age. Despite the lack of quill and ink, sometimes I just can’t help myself.


My bikes/day average has finally fallen below one, and that means, if anything else, that it’s time to change something.


I have made a decision, and while I’m not entirely partial to it, I believe I’ve made the best decision I was able to, given a number of circumstances and reasons. I want to explain everything about it, as much for the case of my conscious as for the feelings of my supporters and the curiosity of my followers. There are certain conditions I have given myself, and there are other options which I want to expound so that I might name why I haven’t chosen them. At the end of all, I don’t expect there will be 100% accordance, but I hope you can trust I made the best decision I was able to.


I had decided some time ago to leave BiciTec. My mind was made up, perhaps, before I even made that blog post and sent that e-mail to my supporters, though I wanted an appropriate alternative before making the decision final. It is this feeling that led me to research other organizations, and even meet with one, in my search for a new purpose during my time here in Guatemala. Among others, I contacted an organic farm (through WWOOF); another volunteer-run bike shop; and Avivara, which connects volunteer educators to schools in need.


During my research and my last days at BiciTec I found myself, frankly, unenthused. Volunteering isn’t always supposed to be fun, or easy, or any number of adjectives one might use to describe something they enjoy. It is not only that I found experience unenjoyable, however, but I found that it sapped the energy from me.Upon arriving, I have in my possession something along the lines of enthusiasm. Somewhere along the line I lost it. I dreaded going to BiciTec because I felt unwelcome, and after putting so much time and energy into planning, fundraising, and trying desperately to make things work, it will come as no surprise that feeling unwelcome led to feelings of frustration and spiritual exhaustion. More, it felt like no matter my intention, there wasn’t a place for me. I don’t pretend this is solely one-sided. I expect that, given my imperfect Spanish, there have been some communication errors along the way, but these cannot possibly account for all that I have encountered. Whatever the case, I have come out the other side unhappy, unenthused, and unsure about whether I have it in me to continue volunteering.


After meeting with Gary, I had immensely postive feelings about volunteering for Avivara. They were my first choice. The meeting I had with Gary rekindled something inside me, a little voice I’d forgotten about that said being a teacher was awesome, and that I need to make it part of my life sooner rather than later.


I have chosen not to volunteer for Avivara, not because I don’t want to be a teacher, but because I’m worried that I can’t rekindle my passion so soon. It is not that I don’t think Avivara is a great organization, or that under a different set of circumstances I wouldn’t enjoy myself. I just don’t have the energy right now to stay in a country that made me feel so taken advantage of. I believe Avivara is a great organization, and it is for that reason exactly that I don’t want to involve them in any feelings of negativity I retain. I don’t think it would be fair to myself, Gary, or my future students to start volunteering with such fresh wounds. I don’t think it would be fair to the feelings I have about being a teacher to force myself to do something I don’t have the energy to do right now. Furthermore, I don’t think it would be healthy for anyone involved if I were to volunteer for a week or two, then find myself in the same situation and need to spend more of everybody’s time and energy figuring out yet another alternative volunteer situation.


As I weighed my options in Guatemala, I also kept in my mind the next event in this project, which is going to Zambia to volunteer. If I had a choice between arriving in Zambia depleted, unenthused, and wary of being taken advantage of, or arriving with energy and enthusiasm, I would choose the latter.


It seems to me then that the best option, the one involving the least risk, and admittedly perhaps the most selfish solution, is to return home to Minneapolis, recharge, and be ready to volunteer in Zambia with renewed enthusiasm and surety of self.


As I said, it is certainly not the best option, and there are conditions for it which I will lay out shortly. I do not pretend that the choice has been easy; indeed, it involves the emotions of myself, my donors, and a few volunteer organizations. For myself, it is not just feelings of “being tired,” but it also involves the commitments I have made towards myself and my donors. Admittedly, many of my ideals are at stake here too, but I don’t think it appropriate to go in depth there. Suffice it to say it was a difficult decision, that I don’t think there’s a “right” decision, and that I made what I believe is the best decision — even though it’s not perfect by any means.


The conditions:

(1) As I will have only volunteered in Guatemala for 42 of the 90 days I asked my donors for, I will return the other 48/90ths (roughly 1/2) of the donations for Guatemala. I keep a list of donors in the order and amount they have donated, so whoever donated, roughly, the last half of funding for Guatemala will have their donation returned (you’ll get an e-mail from me by the end of this week).

One alternative is that these donations go towards the remaining visas, medical expenses, etc., that have yet to be funded but that I am otherwise paying out of pocket. I don’t expect this.

Another alternative is that these are put towards an organization that could use them such as Bikes For the World or Avivara. I know, for instance, that Avivara recently funded a surgery retaining a little girl’s ability to walk. Cool.

Basically, there’s no right answer, so I’m planning on what seems like the simplest and most just action (returning it), but am open to other opinions and suggestions.


(2) As I have this time set aside for volunteering, I will continue to work in some free capacity during the time between when I arrive home and when I leave for Zambia. As I’ve said many times in many blog posts, “I’m not here to sit on my bum.”

I know it’s easy to say “Oh yea, I’ll volunteer!” and then not do it, so I wanted to list a couple ideas to show that I’m serious. I will commit to at least one of these within a week of arriving home:

– BiciTec does have some projects that need doing that there is no money for; namely, they need a promo video and they’d like a model of one of their bicimaquinas. I’m more than able to do both of these, and have been filming anyways during my time here. It’s not ideal, but it’s not something many other people can do (including those people being paid).

– The Grease Pit, a volunteer-run bicycle shop in Minneapolis, is likely busy this time of year, so I plan to stop by and see if they need any more volunteers (though last I checked they were full to the brim).

– A friend is starting a tutoring business, and needs, well, all those things new businesses need.


(3) I will look into leaving early for Zambia and volunteering for them longer than originally intended. This depends, of course, on whether or not the airline allows ticket changes, the visa requirements/restrictions, the availability of my host, and the cost difference (change in room and board, cost of the ticket change). I will look into this within a week of arriving home.


So, those are the conditions I’ve laid out for myself, and if you find anything missing or have any suggestions, feel free to post a comment below.


– – –


There’s not much more to say that doesn’t involve repeating myself. This was a tough decision for many reasons, I don’t believe there’s a “right” decision, but I do believe I’ve made the best and safest one for myself, Avivara, and Zambikes. If I wasn’t planning on going to Zambia, I would probably stay and volunteer for Avivara even though I fear it might burn me out. As is, I plan to be rested and recharged when it comes time to leave for Zambia. If the middle of this project can’t go perfectly, I’ve at least started with a bang, and I’ll finish with one, too.

4 thoughts on “Decision

  1. Marilyn says:

    I think that you’ve made the best decision in difficult circumstances, and handled yourself admirably. I also think that you’ve learned a lot about the ways of the world, which will probably become more clear after time. I look forward to seeing what decisions you make and your renewed energy for Zambia.

  2. Laura says:

    I am fiercely proud of you, and have nothing but respect for the decision you made. We can’t help create change in the world if we don’t first take care of ourselves. If we let a project drain everything from us, we won’t be able to keep giving. This was a smart, brave and honest decision.

  3. Mariya says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your experience in Guatemala. Considering the extent and goal of your project it is extremely important that you remain true to your values and fuel your passion and enthusiasm so I am impressed with how you are handling things and commend your decision.

    I am also leaving the invitation open to come help us at What The Fiets Stichting in Holland. We are in desperate need of expertise to breath life into many bikes that we have accumulated and a teacher to empower the WTFiets team and fellow patrons on how to repair their bikes. So if you re-energize sooner than expected or have some extra time after Zambia, we would welcome you with open arms…and tools 🙂 and would support you during your time here…

    Have a safe trip home!

    Met vriendelijke groeten,
    Mariya on behalf of What The Fiets?

    • Kyle says:

      Hoi Mariya,

      Thank you for your kind words. It’s funny, I really value your friendship, and we haven’t even met (yet?).

      If enthusiasm could produce money, we’d be set. I do genuinely hope to make it some day, but the entire cost of Guatemala won’t buy me the plane ticket to Holland. It’s… well, it’s really unfortunate. Maybe if you didn’t have such a nice country then tickets wouldn’t be so expensive. : o)

      Again, I appreciate your comment. Please keep in touch… I’ll get a paycheck again someday!


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Gary, The Wheelchair, and Other Revelations

Country/Day: Guatemala/34

Bikes Fixed: 38

Bikes/Day Avg: 1.12

Bicimaquinas Built: 0.5 + 0.5

So, just a few days away from my bikes-per-day average falling below one, which will be rather tragic after finishing off India so strong. To BiciTec’s credit, Carlos picked up one of my ideas, and it seems like this one might actually happen (hence the extra half of a bicimaquina; but despite having built half of two different bicimaquinas, I still haven’t finish one entirely).


I want to start out by talking about Gary, and then, well, we’ll go in the order the title of this post specifies.


– – –


So who is this mysterious Gary person? It’s not my mom’s ex-boyfriend, I’ll tell you that. No, this Gary is the director (sort of) of a non-profit called Avivara. Avivara is a Washington-State-Registered 501(c)(3) (so if you’re looking for a place to put your next donation, there’s one option…) but most of their function is in Guatemala. They believe, in short, that “education is the pathway out of poverty.” Their purpose is, among other things, to assist in the education and upbringing of the next generation of Guatemalans. As far as volunteering goes, they help volunteers find a place to stay and a school to teach at. Most volunteers teach English.


I met Gary last Saturday in Antigua. I’ll forgo the description of Antigua for now as I plan on visiting again later and will do a more purposeful post about it then. For now, suffice it to say it’s a very touristy town – almost as many gringos as Guatemalans, and the prices made me weep.


Anyways, I wasn’t quite sure what sort of meeting this would be. I knew I wanted to learn a bit more about Avivara, and a bit more about Gary. Namely, I wanted to know if I would be happy volunteering there, and I wanted to be sure they had their stuff in order. I already had an inkling of the answer to these questions given my research on their website, but will always give preference to personal meetings – especially given the ordeal I’m still suffering with BiciTec.


I’m sure there’s some saying about how the first five seconds of a meeting tell you how it will go. If that’s the case, then I knew right away I’d be volunteering for Avivara. Gary is about my height; has a friendly, burly build; rosy cheeks with hidden smiles; jovial eyes; and a handsome yet nonchalant haircut. After shaking hands, the first thing he says to me is, “I’ve had a long day. Want to grab a beer?”


We head to a nearby restaurant and order a liter. In the first ten minutes we’ve established a good fit, and we spend the next two hours or so sharing stories and joking around. I have to admit, I was immensely curious about someone who would rather spend the latter part of his life running a non-profit in Guatemala than retiring in Hawaii. I was not let down.


Gary has an incredible philosophy about life and teaching. He was a teacher for many years before becoming a principle. After many years at that, he and his wife realized they weren’t quite satisfied with their lives, so they came to Guatemala to volunteer on year-long sabbaticals. After eight months in Guatemala, they decided not to leave.


Among other pontifications (many humorous, many riddled with philosophical anecdotes), Gary wraps up his life and philosophy with this: “Do what you love, and the rest will follow.”


– – –


So Carlos participates largely in the community – obviously, the bicimaquinas don’t necessitate themselves. He’s currently working with a group of students that wanted to build a pedal-powered wheelchair, and as part of my “there are no bikes to fix, what else can I do?” attitude, I was participating lightly – at first.


As the project progressed I become more and more involved. Carlos knows I like to design things, even if I haven’t had the opportunity to make many of them come to life while here in Itzapa. We got to talking, and there came to be a lot of logistical issues with a pedal-powered wheelchair. With the pedals directly in front, how does the user get in and out of the wheelchair? With only one crank, the wheels would always rotate simultaneously – how does one steer? In addition, transferring power from head-height to underneath the chair would require a lot of gears, chains, and infrastructure. This would be expensive and complex; complexity usually means it won’t work as well as expected and will require frequent maintenance and adjustment.


Alternatively, I suggest a lever-powered wheelchair. Two separated levers (instead of two pedals connected to one crank) would allow the user to control each wheel separately, making turning the chair very easy. Instead of having pedals a set distance away from the center of the crank, levers allow the user to choose what leverage they want: Grab them higher up for more leverage but slower movement, grab them lower down for less leverage but faster movement. Because the levers connect to their cranks by the user’s ankles, the system needs only one set of chains and cogs to run. This makes it less complicated, less expensive, and not as heavy. Once I had Carlos convinced, he had me do a technical drawing (I never took a class, but I taught myself in my spare time). Once I showed the students the technical drawing and explained my reasons, they were in.


So Carlos basically gave us all the parts we needed and put me in charge. Yesterday and today was spent ordering students around getting the parts ready, and towards the end of the day today, we started welding.


I’ll post the plans when I get back to the states, but I can post a photo of our progress thus far:


The end product, of course, will be much more exciting.


Anyways, I want to talk about more about how I felt about this, because it will lead me into my next topic.


First off, it was obviously nice to have a purpose again. The whole “being involved” thing took place in small amounts over a few weeks or so, up until the past two days spent managing the students. This was the usual: Feeling like I was doing Carlos’s job for him. I enjoyed the work in and of itself, and indeed, felt like I was contributing, but still had the same mixed feelings I explained two posts ago. I also worked with the skepticism I had developed that nothing would come of this, since all the other projects I had proposed tanked for one reason or another.


To be frank, working with the students has been almost solely exhausting. Not in the way that would make you say, “I bet.” Not in the way that I was exhausted after student teaching two summers ago, which was one of the best experiences of my life. On the contrary, I quite enjoy teaching, and being a teacher is on my agenda at some point in my life. I also enjoy (and am experienced at) managerial work, and it was great to juggle the workers and the non-workers, to see students excel at what they were good at and to help them otherwise, to motivate the less motivated, etc. Experience-wise, I was very much at home managing a group of 10 students working on a project we all thought was awesome.


No, I felt – and get ready, because I’m about to get a little philosophical – I felt as if my soul was tired. I discovered working with BiciTec has been incredibly draining for me. Here was something regular Kyle would enjoy and come home and call his friends about, something he would find fulfilling and like he was doing what he was supposed to be doing with his life, like he was “making a difference:” encouraging students to excel; completing a creative, tangible, meaningful project. At the end of the day though, I really just felt more tired. Aside from the people involved, I’m not just enjoying myself. I don’t know if BiciTec has changed my outlook on volunteer work (I hope not), but I know I am hardly passionate about it anymore.


– – –


Which is why option (1) is Avivara, and option (2) is returning to the States.


Gary had said to me, “Do what you love, and the rest will follow.” I know I love working on bikes. There’s no way that in one month BiciTec has erased all positive feelings I get from being a bike mechanic or being a teacher. But as of right now, there aren’t very many left. I worry that if I dive into teaching without rekindling that fire, without resting and recuperating, I will find myself resentful and angry. I worry that any lack of passion, however temporary, will be unhealthy for me and my future students.


I know that volunteering isn’t always supposed to be fun, energizing, exciting, enjoyable, or all those other positive adjectives out there. But I feel like at the end of it you shouldn’t feel like a worse person, either. You shouldn’t give time away to something that takes away parts of who you are, and especially not one that extricates what you’re passionate about. I think at the end of it there should at least be a sense of satisfaction – even if not, “Yea, I did all that work,” then, “Yea, I made it through.” If these feelings continue, I can’t say “making it through” would be at all satisfying, sort of like “making it through” another week with unkempt housemates, a kleptomanic best friend, or an abusive spouse.


To be clear, these feelings are entirely separate from Avivara. That is, they are about the situation. I just wrote a page on how great Gary was so I hope nobody misinterprets and thinks I am saying working with Avivara would generate this sort of resentment. On the contrary, I mean to be talking about volunteering in general, anywhere, for me only, right now. In fact, what I find especially revealing is that despite my positive feelings about Avivara, I still feel as if moving forward would be unhealthy.


So, what, then? What does going home solve?


As you know, I’m not fixing many bikes anymore. I would like to do so when in Zambia, starting August 23rd, and I would like to do so without feeling the need to expunge my negative feelings in philosophical blog posts. I am considering that the best way to do this would be to rest and recharge until I leave for Zambia. If I continue to volunteer in Guatemala, and I feel worse at the end of it than I do now, the nine days at home won’t be enough to rest and recharge. If I go home now, my bet is I’d be rearing to go again when the time comes.


As an aside, I wouldn’t be sitting on my bum while at home. I would either volunteer at the Grease Pit, or find a temporary position, or both. Also, the remaining money for Guatemala would be returned to those who donated it – otherwise you’re just paying my rent, and that’s not the point of the project, nor would I be okay with it.


So anyways, nothing is set in stone yet, and I want to finish this wheelchair, because that’s at least something I can be proud of making it through… hopefully. Likely by my next post I will have made a decision. In the mean time, input is appreciated.

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Country/Day: Guatemala/31

Bikes Fixes: 38

Bikes/Day Average: 1.23


Looking for, well, anything?

I have a very exciting blog post for you today, but first I want to touch on my latest post, and the e-mail sent out to my supporters: I am currently looking at other places to volunteer; namely, (1) I’ve found another bike shop, (2) There’s an organization called Avivara that does everything from tutoring to engineering projects – it’s two folks from Washington state who started the project instead of retiring, (3) There’s an organic farm I found on WWOOF that sounds very cool.

I will likely make a decision by the beginning of next week, and will post and e-mail when everything is final.


Yesterday morning I went to the market in Chimaltenago. I already posted about the market in Itzapas – it’s biggest on Sunday and covers maybe a gym-sized area. The market in Chimal is biggest on Friday and covers… er… the analogy I used was “it’s like the State Fair,” I think. It really is. I wish I had a map to confirm, but basically, it takes an hour to walk from one side to the other. The only difference is, instead of each building being one display, there is tent after tent after tent of venders selling everything from… well, everything. I said about the market in Itzapas, “this is a place you might say ‘you can buy anything at.’ “ I wouldn’t have said that. The market in Chimal? Yes. Anything. It was amazing. I could walk through that market every single day of my life and not get bored. It seriously is like the State fair, but better. At times, even when outdoors, as far as you can see there’s a “ceiling” made up of wares for sale.

Let’s get to it.

– – –


We left about 6 AM in light of not wanting to bike back in the heat. I wore my jacket the whole way there as it was just a little chilly (and yes mom, I wore a helmet). On the way there we passed a lot of interesting things which reaffirmed my interest in bicycle-touring round these parts; namely, a lot of people going to work in every way imaginable. A number of people walking and riding horses. I saw an old school bus pull into a farm, then the emergency exit opened and workers started pouring out of it. There were also a few cyclists… I got a nice shot as some of the ones in front of me turned into a field on their way to work. I think I’ll call it “Sombreros get to work.”


Oh also, from the time we left, we inadvertently didn’t look at any clocks until 10:30 AM, so I don’t know how long anything took. Mostly we just got lost in the market, and it was a blast.

So anyways, we arrived at X time, locked up our bikes, and started our trek through the best market ever. Sarah (another volunteer who has been here before, so acted as a sort of guide) was most familiar with a particular side of the market, so in order to be able to fetch our bikes we parked on that side. It was also the side with the animals for sale, so for a while we were wading our bikes through horses, pigs, and cows. After locking up our bikes we waded some more before getting to the material wares.


Would you like a cow, sir? 

Aside from horses, pigs, and cows, there were also dogs and cats (and everything from babies to full-sized animals, so yes, we got to cuddle puppies). In another part of the market we would find ducks, rabbits, pigeons, and… well, I can’t possibly remember them all.


Hey! It’s even smaller than the cafes in India!

(and fewer walls to boot)

Our first mission was to get something to eat, as that was part of the point of going to the market (“Breakfast is so good there!” said Sarah over and over again the night before). So we sort of ignored most of what was for sale, planning on coming back to it, and found a “cafe.” And by “cafe” I of course mean a square-shaped assortment of wood planks with someone selling something in one corner and seating everywhere else. We got chicken chiquitas with rice milk, and it was to die for. Q12 ($1.80).


I’d want more, but there has to be something else equally as delicious somewhere else…

Then started the wondering, and there was, as I mentioned, everything for sale. I’d like to let the pictures do most of the talking, but I think some narration is warranted. We started by just picking a direction and walking.


You think this is impressive? Things are just getting set up!

After a while you start to feel you might go so far in one direction you’ll miss out on something else, so you walk back to where you started from, pick another direction, and go that way instead. What really makes the experience though, is that every now and then you’ll turn a corner or walk past a barrier and see a wall of _____. Most of the vendors aren’t very organized; I was on the hunt for a belt, for instance, and we found maybe 10 different belt vendors, in all different corners of the market. So it’s pretty startling when you just see a wall of ____, or a collection of ____. This happened many times, and was never any less surprising for it. The first “wall” we saw was comparatively small – a wall of sombreros.


After walking past a few suit shops and an umbrella store (Sarah bought an umbrella as she couldn’t fit one in her bag and it has been raining lately – Q30 ($4)), we turned a corner and were in a land of clothes. This was one of those places where the wares hung up high make a “ceiling” of sorts, and even if there wasn’t an actual ceiling, you couldn’t see much of the sky.


As I mentioned, I was on the hunt for a belt. We had passed a few belt vendors at that time, but I was convinced I could find exactly the right one. After a while I wanted to compare belts from various vendors, as they were all “really close” to what I was looking for. Of course, I didn’t want to walk back and fourth from vendor to vendor, relying only on memory to compare them. So I lined up a few and started taking pictures.


This is just four of hundreds of one style… of hundreds of styles.

I have many great photos of belt vendors which I will post at an appropriate time, but at that point in the day (or likely, still early morning), I was focused only on a particular kind. I had seen Carlos Jr. wearing a hand-embroidered belt at the shop, and I wanted one. Hand-embroidered belts, among other things, are one of the few things you can’t go back to the states and eBay (globalism sucks).

At some point during my belt-venture, we passed a small vendor off to the side, selling only belts in a rack about three feet tall and one foot wide (comparatively very small to the other vendors). Ithought I saw the belt I wanted, but was mistaken – it wasn’t even close enough that I could see myself ever wearing it. Despite that, the vendor was apparently very desperate to make a sale. Upon first inquiry he quoted me Q70 ($10), which I thought was a little high, given it was obviously used, and that similar belts elsewhere were starting at Q65 new. I told him no thanks, but he kept shoving it in my face and dropping the price. Sarah was letting me do my thing, as I can be a pretty competitive bargainer, but I wasn’t playing around. I told her (in English, to be clear it wasn’t a bargaining tactic – I figured the vendor wouldn’t understand me) I was ready to go. As we were leaving, he put the belt in a bag, tied the bag shut, and tried to put it in my backpack, saying “35! 35” (Q35, or $5). I felt bad, as it was obvious he wanted to make a sale, but no matter how little something costs, if you are never going to use it then it’s the most expensive thing in the world.

We kept wandering and at some point turned a corner and had another one of those “wall of stuff”  moments. Only, this was a “room after room of walls of stuff” moment. I was so startled I swore to myself. What was it?



I can hardly begin to describe how much fabric there was. Together, the rooms comprised the floor space of a Jo-Anne Fabrics, yet each room itself had as much fabric as just one. You could have sewn all the fabric together and covered the entire country with it (each fold you see is at least a 10×10 piece). As if that wasn’t impressive enough, it’s all hand made. Yup.

Needless to say I couldn’t resist. I’m a bit of a seamster and am always looking for cool, creative projects (often inspired by unique fabric). This is another of those things that you can’t just go home and eBay. Fabric is probably one of the most expensive things you can buy in Guatemala, with prices for full pieces ranging from Q600 to Q3000 ($100-500), depending on quality and intricacy. You can make a lot with a 10×10 piece, but even fitting that in my suitcase would have been a hassle.

Fortunately, there were periodic piles of scrap pieces (by “scrap” I still mean 3×10′) at huge discounts. I fell in love with a 3’x6′ piece but wasn’t willing to pay much for it… I’m always hesitant to spend a lot of money, and knew I could come back for it if I changed my mind. The vendor quoted Q250 ($40). Again, I really wasn’t looking to spend a lot that day, so I tried to leave, but he kept asking me what I was willing to pay. I quoted something as a joke to try and show him I wasn’t serious – Q100 ($15). We both laughed, and he came back with Q180 ($25). I was surprised, but quickly became aware he really wanted to sell it, and he must have known I really liked it (unlike Mr. Belt Vendor earlier that day), so we settled on Q150 ($20). At Jo-Anne in the States, high-quality fabric is easily $20-30 a yard, and I got two yards of fabric, not to mention it was hand-made… so I’m alright with that.


Would you like any grain ever (front)? Or any pepper ever (back)?

We ventured further into the market, having found a corner a while ago and being fairly confident in our bearings. This time we got the food section (different from the restaurant section – there isn’t one, they are everywhere), and, well, again… everything. Grains I didn’t know existed. Grains I knew existed but in colors I’d never seen before. Chicken legs. Frog legs. Hog heads. Everything (by the way, there will be more photos on Facebook once I get back to the states. They just take a while to upload).

We also found another section of animals for sale and got to cuddle kittens and bunnies.

On our way to (finally!) another corner of market (actually it wasn’t a corner, just the vegetable section, very similar to the market in Itzapa) we found another “restuarant” and sat down to eat. This one was off to the (a?) side and seating was at a sort of bar, so you could see out and watch people move by with things for sale and things they’d bought and, well, needless to say it was a hubbub of people moving about.

Oh and by the way, while navigating through the 3′ wide aisles you run into all sorts of people, and there’s always people carrying huge carts of stuff (I almost got a great picture of one but at the last second someone walked in front of my camera) shouting “Permisso! Permisso!” (“Let me through! Let me through!”). Sometimes you and the ten people behind you back up for twenty feet before you find a shop to step into. The small spaces make photos frustratingly difficult.

Anyways, at that point we saw a clock (10:30 – we’d been there for about three hours) and realized we should think about heading back. I have only the one pair of shoes and had seen another pair I was interested in, so for the next 40 minutes we learned how hard it was to find something for a second time. I did get a cool picture of a belt vendor though:


Or more, someone selling belts “one the side” (or the ceiling, as it were).

Target ain’t got nothin’ on that.

We finally found the shoe store and, after the vendor disappeared into a hole in the ceiling, found out he had my size, but not in the color I wanted (he suggested I paint them), started trudging back to the bikes.

We used the bathrooms on the way back (Q1.50, $0.18 per use, and oh – no seats). Coming out of the bathrooms, we saw a new section of market we hadn’t seen yet (as if we’d seen it all anyways). This was, as Sarah so poetically put it, “the junk section.” You know the idiom – one man’s trash…

I had already bought a belt at the point (and am convinced it’s the coolest best I’ve ever seen – we even swapped the buckle with another belt to get the colors right), but passed the second-coolest belt in a “junk”  pile, and couldn’t resist. At the end of the day I ended up with 4 belts, all very cool and unique (for those of you who don’t know, I tend to wear, er, unique clothing), and am convinced I’ll never have to buy a belt again. Two are the hand-embroidered style, one is made of purple webbing, the other… is… awfully abstract. I paid Q105 ($15) between the four of them. Score.


Would you like some rope?

After the junk section we started through the animal section again on the way back to our bikes, and got to hold piglets (by the way, when cuddling puppies, I told the vendor (whose job was, essentially, to pass puppies around) he had a really great job. He thought so, too).

I feel like I could start that story over, tell it just again in as many pages, and mention completely different details. I mentioned it was as big as the state fair but with a new vendor every ten feet, right?

That was the market in Chimaltenago. When can I go again?

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Candid Thoughts

Country/Day: Guatemala/28

Bikes Fixed: 37

Bikes/Day Avg: 1.32

So, I have some mixed news. Or more, it’s something that I would like to have a candid discussion about with my supporters.

I’ll just start off hot: I have been considering volunteering my time elsewhere while in Guatemala.


The short: While Maya Pedal (the organization I was originally going to volunteer for) was a non-profit NGO, BiciTec (started by Carlos when he left Maya Pedal a few months ago) is a for-profit privately owned business.

Now, I didn’t know this when I came. I was under the impression (but to be fair to Carlos, never asked nor was directly told) that BiciTec operated under the same rules as Maya Pedal. So I was excited to come volunteer and, as they say, “make a difference.”

Because of the split with Maya Pedal, there was a period when Carlos did not have any volunteers – in fact, I am his first. I was under the impression (again to his credit, without asking or being told) that BiciTec was being run only by Carlos. However, BiciTec is being run largely by Carlos’s sons, Carlos Jr. and Antonio.

First of all, I think this is great. Just a few months after splitting with his former employer, Carlos has a bike shop up and running and completely self-sufficient? That is seriously impressive. I am genuinely happy for BiciTec, for Carlos, and for his family.


I am of the opinion that BiciTec should not be accepting volunteers. My feeling is that it accepts them in the same way Wal-Mart or Target might accept volunteers: “You want to work for free? Okay! We can sure find something for you to do…”

To distinguish, here are my interpretations of the terms “work for free” and “volunteer:”

“Working for free:”

–        There is a job that needs to be done

–        There is money to pay someone to do it

–        Someone is getting paid that money to do it

–        By volunteering (doing that job for free), you allow that person to get paid to sit on their ass



–        There is a job that needs to be done

–        There isn’t money to pay anyone to do it

–        Nobody is doing it

–        The only way it will ever get done is if you volunteer to do it


Now obviously I’ve been fixing bikes. I’m not lying about the count above (and hey, more than one a day – not bad). But frankly, Carlos Jr. and Antonio could handle the shop by themselves. Frequently Carlos Sr. spends more than half the day out on a household errand.

Again, I think this is fantastic for BiciTec. If I were Carlos Sr. I would be very proud of my sons and happy that I had built a business that runs itself. But I would not feel the need to take volunteers.

Indeed, sometimes there are so many people in the shop, it is difficult to work. There are only two “real” bike stands. There’s a third jerry-rigged version that can sit on the floor, but requires constant attention to keep from tipping over. When Carlos Jr., myself, and Antonio all work at the same time, someone has to use the jerry-rig. When Carlos Sr. and the three of us work at the same time – well, we can’t. At the shop where I worked in the States, we had at most two mechanics on the floor at a time. With Carlos Sr., Carlos Jr., and Antonio all on duty, BiciTec already tops this, and in a much smaller space to boot.

I have sometimes been told not to work. Multiple times now, I have come in and grabbed a bike, only to have Carlos come up and say, “We aren’t fixing bikes today. We have to sell some first. Otherwise, there won’t be enough room in the shop.”

Again: AWESOME. I wish that in the shop I worked at in the States my boss periodically told me, “Don’t do anything today.” But I didn’t buy a $700 plane ticket to spend three months of my life sitting on my ass.

Now the logical question is: What else is there to do? To start this off, I asked Carlos, “What is the most helpful thing I can do for you right now?”

“Fix bicycles.”

“I feel like Carlos Jr. and Antonio are more than capable of handling that right now.”

“Is there another project you’d like to do?”

These are the three projects I came up with, and what happened to them:

–        Making a poster-size drawing of a bike with all the parts labeled in English and in Spanish. Carlos let me work on this for a day before saying, “Oh, I forgot, we already have one of those in a box somewhere.”

–        Organizing all the extra wheels by size so they are easier to find. This was sidelined because Carlos doesn’t mind the extra time it takes to find wheels.

–        Building a cabinet to store all the extra spokes in. I drew up blueprints and calculated how much wood would be needed last week. Carlos has not yet bought the wood.


Basically, even with extracurricular activity, I feel like my efforts would be better used elsewhere.

Remember, this is a for-profit business, so Carlos is making money off of my work, which Carlos Jr. and Antonio would do if I wasn’t there.

This doesn’t really matter by itself, but when next to everything else, I find it a teensy bit relevant: I eat lunch at Carlos’s house and am required to pay for it. I pay 133% the cost of a meal at the average restaurant, and about 400% what I’d pay if I made it myself. I understand Carlos’s need to cover his costs, but it seems like he could cut his volunteers a bit of a break (I suggested paying the restaurant cost and Carlos said merely, “You don’t have to eat here if you don’t want to”).

If I did volunteer somewhere else, it would likely have nothing to do with bicycles. This is sad, but to be fair, volunteer opportunities abroad that deal primarily with bicycles are not very common. Instead, it is likely I would work on an organic farm. Here’s a description of one I found:


I am the father of two daughters, living all together next to the Petén Itza lake. My farm project has two locations: one is my house with a large garden where I have a plant nursery and 600m away I have 3,5 acres of land where I wish to expand all the experiments I have done in the past seven years. My farm project has many objectives: the primary one is to prove that we can develop and administer an ecosystem as a way of sustainable life that does not deplete the environment. The second is that, in addition to this, developing one´s spirit is the way to achieve a happy and fulfilling life. I recycled all kinds of organic materials in sometimes unusual ways. The ornamental plant nursery adds an element of beauty to the already peaceful village. In the community, I am working to develop in the young generation a sense of appreciation and respect for nature that begins with a trash separation and recycling program. I need help in finishing the dormitories for volunteers as well as the kitchen/dining area, the main house at the 3,5 acres land, as well as land clearing, animal pens and watering system. Lots of work… earthworm farming, composting, biogas fabrication, ornamental plant reproduction, cheese making, food preservation ways, animal processing, rope skills, survival skills and more you can expect to learn while you volunteer. The program asks for 30 hours per week that you can work in 3 to 5 days to allow you to visit nearby places like Tikal, Yaxcha, El Mirador and many others.


It seems to me like as far as long-term economic improvement, job creation, and sustainability go, that’s about as good as it gets. It’s like volunteering at a bike shop… except instead of bikes it’s dirt, worms, and weeds.

Plus, I might get to make cheese, which is a life goal of mine. And I don’t know what biogas fabrication entails, but that should probably be a life goal, too.

FYI, this is through a program called WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The idea is that volunteers pay a small administrative fee (for Guatemala, the fee is $4) and are given access to a list of organic farms in that country. Farms must be willing to provide room and board in exchange for full-time labor (or here, 30 hours per week, though I would probably work some 40-hour weeks). WWOOF has been on my to-do list since I first heard of it in high school.

How do my supporters feel about this? Am I turning my back on BiciTec? After all that fundraising where I promised to repair bicycles, would I be betraying those ideals by doing other work instead? I promised to be open and honest about everything that happens related to this project. Now I’m asking for your opinion in return. Please, comment below!

5 thoughts on “Candid Thoughts

  1. diane says:

    time to fly the coop Kyle. When you have to pay for your lunch and you’re volunteering? Hello? Yes, by all means make haste to the organic farm. Sound like they would appreciate you and you would learn a ton which I am interested in learning from you.

  2. Bob Iverson says:

    Kyle, The most important thing is that you feel you are contributing to something you believe in. Working for free as you describe it is to be taken advantage of. You have the opportunity before you have to work for a living to do something of value, to follow your heart and do something where your volunteering of your time leaves you feeling fulfilled, not taken advantage of. You are there to grow yourself and help with a situation you find value in. The farm could be interesting but be prepared and check it out in every way you can so it is what you want to spend your time doing. It could be long days and some hard work but there is value in that too. If you need help getting information on what your interested in we will help you from here. Let us know what you’d like done.

  3. Leonard Adelson says:

    I think you have adequately honored your goal to fix bikes and should be comfortable with alternative volunteer service if you do not find donating you time to a for profit business rewarding.

  4. Jenna says:

    I have heard great things about WWOOF and have thought it is something you should do since I first heard about it! I think that if you are not feeling that your work at BiciTech is in line with why you are on this worldly adventure and you think something like WWOOF might be a more valuable use of your volunteering time/skills, then go for it! Keep us posted on what you decide to do (I’m sure you will 😉 )

  5. Marilyn says:

    I think that you are doing a great job figuring this out. Although the literal definition of “volunteer” is working without pay, I think that the commitment you made to your contributors is that you are also contributing towards helping needy families whose standard of living would be significantly improved by having a bicycle. It doesn’t seem like that is true in your situation in Guatemala.

    I would want to know whether your working on the WWOOF farm that you describe would benefit only the farmer who farms it or others as well. If he is selling the crops for his own profit, this may not be much different that the situation with Carlos, although it would be a wonderful experience to learn organic farming and to make cheese and you would at least have something to do.

    As a contributor, whether or not it is WWOOF, I would like you to find something to do that benefits the local people who are in need and is not just someone using you to make money for themselves.

    Good luck figuring this out. I support whatever decision you make.

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