Masons Without Borders

Today was a last push to wrap up any last loose ends for the biogas project, as Ed and Jim leave for Mpala tomorrow. While Erin and Connor started the day at BCDC, Ed and Jim met with Jonan the farm manager at SND. They filmed Jonan chopping down napier grass with a panga (machete) and then chopping it into short lengths that could be fed into a digester. He said he would trust a child as young as 8 years old to do this work without getting hurt because everyone in the villages grows up swinging a panga around as one of their main tools. They also took inventory of the school tool shed and then put some to use in digging a meter-deep test pit where the digester will go. Ugandans use a heavy "hoe" for both cultivation and digging. Ed gave the hole a good start but it was not ordinary to let a Mzungu (foreign white person) do manual labor, so another farm hand finished the job. There was a good 6" of rich loamy topsoil underlain by a firm red clay, and no sign of nearing any bedrock that would interfere with the excavation planned for our digester tank.

Now the masonry adventure began with the search for sand. Jim and Ed met with Father Godfrey to use a small amount from his stockpile for the construction of a future church. The Father decided to make a drive to get a fresh truckload instead, and stopped by at the clinic to take a meal to a teacher that had been admitted with a fever. Maneuvering around the burned wreckage of the tour bus in the road at Akasalaba, we caught sight of Erin and Connor about to head to Kibaale. They were getting aboard their favorite mode of transportation, the piki piki motorcycles driven by BCDC staff, and were planning to meet the district water engineer.

Father Godfrrey drove on until he found a sand pile by the road that was an advertisement to draw customers down a trail to an old river embankment. There, a few men had quarried a lode of sandy soil and sold us a small truckload for $4. Eventually, Father Godfrey got his truckload home and Ed and Jim got a sack of sand for the stove repair.

The drive was a good opportunity to talk to Father Godfrey about his interest in efficient wood cookstoves. He is a bit of a self-pronounced conservationist, and wants to set a good example for his followers. Villagers are generally growing more concerned with the decreasing amount of readily available firewood, and the Father sees potential relief in the use of efficient wood-burning stoves that he has heard about. EWB GCP favors the "Rocket Stove", which must be designed based on individualized cooking pot measurements. When they returned to the Father's house, Ed measured his kitchen pots and got info about cooking times, and will take that data back to other engineers in the chapter to complete the design. Father Godfrey is also interested in using a biogas system in the future.

The stove repair saga continued with preparing a few sticks of wood for the forms that would shape the mortar patch. This would have been easy with a saw, but was more complicated to do using a panga. Notching-one-side-of-a-board-and-then-breaking-it-over-an-edge got the job done even if the results were a bit ragged. Here Jim left to go with Erin and Connor to see the new school being built by BCDC in Kirkibicooli, and Ed remained to wash the sand. The "sand" contained lots of clay, silt, and organic bits that would greatly weaken the final mortar. Ed finished 3 rinses before calling it good enough. However, Rose, the head cook, who now understood why rinsing the sand was important, rinsed the sand 10 more times on her own. The result was virtually beach sand to use for the stove repair.

Everyone on the team re-convened at 4 pm for a school-wide performance in our honor in the dining hall. Students of several age groups performed native dancing, drumming, and a capella singing for our enjoyment. Their energy, enthusiasm, and talent were beyond the average U.S. chorus performances we've seen!

Finally, Jim and Ed could return to the stove repair. Rarely does the mixing of a batch of cement inspire such curiosity and gratitude! Children competed for the best view of the Bzungu (more than one foreign white person) doing some skilled labor in a kitchen already busy with kids cleaning dried beans and peeling dozens of bunches (full bunches, from the tree) of matoke bananas for dinner. Jim did a sterling job of placing the mortar patch around the wire mesh and troweling a nice finish. The reputation of our entire EWB chapter is now riding on the success of that patch, so it had better last through the summer!