Sunday, December 28, 2008

Home for Christmas

Here I am back in Calgary for Christmas.   Indeed its a good feeling to be home to relax and visit everyone...and to look in the fridge and find such items as smoked salmon, pumpkin pie and eggnog. 

Yes - Mom is happy, and yes - thats whip cream on that pie.

My surprise was made possible because I have extended my contract with EWB up to March 2010, which means I am back in Canada for a month to visit everyone and to attend the EWB National Conference in January.

Spencer - This guy showed up while I was away.

Cariann - way taller than the last time I saw her.

Can't say that I feel any reverse culture shock.  Mostly things are exactly how I remember them from 11 months ago.  I can say I've noticed the fast internet, the good roads, the over packaged food and  the amount of clutter in peoples homes.  We just have stuff everywhere....

Some entertainment if anyones looking 

A video from some volunteers in Western Africa

A video from us in Southern Africa

Sunday, December 21, 2008

So This Is Christmas (in Rural Zambia)

December 20th 

I am sitting on a bus heading south through the copper-belt of Zambia.  My arm is swollen from a bee sting, I just finished 5 delicious bananas that I bought through the  window of the bus at the last village - and under my seat I have 2 pineapples which cost me 20 cents each.  Under the seat of the old lady sitting across from me there are 2 chickens sitting in a plastic bag.  No, they're not frozen chickens, they're actually alive and this is fairly common because power (and hence refrigeration) are scarce, so the best way to keep your meat from spoiling is by keeping it alive.  It seems this lady is travelling with her grandchildren and they are sharing a bottle of coca-cola.

In the seat behind her, there are three people, a baby, a mother and another lady who seems to be another grandmother.  They look so happy that its giving me that warm, fuzzy feeling inside.  ( Grandma swings baby's hands and creates a smile, later baby cries and mom makes funny noises to try and distract her)  I can only guess that they are travelling to visit some family back in their home town/village.  And I can only guess that those two overwhelmed looking chickens are going to be Christmas dinner for a lucky family.


Further to the front of the bus, there is a gentlemen taking honey to the city of Kitwe.  I asked him and he says he bought it from farmers in Mwinilunga and he is pretty sure he can sell all 400kg of it at a handsome profit tomorrow.  This is a good sign because it means the farmers have multiple buyers.


The man sitting beside me is a mail man, and two times a week he takes the bus 300km to the provincial capital to drop off all the outgoing mail and collect the incoming mail.

My New Home


This past month I've been staying at my new place in Kabanda - which is a compound in the same town as the honey factory.  Its been great to finally have my own place and to learn more of the local language and more about the people.  (the majority of the people here belong to the Lunda tribe)  For half of the month the town was without power, and it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference for me because my new house doesn’t use power - we have charcoal for cooking and candles for light.

 The open door is to my room - check out the nice glass window!

I live with a family of 5 children.  The father is Mr. Matulu, he is one of the workers at Forest Fruits.  The mother works at a small restaurant - which requires her to work from 7am - 9pm every day, including half a day on Sunday. 


Last week I went to plant maize with the firstborn son and some other relatives.  Mostly though we saw a lot of women in working in the fields - and do they ever have big biceps!


I still have blisters from this day.

Roy is on the right - he loves music too much.



My neighbours are Mr. Matulu's sisters, one of which owns a small bakery.  Stellah has two children, her husband died ten years ago and she has managed to make a good living by selling her baked goods.  She has even managed to build a second house which she rents out for extra income.  I'm working with her on ways in which she can differentiate from the other bakers in town so she can increase her sales.





As my shirt gets sticky from sweat, and I watch the lush green countryside pass by, I find it hard to imagine Christmas back home.  I officially feel disconnected.  Here, Christmas is unnoticeable, there is no Christmas music and no special "gift giving" advertisements.  On Christmas day the average family will go to church and maybe save up a bit of money to buy some beef or a chicken, so they can then make a nice meal to celebrate.


Please dont forget to give a little to my campaign to support my work here through Engineers Without Borders.  Seriously, whats an extra $20 on your credit card?

Click Here to Help me 

I wish a merry Christmas to everyone back home.  I miss you all.

Random Photo from last week - this bee is busy.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

An Enabling Environment

A short note about the place I live - where nothing can be taken for granted.  I've been warned not to post a blog that is like a rant, but its just too interesting to layout some of the challenges I'm seeing here.

In this past week, since returning from Kabompo, here is a list of some of the things that you would think would be available in a town of 20,000 - but unfortunately are not.

The town runs on a diesel generator which costs about $.40/kWhr to supply electricity, yet the government owned supplier charges just $.03/kWhr - so we have anywhere from 1 to 5 hours of power per day.

The town needs power to run its water supply, and so we get about 2 hours a day where there is water in the taps.  

Construction Supplies
May not be so dire, but seriously, something as simple as a welding rod, a cutting disk - or as simple as a screw - you can't find them here.

The main phone provider was down for two days.

There are days when you cant find a drop of gasoline. (even at $2.50 per litre)

Health Care
I had to travel over 30km to get some medicine.  The government hospital which is a short walk away only employs 2 doctors and stocks medicine for Malaria and diahrea, but little else.

There hasn't been any cash at the bank now for two days.  Imagine!

All things considered, its still pretty good.  We can get vegetables and fruits are so plentiful they are rotting on the ground...and there is chlorine so we can treat the water, and there are trees so we can cook the vegetables.

And of course, the people are great - and the motorbikes almost never break down, and cell phones usually work, and ya...things arent all that bad.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Letting Go

A trip to Kabompo

For whatever reason, it was decided that I should go to Kabompo with our buyer Chiko.  The part that makes sense is we want to buy more honey, so we're hoping to find it there.  The part that doesn't make perfect sense, is why am I going...

Either way, I found myself catching a lift in a nice NGO sponsored SUV, sipping on Coca-cola and chewing on some biscuits while watching 250 km of landscape unfold bofore me.

Chiko was suppose to follow me on the motorbike, but he was held up so I had the day to myself.  What a weird feeling, I didn't have my laptop, I actually didn't even have my bag since it was dropped off at his sisters place and I couldn't get a hold of her.  So it was just me and my phone and a little bit of cash...oh ya, and an amazing little town in the middle of nowhere africa.  

The Kabompo River

This River is apparently the second deepest in Africa, when engineers came to put a bridge, they weren't able to put any columns, so it had to suspend all the way from one bank to the other.

Chiko arrived on Monday and I got to meet his friend, 'sister' Jean.  She is the sweetest person and was sure to take care of us much the way my mother would appreciate it, reminding both of us to brush our teeth, don't drive too fast, make sure you have enough water....and on and on.

The best part about small town Africa is that you get to walk around at night and not worry about it.  For most of my time so far, I've been stuck in Lusaka where its not advisable to walk around after 8pm.  On our walk that night we were treated to a very stary night that was highlighted with a crescent moon sitting exactly between jupiter and venus.

The Motorbike

My skills on the motorbike are just so-so.  I can go about 80 km/hr on a perfectly paved road.  On the side road, maybe 50 km/hr, and on sand - lets just say its something I'm working on.  

Tuesday we set off and I quickly discovered the sensation of flying on a motorbike.  The logic is perfect, when I explained to Chiko that I dont like going over 50 - he says "you dont feel the bumps if you go fast" - and he was totally right.  Next test, sand.  Deep sand on a narrow pathway.  He let me try for about 10 minutes, but I was way too slow.  We switched, and before I knew it, we were going 80 km/hr on this tiny little path and we were litterally floating on sand.  The back tire would swing left and right and Chiko negotiated the path the way he's been doing for 6 years.  
The feeling was totally liberating.  It felt like a thrill ride that lasted for 30 km.  My life actually felt completely out of my control, and once I accepted that, it was a nice feeling.  The air became fresher, the sky looked bluer and the trees looked taller.

Needless to say, I found out why everyone says a little prayer and does the sign-of-the-cross before getting on the bike with Chiko.

An Option

The next day, the beekeepers we were going to visit were located on the other side of the river, and we had to drive about 80 km just to cross the river using the bridge.  Then we went about 30 km into the bush.  On the way back, Chiko told me there was a boat that could save us this 80 km stretch.  He said last time they tried it, they fell in before even pushing he vowed to never do it again.  However, we were told by one other guy that he took his motorbike over successfully, so there we were trying.

Here goes.

Now this river looks innocent enough, and these guys take people across all the time, but let me tell you...there are hippoes and crocodiles in this river, and if the bike drops in there is about a 0% chance we'd ever get it back.  Whatever the logic is here, we decided to go for it.  

And 2 minutes later, for just $1, there we were on the other side, dry, safe, and still with 80km worth of fuel in the tank.

Back Home

I'm now back in Mwinilunga, after riding through a lightening storm at crazy speeds on the back of Chiko's motorbike for 3 hours, the blood in my veins is still jostling around as if I were still on the bike.  It reminds me of the way I felt after water skiing in BC.  Not sure if mom would approve of all this, but thats the way things work around here.  We would travel a distance of150 km or more, just to speak to a beekeeper for 20 minutes.  Imagine if we could just call them instead!

Time to get back to office work again.  The cash is heading out into the field, and the honey is coming in.

Chiko gives a thumbs up before setting off into the bush.