With less than 2 days left in Zambia, I’ve been spending some time reflecting on my experiences here and kind of getting the feeling that it hasn’t been as fulfilling as I perhaps thought it would be. That perhaps I’ve been a “Failure”. I guess from stories I've heard from other volunteers, I was expecting to be thrown into a completely unfamiliar world and face all sorts of huge challenges dealing with culture, different food, and lack of comforts, people, languages and physical and homesickness. But in reality, I really haven’t found much of that, and when I compare myself with other volunteers, which I really try not to do, I’ve been coming out feeling a bit of a failure, because I haven’t had those “culture shock” experiences.

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent some time in India, so I’ve got a little experience being in a developing nation. Zambia and India, in a general sense are very similar places. Perhaps it’s because I’m based in Lusaka, the big city, where mostly everyone speaks English and the Indian boy about town, really isn’t all that strange and I don’t get harassed too often with calls of Muzungu (Nyanja for White person or more generally a foreigner) or Mwenya (Nyanja for Indian, my spelling of it might be off for those who might notice). I really don’t stand out in a crowd. Whatever the reason, the fact remains is that I’m really quite comfortable being here (not 100%, I’m still quite cautious when it comes to my personal safety, but then again, most Lusakans are as well). Maybe I just adapted really well, or maybe it’s just not all that different or maybe I’m just fooling myself.

I haven’t really felt home sick at all since getting here. Perhaps it’s because I partially have the attitude which is best summed up in the lyrics of one of my favorite songs: “...Where I lay my head is home....” (Can you name the song and artist?). But that is not to say that I don’t see my apartment in London as home, or I don’t consider my Parents house my home in some way. Actually when I really look at it, there are a lot of places that feel like a home to me, that feeling really at home here isn’t all that strange. Add to it a super nice host Mom, who is almost as good as the real thing (Mom, no one could ever replace you!) and really, what do I have to miss. The food we eat, I’ll admit is different from what I usually eat, but isn’t wild and crazy. I haven’t eaten caterpillars or rats or grasshoppers. No, I usually eat chicken, beef, or sausage along with cabbage, kale, beans and the staple Nshima. Some might consider the fact they have to eat with their hands and not use utensils to be a new experience, but I’m Indian, we eat with our hands all the time, so it’s really not a big deal!

I’ve spent most of my days here in the city, so I haven’t had those typical rural African experiences of sleeping in a thatch hut, following a farmer out to his fields, or using a latrine in the dark (although the light in the washroom was broken from before I got here to just about three weeks ago). No, I’ve slept most nights in a nice house made of concrete, on a foam mattress. The bathroom, while lacking a sink, is indoors and has a fully functioning toilette and shower (albeit cold water only). I’ve visited farmers and villagers and seen their crops and villages, but I didn’t work their fields with them, or shell maize or fetch water. Do I need to physically do it to have an appreciation for it? I don’t know. In fact I’ve worn my “in the city” UES baseball cap, more than my “in the field” Tilly Hat.

I really haven’t had the typical cultural experiences that one would expect a volunteer to have in Zambia. I haven’t been to any celebrations with drumming and dancing (except the JF retreat where I was the one drumming and other ewb volunteers were the ones dancing). I haven’t been given any gifts from any village headmen (I was given a bag of oranges from a orange farmer though). What I have seen are many nightclubs and bars (from the outside) with lots of people enjoying the local brews. I’ve seen people going to the local cinemas to enjoy the latest movies (American, Nigerian and from elsewhere). I see people packing into mini-busses and walking on the streets as they make their way to and from work, or shopping. I’ve seen life in the city. Is that any less valid of an experience than seeing life in a village? I don’t think so. There’s no denying the fact that a huge percentage of population on this continent lives in the big cities of Africa like Lusaka. There is no denying the urban poverty that exists here, which is often harder to deal with than the rural poverty. My project wasn’t anything to do with urban poverty, but perhaps that’s an area that needs to have some focus, because things are just as bad, if not worse in the cities than in the villages.

In the end though, I don’t think I’m a failure. I’ve had an experience, a much different experience than a lot of EWB volunteers. I’ve worked on a project and completed what I was supposed to do and a little bit more. I’ve learned a lot, and I can only hope that what I’ve done actually makes a difference down the line. This has been my experience and I don’t regret any of it!

Ricky Patel


Dr. Livingstone I presume?!

With about two weeks left in Zambia, I'm finally heading down to Livingstone/Sesheke to see the Mungongo nut collectors.  I'll be spending about a week there, collecting some info and seeing what things are like there.  I'll also be meeting up with the other JF's for some fun in Livingstone as well as seeing Victoria Falls and the other sights.  I'll return to Lusaka with a few days left to finish my reports and other work before getting on the plane back to Canada. 

The Mongongo cracker is close to being complete, all that's left is some minor alterations/modifications to enhance it's performance and then probably some grinding of the welds and a fresh coat of paint.

Ricky Patel


Questions Answered...

See the comments on my "I love the smell...." post for the questions....

Animals could be used to perform the cold pressing.  In India they use a ghani, which is basically a giant mortar and pestle which is powered by animals.  However it's not really used here in Zambia.  The problems with animals is they can be expensive to keep, and so you'll see that only better off farmers will use animal power, while the poorer ones will still work by hand, most small scale oil cold pressing (for mungongo and other oil seed) is done by hand.  There are also two types of hydraulic cold pressers being used that I'm aware of.  One is basically a hydraulic bottle jack in the place of the screw in the manual presser, the other uses a hydraulic cylinder powered by a hydraulic power unit (electric).

As it stands now, the project is leaning towards using the cracker on a commercial scale.  The assistance to rural people will come from the income they can receive by selling their collected nuts before or after cracking them.  That is not to say that the cracked nuts can't be pressed by individuals for their own benefit, but the goal of this project is the commercialization for the oil.  Currently the industry is basically individuals producing oil for personal use, local markets, or small quantity export.

Electricity may or may not be available in all villages, therefore this machine is powered by a hand crank, with the option open that a pulley put on the shaft to power it via electric motor or a diesel engine.

The nut is available in huge quantities I am told, as there are entire forests of the tree... and since nothing eats the nuts, it won't be taking a food source away from any animals (just might have to let the elephants eat the fruit first).  Part of the project will be ensuring that collection is done in a sustainable manner, meaning that enough nuts are left on the ground to form the next generation of trees etc.

I think I answered all of them

The Competition

Every morning a competition is held in the house where I stay in Libala. The battle is between Zambian Mother and Canadian Son and is all over a simple pot of water. Now you may ask: what is there to compete over in a pot of water? Well let me tell you my friend, there is plenty. This is not a material battle, but a battle of principle. Allow me to explain.

Rose or Mommy, my Zambian mother, insists that I take a bath every morning before going off to work. I don't argue, as I do like the "fresh and clean" feeling a morning bath offers when going to work or school. As I've mentioned before, in order to take a bath, water must be warmed on the stove, for the tap water is much to cold, and the mornings quite frigid for a straight shower. So to have a bath at around 0620, the water must begin heating by 0600 at the latest. This is where the competition begins.

For my first week here, I wasn't used to the routine, and Mommy would anticipate my waking up and put on the water accordingly. It was really appreciated. Very quickly I was able to judge what time I needed to wake up at to put water on myself. I felt bad that Mommy would get up early and put water on for me, when I am perfectly capable of putting the water on myself. So for a few days, I would get up about half an hour early and put my own water on. Well, it seems as if Mommy would have nothing of the sort, and was determined to get up before I, and put water on for me. So with no other option, I start to get up a little earlier than her. That is until she started to get up around 0430 to put water on. That is when I had to say something. See up until this point, a single word about this competition had not been uttered in the house. I began to tell her that I had noticed that she had gotten up very early, and that she didn't have to. This was the day a truce was reached, albeit a temporary truce.

We came to a compromise, which allowed her to still feel like she was doing something for me, while I wasn't left feeling guilty about her getting up so early (especially on the really cold mornings). The arrangement that was reached was that Mommy would fill the pot with water and place it on the stove, the night before. In the morning, all that I would have to do was switch it on at an appropriate time.

This arrangement worked, and the truce stood for almost a month, until last week, when the truce was broken. Mommy, has broken the agreement, and begun to wake up early and switch on the stove, after she has put the water in the pot, on the stove the night before. This morning I was scared half to death, when I opened my bedroom door, to look into the kitchen and see Mommy's silhouette in the dark standing at the stove. I had not heard her get up, usually I do. So I am almost back where I started, in an endless struggle to warm bathwater.

Ricky Patel


I love the smell of welding smoke in the morning...

That o-zone, molten metal smell.....smells like.... progress!

One thing I’ve noticed, is that welding smoke smells the same in Canada as it does in Zambia, but then I don’t know why it would smell any different. It reminds me of the summer I spent working at an engineering firm in Hamilton and the smoke from the welding would waft into the office from the shop below.

I’ve been spending a lot of time overseeing and helping with the construction of the prototype Mongongo (or Manketti) Nut Cracking machine. I’ll give you a quick overview of the project.

Mongongo is a native nut to this region of Southern Africa. The nut, which is collected from the wild, as well as the oil, is high in vitamin E. The shell is very hard and quite difficult to crack. Elephants love to eat the Mongongo fruit, and the nuts pass through their digestive systems completely unscathed. Traditionally the nut was cracked by smashing it between two rocks. Now this is a very slow process, which is not suitable for commercial production of oil. It was necessary to develop a machine capable of cracking this very hard nut.

The focus for ASNAPP currently is developing the cracking technology, which will help to develop the industry of Mongongo oil production (which will give rural peoples to earn income from collecting wild nuts) which is where I come in as an Engineers without Borders volunteer. I’m using some of the “engineering skills” I have learned both at Centennial College studying Automation and Robotics and at Western studying Integrated Engineering to assist in the development of this machine and also using some of the ideas and concepts of sustainable development and appropriate technologies that I’ve learned in my time/training with EWB to try to ensure that this machine is created in manner that it will be able to be produced and used effectively considering the resources/abilities available in Zambia, and in the communities where it will eventually work. The latter being quite difficult, as I don’t know what resources or abilities are in the communities where this machine will be used. But hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll be finding out. I know, a little late in the process to be doing it, but better late than never.


It's Showtime!!

The show grounds is a flurry of activity. The dirt is being swept up, paint is being applied and all is being made ready. Yes, it’s time for the Zambia Agriculture and Commercial Show! In a few short days, Lusaka city will empty as the entire population converges on the show grounds to see the displays, the cultural shows, taste the food and have fun! (ok maybe not the entire city)

I took a break from the Mongongo Cracker friday to take a quick trip to the show grounds with Peter, an ASNAPP Staff member and the man who shares his desk with me. We went to check out the preparations being made on the ASNAPP stand in the Organic and Natural Products Pavilion. Work is progressing, and things should be ready by the time the show opens August 3rd. ASNAPP will be exhibiting some of the natural products it is directly promoting, as well as providing a venue for some of the partner natural product producers under ANSAPP’s umbrella, including some farmers/women’s groups.

I’m not sure why, but I’m really excited about the show. I don’t know what I will be doing at the show as far as the ASNAPP stand is concerned but I’m pretty sure that I will be involved in some form, possibly being an ASNAPP rep at the stand as I have learned a fair bit about ASNAPP programs and can talk to people about them. However I still have a Mongongo Cracker to complete and test, and I do still want to get some serious field time in before time runs out. (Which it seems to be doing rather quickly).

I’m going to try and update my blog a bit more frequently over the last month of my placement, so keep an eye open. Leave me some comments so I know who’s reading this, and if you have any questions let me know!


Please Sir....

“Please sir, one hundred Kwacha? So hungry, no food, please sir!”

Almost everyday in my travels through Lusaka, I no doubt pass at least one child, who asks me for money. Most of the time they’re just down the street at the main intersection of Kubulonga, or Kubulonga Robots as they are referred to (robots being a slang term used here for traffic lights). Kubulonga, the area where my office is located, is quite an upscale portion of Lusaka. Quite a stark contrast too most other places in the city. Yet, despite the affluence, there are still street children in this area. Not surprising, as there really is no great physical divide here between rich and poor. Not like in North America, where in rich neighborhoods you see no evidence of poverty what so ever. Here, Rich and Poor live along side each other. The rich seemingly are almost completely oblivious to the existence of the poor though.

As I pass by these kids, I have this great moral dilemma. What do I do? I know I have a hundred Kwacha in my pocket, and it really isn’t a lot of money (about 3 cents), I could give it and make this kid happy perhaps. I don’t know what he’d use it for, maybe he’s genuine and buy food, maybe not and buy something else. I don’t know! And what about the precedent it sets? I surly cannot afford to give money to every child in this city, let alone country who asks me for it, how can I choose one child over another? People argue that giving child beggars money only encourages illiteracy. If that child wasn’t begging, they mean to say, he’d be in school. But how can he be in school if he cannot afford the school fees. What can I do?

Time and time again, I just walk by these children, most of the time not even acknowledging their presence, but sometimes giving them the shake of the head to say no. I feel like a jerk doing it, but what can I do? I can throw out explanations of begging not being a sustainable income, and it’s better for them to go to school, but in the end what good will it do? Will it discourage the child from begging if that is his only means of survival in this city? What does the kid do at my refusal? Nothing, just moves on to ask the next person.

The adults are worse, they’ll actually yell at me when I refuse, times I’m glad I don’t speak Nyanja, Tonga, Bemba or any of the other Zambian languages.

Some Pictures

Sacks of Wild harvested Fadogia tea stacked in the ASNAPP backyard. This is usually where I eat my lunch of Sausage Rolls, that is when I'm not out at Mr. Mukasa's Shop or elsewhere in the field.

View of Mr. Mukasa's busy shopyard. In the foreground, construction of the cracking machine is progressing, and in the background, some Mongongo Oil is being Expelled using a simple Cold Press technique.

Some of the various machined parts produced for the Cracking machine. Pictured is the Eccentric Shaft, Bearing Blocks, Hubs with Brass Bushings, and the base
of the cracking jaws, made from old railway tracks.Posted by Picasa


Dirty Hands

[Check the bottom of this post for some new pics posted 07/26/06]

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a Westerner, or because I’m regarded as an engineer, or because I wear clean dress shirts (most of the time, remember, I do my own laundry in a tub by hand in the backyard, which means I use wardrobe conservation techniques), but since the day I started work, I’ve been prevented from helping out with some of the physical tasks that are required in the day to day operations of ASNAPP. But despite this resistance I’ve faced, I’ve managed to show my co-workers that just because I’m a Westerner/Engineer I can get my hands dirty and pitch in when help is needed, whether it be unloading a truck full of wild harvested tea, to loading a truck with a motorcycle or rolls of wire fencing. This is the background story to how I got grease on my shirt.

Last week, we were in the process of finding/buying materials and outsourcing some of the machining work required for the Mongongo Nut cracking machine. All the machining work (turning of an eccentric shaft, various hubs and bushings) was done at Lusaka’s Industrial Training Center (ITC), which is an institute teaching students various trade skills, including machining, computer systems, automotive repairs and also takes on machining jobs to supplement it’s income. ITC was able to source most of the materials for the parts they were making except for a cylinder of steel at least 120mm in diameter, so I set off with Mr. Mukasa, the entrepreneur whose design/concept is the basis of the machine and is building the machine, to find this material in Lusaka. Now normally perhaps in Canada, that wouldn’t be such a hard task, as there are many steel suppliers with stocks full of various sizes of steel. But here in Zambia, it’s a bit of a problem, as supply is low, as with demand. This puts a bit of a constraint on the appropriateness of this machine, and will be examined at a later stage, right now we’re just trying to get something that works. So we went to one of Mr. Mukasa’s contacts, and luckily enough, the material we were looking for was right at the front door. It was purchased and I was sent to drop it off at ITC to get the machining done. As soon as we get to ITC I wanting to show that I can do some work, jump out of the truck and go to grab the 40kg cylinder of mild steel. I’m sure I would have managed but it was covered in grease, and subsequently slipped out of my hands and the grease got on my shirt. Mr. Bryson, one of our friendly ASNAPP drivers, told me to get out of the way, and got some rags and picked up and took it inside.

So that’s the grease story, and you know what, it made me really happy. I enjoy getting my hands on a project and that was really the first instance when I felt like I really had gotten my hands on the project, because my hands got dirty, as well as my shirt. It’s a feeling hard to explain. It’s like a football (I have been forced to stop calling it soccer) player never getting a grass stain on his uniform, or a Chef never getting sauce on his apron. To me, I wouldn’t feel like I’m being an engineer without getting my hands dirty. I’m sure that there are many engineers out there that will disagree, but that is my opinion. Either way, the moment was a pivotal one as it meant that I was making forward progress on my project. Up until that moment, I hadn’t felt like I had done much (as evidenced by lack of information regarding my “real work” on my blog). But to see that I had taken this project from a state of being just a sketch on a drawing board with no real chance of being made the day I walked into Mr. Mukasa’s office, to a stage where the prototype was being constructed, with all the NGO red tape and funding issues that go hand in hand with this world (NGO world) made me start feeling like I’ve been accomplishing something while here.

I’m sure you’re wondering what this machine is going to do and what it has to do with reducing poverty in Zambia, and I will perhaps give you a quick run down in my next installment with hopefully some early test results.

Until then, I leave you with a picture of my new friend (Left. The one on the right belongs to David Damberger, I was just drum sitting). I got her in Kafue, on the way down to the Junior Fellow retreat held Canada day long weekend (also a long weekend here in Zambia, Hero’s Day and Unity Day on the 3rd and 4th respectively) in Siavonga, on the beautiful Lake Kariba. Here’s a picture of Kathleen (EWB long term OV – center), Courtney (EWB JF –right) and yours truly, enjoying the scenery, while sitting on a rocky point. (Don’t worry, the beard is mostly shaved off, I look respectable).