Saturday, June 9, 2007

The end of my first week here! Lots to report about!

June 8, 2007- Off to Moshi!

This morning we headed off to Moshi to visit KCMC, the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center, and KASI, the Kilimanjaro Association for the Spinally Injured. It began with a very chaotic journey via dalla-dalla, as most days seem to start off! Everything seemed to be going well; we got on a nice, spacious dalla-dalla, and we were very comfortable. I should have known that it could not last because the words “spacious” and “dalla-dalla” never go together! Just as we were passing by the junction for the airport our bus stopped, and we were all ushered onto another bus that was stopped in front of us. Apparently, the two dalla-dallas were both about half full, so they decided to put all the passengers in one dalla-dalla, so the other one could turn around and start the next trip. Now we were totally cramped, sitting five or six across in a space meant for much less than that, and people standing in any other available space. I wish I had a picture of this! The thing with the dalla-dalla, is that people bring all of their things onboard with them; large baskets, sacks of grain and rice, bowls, jugs, bananas, small children. It’s really a sight.

When we arrived in Moshi I was struck by how hot it is! Arusha is surprisingly cool; I usually wear a sweatshirt for the morning and night. But in Moshi, I think I was already sweating before I even stepped off the dalla-dalla! KCMC is a huge medical compound, with a big hospital, a medical college, and a wheelchair workshop just to name a few. A man by the name of Abdullah Munish is in charge of the workshop there, and I had been lucky enough to meet him when he visited MIT a few months ago. So it was really great to see him again, this time totally in his element, buzzing around his shop. He is acting as a supervisor of my project, along with Daniel, and has so much great advice to share. Plus, he’s teaching me “street Swahili” so I can blend in as a local. He’s totally amazing—I’ll definitely write more about him in the upcoming weeks.

Abdullah’s shop is also working on a prototype of our design, so the main purpose of the visit was to see their progress. They’re almost done! They were having a few problems with the chair, similar to the ones we had in Arusha. Basically the chair was bending in the middle, near the third wheel. We racked our brains for what seemed like forever, and came up with quite a few good ideas. Abdullah has a friend who seems to be his designated “test rider,” so I’ll be going back again next week when the chair is finished to meet this guy and deliver the chair. Then we can start gathering feedback!

Next we stopped for a quick meal in town because none of us had eaten breakfast and it was already 2PM. I’m not quite sure how I managed! Then it was off to KASI where we had an appointment to meet Dr. Henry Nyamubi, the Director of the Association and a truly remarkable man. He was so pleased with the work we were doing and really encouraging. He kept saying “fantastic, fantastic!” KASI is really amazing, organizing rehabilitation services for disabled people, a school for disabled children, camps for new wheelchair users, and even special job training for disabled people.

Dr. Nyamubi was also excited to get our help on a new project he has. One of the biggest problems a newly disabled person faces is finding a way to get back into the workforce and generate an income for their family. One way to do this would be to turn the wheelchair into a base for a small business. Vodacom (one of the three big cell phone companies here) has recently made a huge deal with KASI to do just that. They have agreed to pay for 100 wheelchairs, that will be used as a base for a small business, selling cell phone “top-up” cards, chargers, etc. Everybody here has a cell phone—and I mean everybody—and you have to buy the minutes in advance. So basically you buy a top-up card from a shop, scratch off the number, type it in, and now you can use your phone to make calls! Dr. Nyamubi has enlisted our help in designing a wheelchair that could be used for this purpose. So it needs a safe place to store the cards (some kind of basket or bag or drawer), and a large umbrella to provide shelter and shade, and also to promote the items. I’m soooo excited to begin working on this and I’m honored that Dr. Nyamubi has even asked us to help! I think it could be really amazing!

His office was just across the yard from a pre-school class, where I met three adorable young boys, maybe 3 or 4 years old. They were very excited to be saying “hi, how are you?” and when I left they all were shouting “bye-bye, bye-bye!” I’ve found that wherever I go the children seem to be especially excited to see me—probably because they haven’t seen many white people before?

After this meeting I stopped at the ATM, and then as we were walking up to the bus station I was completely mobbed by vendors selling jewelry, paintings, postcards, etc. In Arusha there are also a lot of vendors, but if you tell them “no thank you” they leave you alone fairly quickly. But here in Moshi they would not stop! One guy even waited for me outside the ATM! His name was Jimmy Carter, but he didn’t seem to know about the former US president by the same name. Unfortunately I’m terrible at saying “no,” especially when they start telling me how poor and hungry they are. I ended up with a couple of souvenirs that I probably didn’t need, but at least I know that those people will be able to eat a good meal today. Plus, after I bought something from Mr. Carter, he decided that he should escort me through the busy intersection, even taking my hand and skipping along. It was actually quite cute.

Another highlight in Moshi was the Moshi Institue of Technology (also known as MIT!) They have a big billboard in the middle of town so of course I had to snap a picture!

Thankfully we took a larger bus back to Arusha; kind of like the same size as a coach bus, but without the plush seats and air-conditioning. I sat next to a very nice young guy who was studying at a college in Moshi. On the bus they kept playing American songs by artists like Snoop Dog and 50 Cent, so my new friend John and I sang along together for most of the ride. He was very excited that I knew most of the words! Plus I had my first Kilimanjaro sighting en route!

I was very happy to arrive back in Arusha, which is now beginning to feel like home. Awwwwww. Daniel’s brother Alfred, whom I had met a few days earlier at Pizza Arusha, joined us for a drink after dinner which was nice. I think I wrote before that he’s very passionate about becoming a doctor. Tonight he decided to start teaching me the names of all the body parts in Swahili, so if I ever get a Swahili-speaker as a patient on the ambulance I should be all set! Later a song by Shakira came on in the restaurant, upon which I found out that not only is Shakira one of his favorite artists, but he thinks I look just like her. Hmmm… not really seeing the resemblance, but I’ll take the compliment!

June 7, 2007- Day Four in the Workshop

After lots of good brainstorming last night, we had several solutions to the problem encountered with the frame yesterday, so this morning we were ready to get to work. We cut, we grinded, we welded, and we grinded some more. Essentially, the load on our mechanism was too much, so the steel was bending under the weight of the user—not good! We added an extra constraint along the bottom and it seems to have fixed the problem! We cut the fabric to make the seat and backrest, and Lucas will deliver it to the fundi in town who does the sewing for all the chairs. As soon as it’s here, we can officially sit in the chair and really start testing it! Conveniently, there is plenty of rough terrain to mess around on.

Today I was wearing a polo t-shirt (you know, with the little Polo logo of the horse) and Daniel asked me, “is this the mark of your tribe?” I quickly answered no, but in retrospect, maybe it is? Haha

Over lunch they had many questions today. First, Lucas was interested to know what “American culture” food was like. I gave it a bit of thought, and then delved into a lively discussion of hamburgers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I also told them about the Fourth of July and how we have a big party, which they were very excited about. So if ShopRite has the fixings I need, I promised I would make them real American food on July 4th. I can’t wait! Beat was very curious about MIT and how students are chosen to go there. He also wanted to know how much it costs, but I really didn’t want to tell him!

In Arusha there are people lining the streets selling things; I guess you would call them vendors? Agnes wanted to know if people did that in the United States. The best analogy I could think of was Chinatown, but you try explaining the concept of fake handbags and rolexs! I really love our conversations over lunch, and I’m pretty sure they are enjoying them too. I wonder what we’ll talk about next!

Daniel and I have made a deal that since I’m here for 60 days, he will show me 60 restaurants (a new one each night for dinner). He’s certainly living up to the challenge! Tonight we ate at the African Queen Restaurant which was delicious as always. It’s just around the corner from my hotel, and it was hopping with locals so it must be good!

Tomorrow we’re off to Moshi so I’m sure I’ll have lots more to report then! And just as I said that the rainy season seemed to be over, it has begun to pour. Hopefully the power won’t go out again!

June 6, 2007- Day 3 in the Workshop

After a good night’s rest in the new hotel, I was ready to go this morning. We headed off on the dalla-dalla, which was very crowded, as usual. The people here are very friendly, so I suppose they don’t mind squishing together!

After work yesterday Agnes asked me what I would like for lunch the next day, so I gave her some money to get chicken, as she is a very good cook (and an excellent wheelchair technologist!) So this morning I was sitting in the office having a hot chocolate with Daniel and in walked Agnes, holding a live chicken in a plastic bag! Daniel assured me that this was a “natural hen” that took many years to grow as big as it was, and we were lucky to be having it. Those with weak stomachs may want to skip this bit…..because next Daniel took it outside to cut the head off, and I decided that it would be fun to watch. Bad idea! After it was officially dead, Lazaro picked the feathers off, and prepared it so Agnes could cook it. I wonder what will happen if I ask for beef tomorrow?

Progress on our prototype was very speedy today. I swear I blinked for a second and Beat had welded the entire frame! Unfortunately the steel is not holding up in one particular place, so tonight we will all think about the best way to solve it, and hopefully tomorrow we can fix it! Overall things move quite slowly here, which is a very nice change of pace from MIT. When we’re working, we work quickly and efficiently, but when we are resting, we really rest!

This afternoon we had a very nice surprise. There is an organization called Kilimanjaro Community Based Rehabilitation, which goes out into the local community to find people with disabilities, so that they can help them find and receive care. They offer a camp for children with disabilities, a place where parents of children with disabilities can meet together, and even administer hearing tests and fit hearing aids on the go. They brought a young boy today who has spina bifida, and needed a wheelchair. When they placed him in the wheelchair, he had the biggest smile on his face. I swear I’ve never seen anybody so happy! They had to make a few modifications to the chair so it would fit properly, so I played with the boy while he waited. My Swahili is very limited, and his English was non-existent so it made for a very interesting time! Right now I’m learning how to count in Swahili, so we practiced together.

There were two guys from Kilimanjaro CBR who brought the boy in, along with his father, and they were amazing. They were so smart and so dedicated to their work. It was inspirational to say the least. They have just built a center called House of Hope where they will base their services, and I hope that I can visit it someday soon!

Daniel is always entertained when I try to speak Swahili, so today he challenged me with some Swahili tongue twisters. Give this a shot: Kale kakuku kadogo kako kwako kaka. Seriously, try and say that ten times fast. Hell, try and say it one time fast! In return, I told him to try: how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard! I shot a video of it too so remind me if you’d like to see it.


panthergirl said...

Wow... what fun to read. I was in tears when I read about the little boy in the wheelchair! Your writing really makes me feel as though I'm there. Looks like you've got your mom's gift for the written word as well.

What about the other student that was supposed to be with you? Is he there as well?

Keep the reports coming, and can't wait to see pictures too.

jkm said...

SHAKIRA???? Must be that your hips don't lie! BTW...You are totally amazing...I hope you know this. PLUS I am so happy you have come face to face with a roll of TP!

Chelsea said...

Tish! Your stories are amazing! I hope you are taking lots of pictures! I can't wait to hear your stories in person and I hope you have a great time!

Alex said...

I'm writing this from the office, which convenientally displays all the blogspot stuff in Japanese, but maybe it'll work...

Anyway, I love the Blog, and can't wait to see more pics. Also, the cell phone selling wheelchair sounds so cool. The perfect next addition!