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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 Or it could be still sore from all that nshima, which I have since rescinded from the privilege of being eaten.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.


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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