Let me explain the pictures at the top. From left to right:
1.) February of 2010 with Archbishop Nicolas Djomo of the Tshumbe Diocese in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A group of us visited the Bishop to see the work he has accomplished. Tshumbe is just about dead center in the Congo. Practically speaking it is only accessible by plane.
2.) December 2008, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti (before the earthquake). I’m at the Abandoned Baby Unit of the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince. I’m holding a child named Enok who had been recently abandoned. He was two years old but was severely malnourished and could not stand or walk. He held me as though his life was in my hands. Since then we have gotten him released to an orphanage and he talks and walks. He is a smart, inquisitive kid. He has become friends with other children in the orphanage. The orphanage is not designed to farm kids out to families outside of Haiti. It is designed to give a chance to children who can become educated and become productive citizens and leaders within Haiti. Maybe I made a difference in someone’s life. I hope so.
3.) Marie and I in Cairo, Egypt in January 2010.
4.) Riding the Pacific Coast in September of 2009. A 1300 mile ride from Astoria, OR to Costa Mesa, CA.
We arose early to begin the optional recreational side trip which is part of these projects. While it is optional and at extra cost everyone decided to participate. Essentially we are going to Livingstone to see Victoria Falls from the Zambia and Zimbabwe sides. We are also going to take a day to visit a game preserve in Botswana.
We hired a van for around $300US. It took about seven hours. It would have cost $250US per person to fly. The main roads are quite good in Zambia. Nobody complained about the extra time. All of us are seasoned travelers and therefore have learned to hate airports. I apparently slept most of the morning on the van so the trip did not seem onerous. It also provided us with the opportunity to see the rural countryside.
Zambia is about the size of Texas and is very sparsely populated outside of the cities. That is where there are small villages and people live in thatched huts or cheaply constructed structures. I presume they are mostly subsistence farmers. It is common to see a 50’ or 100’ strip of corn being farmed between the highway and the village.
Not a great picture as it was taken from a moving van but you get the idea of a rural village and the farming.
After a couple of stops to stretch our legs we arrived in Livingstone. We stayed at the Oriental Swan Hotel which is owned an run by Chinese. Chinese are ubiquitous in Africa. They invested a lot of money and financed a lot of construction in Africa when times were good.
The Oriental Swan Hotel.
The front desk at the Oriental Swan Hotel. There hang the pictures of the President of China and the President of Zambia.
The hotel is nice and well maintained. The rooms are comfortable and there is good internet access. Mike negotiated a good rate probably because there aren’t too many others staying here at this time of year. For dinner we went to Olga’s restaurant in town that Trip Advisor rates as one of the best in Livingstone.
This sign was hanging outside the restaurant. I am amazed at how many places serve crocodile.
Of course we were pretty wiped out after the long travel so it was an early night.
Today is the last day of the work project. We are tidying up things. A group went over to the house that was being painted and repaired to do the finishing touches. Another group of us were at the building site. We moved the 750 blocks that had been delivered the day before to a different area that would be out of the way. I’ll tell you, those suckers are heavy. They aren’t the chintzy clay bricks. They are heavy cement blocks with a lot of aggragate.
When it got close to lunch time Mike sent me out with Beanie and the deacon’s wife to go to the market for lunch provisions. We went to a Spar supermarket in a strip mall that was not that different from an American supermarket. There was a lot of fresh produce and baked goods. We then went a few doors down to a meat market to get cold cuts for sandwiches. The shopping mall was quite busy. I was told that since it was the last Friday of the month people were getting paid and were buying groceries and other items before the lottery and the liquor store got the money that was left.
Well, I don’t mess around. We got back and ate lunch earlier that we had all week. It was noticed. One of the heartwarming things about this project is that we also feed the paid workers and anyone else that is on site. They share the same food we eat so this is a real benefit for them. We are careful to avoid class distinctions. These are good, hardworking people and get too little for the work they do. We are more than happy to give them the benefit of a free lunch.
Ah, watermelon! One of the wonders of the world. I love watermelon! This little guy is the youngest of two boys of the family that lives in the little house at the build site and act as security guards for the materials. We fixed up their house. He certainly enjoyed lunch each day.
After lunch the deacon took Ben (the archeologist that works in Beijing) and I around on a side trip to see Lusaka. Considering everything, it is not a bad place. We did see a pretty desperate slum not far from the school we were working on. The school is intended to educate children from that slum. Otherwise, there is a middle class. The government buildings are not grandiose. The traffic is not bad. We are surprised at the few number of motorcycles and scooters. Many of the developing countries are being overrun by scooters. There is also a notable lack of bicycles considering that there are a lot of people walking.
After the personal tour we returned to the site. The day was cut a bit short as there wasn’t much that we could do so we said our goodbyes. Tomorrow we are off to Livingstone.
Conditions were pretty messy at the job site due to the rain. It has rained hard at night. It’s actually quite a surprise that it drains as well as it does. Still, mud is not an inviting condition. The trencher was not able to work today due to the muddy conditions. I and my New York friend Barry were sent out to help with procuring cement blocks for the perimeter wall. In Zambia everything is up for bargaining and negotiation so you never take the first price. I have no idea why these places are owned and run by Turks and Lebanese but that seems to be the norm. I have no idea why some of them use “Investments” in their name. This was the first place we stopped:
Their price was not good. Go figure!
At another place we were quoted a good price but they didn’t have the 750 blocks that we required. They will not go into production for a small batch. We finally found a place with sufficient quantity and a good price. Persistence!
In our travels around the city we saw the U.S. Embassy. It is one of the most formidable buildings in the city. We were told it was opened about 2 years ago. I have no idea why the U.S. needs such a large embassy in such a scarcely populated (about 15 million) poor country.
The U.S. Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia
A picture of me with former First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa.
There was a lot of good will all around. Ms. Mwanawasa is a member of the church we were working with that is building the school.
There’s always work to be done. Because there wasn’t much for us at the school site a group of us went to a house of a parishioner that was in disrepair. We wanted to paint it, fix it up and make it look like something other than a slum. The major problem was the walls had previously been painted with oil based paint. Therefore, we had to use oil based enamel to cover the walls and trim. Oil based enamel is a very difficult paint to work with as it is thick, smelly and difficult to clean up. Still we attacked the project an made the house a lot more presentable. I worked half the day and did not enjoy the project. My clothes, gloves, shoes and backpack were getting enamel all over them. The rooms were crowded with furniture and other stuff and there were too many people trying to work in too small a space.
Around noon we went back to the school site for lunch. I caught a break. Mike decided to send me out with a couple of others to procure material for the house. The shopping list included a new toilet, a new sink, plumbing supplies and new doors. We rode around to various vendor to try to get the best prices. As with a lot of developing countries, prices can be very negotiable. I tried to use the techniques that I’ve seen Mike use and did actually negotiate some good deals. Fix It Friends tries it’s best to be efficient and effective. The less money we spend on materials, the more money we can leave with the project to further move it ahead.
I got into the car of the man that was driving us. He had the local paper in the front seat. Here’s a picture of the front page. Read the headline in green.
Eritrea looks to be an interesting place.
A market area in Lusaka where we purchased some supplies. It is the rainy season.
The new Builder’s Warehouse. It is as nice, bright and clean as any Home Depot or Lowe’s. We bought a toilet and sink along with a few miscellaneous items. The prices are low and it has the smaller merchants scared.
This afternoon the skies opened up. It created a muddy mess on the back roads and at the job site. We decided to cut the work day short and headed back to the hotel for some downtime.
This evening we went to a restaurant that is rated one of the best in Lusaka by trip advisor.
There were some rather exotic items on the menu.
The moving of the steel continued this morning. We got all of the pieces out of the way that we could. There is one pile of straight pieces that had not been used in the construction that extended over our property. A few spot welds had been used to keep them from being stolen. The thing is, they are so heavy that it is about impossible to steal them without a crane and a truck. I understand it was tried but was unsuccessful and a piece or two were just left on the side of the road. I’m willing to bet the Presbyterian church is fundraising in America to get money to repair the “disaster”. I wonder if they believe in divine intervention? Maybe their whole mess wasn’t such a good idea in the first place. Why not sell the bent scrap and get it out of there. It’s no good as it is. Fortunately, we moved all that we could without a major accident. The more you mess with the stuff the more you realize how dangerous what we were doing is. On the last piece when the team dropped it, it sprung and hit just above my knee. No major damage and it did leave a welt. If it had fallen on my leg it would have been the end of my leg.
At one point the Minister took me aside and showed me the architectural plans and we went up to see how the top floor was going to be constructed. We talked for awhile and I told him about Marie. He engaged me in prayer and basically asked God for a miracle. I appreciated his concern. Afterwards I thanked him but I told him that I accept that God’s will will be done and that I don’t feel that I have been forsaken. He told me that was a good attitude.
Each day at lunchtime a few people go out to the supermarket (yes, a supermarket) to get fresh food for lunch. Usually it is bread and cold cuts along with drinks and chips. This is great for the local hired workers because they don’t usually get fed on the job and we are glad to share.
Now let me digress. There are two people that are with the group that are 91 years old. One is Beanie from Lexington, KY and the other is Percy, a retired Baptist minister, from Dodge City, Iowa. They have both done these projects before. They are the lovable, elderly participants who inspire us to keep going. Unfortunately, they are intent on working so hard it almost embarrasses us. We have to hold them back from doing labor that is too intense. Percy scared the hell out of us when he was trying to help with the steel.
Anyway, today Beanie went out with some others to get the lunch provisions. When they got back Beanie carried in a sack of Cheetos that was almost as big as she is. Here’s proof:
Beanie with her bag of Cheetos. All we could do was shake our heads and laugh.
In the afternoon we started preparing for the digging of the trench that was needed to set footings for the perimeter wall. After a good amount of manual labor and grumbling we convinced Mike that a better use of resources was to hire a backhoe and get the digging done without us all breaking our backs. After that victory we busied ourselves with miscellaneous tasks around the project. Fortunately, for the most part the rain held off. This is the rainy season so it was chancy to come here at this time of the year but at least we got two good days in.
We arrived at the work site this morning. This Project is different from the others I’ve been on. A school is being built and is well underway. It is a major project so we can only get so much done in one week. The main thing is that we are helping with smaller tasks and our presence and support are moving the project along. We started by cleaning up a lot of the mess at the site and moving materials to where they are needed. There was a lot of construction material in one of the rooms and it all had to be cleaned out so work can begin on the construction of the second floor.
Eventually they will build a chapel on the site but the school is the primary project. The school will mostly serve children in a local slum that don’t currently attend school.
The build site. Forms and rebar are being laid for the floor of the second story.
Here’s where it gets a bit interesting. The Baptist church that is building the school wanted to buy the plot of land next door. It was sold out from under them to a Presbyterian church group. They started construction on a church using prefabricated steel beams. Well, they must have had an idiot for an engineer because after a lot of the steel framework was constructed it blew over and collapsed in a storm. It happened during the lunch break so fortunately nobody was hurt. It could have been a disaster. Much of the steel was bent which rendered it unusable. It’s only good for scrap. Instead of having it hauled to a recycler they moved a lot of it onto the edge of the Baptist church property. It is necessary to construct a perimeter wall so the steel had to be moved back off “our” property. These beams are incredibly heavy and we did not have the use of a crane. It took between 10 and 20 men to move each piece with muscle power. It’s actually quite dangerous work.
Starting to move some of the steel. There had to have been about 40 pieces that had to be moved, some larger than others.
In the evening we had a nice dinner at a restaurant with a varied menu including steak. The steak, while being a bit tougher that was is typically served in the U.S. was very tasty, probably because the cows are grass fed.
It’s my first day in Zambia. It was a long but uneventful flight. No problems and I got away from the East Coast before the big winter storm hit. It was a narrow escape! It’s a 7 hour difference so there is a good amount of jet lag.
The group assembled early because the plan was to go to a small game preserve area and lodge that is called Lilayi. It is just outside of Lusaka. Traveling there I notice the lack of congestion, good roads and a lot of modern construction. It doesn’t look like there is much of a downtown. Things look quite clean and orderly. There isn’t the appearance of abject poverty although Zambia is considered a poor country. I understand that a lot of the population is subsistance farmers. Per capita income is low and the incidence of AIDS is high but dropping.
The lodge was very nice and served up good coffee and an excellent breakfast. After breakfast we loaded into an open Land Cruiser to take a tour of the game. It was nothing like the Tanzania savannah but interesting nonetheless.
The Lilayi Lodge
Some zebra action at the preserve.
The highlight of the trip was a stop on the preserve of a project that takes in baby elephants in distress, get them healthy and prepares them for release back into the wild. There are currently four baby elephants but they don’t turn any away. A number of them have been successfully released. The baby’s are fed from two liter bottle and gradually weaned. They are then sent to another preserve until they are ready for final release.
Baby elephants being fed from their bottles.
Baby elephants cooling themselves at the water hole.
After getting back from the preserve I got some rest and the group got together for dinner at a local restaurant. Work starts tomorrow.
I am in Zambia with the group that calls itself “Fix It Friends”. We are from all over and get together once a year to do a charity work project. This year the location is Lusaka, Zambia, a place I have never been to before and never had a reason to visit. Zambia is a region that was formally known as Northern Rhodesia. Last year we went to Cali, Columbia. Although most of us don’t see each other more than once a year we always seem to pick up where we left off and things just flow from there.
The project this year is to assist with a the building of a school by a local Baptist church. It is quite a formidable project. It’s much larger than anything I have been involved with in the past. We can’t finish the project but we are helping to move the project along with time, effort and money. Hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day or a week by well intentioned volunteers. However, as I’m observing this week, it’s amazing how much can be accomplished through concentrated team effort. Manpower with a goal is a formidable force.
Fix It Friends – 2016
Time to set sail! I found the Azimut. It was fifth in line in a stack of boats at the dock so I couldn’t see it last night. I checked out of the hotel and was able to walk with my luggage to the boat. The most difficult part was dragging things through the other four boats. Although I was able to leave my luggage ahead of time the official boarding time was noon so I did some wandering in Trojir. At noon I was able to get settled in my cabin. A nice lunch was served and then we were given a briefing on the trip. It had been decided that in order to avoid some of the congestion at the docks we would tour the islands in reverse order of what the itinerary described. It didn’t make a particle of difference to any of us. For most of us this was our first time in Croatia and most had never been on a bike trip of this sort. When everything and everyone was settled we set sail for the island of Solta.
We docked in the port of Maslinica and prepared ourselves for the start of the bike tour. The weather was not with us. Although it was not severe it was overcast and there was some rain. The total biking distance for the day was 20 km but is was hilly. There was a lot of olive and fig groves along with fields of lavender and rosemary.
At about the 1/2 way point we made a stop at a local beekeeper. He gave a fascinating lecture about bees, beekeeping, what they produce (which isn’t just honey) and the problem of bees dying off. I had heard of the die-off of bees but it is not just a North America problem, it is happening in many areas of the world. Yes, the beekeeper was selling his products but the education was worth the stop.
We continued on, with a bit of rain, to the port of Stomorska where we met up with the boat. It was a good start to the adventure and, as we found out, we got the bad weather out of the way on the first day.