9. Another day, another Off Grid African adventure

This morning Jodie realised that the plug from the top of the engine block was missing (probably rattled loose last night) and so we couldn’t leave at 6am as planned because we needed to take the car to a garage and none of them open before 8am.
Jodie and I divided and conquered. I stayed with the car while the men firstly fixed the windscreen wiper stalk, and while I waited, I prepared 60 power banks for distribution. Then I drove the car over to another garage where a man could fashion a plug from a block of rubber. It’s not easy to get around without speaking Swahili, and sadly, I found that even situations that would have been fine without a shared language in other countries are made unnecessarily difficult by the Tanzanians. They make a big deal about me not speaking Swahili and it just allows them to get distracted and laugh at me and make jokes. So it’s unusually difficult to get by. Not impossible though, and I returned the car to collect Jodie and then we hit the road.A mechanic fixing the windscreen mechanism of a landrover

OffGridBox power banks being assembled We made a pitstop at the Busega district office to collect some more bulbs and cables to allow maximum use of time later in the day while something is inevitably delayed.

It’s really enjoyable to be out in the field, learning first hand about the project and being able to add some value by problem solving and just getting tasks done.
We collected Gaspar (one of Jodie’s really useful contacts in the area) from a village on the main road and then drove down a bone shaking track for about 20 kilometres to Busami Village. An OffGridBox has been installed but the box needs to be raised up on a concrete plinth to make sure it doesn’t flood in heavy rains. So we had to disassemble all of the panels and store them inside the box until a crane arrives from Mwanza to lift it. It was tough work in the sun but it was rewarding to be able to troubleshoot issues as they arose including using the Landrover as a ladder to get me above the panels to figure out why we couldn’t undo some of the bolts. I helped scope out the best location and design for the concrete plinth and then a local team got to work marking out and then pouring concrete.

The Landrover in position under the Solar Panel frame to act as a ladder

When we finished the disassembly we ran errands dropping different bits of equipment off in different places. Ownership is complicated because the funding comes from UNDP and there are different operators who have to coordinate to finish the project. This makes working in the humanitarian sector a real challenge, as it’s difficult to cut through bureaucracy and make solid plans.A new water tank and a frame for solar panels

Then we visited the site for Busami’s solar powered water pump. It’s much further away from the OffGridBox system and taps than ideal but it is what it is. We checked out the frame and it was alright to have the panels installed so we left one of the local helpers, Jose, in charge of a team of workers to fit the panels.
Then we drove to another village called Mwamigongwa to check the frame and solar panels that have been installed there. This village is even more remote with a worse track. I sat in the back, bundling lightbulb cables and securing lightbulbs for the whole journey, again to speed up the process in the village. The road is so rough that it’s the kind of journey that is exhausting for the driver and the passenger.
When we arrived, I sorted all of the cables for the power bank charging facility and plugged them in, securing them with cable ties and then plugged in all of the power banks that I had prepped earlier. I had an enormous crowd for the whole time and it meant that there was absolutely no fresh air getting to me, which was an interesting extra dimension.Me with a crowd of schoolchildren who were watching me work

Me with my helper stood in front of the OffGridBox and the powerbank charging cables

A small work party was assembling the final bundles of lights (each family gets a bundle of 3 lights and cables) but had run out of elastic bands and so work had ground to a halt. It was only when I found another box and suggested we could just make up single bulb-cable combos that work resumed. We finished pretty quickly (I joined in) and then one man counted out all of the units while a large crowd counted along. Then I helped Jodie remove a power and control unit from the water sanitation side of the Box. Then we were done, and there was another hour of waiting for various payment negotiations to be completed, before seemingly the longest journey of my life. We had to make significant detours to do various things on the way back, and they were all down terrible rough tracks. All made more difficult and frustrating by the fact that breakfast was around 7am and it’s now past 8:30pm and I’ve only managed to find a packet of biscuits to eat all day. But we made some real progress and set up ready for another big push tomorrow.

We waited at the junction with the main road for a truck with pipes for tomorrow’s job that had been sent at 2pm from Mwanza. It should have only been a 2 hour journey but it was 8:45pm when it finally arrived. We stopped at JN Lodge in Nyanshimo for a snack while we loaded and unloaded the truck.

At 10:30pm on the drive back, when we were alongside Serengeti national park, I spotted two wildebeest right by the side of the road!
I ate the spaghetti Bolognese that Aisha had prepared for me a few hours earlier, too hungry to even bother to microwave it, and then went straight to sleep ready for another early start. The tent is comfortable and the noise of the bugs is quite soothing.

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