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).

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