Monday, May 25, 2009


The primary work of eMi is to help international ministries develop designs for their land so they can more effectively do their ministry. However, this is not what I have been doing out at Bukaleba. Usually eMi turns over a set of design documents and helps ministries with design questions while they build, but leaves the actual construction management to the ministry. My construction work with John is one of a few exceptions.

So what was I doing in Tanzania this past week? Well some previous construction interns mentioned that they would have really liked going on a project trip so they could experience the bread and butter of eMi. Megan asked me if that was something i was interested and at first i thought probably not. But as events unfolded, our trip leader came up short on Civil Engineering interns for the summer, and John was able to get another CM intern for the time i would be working on the project, so things just kind of fell into place. Let me just say that I am so incredibly glad that I got to go.

After a 15 hour drive over some of the worst roads i have ever experienced, we arrived at the Kamanga ferry, which takes vehicles and passengers across a small bay to Mwanza. Mwanza is a city of about 250,000. The second largest city in Tanzania, it is a major port on Lake Victoria. We checked into our hotel and the next day met with End Time Glory ministries. They recently acquired about 20 acres of lakeside property and want to put up an orphanage, among other things. The architects spent the week in meetings and preparing drawings and floor plans. The other engineers did soil and water tests on the site, while Ryan and I teamed up to do a survey of the site. Ryan is a really good surveyor and taught me how to work the machine, while he tromped through waist high grass with a rod to get the data he wanted. We did most of the survey from the top of "Glory Mountain" (what the ministry has decided to call it), a high rocky hill in the center of the site. After 3 days of carrying equipment up and down the hill, I had some other names in mind. We spend the last few days working on water and waste water designs and presenting our work to the ministry. Now that we have their approval of what we have done, we will spend the next month or so finishing designs and writing reports.

Tanzania gained independence from Great Britain in 1961. The national language is Swahili, and very proper Swahili at that. In a lot of ways completely different from what the Kenyans I have met speak. Not many people speak English but we made it around OK with a some translators from the ministry and my pocket phrasebook. Also, TZ seems more... under control... than Uganda. What I mean is that the streets are cleaner, the police seem more official, the City is better organized. That was just my impression after a week though, and only in a small corner of the country.

I am back in the office, new interns have just arrived for the summer, and I am excited to get into the work!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Longest Week

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything"

Last Sunday Pastor JB gave the message on that passage in James. The Lords timing could not have been better. Last week was one of the most difficult I have ever faced. Let me tell you about it.

John and I went out to the site on Monday with a generator and some drills. We were intent on setting trusses for the kitchen roof that day, maybe continuing on Tuesday. The first day, our inverter broke and we could not do any drilling. John went back to get a new inverter and brought it back on tuesday, then the Generator broke. John went back and returned it to the rental place, and we borrowed one from a local pastor. This one worked, but then we discovered our drill bits were not exactly what we needed. We had to rack our brains for creative solutions to so many problems that we had not anticipated. It was mentally exhausting. John and I both came close to losing our tempers a few times, I may or may not have let some swear words slip under my breath. To make a long story short, we finished setting trusses on Friday. Four days late. Four, twelve-hour days where nothing seemed to go right. On top of that I faced some of the most intense loneliness I have ever experienced.

The good part? Well, Jesus was still in control through all of it. The trusses got set, in his timing. Also, I kept remembering Pastor JB's message. It kept me from despair more than once. I was still tired and miserable, but I had hope. I understood why the Lord, who is in control of everything, was letting it be such a hard week. So now, on Saturday, I am able to count it all Joy that I faced trials of various kinds. I know why I was allowed to face them, because Jesus cares about me. He cares so much that he is going to do what it takes me make me mature and complete.

The Crew

Our smallest construction worker. Don't worry, we don't have child laborers on site. But when school is out a lot of kids come hang out on site until we make them leave (its a dangerous place). This guy likes to come out and try to help, and we have to chase him of the site sometimes so he does not hurt himself. Still, I catch him every now and again with a shovel trying to help mix mortar. He is a really cool kid.

The masons taught me how to dress stone. Here I am with the fruits of my labor. Took me about an hour to shape an 11 inch stone. Then the masons helped me set it in mortar and plumb it. Benson, one of our Kenyans, dresses up to 60 feet a day with nothing but chisels and a hammer.

This is God (the nickname here for Gordon). We have become pretty good friends. He does contract labor for us now and sometimes drives me up a wall. But we get along ok.

This is our crew on the site right now. Foreman, two masons, and three masons assistants. For digging and concrete work we hire out contract labor. I am getting better at negotiating contracts, but its not my forte. This was taken on April 21st, Texas Independence Day. I made everyone an honorary Aggie so we could have muster. The flag flew proudly over the site for a few hours, until i needed my handkerchief back.

And here I am with my crew.

The Buildings

There are a total of four buildings going up on the site. A kitchen/dining hall, babies home, and two nursery school buildings. Info on the project is at

Here are some pictures of the construction of the babies home, one of our 4 buildings. I came right after the slab was poured and now we are about to put the roof on. Exterior walls are dressed stone, interior walls are brick with plaster.

These 5 pictures are of the first nursery school building. John and I started the building layout a month and a half ago, and we are about to pour the slab. The Second nursery school building is nearby and at about the same stage of construction. The masonry will be a job for the next intern.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

My Summer Skin

So its been a few weeks. The internet in our Jinja office has been out. Also, I think my body is acclimating to the mefloquine, because I am not having the same vivid dreams as I was before.

Some things I have done in the past weeks:
- Travelled to Lake Bunyoni for Intern Retreat (really good experience)
- Repaired my chacos with binding wire
- Rafted the Nile River (class 5 rapids, pretty sweet)
- Poured a Concrete Ring Beam
- Poured a Concrete Strip Footing
- Eaten Italian Oatmeal (parmesan cheese and olive oil, delicious)
- Driven John's Land Rover off Road on the site. The thing is a beast. Dont worry mom and dad, I would never take it out on the road with other drivers. The roads are really crazy round here.

The rest of my time in Uganda has been planned out. On may 16th I will come to Kampala and from there we will go on a project trip to Tanzania. I will be there roughly 10 days. Then I will finish out the rest of my time in Kampala. So only about 5 more weeks of construction managment left. I need to make the most of it, I am getting attached to this project and I want to see it through as much as possible. That being said, project trips are the EMI staple, and this will be a great oppertunity to see what a project trip is like and do some engineering.

Last wednesday we had the emi office prayer day. It was really awesome, and we listened to a life changing message about prayer by John Piper. It is called "Put in the Fire for the Sake of Prayer" and I think you can find it online.

I have been working in Kampala since Wednesday, hard at work on the water system for the babies home. Its hard work, and its brain work. Managing is emotionally draining. Engineering desing is hard on the brain.

Jennifer (in Kampala) has Deathcab for Cutie on her Ipod, and I love it so much. Hence the title. Also my skin is very dark now from being in the sun all the time.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Silent Night, Holy Crap

Alec Burnter-Abt, my best friend from middle school, is treating me to dinner for my birthday. Only his parents are there, and his mom looks just like my grandmother. In the middle of the meal everyone starts quietly singing "Silent Night". Slowly the whole restaurant joins in, and we are all singing together. Our voices sound exactly like the kids from "Charlie Brown Christmas".

This week was long, and interesting. Here are the Highlights.

Monday - While riding with a cement truck out to the site, the lug nuts pop off of the front drivers side tire. Apparently our driver was trying to make it on 3 nuts. He knew he was trying to cheat the system though and was driving very slowly when it happened. So there wasnt any kind of accident. Thankfully we are in the middle of a village, so our driver hops onto a boda-boda (motorcylce taxi) and drives all the way back to Jinja to pick up more bolts. 3 hours later we are back on the road. A potentially frustrating experience but i did have a good time talking to the other transport guys and the village kids.

Tuesday - We start pouring a foundation for the nursery school. All concrete here is mixed by hand, and we were only 1/4 done by 5 PM. So We cut a deal with the laborers and worked until 2:30 AM, by moonlight and lamplight.

Wednesday - I killed a snake with a piece of reinforcing steel. Caught the sucker eating a toad. Like shooting fish in a barrel.

Thursday - Had a great talk with one of our carpenters about the Kingdom of God manifesting itself here on earth. One of the singularly most encouraging moments of my life.

Friday - we are supposed to be pouring a beam in the afternoon, but the carpenters are running behind on the formwork. So John decides we are going to stay and pour on Saturday. I am not happy but decide not to complain. The masons and carpenters were pretty upset. We were in the middle of a meeting discussing the terms and conditions of a weekend pour (and facing a potential mutiny) when we get a call from the head carpenter. He has decided to go home, and we can't pour without him. So we went home early after all. Turns out God is in control, not us, and the pour is moved to Monday.

Next week is a short week. Our intern weekend is next weekend. We are travelling to Lake Bunyoni. A popular resort/camping spot to re-connect as interns and discuss our first 1/3 of the time here.

I appreciate your prayers and emails so much. This past week was a homesick week. I miss family, friends, cold milk, and beer. But not to equal degrees.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Fightin' Texas Aggie Rosebushes

I am the 12th man on the field, playing for the Fightin' Texas Aggies. But there are only about 100 people in the stands and they are all wearing red. The student section is filled with large flowering shrubs. The red flowers are in full bloom and gardeners are tending them.

Last week was a lot of hard work. I helped dig a foundation for one of the nursery school buildings and the stone is almost up. I am feeling more comfortable in the culture, but I am still trying to learn my job. There was a moment when I imagined that there was a magic door that would take me back to the states, I asked myself if I would walk through it if such a door existed. The final verdict, it would be a decision I would regret. So maybe that means I am adjusting ok.

This weekend was pretty cool, apart from Lindsey being gone. Bobby is one of the Church of Christ missionaries here. I spent Saturday helping him work on his car. He is installing a vegetable oil conversion for his 1997 diesel suburban. Then Saturday night I read a really good Alistair MacLean novel, and went with bobby to his friends house to help them harvest from a bee-hive. Got stung once through my suit.

Book Recommendation: Pursuit of the Common Good. By Paul Newman and A.E. Hotchner. I wept.