Thursday, June 30, 2011

A "fair" price.

Haggling may be the national pastime of Nigeria. Everyone is expected to argue over a price, be it for a basket of eggs or a shipment of sand. Even industrialized retail items, e.g. a bottle of Coca-Cola, has a variable price. We take for granted that a can of Coke will always cost a certain amount, regardless where we go. This does not hold true for Nigeria.

The price can vary even with the same vendor, either from day to day or person to person. There is a woman near the estate that runs a small business selling edible sundries to construction workers at the site. We (the interns) will often visit the store for a tasty afternoon snack of digestive cookies, which are most accurately described as “wheatmeal coasters.” For one guy, they cost him 30 Naira. For everyone else, she only charges 20 Naira. Why? In this case, she took him to be a silly foreigner that would be willing to pay any price she named. Figured she could pull a quick one and make boost her margin by 50%.

But Nigeria is not a country of swindlers – as the email scams would lead us to believe. I asked DK, one of the staff, why haggling is so commonplace. Don’t people grow tired of arguing over a price? Can they not see the convenience of having a set price for goods? His answer offered an insight to the nuances of Nigerian culture.

A Nigerian seller will price items based upon the perceived purchasing power of the buyer. If I walked up to a vendor wearing a freshly pressed suit, that person would name me a higher price than for a local whom they know to be struggling through a rough economic patch. Some probably do it to squeeze as much money as possible from a buyer. For most, however, it’s about paying what you can afford. A well-off businessman can afford to pay 200 Naira extra (~$1.30) for a sandwich, so it’s only fair that he do so. That extra cash goes straight into the pocket of some small time entrepreneur trying to scrape together enough money for next week’s rent. Think of it as a culturally embedded form of socialism – one that redistributes wealth over time. (In reality, of course, this method does nothing to flatten the wealth disparity, but it’s a respectable intention.)

It’s similar to the “pay what you can afford” scheme, except in reverse: they decide what you should be able to afford. And far from it being an informed decision based on your actual present economic status, it’s a snap judgment. A keen observer can actually notice the half-second it takes a vendor to name a price, when they gauge how much they think they can charge you. It’s an instant calculus that they perform repeatedly throughout the day.

And thus, haggling is born. The vendor names a price, and immediately the buyer gets offended. They exclaim about the outrageousness of the price. Some will talk about they are financially strapped right now because crops didn’t perform well, car broke down, wife just had a child, whatever. The vendor will counter with a similar story of economic woe. This goes back and forth for a while. The buyer will often walk off in a display of not really needing the item of interest, returning in 20 minutes to give the vendor a second chance to adjust their price. When it’s all said and done, one can easily spend 45 minutes in back-and-forth over a gallon of diesel fuel, debating a difference of maybe $5.

As DK put it, “When I’ve nothing better to do – it’s a blast. But when I’m on a day of errands and have a lot of others tasks to complete, it’s annoying as hell. I just want them to let me pay the normal price.”

It reveals a fundamental assumption of most developed capitalist markets – that an item has a set price. We take for granted that an item should be priced based on manufacturing and delivery costs, plus some markup for profit. Social elements of a person’s financial stability are rarely factored into naming a price, and certainly not for selling a dozen eggs. And for good reason: haggling no doubt slows down economic activity by prompting all of these social arguments, introducing uncertainty into budgeted expenses, and adding complexity to business relations.

I must admit, however, there is a certain sense to it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


It pays off.

As I mentioned, I have a hard time accepting that I can't fix a problem. So I kept searching. A few promising help articles indicated improper grounding as the source of the trackpad behavior. After using someone else's (newer) charger, the problem went away.

Poof. Gone.

Crazy. What a day. My hopes are still hedged by the fear of a future relapse, but so far the outlook is promising.

Technologic Tourette's

My computer is on the fritz. It's almost like an evil spirit took up resident in the laptop. The trackpad/mouse cursor now jumps around erratically, even when I'm not touching it. It leaps about the screen, jitters up and down, and clicks incessantly. Using the trackpad is now virtually useless. Even an external mouse only helps for a brief time: eventually, it returns to rapid-fire clicking. I can't navigate the cursor across the screen without accidentally opening five windows, six websites, and two programs.

Troubleshooting on the internet has produced mixed news. The good news: this behavior has happened before. The sensitivity of the trackpad for Mac is both a blessing and a curse. Do something to alter the capacitance (e.g. sweating, humidity, etc.) and you can expect to see bizarre results. It may also be caused by the battery. Numerous people have reported a “bloated battery” as the root of the problem, pressing against the underside of the trackpad to generate a flood of signals that confuses the OS. In other words, it *should* be fixable.

The bad news: it's likely a hardware problem, which means it needs to be inspected by a team of Mac experts in their underground lair. Last I checked, there are no Mac stores in the immediate vicinity of Anam state. Translation: my laptop is more or less disabled for the remainder of the internship.

Such incapacitation is problematic for two reasons: one work related and one non-work related. For work, they technically have desktop computers that are available for use. However, none of them have internet connection, which doesn't fit well with my need for online research re: sustainable design. Additionally, the computers do not have all my existing research and supporting documents. These files can be migrated easily enough (assuming I can tame the trackpad enough to pull off the operation), but it is frustrating and time-consuming.

For non-work, I brought my computer to do DJ prep-work for ECBF. This is my biggest break as a professional DJ, where I will be spinning alongside heavy-hitters Steven, Tina, Jonathan, and Julie. Right now, I feel woefully unprepared for the event. My music library needs a thorough review and categorization. Hopes to acquire new music were already dashed by the abysmally slow internet connection, but at least (I thought) I could work with my existing store of music and gain a better handle on it. Guess that's out the window now, too. My decision to bring my laptop on this trip was almost entirely motivated by the desire to continue preparing for ECBF, so this development is particularly upsetting.

Those are the logical reasons for being frustrated over this hardware malfunction. There is also the emotional component of witnessing the onset of computer Tourette's in a $2,250 piece of equipment that you love and rely upon for a tremendous range of functions. It's hard to not feel overwhelmed. It's even harder to accept that I can't do anything to fix the problem for the next three months.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Food for thought.

The first day where I thought, “What a healthful and filling day of food!” I’ll copy the description I gave to Lauren, because I’m just that lazy:

Salad for lunch with all manner of toppings, including carrots, cucumber, cabbage, and even some balsamic and olive oil. Side of fried plantains. Wow! The vegetables were washed with well water, which should be sufficiently clean. Here's to hoping. Dinner was likewise wonderful: groundnut soup with rice and beef. This meal was generously prepared by Nuzrath, one of the interns. Evidently it's quite popular in Ghana, where she's from.

The evening was occupied with reading A Mercy, by Toni Morrison. I devoured its pages over a mere two days. I wouldn’t describe the story as “gripping,” yet I was powerless to do anything but read on. I believe it was her lyrical, poetic prose. She has such a captivating style of writing. No word is unnecessary. Her conciseness frames an articulate perspective of human nature and relationships. A moving portrayal of slavery in colonial America, one that moves beyond the hardships faced by Africans typically covered by other authors and wades into the murky terrain of the ties formed among slaves and masters, men and women, mothers and daughters.


There are certain fundamental issues facing the Anam City project. Foremost on my mind: greenfield development. The indigenous people face many problems and lately I’ve wondered at the decision to make something new rather than fix what is existing. It is certainly easier – in some regards – to start fresh than tackle societal problems developed over many decades. Still, a sight from our field trip on Saturday sticks in my mind.

On our walk to a neighboring village, we came across an abandoned hospital that appeared to constructed within the last decade. Given the lack of adequate healthcare in the Anam state, the sight of the well-constructed hospital came as a jolting surprise. It was technically open, in that the doctors who ostensibly worked there were being paid, but the entire facility was overgrown with weeds. Not a soul was to be found. Mold was growing in IV bags. The facility was (relatively) well stocked, save for the lack of people. Hospitals are decidedly creepy when vacated of human life. Convalescent wards became an eerie sight with its empty beds shrouded in plastic bags.

Taken out of context, I was struck by its suitability as a cinematic depiction of the beginning of the zombie outbreak. Taken it context, it was a depressing reminder that good intentions and money are not enough to solve the complex problems in Africa. The full story behind its abandonment is not understood, but the impression is that a lack of advertising and poor management was at the root.

Is that what we are creating? A shiny new city that will become a ghost town? Countless stories told in the overgrown sections of road and dilapidated houses…

I don't believe so. Regardless, the hospital gave us all pause for thought. Food for thought.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Road design, and a happy birthday.

Today marked the end of a week as well as Dr. Julia’s 30th birthday. Naturally, there was cause for much celebration.

Stacy, one of the staff (and an urban planner), baked a cake for her. Apparently the two of them go all the way back to high school, so this act of love was not a total surprise. What was surprising is that she actually succeeded in making a fantastic baked confection. The cake, which was so delicious that I’d want to have it even in the comforts of the modern world, was a gluten-free concoction with chocolate mix, egg-white ganache (?), coconut, and a hint of ginger. (I’m probably missing a lot of other ingredients.) So freaking good. And she made it in an improvised Dutch oven. Kudos to Stacy for being a creative baker.

We intended to have a dance party tonight, but that fizzled when everyone crashed after the sugar high. Oh well. Probably another night, then. Between the cake, a beer, and an absolutely pitiful dinner, there was just not the right mix of nutrition for sustained energy tonight. Plus, we have to leave by 8am tomorrow for another site visit. I think these trips are great and all, but it sure would be great to sleep in now and then.

Over the last two nights, I’ve been able to call home. (Whoo!) A conversation with Lauren made me realize that I have not accurately described my work here. When you spend 8-10 hrs a day thinking about a task, it’s easy to focus on other subjects when journaling. They seem more interesting.

I’m essentially the engineer for much of the city’s infrastructure systems: transportation, stormwater management, and energy. They have a general vision for how the components work in Anam City, e.g. they want a walkable city, use neighborhood-scale utilities running on renewable energy, etc. What I do is come in with a critical eye, listen to what they want to accomplish, and explain how to make it a reality. I’m more than a designer – I’m an engineer. They give me a problem, I find a solution. And I get to information my solution with environmental, social, and economic inputs. Brilliant.

As a recent example, this week I’ve focused mostly on roadway design. Anam is subject to regular flooding, thanks to low terrain and two rainy seasons. The city will need a reliable road system to convey goods, materials, and passenger cars (ideally transit) that can somehow withstand the onslaught of 1.5m of rainfall each year. The question, then: how do we provide all-weather access without paving everything in concrete? In drier climates, it would be easy to just spec out an earthen road. In Anam, between the heavy rains and clayey soil, the roads must be carefully designed to improve service quality and lifespan. A simple gravel road would not withstand such flooding, quickly developing ruts, potholes, and washboards.

Here’s a quick technical lesson in roadway design. In its simplest form, a road is earth that is shaped (cambered) to drain away rainwater. The drains reduce erosion from rain. However, sometimes the soil is not strong enough – particularly when wet – to support the immense weight of trucks. So the next step is to provide a strong base of a certain rock and soil composition to support the weight. For areas with heavy rain, sometimes good drainage is not enough; the surface material (gravel, rocks, etc.) washes away or water seeps through the surface and erodes away the base. In these cases, the road surface is sealed – e.g. covered with asphalt chips or concrete – to make it impervious to water.

My goal, then, was to find a rural road surface that is impervious yet does not involve immense amounts of concrete or asphalt, both of which are energy-intensive roadway materials. After a thorough review of available literature, I compiled a list of options. Not all of them would be suitable, but I included them for the sake of comparison when evaluating the options. After presenting my findings to the staff, I will focus my investigation on the following types: earthen, gravel, stone, dressed stone, and fired clay brick.

The last option is particularly promising. Clay bricks are made of clay soil compressed into the shape of a brick and fired to improve strength. It is a promising solution for Anam because the area has an abundant supply of clay. Most paving solutions require coarse aggregate (rocks) or stone, which would need to be imported. Certainly within the realm of possibility, but it is far more exciting to create our infrastructure out of nearby materials – leveraging the available natural resources and stimulating local economy. They are building a brick factory, after all. (The bricks will be used for other purposes as well, including house construction material.)

When I put this all out in writing, it seems less exciting. Of course we should explore ultra-durable, low-tech, labor-intensive options like brick or stone road construction. But there’s no manual out there to say that. I had to learn about all the different road types, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, consider the factors for a sensible design such as available materials and environmental conditions, and then make a recommendation. That’s… what an engineer does. Maybe I’m just making up the distinction in my head, but I’ve begun to see a separation between an engineer and a designer. While a designer provides the technical design for something, an engineer figures out what that something should be in the first place and then provides the technical specifications.

For the first time in my life, I’m working as an engineer. And it’s as a sustainable development engineer. Booyah.

Also, now I know the finer points of rural road construction. When the apocalypse happens, I can help construct new infrastructure for future ultra-sustainable societies.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sleepless, but not biteless.

2:12 AM

The mosquitos are fucking overwhelming. They kind of make you hate the world. And life. I have at least 20 bites scattered about my body. They come in the evening, when you think you're safe inside among screen doors. HAH! They can pass through walls if they want. Even with the bug repellant, they attack relentlessly.

Jesus, I think I just saw one in my mosquito net. My Fortress of Solitude has been infiltrated. My net, with the Insect Guard seal from REI, that has every inch tucked under my bed, has somehow permitted a vector's entry. No doubt it snuck inside while I was entering as well. Grr.

Now I have another factor to diminish my likelihood of sleep. My list now includes:
1. The mosquito bites all over my body,
2. The heat, which becomes unbearable around 5am after the power (and thus, the fans) have been off for about an hour,
3. The too-small foam cot that rests on hardwood floor, confining my personal space (because the net must be tucked under the bed), and
4. The net, which flutters in the fan breeze and tickles my skin in a fashion reminiscent of a certain hated enemy (read #1), and
5. The snoring of one of my roommates.

Beautiful. I could take a Benedryl, but I worry about going through them too fast or relying upon them before I really need them. The hydrocortisone cream helps, but it's not as effective when your whole body itches.

Son of a bitch, there's definitely one in my net. I just discovered a new bite. ARGH.

I heard about this story regarding a new technology to massacre mosquitos. It's somehow comforting to know that brilliant minds are hard at work on the mosquito problem. Even better, that they found a solution that involves actively targeting and frying mosquitos. With a laser.

Give me one.


P.S. Worst of all, most of them are really small. You don't get the satisfying crush of insect body like in the US with your standard mosquito. Also, much harder to detect. It's 2:50 AM and I've almost killed the one in my net. It keeps eluding me. I have made visual confirmation that it's there, so at least I'm not going crazy.

P.P.S. If you missed it, go back to Saturday to read my post on Iyora village. It has cool pictures.

[CORRECTION: It was not a mosquito in my net, but rather a sandfly. That explains why they're smaller, can potentially pass through screens, and their bites itch more persistently.

Monday, June 20, 2011


As would be expected, I was not on top of my game today. That’s okay – the energy level for most people was pretty low.

Trying to set up Skype to chat with Lauren. So far, no good. It’s total crap that the internet is so slow as to not support text chatting. Hell, I could do that even back in the day on “56k” dial-up.

Started week 2 of Insanity. It was a tough one. A repeat of the toughest routine we’ve faced so far, the Insanity was only compounded by my fasting the previous day. Even so, I did feel stronger (in some respects) than when I did it last week. I was taking ample breaks by the end to keep it together.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sick day.

Really, really sick day.

The worst bout of food poisoning in my life incapacitated me on Sunday. I have never vomited so hard.

Got to hand it to the efficiency of the body: it sure knows how to purge fast. I could feel my body working overtime to expel every last bit of whatever it was that triggered red flags in my stomach. I couldn’t keep water down for more than an hour. I passed in and out of an exhausted state, alternating between vomiting, groaning, staring at the wall, and sleeping. Time had little meaning.

As a slight consolation, all of the guys (three of us) were struck by the food poisoning. Our room turned into a convalescent ward, a zone for groaning, cursing, and bathroom noises.

It really sucks to be sick away from home. When the body is reduced to such a weakened state, the psyche immediately seeks the familiar, the comfortable, the safe. I was more keenly aware of the fact that I’m in Africa yesterday than ever. All I wanted was for my mom to fuss over me and pat my head.

Fortunately for us, one of the interns is a naturopathic doctor (Dr. Julia). She was amazing today. You can tell when people have the caregiver gene, and she’s got it. She would come up occasionally to check on us. Even though we rarely needed anything, the act was comforting in itself.

By the evening, the worst had passed. I was enervated and my muscles sore from lying on a floor cot all day. Drank a coke, which had the dual benefit of carbonation and sugar. Later that night, I downed a cocktail of jam, salt, and warm water to replenish my electrolytes. A well-timed Benedryl helped me through the bulk of the night, keeping my asleep despite my dozing throughout the day.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Iyora Village.

Today we went on a site visit to Iyora Village, about two miles away from us. The purpose of these excursions is to gain insight into traditional rural African life.

Iyora is decidedly more organized and structured than some villages. It incorporates principles that were only re-discovered by urban planners in the 1970s. Ages-old concepts of village squares, public spaces, and shared private space are brilliantly woven into the layout of Iyora. Cars are forbidden, which means the main street is partly a greenspace, area for public gathering, and marketplace.

Like much of Anam, Iyora is predominately an agricultural town. Most of the buildings were large residences holding 2-3 families (each family averaging 8 people in size). Many had nearby “urban” gardens that contained a mixture of yam, cassava, corn, pineapple, and pepper, among other plants that I couldn’t identify. They certainly have polyculture farming (the practice of planting multiple species in one area in a complementary fashion) down pat.

Also note in the picture below the three typical levels of house quality.

We caused quite the stir. Waves of children followed us around constantly, joined by the occasional curious chaperone. They are equally shy and relentlessly outgoing. When you pull out a camera, they crowd together and jostle for an opportunity to have their photo taken. It was actually quite difficult to get good pictures of single children or buildings because of this behavior. A few turned out quite well. Here’s my favorite:

Darling, aren’t they?

We received warm welcomes from several figureheads of the community. First, a group of women (presumably affiliated with the church) that performed a rousing song with makeshift percussion instruments and lots of clapping. One woman worked in some great dancing. I wanted to join in – there was sufficient energy in the crowd to make it spread – but it was hard to tell if it was a performance or a general public event.

Second, speaking with the elders. Our translator and general handyman, Bob, conveyed their welcome (“we greet you with both hands”) and in turn spoke on our behalf of our gratitude for their hospitality.

Third, an elite of the village (who also gave us a tour of the town), who is a contractor, I believe. His house was still under construction, but he welcomed us inside at the end of our excursion. We took an afternoon break from the heat in an upstairs entertaining room filled with chairs. None of this is particularly noteworthy, except for the following: he offered us Coca-Cola beverages. (Bum bum BUMMM!)

As some of you know, I swore off Coca-Cola about two years ago upon realizing their despicable track record re: corporate responsibility. (For starters, look up their entry on Wikipedia some time.) As an added benefit to not offering patronage to corrupt organizations, I also cut out a significant source of sugar intake and other miscellaneous chemicals.

Of course, offering a crate of Coca-Cola beverages is a rather large gesture in rural Nigeria. I was not about to offend him by declining. I must say: while I have kicked any desire for Coca-Cola in the states (where other tastier, natural, and more socially responsible colas are available), the biting, sweet taste of a coke on a thirsty and humid African afternoon was damn good.

(As you will read later, I drank another couple the following day as my only source of liquid sugar and carbonation to help with my convalescence from food poisoning. Guess I’m putting the cola kaibosh on hiatus.)

A curious aspect is the huge age gap between young and old. There is an abundance of children (many care for one another), and elderly people, but hardly any middle-aged (i.e. 30ish) individuals. I saw maybe seven people who were middle-aged, while I came across probably 120+ children and 15+ elders.

We did not figure out the cause of this phenomenon, but our best guess is they have moved to the city for more job opportunities. After all, Iyora is only an agricultural town; save for a few sundries shops, the only occupations are raising crops and caring for children. And due to the lack of adults, the latter job usually falls to the children. This boy is carrying the baby on his back.

The age gap raises some key challenges with sustainability. We were delighted with Iyora village as a hopeful example of “living off the land” in “vibrant communities” for “sustained prosperity.” All the usual buzz phrases of the sustainability movement. Meanwhile, villagers with the means get the hell out of Dodge, likely seeking the bustle, employment potential, and stimulus of urban life. Iyora is a quaint place, certainly not engaging enough for the anxious teenager or aspiring young adult. It’s not exactly a paradigm of a perfect life – while the community does sustain itself, there is no clinic (read: health problems), unemployment is probably around 80%, and hardship is no doubt a common part of life.

As well-intentioned development organizations and entrepreneurs have realized in the past decade, these people do not necessarily want what will improve their life. (When you think for a second, it’s silly we ever made that mistake: our track record for wanting what is better for our lives is piss-poor.) Instead, people are interested in what we already have: cars, cell phones, laptops, AC units, instant foods… The typical trappings of a “modern” life. They don’t want bicycles because they are low tech and associated with poverty. They are leery of biogas, viewing it as “cooking with shit-gas.” How tragic that the breakthroughs in reconfiguring waste streams and infrastructure often stem from traditional practices; the association makes them a hard sell to those that are already engaged in traditional – albeit less sustainable – practices.

How can we convince them that it’s really not worth it? That they are empty lies that will suck dry your soul and homeland? That we are here to help you avoid our pitfalls rather than exclude you from modernized life?

Create a sustainable future while satisfying the human desire for “modernity.”

That seems to be the challenge that is before us. Just one problem: at the end of the day, most (all?) aspects of modernity aren’t sustainable.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Role Definition

Today we set our work plan for the coming months. Here’s mine in a nutshell:

Stormwater Management
- Prototype stormwater management facility (e.g. bioswale, dry well, etc.) on site.
- Design facilities to handle design storm
- Figure out what the design storm should be
- Define management system for entire city of Anam

Flood Planning
- Refine understanding of existing flood plane
- Determine how to most effectively route flood waters (Anam routinely floods, so it’s more about how to go with the flow than try to control the water)
- Ensure that flood routing system fits with overall city layout

Structural Design
- Develop boardwalk model with local materials (e.g. bamboo, clay, etc.)
- Prototype boardwalk to be functional during flood periods
- Design pedestrian bridge with same constraints
- Prototype pedestrian bridge

- Prototype sample road section that will be paved with uncommon materials (i.e. not concrete or asphalt)
- Define transportation network for Anam
- Map transit nodes and street networks
- Design new roadway sections

- Model anticipated energy demand
- Determine how people want to use energy if they had it
- Decide on what level of service for energy the Anam people will have
- Design system to provide energy
- Provide design details, e.g. transmission lines, locations of plants, size of plants, grid behavior, etc.
- Maybe prototype a 250 kW PV array (that’s pretty big)

- Assess feasibility of biogas reactor, system behavior
- Provide design details
- Work with Eric to prototype biogas plant that runs of water hyacinth – an abundant weed that chokes the rivers during the rainy season and causes endless troubles for people
- Explore possibility of a biogas autoclave for the hospital

Easy peasy, right? Oh, and all of which must be kept within the societal context of Anam. So, for example, the transportation network can’t just be what I want it to be – it needs to be what makes sense for Anam. What makes people feel like they are free to prosper and have their needs met.

It will be a crazy time. We’ll see how much I complete. Fortunately I have useful tools such as OmniFocus to break down these daunting tasks into manageable pieces.

The university fellows have been invaluable in providing input to our thought processes. They also brought kola nut and pine wine for us to enjoy at the end of the work day.

More people have joined the cult. At one point during Insanity, we had six participants. We lost two – but six people ain’t bad. We’ve moved into the living room for more space.

Introduced some of the interns to Squelch tonight. I love that game. Something about its simple rules, lack of complex strategy, and gambling behavior makes it the perfect game for bonding. Unlike other games (e.g. cards), you do not have much to think about when it’s not your turn, so people just end up talking or living the experience with the current roller. Good times.

Tomorrow we go on a field trip! We will travel to one of the neighboring Anam communities, Iyora, to speak with village members and get more first-hand experience of the Anam way of life.

Time for bed -- after I apply some hydrocortisone cream to my bug bites. Those li'l fuckers are relentless.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Insanity RE: Internet + Workout

10:30 AM


11:30 AM

FML even more.

10:15 PM

10:15 PM

As evidenced by my outburst earlier in the day, I am constantly vexed by the crawling internet speeds. As one of my fellow interns, Eric, put it, “It sucks to have your balls tied to sucky internet.”

Couldn’t have said it better.

At some point (i.e. not tonight) I’ll go into greater detail about the internship, background information, daily routine, etc.

Tonight I’d like to call attention to a wonderful development in the group: an exercise team.

It began with me finding a room to start my Insanity training routine. If you haven’t heard of it, check it out – it’s pretty, well, insane. A few people dropped in to the workout, having just returned from a run. And so the Insanity group formed.

The group’s cohesion supports each individual in this ridiculous process. We commiserate over the sore calf muscles that yelp with every stair step we take. We joke during the day in anticipation for the workout. We push one another to suck it up and just do the exercise.

One of the interns, Julia, is a former yoga teacher. Extra bonus. Now we’re doing Insanity followed by a restorative yoga routine to cool down and stretch out. Perfect. I am hoping to find time to do some serious full routines with her. She’s familiar with the Ashtanga series and even printed out a series of poses as a guide for those interested. Go people with useful skills!

We’ve fallen into a routine (as established as one can be for only three days in the internship) where we work until about 6 or 6:30pm, then skip upstairs to change and begin the workout routine. Follow this up with a meal, sitting in place for an extra 15-30 minutes because we simply can’t find the motivation to move, and suddenly it’s almost 10pm. A great way to spend the evening in the company of good people. Body feels great (save for the spicy indigestion). I’m taking a picture tomorrow to mark the beginning of the transformation. We’ll see what eight weeks of Insanity can do.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

High hopes and high(er) temperatures.

Far more productive today. Woke up in a sweat – no surprise – to a chorus of chirps, wails, and calls from the bush. Mix in some rooster crows and snoring from a roommate and you’ve got a sure-fire way to force one out of bed.

Going to bed isn’t an issue. With two fans blowing, the room is generally cool enough to fall asleep. The power goes out at about 4am, however, so the room becomes a stifling box of stale air by 6am. My routine has been to stumble out of bed, pad about the mansion bleary-eyed, then doze on a couch in a cooler, vaulted space of the building.

The fellows were here again. They provide valuable input to the design, being from the area. It presents an appreciable management challenge, though, because they require clear guidance on how to help. Some days are better than others. Typically the all-hands meetings are the worst, where roundtable discussion rapidly devolve to a few people unwittingly hogging the conversation space.

I set about research for stormwater management. The first of my major focuses for this project; the other areas will be transportation networks and design, pedestrian bridge/boardwalk design, and energy systems. We’ll see how much I accomplish, but I’m hopeful. One can complete a great deal when putting in eight solid hours of work each day.

The most frustrating aspect of the internship is the abysmal internet. While it’s entirely reasonable to not have broadband speeds in rural Nigeria, I came under the impression that we would have reliable internet access. Instead, we have reliable email access; all other tasks take 4-10x as long. Typical download speeds are about 2 kbps. It rules out watching videos online, but more importantly it limits downloading design specs, research articles, etc. I am running into this problem when accessing design manuals; most files are more than 2 MB, sometimes upwards of 10 MB.

Enough for now. Time for bed.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


I’m in Africa.

Holy shit, I’m in Africa.

Woke up to explosive thunder that shook the building and rainfall so intense to sound like hail.

Flights were uneventful. Slept for a decent amount on both, thanks in part to Benedryl. Forgot how disoriented it makes you upon waking up. Light does funny things to the brain – I’d fall asleep w/ it light outside and wake up with it dark two hours later because of the flight path, yet I’d psychologically feel like I’d been asleep a lot longer.

Eating eggs and toast right now that were premade in Israel. It’s microwaved. What a bizarre dining room for a hotel…

Saw my first AK-47 in real life. The airport was teeming with military and police. I must say, the intimidation tactic is quite effective – I certainly didn’t want to stir up trouble. The “customs” process was hilarious. There was a team of imposing guards in uniform standing at the exit of the airport terminal. I slowly walked by, looking at them questioningly, and they simply waved me on. That was it. No lines, nothing.

Roads are commonly shared by pedestrians and cars. As such, honking is common, more as a rudimentary form of communication. Roads are not designed for high speeds: even at 30 mph, we seem to be flying down the road. It’s partly because the road is narrow and the spacing of the stripes. It doesn’t help that drivers think of lanes as a suggestion.

Today I complete the journey to Anambra. (I stayed overnight in Lagos.) Should be a lot faster trip. Spent so much time on planes that I’ve lost sense of time and my internal clock. I have no idea where my normal sleep schedule is right now.

There’s a Nigerian soap TV show playing in the dining room. Some things never change. Editing is rather amusingly sparse. There are definite moments of dead time as actors deal with some logistical issue – opening up a wrapped item, turning a car around in a dead end, etc. Such moments would be cut out of an American show, but here the actors are left to their own devices to make up time.

Haggling is commonplace. Street vendors aggressively shop their wares. The savvy buyer can talk them down by 2-5x the original price. My driver, Emmanuel, bought a Blackberry leather cover for 500 Naira ($3.25); asking price was 2500 Naira ($16).

Local Nigerian airport security is quite lax. The security checkpoint consisted of one guard and a rickety old X-ray scanner. Didn’t remove shoes, belt, etc. Pretty nice to not wait in lines for 2 hours.

Plane just called. Off we go.