Monday, July 13, 2009

Finishing Up Week Two

Wednesday we went to see the workshop of the contractor that Clarice uses. They did mostly woodwork, but had most of the necessary machines for building prototypes. Afterwards, we went to Maseno University, where Steve and I will be staying for a few days before we fly back to Nairobi. We met with one of the Deputy Vice Chancellors, Professor Agong. Interesting fact: Professor Agong wrote a thesis on Amaranth. He was very welcoming and friendly to both of us and we had a nice meeting. We arranged to be able to stay here Saturday to Wednesday and then we’ll come back with the whole group from July 27th to August 6th. I’m really looking forward to having internet on Monday so that I can actually upload all of these posts. Maseno is a nice area, and the guest house is right next to the highway, with a market across the street. I think staying here will be fun.

On the way home, we stopped by the farm of Laban. He has started a number of small business ventures. He is growing some Amaranth in his field, he has a Moringa tree, a tree nursery for mango trees and some other types, and he works with a women’s group to make high-efficiency cooking stoves. The stoves are piled up in his house because they can’t afford to build a storage place just yet. Laban is using the Moringa tree as food, to purify water, and as animal feed. His wife cooks the leaves, which are high in nutrients, and they are able to drink clean water, even though the tiny pond where they collect water from is completely brown. The mango trees that he grows are high in value because he plants discarded mango seeds and then grafts a branch from another type of mango tree onto the roots. The stoves were also pretty nice. He showed us the one that his wife was cooking on. They are made from ant hill dirt (ant hills are several feet around and several feet tall here) and sawdust. The finished stoves look as if they are made from brick and retain heat really well. Laban is definitely a go-getter and is waiting for some help so that he can jump-start his business. We also met all of his children, who wanted us to take their picture. Whenever there are white people around, kids come running just to see us up close.

Thursday we went to visit ATP to check out their fabrication equipment. ATP provides technical training to its students in the areas of Mechanical Engineering, Automotive Engineering, and Food and Beverage Services. Their workshop had some metal working equipment which could be useful for us, but some of the machines were not operational and many of their projects were larger in scale then ours. In the afternoon, we visited their woodshop in a different part of Kisumu, which had some good equipment as well and the combination of the two would provide all of the resources that we need. So far, all of the places we have visited have been pretty disorganized, which is hard to adjust to, but I think we have found places where we would be able to do our fabrication. The difference is that here, most people can’t afford tools the way people have home workshops in the U.S. so it’s difficult to find exactly what we are looking for.

Friday we went on a mini field trip to visit a molasses refinery plant. They make alcohol and yeast. The alcohol is an input to manufacturing of many different types of liquors, including vodka, rum, and gin. Then they also make baker’s yeast. Nelson, one of the engineers, took us on a tour of the whole facility, which has the best technology that I have seen so far. We walked all the way up to the top to see the different stages of processing to make the alcohol. It was basically a metal frame with a strong metal mesh floor, so it was a bit frightening, but it was a lot of fun. Nelson also took us through the yeast production area, the biogas digester (which was very smelly), and the wastewater treatment plant. All of the waste from the factory goes through several treatment ponds before being released into Lake Victoria. Mr. Agina, the technical director, also took us to see another one of his projects – a small dairy farm where he will be producing high-value milk. The coolest part of the day was that we got to meet Obama’s cousin! His name is Said Obama and he works at the molasses plant. He was friendly and told us about his trip to the U.S. for the inauguration. He hated the cold and said it was miserable to be there in January. I think he had only visited in summer before that – probably a good call.

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