Bikes Fixed: 12
Bikes/Day Average: 0.66
MICS students arrive at school via bicycle.
As I mentioned, I’m back in Lusaka. The guest house is cleared up, but I don’t want to move in today only to work Friday and have the weekend off. I’ll be moving into the guest house on Monday, and that will likely be my first day of work at Zambikes.
In the mean time, I never finished up my Macha story. So let’s start there…
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I last left off with the start of my trip to Macha, and hinted that there were many things that needed doing. Indeed, there were. I already mentioned the first trip to Choma, the nearest “city,” for groceries. We had bought some corn and at some point we needed to process the corn into corn “flour.” I put flour in quotes because there’s three different levels of “flour” you can process the corn into here. It basically has to go with the size of the grain you’re left with. In the same way wheat can be processed into crushed wheat, flour, etc., so corn can be processed into crushed corn, corn flour, and an inbetween quality called “mealy rice.”
(bonus fact: corn is the second-most produced grain in the world, rice being first, and wheat being third, by weight)
Anyways, we loaded the car with 150 kg of corn (any “large bag” you see is likely 50 kg, that’s a standard size for delivering grains, feed, etc.) and headed off to a mill.
There was a line.
And lots of stacks of corn.
I did get to peak into the room with the grinder, which was less exciting than I thought it was going to be.
Hello grinder. Hello line. Hello corn that is mine.
So we wouldn’t have to wait in line, we dropped off two of the bags there to be processed into corn flour. Then we headed across the (dirt) road to another building with a processor for mealy rice. They were out of power, so we ended up driving somewhere else altogether.
The whole process way very time consuming and it put a lot of things in perspective for me. Namely, being from a developed country, I’m used to going to the store to buy flour. I don’t have to buy corn, then have it processed, etc. You can by flour here, but obviously there are people who can’t afford to, or for whom the store is far enough away not to be worth it. If we didn’t have a car, we would have been among that population. Yet at the same time, it would have been a three or four hour walk to the mill, then a four hour wait in line, then three or four hours back. And I’ve no idea how I would travel with 150 kgs of rice. That’s a 12 hour day – pack a lunch.
Frankly, it made me think about how valuable having a bicimaquina on hand, or in the community, would have been. Depending on the size of the community, there would be around an hour’s walk with little to no wait. The only downside is the processing time would be slightly increased. Obviously this is speculation, but I think it’s pretty well grounded.
Anyways, this isn’t the post I use to tell you about my idea for a social enterprise. So let’s get back to Macha.
We’ll take the car. You can take the ox cart.
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As is the case with most cultures, Zambia has some sayings. The one I’ve heard the most (granted, my aunt Sue says it the most, and she’s always around) is, “Time is coming.”
In the States especially we have the sense that time is going. Time is running out. Time is short. Most of us are in a hurry. Many of us are impatient. We try and cram as much into our day as we can, worried that we might miss an opportunity, that other people might think we’re lazy, that we might somehow be unfulfilled if we don’t spend every minute of every day doing “something productive.”
If you know me at all, you know I’m the opposite way. So this Zambian philosophy really resonates with me. “Time is coming.” Relax.
The idea is around, I think, for a few reasons. First, everything is far apart. When Misheck was showing me Lusaka I asked him what we’d do if we couldn’t find a bus out to the Zambikes production facility. “Walk,” he said.
“How long will that take?”
“Oh, three or four hours,” he replied. No big deal. People are used to walking here. People are used to spending their time covering large distances.
Just waiting around. Time is coming, you know.
Second, there’s the heat. If everybody here ran around like headless chickens as much as we do in the States, they would all die of heat exhaustion. Granted, it is the hottest time of year, but right around 3 o’clock the only thing I really want to do is sleep.
Lastly, and probably more importantly than the reasons I bring up, are the historical regions. While I don’t know for sure, I imagine hundreds or thousands of years ago the people here had to be very patient. Patient for the rains. Patient for their crops. Patient for their prey. Etcetera. Obviously this is unfounded, but there you have it.
The reason I bring this up in the middle of my time spent volunteering at Macha is because, well, I spent a lot of time waiting. We’d often do only one or two things per day. One day we’d go to Choma. One day we’d get our corn processed. And so on.
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Side note: From here out I’m probably permuting the days. Just know that these experiences happened, even if they didn’t happen in the order I’m presenting them in.
Gil and Ronda have a few neighbors. I mean, you always have neighbors in the bush, but these neighbors are particularly close with Gil and Ronda. Linda is a teacher, so she’s particularly close with them. She has a son with spinal meningitis who started having seizures in about eighth grade. Since his attacks, he has been a bit more difficult to communicate with, but it was believed with medical attention he could be at least partially cured.
Linda had asked Gil to drive her and her son to the hospital a few times. This time, most of the medical work had been done, and she just needed to go to get his stitches removed. It would normally be about a 45 minute walk, and she would carry him on her back as he has trouble walking. Gil and I turned it into a ten minute drive.
While her son was in the hospital, I got a small tour.
Many of the hospital buildings are connected by outdoor foyers.
Not very Minnesotan.
It felt surprisingly modern, and at the same time, surprisingly ancient. I’m sure this has a lot to do with my expectations, even though I’m not sure what they were. The hospital reminded me of a hospital one might see in a movie about WWI – little to no electronics, nurses wearing hair crowns, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bed and other equipment were dated around that time.
Except for exam rooms, there was no patient privacy – a male and a female ward, subdivided into (for lack of more technical terminology) sick patients and really sick patients. The really sick patients are those typically HIV or TB (tuberculosis) positive.
That was the inpatient building. In addition, there was a building for outpatient care, pediatric care, family care, and a malaria research center. Smack the middle of campus was a pretty cool looking chapel.
I didn’t feel comfortable taking a photo from inside of any of the patient care buildings, which would really round out my explanations. Like I said though, an interesting combination of modernity and… less modernity.
Later in the week we had the fortune of being invited to dinner by some of Gil and Ronda’s friends, the Dubois’s, who are from the southern US. James Dubois happens to be a doctor volunteering at the Macha hospital. He had to do a round after dinner and invited me along. His tour, along with Gil’s tour when we drove for Linda and her son, provided the information for this section.
In addition to him telling me about the hospital in general, he had an interesting story to share. One of the patients he visited in his rounds that night was a newborn just a few weeks old, who had TB, was probably HIV positive, and who had been severely dehydrated. He was pretty frank with me because he said he expected her not to have survived since the last time he’d seen her. On top of that, he explained what a process it was to get the grandmother to be okay with treatment. “No needles,” she kept saying. “No needles.” To get her to change her mind, he took two chest x-rays – one from a healthy baby, one from her grandson – and pointed out the differences (TB presents a milky-white lung in an x-ray; healthy lungs are the black of the background). Hesitantly, she agreed to the treatment.
On the way into the hospital I had noticed a lot of people sitting around outside. On the way out, Gil told me that this are was called “the fires.” He explained to me that the hospital can’t afford to provide food for any of it’s patients, so the family comes and camps outside the hospital. They keep fires going to cook food for their loved ones – hence the name, “the fires.”
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I can’t say too much about the next day because I don’t want to hang out the dirty laundry, as it were. Suffice it to say, some things had been stolen from MICS, and Gil and I did some detective work that day. Instead of detailing the incident, I’ll just detail the adventure.
In order to, for lack of a better phrase, collect evidence, we had to visit some of the teachers at their homes. The teachers weren’t implicated in the theft, but we wanted to talk to them. In any case, one day after school, two of them hopped in the truck and we started driving. It would be faster for us to drive them than for them to walk, as I’m sure by now you could have predicted.
I’m glad we did this, and I’m glad because I got some nice photos of the way housing is set up in rural Africa:
Namely, you can see the different methods of building construction. Buildings are made from sticks, thatch (hay), or bricks, or a combination of any of the three. Most plots have at least a few raised buildings for chickens, to try and keep the snakes out – otherwise snakes will eat the eggs. Many snakes can climb, especially tree snakes (yes, those exist), but it helps enough that everybody does it. So, worth mentioning.
Then there is usually a central building with incomplete walls. In the photo above you can see a building thatched together that doesn’t go completely to the floor. Sometimes that will be the case, or sometimes the walls won’t go completely up to the roof. This seems to be a communal living area of some sort.
Last are the living spaces. These are usually the sturdiest spaces – not the brick house on the right. Yonder are the beds and sometimes the cooking facilities.
While driving I also got some good shots of Africans commuting by bicycle:
And after dropping of the second teacher… our battery died.
Welcome to Zambia.
Fortunately, Gil’s Range Rover is a manual transmission. You know what that means… (right? I can’t be the only US citizen left who knows how to drive stick)… push start!
So yea, myself, the teacher, and her sister all push started the car while Gil rode in the king’s seat and popped the clutch. It took us about three tries, and in a front yard in the bush, there wasn’t a lot of flat space. But Gil and I were determined to sleep in our own house that night. I don’t even want to guess how long it would have taken AAA to get there.
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Fortunately, the next day the car behaved itself. Gil had promised to drive some of the teachers to Choma to do their shopping, and to drive anything back that they wanted to buy. This was quite a treat – it would normally be a three or four hour combi ride (combis are the VW-sized busses I’ve talked about) with little room for groceries on the return trip. With Gil’s driving it takes only two hours, and with the roof rack on the Range Rover we had quite the carrying capacity.
I was in charge of the roof rack.
Ronda and Sue came along as well – it seems we all had errands to run. We left the teachers in town for about four hours while we exchanged some currency, got lunch, bought some hardware for the house, and did some grocery shopping of our own. The way back was a bit more crowded than the way there, even though some of the teachers had to take the combi (the deal was that we would promise to carry all of their things back, at the sacrifice of not being able to take all of them).
Thank goodness for the roof rack.
On the way back we stopped at “the truck stop” (if you remember it from my previous post) to buy some tomatoes and cabbages. Some vegetables are apparently cheaper and/or better there than in Choma. In any case, I got a great picture of what it’s like to be swarmed by sellers.
We had a small truck. The large ones practically get tipped over by sellers.
For some reason, the car stopped working again after that. So for the rest of the trips during my stay, we had to push start it. Welcome to Zambia.
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And now, a picture of a dust devil.
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At some point during my stay I did get around to fixing bikes. MICS has twelve “loaner” bikes that the kids can use for fun – if they want to bike to or from school, they use their own. Some of these bikes were in remarkably good condition, given they were all donated and probably none had come in brand new. But almost all of them needed work, ranging from a tube patch to a complete overhaul.
My workshop was the storage room. I did my best to arrange my tools and spare parts on storage bins, and used a coat hanger as my bike stand. It’s funny, it was only until my last country that I ended up working how I thought I was going to end up working. Looking back, I’m surprised at how well-equipped my volunteer locations in India and Guatemala were.
This means I got to do some things I’ve never done before. For starters, drawing inspiration from this guy…
…I used a new kind of tire lever. I used… spoons.
To be clear, tire levers are a device used to get the tire off the rim. Between the tire and the rim is the tube, which holds air. It’s the part you inflate when you pump up “the bicycle,” and it’s the part that gets punctured and needs to be repaired or replaced. You might also need to take of the tire if you’re replacing it or working on or replacing the wheel. “Modern” tire levers are sturdy plastic, strong enough so they won’t break when prying off a tire, but smooth enough they won’t puncture the tube.
I’m not sure if I’d had that idea already or not, but when visited Misheck’s plot my first weekend here, I saw the fellow above using spoons as tire levers. I hadn’t brought mine, figuring hey, India and Guatemala had them, why not Zambia? – oops. But as it ends up, spoons work just as wekk.
Something else I go to do was boot a tire. You have to boot a tire when it tears but you don’t want to replace it. Most tires are strong enough to last many thousands of miles, but inevitably, they will tear apart. When this happens, it exposes the tube, often deforming it. In any case, the tube becomes much easier to puncture. So the tire has to be replaced or booted.
Replacement is obviously the best option, albeit a bit American. A boot, on the other hand, is a piece of rubber you apply to the inside of the tire that holds it together. It’s essentially a patch for the tire, but because it’s for the tire and not the tube, it’s much more robust than a patch would be.
I did not have any boots. But as some of you know, I did do a 4,032 mile tour of the US. And on that tour I learned a lot of about impromptu bicycle repair. Namely, that any sturdy, flexible item will do. I never had to boot any tires, thank goodness, but I did know it was possible to take a dollar bill and fold it many times to make a boot. When you fold money, or a sheet of paper, it gets very strong and thick very quickly.
Thankfully, Gil and Ronda had some printer paper around.
Good as new.
So yea… I feel pretty good about this whole “volunteer bike mechanic” thing now.
As an immediate reward for my efforts, Sue told all the kids about the bikes. Of course, they all wanted to ride them. So we pulled out the ones I had repaired and had a bike corral. There weren’t enough bikes for all the kids, so that day things were learned about lines and turn taking. All the same, it was really fun, and really rewarding.
As the one who fixed all the bikes I left the order of things to Sue.
Something that really surprised and impressed me was how easily the big kids taught the little kids how to ride. Most of the students, I would say, knew how to ride bikes, but for some reason it hadn’t occurred to me that some might not. Usually this is an activity, I think, reserved for a father-son or mother-daughter couple to tackle. I don’t think it’s hard, I just think it’s sort of a bonding ritual many Americans, as suburbanites, do in a certain way. So I was caught a bit off guard when, quite nonchalantly, the older kids would up and help the younger kids who didn’t know how to ride. It was cool, impressive, and satisfying.
I’m sure part of that culture comes from MICS. After just a week there I noticed how the students, and especially the boarding students, look out for each other. I can’t help but feel though, that it’s part of African culture. People like helping each other, and they aren’t afraid of it, either.
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As some of you who follow me on Facebook know, I also repaired a wheelchair. There’s a student named Prince who was born without knee joints and has had stunted growth in his legs. To be frank, nobody is really sure what his condition is called. In short, his organs are growing, but his bones aren’t. It’s possible it could be a form of achondroplasia, which is strongly associated with dwarfism. Most children with his condition are abandoned, however, so his condition specifically is largely unresearched.
Prince’s father has abandoned him, but his mother has stuck around. Almost unbelievably, Prince is a positive guy. He could be so angry at the world. I am really impressed by his outlook on life. He wants to be an accountant.
Before I replaced the tubes in his wheelchair, he would be pushed around in a stroller by the other students (another example of how they look out for each other). Shortly after I put him in his wheelchair, I saw him roaming around campus.
“Hey Prince. What’cha up to?”
“Oh, just exploring.”
He was pretty content with himself.
I was pretty content with myself.
I think if there is one thing I get out of this project, it will have been meeting Prince. He’s a truly remarkable kid.