26 November 2008

World Bicycle Relief

Random web surfers, colleagues, friends, family, elected officials, all protocols observed, welcome to my post from Zambia. I arrived in Lusaka on Sunday morning after a few hours sorting out shipping and a fun final night out at Casablanca. After checking into the Blue Crest Gueshouse, I headed out to the town which seems to amount to some streetlights (that people actually paid attention to), some smiling Zambians, one tall buidling and a lot of rain. I quickly gave up, grabbed some beers and accomplished something amazing: gaining a basic understanding for that crazy game they call cricket.

On Monday I started volunteering with World Bicycle Relief which, as I've said before, is a really cool organization. Their basic idea is that by giving people quality bicycles, you can greatly increase the distance people can travel and the amount they can carry while reducing the amount of time these tasks take. In Zambia, they have given bikes to volunteer HIV/AIDs caregivers which has enabled the caregivers to visit more people, more often with more supplies.  The bikes also provide an added incentive to the volunteer caregivers since they can use them to help earn their livelihood. In addition to the donated bikes, WBR has trained bicycle mechanics, giving a one week course in business and technical skills, all the necessary tools and, most importantly, customers to 450+ mechanics around the country. 

The bikes are pretty simple with just one gear and kick back brakes (probably the most complicated piece are the bells) and are specially built to last out in rural Africa (4-ply tires, heavy duty stands). WBR is constantly working to improve the bike, this week they are getting in new pedals and saddles (seats) that performed better in their ongoing field tests. In a pretty cool 'world is flat' story, the information from rural Zambia came back to engineers here and in the US who then found better parts from India and the Czech Republic which then get shipped through South Africa and eventually end up back at one of seven assembly locations across Zambia. 

WBR is wrapping up their work with the HIV/AIDs caregivers (a consortium project called RAPIDS), and is looking to donate bicycles to schools in rural areas where students and teachers walk 5+ miles each day and to also get involved with offering bicycles through microfinance loans. In all of these projects, they are working with established partners which allows them to keep overhead costs to a minimum and to be part of wider, collaborative programs.

So its been a good few days learning about what WBR does, how they do it and helping out where I can. While my initial idea of being back in a metal fab shop for a week hasn't exactly panned out, I've helped out a bit with some bicycle repair and assembly and been able to help with a few technology questions they've had. I also went to the Zambian Caregiver Appreciation Day in Lusaka that featured speeches from the first president of Zambia and the new US ambassador. It was a cool ceremony, really nice to see some people making a direct impact and we got to listen to hilarious diplomatic introductions (like the one above). 

Today is Thanksgiving so we've got a dinner lined up and then tomorrow I am headed down to Victoria Falls and eventually Zimbabwe. Anyone have suggestions for avoiding cholera (wish that was a joke)?

Happy Thanksgiving!

21 November 2008

Another one bites the dust

After a quick visit to the UN, one last 8:30pm conference call, a shoeshine and then some frantic stuffing of clothes into a DHL box, my project in Nairobi is over (imagine that said like the guy on iron chef). I think the project has been really successful, we've accomplished everything we said we would (and then some), created lots of good relationships with people all over Kenya and while we don't yet have everything nailed down for a next phase, I think there is a really good chance they will actually do some of the ideas we've been talking about for the last few months. I've definitely enjoyed being here, and while Nairobi is not my favorite city in the world and there are some challenges to working in Kenya, I really like a lot of the people we've met and it certainly is a good perspective on other parts of the world.

So now I've got about a month of traveling while I make my way down to Cape Town. Sunday I go to Lusaka to work with World Bike Relief for about a week, then I head down to Victoria Falls and join up with an overland tour. The two week tour goes through the Okavanga Delta in Botswana then to Etosha and down the Skeleton Coast of Namibia. I'll spend a few free days in Namibia then head to South Africa where I've got a few days before heading home on the 20th.

Should be a pretty fantastic time, we'll have to see what the Zambians can drum up for Thanksgiving and hopefully I'll have some internet along the way. Otherwise, talk to everyone when I am back in the ole US of A.

Tutaonana! (See you later)

A little place we call Zanzibar

It somewhat amazing to write this, but last weekend was my last working in Africa. To cap off our time together, seven of us went off to Zanzibar for a final weekend of sun, dhows and full moon parties.

PICT0107 We spent Thursday night in Stone Town which used to be the epicenter for the East African slave trade, though now it is little more than some narrow alley ways, interesting old doors (mom) and Queen tributes (Freddy Mercury was born there). Friday we did a spice tour to the center of the island (the island is actually called Unguja) which was pretty interesting, its cool to see that the little jars of cinnamon you buy at Teeter actually come from the bark of a tree and to watch a dude scale a palm tree to pick coconuts. We also had the most delicious fresh pineapple I've ever tasted.

We lounged around Stone Town for a bit and then headed up north to Kendwa beach and the Sunset Beach Bungalows getting there just before sunset. The beach is a really nice long swath with super fine white sand and turquoise blue waters you can swim in regardless of the tides. It reminded me a lot of Thailand, except with African dhows instead of long tail boats. We hung out, had the fist of many good seafood meals on the beach, made s'mores (thanks department of state kids!), got a hookah from a nice rastafarian fellow and relaxed the night away.

PICT0163 The next day was absolutely gorgeous and we spent most of it relaxing in hammocks, eating seafood and playing the water. In the late afternoon we took out a dhow, did some snorkeling, did some drinking and sailed up and down the coast watching the sun set. That night we went to Kendwa Rocks for their full moon party which is a drastically calmed down version of Koh Phangnan's. It was alright, nothing phenomenal and the highlight was probably a musical set that went from Iron Lion Zion to Dragonstein Dintei to Call On Me. There wasn't the tower of speakers or fire dancers of Thailand, but there also weren't the potentially dead people lying in the gutter the next morning either.

Speaking of the next morning, it was a bit of a late start for most of us. But we quickly picked up where we left off the previous day, doing absolutely nothing on the beach. I got cornrows put in my hair (true story) then we hung out till about four and pretty sadly left Kendwa for the airport, a two hour delay (during which we played frisbee on the runway) and the flight back to Nairobi. All in all Zanzibar was wonderful and while I wouldn't rush back to the full moon party, I would definitely head back just for Kendwa.

06 November 2008

College Party

Electoral College Party that is. We truly lived the American dream this November 4th (technically the 5th here): getting up at 4am to drink Tusker and watch the election results in Kenya. Check out how excited everyone was!


IMG_0741For those of you that are curious, a breakfast injera is a take on an Ethiopian meal, except with a delicious pancake and then a bunch of toppings (fruit, jam, chocolate, ice cream, etc). And the novelty of drinking colored beer will never wear off.

Kenya seemed pretty excited about Obama winning, and while there wasn't dancing in the streets of the capital, we still got a public holiday on Thursday. Probably the most interesting part of watching the election was seeing how the different stations covered it. The BBC was a bunch of old white guys rambling on about stuff. Al-Jazeera had a hot chick and would call states forty-five minutes before any other network. And CNN was fascinated with its technology: a ridiculous interactive map and then beaming some idiot in with a hologram.


04 November 2008

Lamu and Obama! The Musical

This weekend was a trip off to Lamu, an old Swahili archipeligo on Kenya's north coast. They say it is like going back in time and that seemed like a pretty decent description, the airport was really a clearing in a forest with some thatched huts, then you immediately get on a boat to go to the actual town where there aren't any vehicles, just lots and lots of donkeys. We went on a day long dhow (traditional sail boat) trip, went fishing, got sunburned and had some great seafood, including the aptly named monster crab. It was a very nice, relaxing weekend, probably the most exciting thing that happened was the flight home. Just before we took off the captain asked the ground crew where the landing taxes were and was handed an envelop with a big wad of cash, then once we took off the panel above the seat where the oxygen masks are (or should be, if there were oxygen masks) fell off and we had to fix that with some chewing gum. Good stuff.


Back in Nairobi, we went to see Obama! The Musical last night which was very enjoyable and pretty amazing. I would say it was a combination of a middle school play, dancing with the stars, kenyan idol and a epileptic seizure. Here are some highlights:

  • The background was painted with glow-in-the-dark paint
  • The show started with Africa as the cradle of civilization and music from the Lion King
  • At one point everyone in the show broke into the Nas song "I know I can be, what I wanna be..."
  • Bush, McCain and Palin were portrayed by a guy in a big white jacket, a guy walking like a mummy and a woman in glasses, respectively
  • The McCain supporters did an awesome dance that was some sort of combination between line dancing, an Irish jig and the Russian squatting dance - basically the whitest things ever

So pretty fun stuff. Today is election day in the US, so we've stocked up on beer, red and blue food coloring and even some fireworks and will be up at 4am to celebrate the American dream. So hit me up on Skype (or give me a call).