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!