25 March 2010

frustration (and inconvenience)

Wednesday, 6 January 2010, 6:10am
Mavuno Village, Tanzania

Again, no one else is up. I'm here drinking tea and writing by flashlight.

Yesterday was somewhat frustrating and inconvenient. Americans hate inconvenience - but I suspect the word inconvenient doesn't even exist in Kswahili. Several times I have passed a group of Tanzanians - probably one family - sitting under a tree making gravel. Literally. Using small hammers (not sledge hammers) to make little rocks out of big ones. Talk about inconvenient.

So I'll relabel yesterday as only frustrating. Both Helsbys and Tanners have solar hot water panels and hot water storage tanks on their roofs. Dave Helsby built his own and it works well. Dan Tanner had a local contractor build his and it was piped wrong so that water from the tank doesn't travel through the solar panel when it recirculates - - it just skips across the top manifold and back into the storage tank with only a brief opportunity to heat up. Eric ferreted this out. So yesterday, Eric, Jake Helsby (age 11) and I re-piped the line from the tank to the bottom of the panel so that recirculating cool water is heated as it should be. The frustrating part is that we seem to have an air bubble in the system and now no water comes out of the hot taps in the showers. The rest of the team (who are inconvenienced) insist that before they could take sort of warm showers before and now the showers are "cold". I have a couple ideas to try. . .

Dave Helsby is much better malaria-wise (perhaps because of his responsibilities, he can't afford to be sick long). Megan is improving also, but more slowly. She always seems to have a smile and a good attitude, however, especially for a 4 year old.

Last night the sky was quite clear and the stars were brilliant - - the moon was down until around midnight - - but this morning there is continuous thunder over the bay and it is quite cloudy. Everyone keeps saying how unusual the weather is; we're supposed to be in the short dry season (December - mid-February) when it "never rains". Helsbys have (4) 5000 liter tanks on a hill above their house. A couple weeks ago the tanks were about half full and then water collected from the tin roof over the tank farm filled the tanks (an added 10,000 liters) during one rainstorm. That was convenient - - without rain, Helsbys have to fill their tanks by pumping water from the lake 1/2 mile away. We actually filled Tanner's tanks (5,000 and 3,000 liters) yesterday to try to get enough pressure to clear our hot water air bubble. Tanner's tanks can only fill to about 6,000 liters because when he smaller tank is full, that's all the system will take. Eric's suggestion is to empty the 3,000 liter tank and then raise it so that the tops of the tanks are at the same level. By putting the smaller tank on about a 14" raised platform another 2,000 liters could be added to the system using the same components. Eric has lots of practical ideas.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Finally, yesterday I was able to clear the air pocket which kept the hot water at Tanner's from flowing. I think the problem was two fold: 1) there was a pocket of air at the top of the tank, and 2) the contractor who put in Tanner's DHW (domestic hot water) panel used a relief valve as an elbow at the hot water outlet (relief valves are designed to prevent water flow normally. . .). Eric re-piped this as well.

24 March 2010


Monday, 4 January 2010 6:30am
Mavuno Village

Dave and Megan (age 4) Helsby both came down with malaria Saturday night. Apparently they picked it up on Lake Tanganyeka on 18 Dec 09. Dave remembers seeing Anopheles mosquitoes there. They are being treated with Artiminesin - a Chinese drug which is pretty effective.

Both are miserable, going through intermittent periods of fevers then chills with shaking. It is easy to test for malaria with a kit called Parascreen - a rapid test that detects both falciparum (specifically) and the 3 other strains. Dave's test wasn't as positive as Meggy's - - hers was very hot for both.

Dan and Bethany and all their kids left yesterday morning for Nairobi. They are headed to the states for four months furlough after taking care of some business with their mission board and dropping Caitlin off at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya. We hope to see them in Denver; one of Dan's brothers works for Raytheon in Aurora, Colorado.

No one is up yet, but I can hear various animals and insects noisily going about life, and in the background the fishermen chanting as they pull in their nets. At night various parts of the nearby bay (Speke Gulf) look as though there were cities across the way - - but it is fishermen fishing (illegally) for daga with lights. Daga are a very small minnow-like fish. One reason it is illegal to fish in this area is that just off shore from Mavuno is a spawning area for tilapia. Dan says there are rock formations underwater where spawning fish gather - some of these rocks are only inches below the surface. Some fishermen build boats (really rafts) out of plastic bottles and styrofoam, etc. and wrap them in reeds and grasses. We have also seen a number of dhows in the bay.

McLaughlins, Eric, Elliot, R2 and I are staying at Tanner's since they left. Millers will move in here after we leave. Last night we ran the battery bank down to 11.9V (~40% state of charge) and I shut everything electrical off (the 110V and 230V inverters). We all went to bed with flashlights for reading at about 10:30pm. R2 talked to Allison on an international phone that Dave McL brought - - this was good because apparently Robin Woolums didn't get the email I sent from the Arusha airport, so everyone back home suspected that we fell off the edge of the earth ["Here be Dragons!"].

Sundays are rest days here - more or less - so yesterday evening we all got together for dinner, a time of prayer and singing, and then listened to an excellent talk by Kay Warren on the problem of orphans / abandoned children / HIV orphans around the world. Among other things she made a very memorable point using the Scripture in Mark 8:34:

"If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me."

- - the point was (and Jesus may have directed his audience's attention to someone going to his own execution) that taking up your cross implies going to your own death - - the last thing you do on earth.

We tend to think in terms of "this is what I'm doing now" or "my current interest / project is".

We tend not to think "I will do this until I die." Maybe I need to reconsider...

Welcome to Tanzania!

Sunday, 3 January 2010, 7:40am, 73*F
Mavuno Village, Tanzania

It's been a whirlwind trip so far: Denver to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Arusha (TZ).

We were hung up in customs (about 11pm, 30 December) on arrival in Arusha - - the customs officials couldn't "understand" why the Millers, a family of 6, would be bringing so many clothes, pillows, etc. into Tanzania to stay for 2 years. Millers actually had only 10 pieces of baggage. Ultimately, the customs people "valued" our goods "at least $1,000", applied a 25% "tax" and let us into Tanzania. In other words, the price of their "understanding" was $250 USD and 3 used soccer balls (which were being sent to the orphanage). Missionaries here say there is a lot of corruption and we were scalped. On the other hand, for a team of 13 maybe the loss was acceptable - - after all, we did arrive with all our stuff. We have already talked about doing this diffferently next time.

We spent a (short) night at Engedi, a retreat outside Arusha. Beautiful place (we saw Kilimanjaro by moonlight) - - seems like a lo-o-ong way off the main (paved) road, but it was actually only 4km. Paul Tanner, Dan Tanner's brother, lives at Engedi.

Early the next morning (31 December 2009) we took a short (1h 15m) flight from Arusha to Mwanza - - after paying overweight fees on our baggage. R2 and I were over by 30kg x $3/kg = $90 USD. Then they let us go for only $60. Keep in mind, this is in a country where Tanner's housekeeper is paid (fairly) $8 a week (Ts 10,000 = Tanzanian shillings).

Dave and Becky Helsby (and Kate, their youngest) picked us up at the airport in Mwanza. We loaded into two Land Cruisers and headed to Mavuno Village, about 30km from Mwanza. It was noon on New Years eve but with a time difference of +10 hours, it felt like 2am. Door-to-door we travelled about 33 hours.

Cast of characters:
Our team: Dave, Debi and Maddy Mclaughlin, Dave is an MD in Bozeman, Debi his wife and Maddy their granddaughter (13); Eric Lindeen, a software engineer from Bozeman; Elliot Heumier, a 4th year Bible student at Montana Bible College in Bozeman (he very much wants to go into missions); the Miller family: Josh & Amy and their 4 kids, Hannah, Naomi, Abby, and Zeke (ages 7 to 3) - - Josh is going to run the office / bookkeeping at Mavuno; R2 and me - - I'm here to do some solar-electric projects.

Our hosts: Helsby's - - our first contact with Mavuno, Dave and Becky have been in TZ about 4 years. Becky was an MK (missionary kid) born in Taiwan - - she lived there to age 18, Dave was an MK also - - they met at boarding school in China. They have 6 kids: Hannnah (13), Jake, Carter, Lauren, Megan, and Kate (18mos.).
Tanners: Dan and Bethany - - Dan was born in Mwanza and raised in TZ. He is a native Swahili speaker and the director of Mavuno Village. Dan met Bethany in Montana - - they moved to Kenya 18 years ago when Bethany was 8 months pregnant with their eldest, Caitlin. All of their biological kids were born in Kenya. They have 5 - - Caitlin, Denae, Lana, Levi and Reuben - - Reuben is an 18 month old TZ orphan they adopted.

28 December 2009


Hello - -

Some of you will remember my adventures in 2005 and 2006. My blog at that time was called "circle to circle" primarily because it involved activities south of the Antarctic Circle (66 1/2 degrees south) and north of the Arctic Circle (66 1/2 degrees north). So it was easy to come up with a name for this installment - the middle circle - because this time we are heading east about 10 time zones to the south end of Lake Victoria in Tanzania. The middle circle is the equator and we'll be working about 2 degrees south and 33 degrees east. If you picture the map of Africa as the face of a weeping woman, she faces east and her eye is Lake Victoria.

I say "we" because this trip I'm thrilled to be traveling with Rebecca (r2), my wife of 32 years and many other adventures. We leave for Tanzania tomorrow for a two week "scouting trip" (r2's description) to do some preliminary site analysis with the goal of helping develop and install a solar-electric system at a mission station. I hope to have opportunity to describe this project in some detail in future episodes, but for the moment I'd like to return to the concept of circles.

Life really does have an affinity for circles. If you drop a pebble into a pool of water, the waveform generated moves outward in ever widening circles. So it has been with this project. I first became aware of this project in April 2009, when my brother-in-law, Dave McLaughlin, MD, called to say that he wanted me to "design a photovoltaic system for an orphanage in Tanzania." But this project didn't really start in April - - it started at least 20 years before.

Dave has been involved in missionary medicine for decades. About 20 years ago, Dave took his family to Tenwick, a mission hospital in Bomet, Kenya for 3 months. At that time, the hospital could only afford to run their generator for 6 hours a day, so all surgeries, autoclaving, centrifuging, etc. - anything that needed electricity - was done during those 6 hours. Rounds were made at night by flashlight. Dave's next visit to Tenwick was 5 years later. In the interim, a construction contractor had visited and decided there was a better way to meet the needs there. This contractor dammed the river and put in a small hydroelectric plant, and the result was that Tenwick now had power 24/7! When I first heard about it, I thought, "Isn't it amazing what a difference one person can make." Ultimately, my decision to leave my prior career in medical research and pursue a career as an electrician has its genesis in this anecdote. My thoughts were to enter missions work as an electrician, probably "retiring" to this new role.

Jump ahead to April, 2009. When Dave told me about the orphanage project - it's called Mavuno Village - it took me about 2 months to really get on board. I was too "busy" to devote much time or thought to what a project like this would really require. But as time went on, I started getting excited about it - you see, after 8 years in the electrical trade I had forgotten why I went into the electrical business in the first place (to make a difference at places like Tenwick) - but Dave knew . . . and he kept me on the hook until I realized that the circle that started in Bomet was still affecting me 20 years later and 10,000 miles away.

Another amazing thing for me has been the realization that my part in this project is actually quite minor - that as I started to move in obedience in what I was designed for, God has been opening doors in many areas that have left me in awe. The pieces of this project are fitting together (in a circle?) in ways that could not be predicted. In future posts I hope to highlight the many God-incidences that have occurred. Please visit again.