Surprise! More Waiting! – Monday, August 26th, 2013

This morning we left for Okidi at 8, with the promise that Richard had worked on the base frames well into the night. When we arrived at Okidi, the door to the MFP housing structure was locked and Richard was nowhere in sight. After waiting more than an hour, we were finally let inside the house to find that Richard only completed the base frame for the huller. The huller fit onto the base frame although the shaft of the huller did not align properly with the shaft connected to the motor. While this would only present a minor problem, this would most likely lead to future problems with the belt. However, our concerns with this misalignment were not considered. Instead, Richard decided to move one of the bearings further from the motor to minimize vibrations of the shaft and thus make the shaft sturdier. However, this change also would force the community members to remove the bearing each time they change the belts. Not only will this be an inconvenience, but it took a lot of time to make this change, and essentially undid much of yesterday’s work. Once the measurements were made to move the bearing, the pulleys on the shaft were aligned with the motor and the pulley of the huller respectively. After the measurements were made for this alignment, Richard went to manufacture two keys in the shaft where the pulleys will sit. He rode away on his boda boda promising he would return in half an hour. That was the last we saw of him. Three hours later, Pilgrim and EWB made the decision to leave the site as nothing could be done without the shaft and there was no word from Richard. Shalni and Gabriella wanted to split from the group and go to Sugur to install those base frames as Richard promised those were ready. However, we have yet to see them and Richard would not give us a straight answer when we proposed this idea to him. Also, we still have not seen the base frame for the oil press in Okidi even though Richard claims that he made it. Since we want nothing more than to see Okidi operating, we will be extending our time in Soroti. If Richard completes the site tonight as promised, then we will return to Okidi tomorrow morning for testing. If not, we will be leaving Soroti very disappointed and frustrated.

On a happier note, Pilgrim is taking us out to dinner tonight at the Akello Hotel. After, we will finish packing our bag and watch the Lion King to get us pumped to visit Murchison Falls National Park. We will definitely keep you all updated!

Gabriella, Shalni, & Eric

Frustration, Frames, & Flour – Sunday, August 25th, 2013

Today we made an early departure in the hopes that everything at Okidi could be assembled and tested. Upon arrival at site we found ourselves in a familiar situation, waiting on Richard the contractor, or as the locals call him “Rich Man.” He did show up soon enough, and he brought a large generator as promised so that his power tools could be used to make the necessary modifications to the frame.

Apparently the miller and the huller that we commissioned to be fabricated in Kampala had been snatched up another buyer who paid in cash – the fabricator believing they could bang out a few extra machines before Richard showed up to pick up the machines. Unfortunately Richard had measured the dimensions of the old machines and the new machines were a little different, thus the base frame having to be modified on-site. So the frame modification took a couple hours.

Once the miller was positioned there was belt-fitting. There was some initial confusion as the measurement Julius and Richard had taken was in centimeters but the belt was purchased with specified dimension of inches, thus the belt was way too large. Some community members went back to get different belts, which took about an hour.

After belts were fitted, the crank was turned but loud metal-on-metal clashing sounded from the inside of the miller, so we took it apart to find most of the milling hammers were too long. This resulted in more hours of grinding work.

As the gasoline generator chugged away, many locals confused the engine sound for the sound of the changfa engine, and about 20 or 30 women showed up with big bags of cassava and maize to be milled. Though we were not ready to process any of the crops, everybody was very eager to wait for the miller to be finished to participate in the inaugural milling. After a few hours of work (and a couple of card games between the team and some locals) it was late in the afternoon, and we were ready to test the miller with cassava. Aside from small leaks in the machine where flour was escaping, the milling was a success. At this point it was 6pm and everybody from EWB and pilgrim headed back to Soroti while the community continued milling, and Richard continued to work on base frames.

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Eric, Gab, and Shal

More Waiting… – Saturday, August 24th, 2013

On Saturday, we woke up early to be ready to leave for the site at 8:30. As time went by, we anxiously waited for Angella’s call. At around 10:30 we were told that Richard still was not at Pilgrim, but as soon as he arrived we would leave for Okidi. We continued to wait, losing more hope of finishing Okidi as each hour passed/ Finally at 1:30, Angella came by the Golden Arc to tell us we were not going to Okidi at all/ Richard had finally arrived at Pilgrim with many excuses as to why he was so late. Angella told him to go home and rest since he apparently hadn’t slept his three nights in Kampala as he was “hard at work making the base frames.” We also learned that the reason Richard had to make the trip to Kampala himself (after saying he had arranged someone to deliver the machines) is because another NGO, World Vision, took the MFP parts that were fabricated for us. We asked Angella if she thought we would be able to finish Okidi in our last two days. She assured us that we would finish Okidi in 30 minutes to an hour, although we knew that would be impossible. We proceeded to ask if Richard had all the pulleys, base frames, shafts, and belts for the huller and mill and she guaranteed that he did. While we already knew this was highly unlikely, we did not question Angella and instead decided to swim off our frustrations in Calvin’s pool. After, we went to dinner at Soroti Hotel. Shalni, Eric, and Brian watched the Star Trek which ended up sparking a huge debate regarding time travel. We all went to bed far beyond anxious to visit Okidi the next day.

Gab, Shal, and Eric

Team Meeting…and Lake Kyoga – Friday, August 23rd, 2013

We were all up and ready by 9am to head back to completely finish off the installation at Okidi after another day of waiting on the contractor (Richard). However, we soon received a call from Pilgrim letting us know that Titus would come over around 10am for a Team Meeting. We all knew that was not a good sign…

Titus told us that, contrary to what we’d been told yesterday, Richard was gone to Kampala to pick up the remaining machines (huller and mill), and that there was nothing more we could do at the sites without them. Titus suggested that instead of banging our heads against the wall in frustration at Golden Ark, we should go hiking and for a bat ride to the islands in Lake Kyoga. We quickly changed and headed off to Bugondo.

When we got to the lake, the eccentric boatman was asking much too high a price, so we decided to forego the islands and instead hike the larger mountain on the mainland. Two ladies native to the village at which we parked guided us up the steep, rocky terrain to the top of the hill. It was a hot, sunny day so we had a nice clear view of the expansive Teso landscape. In the distance, we could even see the distinct silhouette of Soroti Rock, which looked so small from so far away.

After resting our muscles and enjoying the hilltop scenery, we headed back down the mountain, motivated by the thought of our water bottles waiting at the bottom. To the relief of some and the chagrin of others, it began to rain on our descent. It got progressively heavier, too, so by the time we were back at the car, we were thoroughly soaked and muddy.

A delicious meal prepared by Esther was waiting for us when we got back to Golden Ark. After overeating, showering, and wringing out our dripping clothes, we were hit hard by a food coma. Eric, Gabriella, and Shalni watched Blood Diamond and promptly went to sleep, hoping for a more productive day tomorrow.

Shalni, Eric, and Gabriella

Climbing the Rock! – Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Due to delays in fabricating the miller and the huller in Kampala, the contractor ended up traveling all the way to Kampala after getting some supplies in Mbale to get things back on the right track. Because of this, we had a day of rest. Brian went in to town to get a newspaper and a chai. Shalni and Gab did a little bit of shopping, and Eric read in the hotel before indulging in a “rolex” for lunch (fried eggs wrapped in chapati).

We soon got news that Titus had procured permits to climb Soroti Rock, the local geological attraction (a big granite rock). Not only did we get a permit for the municipal council, but we also had to get permission from the local police.

Finally David drove Titus and the four of us to the Rock, and we proceeded up the steep rock stairway. The going was steep, but Soroti Rock is only about 100 or 150 meters tall so it was not a long hike. Everybody was surprised to find a plethora of goats bleating and eating weeds at the top — perhaps they have found temporary refuge from ending up on a dinner plate.

The view was quite impressive from the top of the Rock. It was very apparent how flat the surrounding landscape is. Soroti stretches away in mostly every direction, and we could see to Lake Kyoga to the West, and to other points of interest such as swamps and small hills. It was particularly interesting how all the sounds from Soroti could be heard: people smashing big rocks into gravel, music from the bars, the hustle and bustle of town, cars and motorcycles speeding along – it was almost like the vantage point you would get from playing Sim City.

We took lots of photos, climbed a ladder to the top of a rock (Brian too, though reluctantly due to his fear of ladders), and Titus even convinced the army guy at top to let us go all the way to the highest point, which is an army outpost.

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We were fortunate to have fair weather – though not sunny, not rainy either – the breeze was even quite refreshing. While we were at the top of the Rock we even spied half a dozen or more monkeys. How exciting!

After about an hour or so at the top, we all climbed down and David and Titus dropped us off in town. We discovered the food market, Eric bought a pair of shoes for $5, and then we settled down at Landmark for an early dinner. After dinner everybody was quite tired and went to sleep rather early.

With love,
The Soroti Rock-stars

Testing Engines and Our Patience – Monday, August 19th to Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

After a busy weekend pouring concrete and exploring Sipi falls, we had a much needed day off on Monday as the top coat of concrete at Okidi and Sugur set.

On Tuesday, we attempted to get back to work and install the base frame at Okidi. We were on the road by 10am, but en route we stopped at Richard’s workshop to pick up the base frame, only to find that the power was out in Serere so Richard could not finish the welding.  Since we had no idea when the power would return, Richard, Silas, Shalni, and some others headed back to the Soroti district to finish off the frame. A couple hours of cutting, welding, and re-measuring later, the generator at the workshop stopped working and we had to get more engine oil. Once it was back up and running, the welding and filling continued as the elevated base for the engine was made. While waiting around at the workshop, Shalni was given a hearty meal of traditional posho and beef stew prepared by the wives of the workers. They were delighted to hear Shalni praise them in their native tongue: “ipoiti noi!” (the Ateso version of compliments to the chef). With the frame complete and stomachs nourished, Shalni, Silas, and Richard headed back to Okidi again.

While Gabriella, Brian, Eric, and David waited for the gang to return with the base frame, they talked to David and Julius about the recent history of Uganda. David and Julius both shared their experiences of living through, and fighting in, the insurgency ten years ago. Julius went on to explain some of the issues still plaguing Uganda today. With this newfound insight into the struggles of the citizens of Uganda, Brian, Eric, and Gabriella were even more excited to continue working- which made waiting for the base frame all the more frustrating.

After five hours of waiting in Okidi, the frustration only grew when the others returned with the framework. Upon setting the frame onto the concrete base, we discovered that the screws did not align with the holes in the bars. The team was quite agitated despite having seen this coming; we had pointed out that the screws were misaligned when they were placed in the wet concrete, though we were waved off and told that it didn’t really matter since the bars were going to be simple I-beams anyway. While cutting the frame to adjust the fit, the generator that Richard had brought failed, and we were unable to drill the holes. There was talk of borrowing a generator from a neighbouring community, but the chairman and other Okidi members were opposed to this idea (because of apparent politics between the communities).

We got the engine oiled and fuelled, and were happy to see that it started perfectly! However, when we went to mount it on the base frame, we noticed that the engine stand was, in fact, made of plastic that had been painted to look like metal. According to Julius, that stand wouldn’t last three days under the engine. Richard said that he would make a new stand of iron back at his workshop, so we left Okidi around 6:30pm feeling discouraged and frustrated that the whole day was spent running against a brick wall.

On Wednesday, we were all very eager to start working after a full day of waiting for the completion of the base frame. After breakfast, we were picked up by David and brought to the Pilgrim office where we were able to access some much needed internet. After half an hour of checking e-mails and downloading more e-books to read, we headed off the Okidi to mount the base frame and install the available parts- the engine, the rice polisher, and the oil press. However, we learned that Richard did not yet have shafts and was on his way to Mbale to purchase them. While we waited for Richard to return with the shafts, we mounted the base frame on the concrete foundation and used washers to rectify the misalignments of the base frame. Richard had already made the new iron stand for the engine so we were able to proceed with the installation of the engine. We mounted the engine and its new stand to the base frame and got it started. While it ran well, Brian noticed that the water indicator was low and that there was steam coming out of the engine. We urged Julius and the community members to turn off the engine to prevent overheating and damage to the new machine. While we waited for a community member to bring water, we installed the rice polisher to the base frame and attached the belts between the engine and the rice polisher. We saw that the pulleys of the rice polisher and engine were not aligned and the belts had a lot of slack. Julius assured us that the rice polisher would be realigned after testing, so when a child arrived with the water we started the engine again to test the rice polisher. IT WORKED! WONDERFULLY! We were happy to see that, unlike the big ol’ Listers, the vibration was not a problem with the Chang-fa engine.  The rice polisher, however, vibrated significantly, so we definitely will need to install a layer of rubber or softwood between the concrete and the frame to dampen the vibrations. Fortunately, we were able to test the polisher with unhulled rice, and the product came out beautifully. When the other components are installed and the rice can be hulled before being polished, the quality of the product will be even better. Seeing the first tangible result of our MFP instilled a sense of pride in our team, which was only strengthened by the smiles and excitement on the faces of the Okidi community.

Despite the agitation and restlessness of the last few days, we left Okidi on Wednesday evening in higher spirits than the previous day. If we’ve learned anything this week, it would be that good things really do come to those who wait…and wait…and wait.

Shalni, Gabriella, and Eric

Sipi Falls – Sunday, August 18th, 2013

On our one day of rest after a long week of hard work, we rewarded ourselves with a trip to Sipi Falls. We left around 10am with Silas driving, Brian in the front, and Eric, Shalni, and Gabriella in the back. The stretch of road just south of Soroti was very rough. After way too much bouncing, we made it to smooth roads between Kumi and Mbale. Once we got to Mbale, the road to Sipi was actually very smooth and fast.

We arrived at the Sipi tour office about 1:30. We hired our guide who squished into the car with us, while his assistant rode in the back of the truck with our bamboo walking sticks. We drove to the first set of falls, parking in a small community before beginning our short hike. As we got out of the car it started to rain, and we soon found the trails quite slippery. Shalni and Gabriella found the trails particularly slippery in their TOMS shoes, and any semblance of cleanliness was soon lost for the whole team. The amazing mountain jungle scenery helped was worth it, and when we made it to the first set of falls I think everybody was quite impressed. The water cascaded down and crashed into the rocks in front of where we had hiked to, jettisoning spray into all of our faces and cameras (fortunately Shalni’s came back to life after an initial scare).

As we began to hike back to the car, the rain ceased and the clouds parted for the bright mountain sun, making the coffee and banana farms look even more impressive amongst the cliffs and waterfalls.

The second set of waterfalls may have been even more impressive than the first. Indeed the hike was shorter, and perhaps a little less muddy, thanks to the shining sun. The falls were particularly cool in that we hiked to a neat recess in the rocks right behind the twin falls, making for an incredible vista. Shalni even braved the raging falls and hiked with our assistant guide near the base of the falls to get some good views and to really explore what it means to be soaking wet (sadly, this did not bode well for the phone or camera in her backpack).

On our way to the third falls we stopped for a brief detour to a cave, but could not explore too far as nobody had a flashlight.

The third fall is the largest and what most people think of when you say “Sipi Falls” There are a number of authentic hotels at the top of the cliffs overlooking the falls. Though as it was getting late in the day, Silas suggested we forego the 3km hike to the base of the falls and just take some pictures from the cliff top. We took many photos and admired the falls, before loading up in the truck and heading back home. The road was especially rough, perhaps due to the hard rain during the day, and around 7:30, once it was completely dark outside, everybody was home safe.

-EGS