09 January 2008

kuli mvula lelo

Back in Zambia again. Funny how I forgot it and how it all comes rushing back. The sound of my Zambian cellphone alarm going off instantly evokes the sensation of waking up early under a mosquito net, disoriented and groggy-eyed, and scrambling out of bed to get dressed, jump on a mini-bus and trundle off to meetings with UNZA deans.

We flew through Nairobi. I rolled my eyes when we had to fill in extra MIT travel paperwork months ago because Kenya was “moderately dangerous”…but now it seems kind of eerie that the riots started days before we flew through.

Lots of rain here. The plan was to take a group of students to remote Mwape in Eastern Zambia, but the rains are so bad that Mwape roads are impassable. So, we're joining the other team that's sticking around the Lusaka city area. Mixed feelings. I love Mwape, and they really need help, so I feel like we're abandoning them...

On the other hand, I get to frickin build a screenless hammermill at Disacare! There are few things more thrilling than puttering around Disacare, hacking metal apart, and dodging welding sparks. Plus, once it's built, a hammermill is loud, noisy, violent, and satisfying. Hahaha, not to mention it also saves lots of backbreaking labor for African women, could provide a reliable source of income for Disacare (they would build and sell them) and some income for Light of Hope (a community organization who can run the mill and grind maize for a small fee.)

Disacare builds wheelchairs. Rough, rugged, tough, comfortable wheelchairs, suited for rocky, rutted dirt roads. It's run by disabled Zambians so they really know what makes a good wheelchair because many of them have to use one. One day when I've settled down a little, I'm buying a couple for my apartment, because they're friggin comfortable. They're definitely my favorite chairs to sit in at D-Lab. It's a fantastic idea...provide awesome employment for physically disabled people in a country that's mostly unemployed, and make mobility aids for other physically disabled people, one circle of wholesome goodness...only problem is Disacare's being smothered by cheap, nasty wheelchairs that are imported from China.

In the developing world wheelchair business, the big customers are large NGOs who buy the wheelchairs to donate them to those who need them. And it's really hard to convince a donor to buy a $400 top quality wheelchair instead of six $60 plastic chairs on wheels that fall apart and cause pressure sores. Imagine a cheap, white plastic four legged chair, the type that can be found on many lawns and porches. Imagine sitting in one of those every day for the rest of your life. It would be okay for the first few hours, but then it would quickly turn into a torture chair. Too bad that also sounds like a good idea: make lots of affordable wheelchairs for the developing world and distribute them. Too bad affordable also means low quality in this case, torture chairs not built to last a week in rough dirt road conditions. But what really breaks my heart are the people who think they're really helping out when they contribute to organizations that distribute these torture chairs.

I read an article this summer about a boy who uses crutches to walk and he raised thousands of dollars by scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro...and donated the money to Free Wheelchair Mission, distributor of torture chairs. How frustrating is that? So, the original point is that Disacare needs to diversify their products if they want to stay alive. Thus, they're looking into building and selling hammermills. Amy Smith--my boss, the one who sends me on these magnificent adventures--designed a screenless hammermill years ago, so we're building one with Disacare to see if it's something they want to build and sell themselves. Hammermills are a big deal in Zambia, because everyone eats nshima, which is made from ground maize.

Haha…something else that seems like a good idea. I’m sure it will fall down soon enough, but hey, at least it’s slightly hopeful for the moment.

P.S. Before I left Santa Fe, I tried to spend a night walking. I managed 11pm-5am. Incredible. Felt like a kid again scrambling over the moonlit hills and crunching in the snow. Found some places I’d never been before.

…but the take home lesson is I need to cool it and not overdo things. I was so tired and fried afterwards that I didn’t walk any of the other nights thereafter.

1 comment:

piguy31415926 said...

Funny Story... in October, I decided that I really enjoyed walking places, so I decided to walk to Boston (from Natick). I then said, "If I'm going 18 miles, I might as well go 26." So the next day, I walked 26 miles. I figured it'd be a great time and I'd be able to think about a lot of stuff as I walked (which is what I usually do when walking).
It ended up being a great time, but I didn't really think about anything (on account of trying to force myself into thinking about stuff).