Wednesday, October 06, 2004

africa and project photos

i finally finished posting all my photos from this summer and reorganized all the solar oven project photos.

africa photos (including senegal, casablanca, and the gambia) are at:

project photos are at:

a few photos from ithaca:

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

final post...

i guess this will be my final post since i have now left senegal. after working through the weekend, we succesfully assembled the first prototype of the oven. a few mishaps, some things took much longer than expected, but it was at a state that i tested it on monday before i left. there are a couple other things that still need to be done to the oven, putting on the seal and supports for the reflectors, and also adding more screws or rivets to fasten the aluminum insert to the box. but i'm glad i stuck around the extra two and a half weeks and got to see a working prototype. the senegalese team will continue the work of testing it and making improvements for the next prototype. my major concern is how heavy it is. we definitely failed on that goal of making the oven lighter...

after a marathon travel day that began with ronald taking the airport at 1 am and me finally arriving at adair's place at 6p, i am in new york. it's nice being back to a place where i can understand everyone and communicate, but also a bit weird. already senegal and life in seems like a distant memory even though i left there a little more than a day ago. it's a little scary how quickly it is to adapt to life back in the states.

i will post pictures of the oven when i get home and later post my senegal pictures.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


the locusts have descended upon dakar. they're causing major problems in northern africa, eating all the crops, etc. they must be on a similar cycle as the ones on the east coast, since this hasn't happened in 15 years. yesterday i saw a few at the university, then driving back to yoff in the taxi, i saw a couple swarms of them flying around. didn't think too much of it until this morning. they're swarming everywhere. the sky is just this yellowish cloud of locusts flying around. marian's balcony is littered with locusts that flew into the wall and can't move, children are trying to kill them and collect them. the garden in front of CRESP is covered with them, it's scary just trying to walk from the street to the door. sounds like they're going to be around for a long time too, they're trying to kill as many as they can before the juveniles mature. scary site, i think i'll try to stay indoors as much as i can until i leave...

Friday, August 27, 2004

the first baby is born...

well, the first box is out of the mold. marian, toure, kassoum, samba, and i went down to transtech today and got to watch the first box being made. we saw them load the plastic in the mold, seal it up, stick in the furnace, take it out, wait for it to cool (which took forever), and them watched them pry it out of the mold! it's beautiful, the dimensions are just as we planned, down to the millimeter. this is surprising because we were given a ballpark number for the shrinkage factor, and i guess the number we chose was accurate. it looks just like the plans.

next major task is to make sure transtech can make the reflectors by next friday (one week), then assembly that weekend, and finished product the day i leave. i took some photos which i'll try to post on the web. since francis is gone (and with him his computer) it's a little more difficult to find a computer i can download my pictures to...

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

thies, project status

on saturday nicole and i took a trip to thies. we were originally going to try to go to either lac rose a tortoise village near there first, but we woke up to pouring rain (rivaling that big rainstorm a couple weeks ago). we decided to go to thies first and then if it cleared up and we had time, to visit the other sites on the way back. managed to make our way onto a bang bang bus going to thies.

i think i've mentioned bang bang buses before but never explained them. they're really car rapides (though anything but rapide), old mini-buses that they pack full of people. two people on each side and then seats fold down in the aisle and they put another person there, so 5 people across. probably fits a total of 30-40 people. there's always an apprentice hanging out the back, trying to solicite customers as they drive along. when someone wants to stop, they bang on the bus, and there's another set of banging when the bus is ready to move again. hence the name bang bang bus. at first riding in a bang bang bus seemed so foreign and strange, but now it's normal.

we made it to thies, after going through some flooded roads (we saw a couple cars stalled, water running into them). nicole's friend laura met us, after some excitement. the taxi driver didn't understand the directions and left us at a telecentre near where we were supposed to meet laura. we called her from the telecentre and she said she'd meet us there. we were then trapped there talking to some other guy there who wanted to practice english, asked us for our address, and proceeded to tell us his views on violence, the state of africa, and immigration to the US. we finally called laura again and walked out to meet her. she'd called the telecentre to get directions and the guy who answered told her there were no toubabs there and it wasn't a telecentre. then he came back to tell us that she had called and was on her way there. really strange. laura took us on a nice walking tour around thies, which is a nice city. she's apprenticing with a tapestry weaver as part of her PhD research, and took us to see the weaving place, which was really interesting. then another bang bang bus home.

other than that it's been more work. nicole leaves tomorrow so i will be the only intern remaining for another 2 weeks or so. everything's going according to plan, but i'm being more cautious now and expecting some type of setback. we saw the completed mold at transtech today and they should have the first piece come out of it tomorrow or thursday. we will go on friday to inspect it. toure has finished building the wood/glass frame and the dimensions are perfect. so far, so good.

Friday, August 20, 2004

presentation and project status

in my last post about the project i neglected to mention our presentation. considering how last minute it was (in terms of putting it together) it went extremely well. about 30 people showed up, most from the university (where it was held) but also some people from CRESP and also transtech. the three of us (francis, kassoum, and i) were in the same room a total of 5 minutes the entire day, just enough to go over what slides we'd put together, but no time to practice. francis and i alternated talking about the slides and kassoum translated it all into french. i don't think he knew what we were saying part of the time, so he'd just say his own thing and also add some additional information, which was great. in total it probably lasted an hour, then we took everyone out to the shop to look at the (mostly) finished mold.

after a good organizational meeting yesterday with everyone involved, i feel much better about the state of the project. assuming everyone sticks to the schedule (which will be my job to make sure that happens), we should be assembling the first prototype my last weekend here and presenting the finished prototype the day i leave. so that's encouraging, just need to make sure things stay on track.

francis left last night after some lessons on how to make bissap and orange gingembre (two excellent senegalese juices) which he gave me a bottle of each. so now the fate of the project is in my hands, though he'll still be doing some work in the US on the project.

carnivorous animals

wednesday turned out to be our first non-work day in over a week and a half. in the afternoon nicole, francis, and i went to visit hann park, which is something i wish we'd done earlier. it's 20 hectare park filled with trees, nice jogging/biking/walking path, a botanical garden (though it was in need of major repairs), a big pond/swamp, a nursery, and also a zoo. surrounded by the craziness of dakar on all four sides. it's an amazing place to spend time, very peaceful. the zoo though was very interesting. all the guidebooks say it's not worth the 320CFA to get in ($0.70) which i could understand when we first went in. random concrete enclosures in various states of disrepair, a camel, some birds. but then we saw the lions (the national animal of senegal). well actually first we saw all these large (maybe cow) bones littering the ground of one enclosure. then the lions. we lucked out and followed a zoo-keeper around, and he entertained us all by playing with the chimps (showing us their tricks), showing us the lions (there were 8 of them in 4 places), crocodiles, tiger, monkeys, pumas, etc. we were about to leave when he called us back. the truck just came with a dead (skinned) cow in it. we got to watch him hack it up with a huge machete, then go around feeding all the animals. watched them tearing at the huge chunks of meat and bone. pretty gross, but fascinating nonetheless. also you're really close to the cages, not those huge buffers they have in the US.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

an extra two and a half weeks...

so it came down to the day before i'm scheduled to leave senegal, but i am extending my stay here by an additional 2 and a half weeks, now leaving tuesday 7th sept. after much deliberation and also pressure from francis, marian (the CRESP director), and our unversity partner, i've decided it would be in the best interest of the solar oven project if i stayed on for a little longer.

the project is at a tentative state right now. after francis, kassoum, samba (our university partners), and two transtech workers put in a solid 5 days of work, including working through the weekend, the mold for the solar oven box is close to being complete. at least at a state where transtech can finish it off (and we feel comfortable letting them do the additional work without our help/supervision). however, the reflector molds still need to be made (though this is much simpler) and work needs to be done in coordinating how the finished product will be assembled, distributed, etc. marian feels that she can follow up on things a little bit, but we really need one of us here as a presence to make sure things get done in a timely fashion. i expect (more like hope) that after an additional 2 weeks the project will be in a state that everyone feels comfortable it can be and will be continued by our seneglese work partners (with some checking up by marian).

realistically, i have my doubts as to how much i can actually accomplish in two weeks, because francis has been the one spending all the time in the shop, making the CAD model and drawings, and supervising all the workers. i know i will not be much help in the shop, but marian thinks that my presence will be enough, which i hope is true. there's also a few more insulation and temperture tests i can run, to verify our data, plus writing up a good report, etc.

in my mind i was all set to leave tomorrow, so the change in staying for an additional two weeks is throwing me off a bit. also francis is leaving tomorrow night (as planned) and nicole (the only other intern left) is leaving wednesday, so i will be by myself for two additional weeks. it's probably good though, at least i'll be forced speak more french, and hopefully pick up a little more wolof (more than the 5 words i currently know).

Sunday, August 15, 2004

work, work, and more work

so it's coming down to crunch time on our project. we're giving a presentation on tuesday afternoon at the university, to people there, people from CRESP, and people from transtech, summarizing our work this summer. hopefully it'll spark interest in the project and motivate people to actually continue it after our departure. more importantly, other things need to be finished before then, which we've been working on for the past week.

we finally started the insulation tests, determining the conductivity of different materials that can be used for insulation in the ovens. but each test takes 4-5 hours to run, we can run two at a time, and we have 15 samples to test. ideally we'd like to test each sample twice. so we put in several long days in a row at the university running the experiements. two 12-hour days on thursday and friday, a 10-hour day saturday, and we also went and worked today. so much for our last weekend in senegal.

the weekend work schedule had to do with the construction of the mold. we found out thursday that transtech needs help to make the mold for the box. this we found out after visiting them unannounced, after they'd had our detailed drawings for 2 weeks. they probably didn't realize that francis and i are leaving on the 20th. the requested assistance from kassoum and samba (our university partners). they decided the best way to go about it was to move all the material to the university, so that they could use all the machines there, and have two transtech mold makers join them this weekend. francis supervised them yesterday and helped them scribe and cut all the pieces in the steel sheets. today they started welding the pieces together. hopefully it can come close to completion tomorrow. i, on the other hand, took pictures of the process and ran the insulation tests.

but two more long days and we'll be done. we've decided that after our presentation, we'll stop working. spend our last two days in senegal doing what we planned to do this weekend, visiting lac rose and hann park, and also some last minute shopping in dakar. the end of this internship hasn't been too relaxing, i think i need a vacation after this...

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

minor setbacks

i guess i've let myself become a little too confident that things would turn out as planned before we leave. the new solar oven was progressing very smoothly until up to a week go. we submitted the drawings to transtech, the people at the university were conducting multiple experiments with toure's old solar oven, taking temperature measurements necessary to comply with the ASAE solar oven standards. everything kind of stalled last week. apparently this is the time of the year that everyone gets sick in senegal. i guess equivalent to december/january flu season in the US. it's been rotating around my host family, a couple people sick for a few days and when they're better than other are sick. the mold maker at transtech, who's responsible to making our mold was sick all of last week. fortunately he returned to work yesterday, so i'm hoping we'll still get to see a finished box before we leave. i'm not so optimistic about seeing a whole solar oven though. the guy at the university who's running the experiments was also sick most of last week, so there were also setbacks there. but those tests were finished and we have finally (after 3 weeks or so) returned the oven back to madame toure.

this week we plan to begin our test of insulation material. we've collected 13 bags of potential insulators, including chicken feathers, cotton, peanut shells, rice husks, saw dust, foam, newspaper, among other things. we built box yesterday for the test, then found out that each test will take 8 hours to run and it's preferable to run 2 tests for each material. so we will start tomorrow and try to run as many tests as possible before aug 19th. another big concern of ours is if the project will continue after we leave. we have been working with senegalese partners and hope that they will continue to carry on the project until it reaches the production stage. the worst thing that could happen would be for work to stop once we are gone. we hope to find someone at CRESP that can follow up with our partners weekly, to make sure things are still moving along.

our time here's running short. matt (who's been working on a fascinating project about the muslim layen brotherhood here in yoff) is leaving tonight. linda leaves on friday. francis and i leave in a week and a half, at 3am on aug 20th. hopefully we can wrap things up by that time but more importantly i hope that at least some, if not most, of our work we've done this summer will have a lasting impact after we leave.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

rain storm

rainy season has officially started here in senegal. we got the first big rainstorm here in yoff on sunday night, the night nikki left. we waited out the storm before moving her luggage up to the road so she could catch a taxi. little did i know that was only the beginning. what we did find out that night is that our rainwater collection system works, since when we checked at 11pm that night, the 500L water tank was completely full! it's good to know that our design and installation worked as planned.

today was another adventure with the rain. francis, ronald (one of our senegalese work partners here at CRESP), and i went to a big market in dakar to look for chicken feathers. we're conducting a test to determine the performance of different types of insulation that can be used in the solar oven. when we got there ronald told us to wait where the taxi dropped us off, so that people wouldn't charge for the feathers since there's toubabs involved. he was gone 25 minutes or so and we started getting worried that he'd come out the wrong entrance and couldn't find us, so francis went off to search. ronald came back and francis eventually made it back. ronald started to take us to see the chicken place and on the way the skies opened up and it started to pour rain. we found a place underneath a building to wait out the storm. it kept raining harder and harder. when i thought it couldn't rain any harder, it did. people were moving all their stuff out of the street (vegetables, fish, etc, that they were selling) and the street quickly turned into a big river. eventually it jumped the curb and the entire place was full of rushing water (about mid-calf deep). a few brave souls waded through the water, while others decided it's the perfect time to get their bags of garbage and dump it into the water. it took more than half an hour after the heavy rain stopped before the water level went down to a point that we could walk through it.

we then took a taxi to another place (after waiting out another round of rain) and the streets were flooded. the taxi we got into didn't have working windshield wipers (and it was still pouring rain at this time) and we could also see holes in the frame of the car, so there was a bit of water coming in. the best part though was when he drove through some pretty deep water and the water started coming in underneath the door! there was 2-3 inches of water deposited onto the floor of the car.

it was a great experience though to see all of it and i'm glad we happened to choose this day to go to the market. of course i hope this isn't typical for rainy season and that we have to go through this every day...

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

crazy taxi experience

nothing too exciting to report. it's the first weekend we've been in yoff and not traveling around. francis and i, along with kassoum (our student partner) and marian went up to the village of mekhe on saturday, for a visit of the village by the global environmental fund. they have just begun the process of awarding mekhe with a $50,000 grant over three years to buy solar ovens. it is also the village that abdoulaye toure (the promoter of solar ovens that we are working with) lives in for part of the time (he has two wives there and one here in yoff). it was interesting to see the process of how grants are awarded and the importance of this site visit. also the women of the village will be implementing the grant, so they played an important role in the discussion.

that night the other interns and i talked a couple of our senegalese partners, ronald and lamine, to take us out to a discotechque, so we can experience it one time. they don't get going until after midnight, so that's when we headed out. somehow it ended up the me and 3 other interns (all toubabs) were in a cab, with no idea where the club was. ronald had given the driver directions and the name of the place when he negotiated the taxi fare. we get to dakar and the driver asks us where we're going. we had no idea, told him what we thought the name of the place was (which wasn't quite right). he took us to some random club and wanted us to get out. we refused, since it was clearly not the right place. he then proceeded to drive down virtually every street in dakar, hoping to somehow stumble on the place. after 15 minutes of circling around and one attempt at asking directions, we saw ronald standing on the street corner and met up with the rest of the group. i guess we learned that even when drivers say they know where they're going, they're probably just saying that to get your money...

the solar oven project is going smoothly. we have a design and just need to print out detailed drawings to give to transtech so they can start making the molds. we have also started some tests on the original solar oven at the university, which will serve as a baseline that we can compare the performance of the new oven to.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

the gambia

the seven other CRESP interns and i (along with a senegalese co-worker) went on a trip down to the gambia this past weekend. it was a full day affair going down. we left thursday morning and 9 hours later, after a taxi, a bus, an hour of haggling at the gambian border, another bus, a ferry, and a taxi, we made it to safari garden hotel in fajara (outside of banjul). we'd met gerri and maurice (the owners of the hotel) a few weeks earlier when we were in louly. they had come up to see the village and meet marian because they are setting up an eco-village down in the gambia and were interested to see how things were done in senegal. their hotel was great, a nice restaurant, a pool, close to the beach, and most importantly, free breakfast.

francis and i attempted to work on the design for the solar oven the first day (since we were supposed to present a detailed design to transtech- the plastic company, on monday), while john and nicole played golf (on a course that had 'browns' instead of 'greens') and the others went off to see crocodiles and monkeys. we wandered around banjul in the afternoon, mainly visiting albert market and being harrassed and followed by many people trying to sell us things.

saturday was the best day. gerri and maurice arranged to take us down to kartong, the eco-village they're helping set up. the women and children of the village gave us a great welcome with drumming and dancing, then we were taken to see the sacred crocodile pool. then it was on to another part of the village that maurice had never been to (even though he and gerri go down there every weekend), where they make palm oil, palm wine, and distilled cashew alcohol (which we got to try). then we visited the river port, the border between the gambia and casamance (senegal) and saw the oyster drying and shell industry there. for lunch we went to a UNDP sponsored site, where the youths of kartong are working to build an eco-area with trails and a restaurant. the highlight of the day was at the end, when we ended up at the site of gerri and maurice's future eco-camp on the beach. the nicest beach i've ever been to, totally secluded, warm water, beautiful sand. their plan is to build the eco-lodge in a sustainable manner (ie using bamboo for furniture), train the villagers to run it, and after 25 years, the ownership will be transfered to the villagers.

the trip back to yoff was another long adventure. everything was okay going back to the border, the bus we had arranged for was there to pick us up. nikki, bob, and linda were dropped off halfway at louly, where they're doing a nutritional survey. shortly after dropping them off, a little past the town of mbour, the bus started making a funny noise. the driver stopped, tried to fix it, drove about 30 feet, and stopped again. he realized that it was broken, and since we'd paid him, it was his responsibility to get us back to yoff. luckily alioun (the senegalese partner) was there to negotiate and translate from wolof. we ended up on the last 6 seats of a bang-bang bus (car rapide) packed full of senegalese. that was quite an adventure. but it was a great trip and we eventually made it back here to yoff.

Monday, July 12, 2004

st. louis

5 other interns and i went to st. louis this past weekend (located in northern senegal bordering mauritania). we stayed at a beautiful hotel (the 4 of us girls had an air-conditioned bungalow) with a really nice pool, located next to the beach, and most importantly, hot water. probably the nicest showers i've ever taken. even when it is constantly more than 80 degrees outside, taking cold showers everyday does get a bit old. the main part of town is located on an island with european style architecture. st. louis is where the french started their colonization of senegal, so i has a very european feel to it. ate some great food at the restaurants, exactly what i needed to revitalize myself for more senegalese food this week. there's a big fishing industry there, so there's one area where there's racks and racks of drying fish. let's just say the smell is pretty strong. another trip this weekend to the gambia for 4 days.

otherwise, the solar oven project is progressing really well. one company here in dakar who makes products out of recycled plastics has offered to make the preliminary mold for us for free. all we have to do is provide them with a design and they claim the turn around time will only be 2-4 days (which is amazing speed for senegal). hopefully this will reduce the cost of the solar oven significantly, so that it can be successfully distributed throughout senegal.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

4th of july festivities

on saturday we went and saw the national senegalise team play zambia in a soccer match. there were drummers drumming the whole time during the game, which made the atmosphere more lively. the scoreboard in the stadium is broken, but since it's soccer it wasn't hard to keep track of the score. it would've been nice to know how much time was remaining though. senegal won 1-0, but everyone was very unhappy after the game even though their team won. i guess quality of play is more important than a win.

we went to a 4th of july celebration sponsored by the embassy on sunday. guards in front of the area, we had to go through a metal detector, and pay to enter. they were selling american food though (hot dogs, hamburgers, cookies, etc) which was a nice break from the daily thieboujian (rice and fish) normally served at lunch. being surrounded by so many americans again was a bit surreal, we could've been anywhere in the US.

on the way home, nikki and i saw a wedding dance celebration outside of our house. our host sister was in the wedding and invited us to watch. it was similar to the village dancing, a large group of (mostly) females and kids gathered in a circle with drummers on one side. people would go up and dance in the middle for a minute or so then go sit back down. right after we sat down, the lead drummer came over to us and pulled us into the middle of the circle. by this time it was pretty dark, so there's was a spotlight set up so that the video camera could capture all the action. the two of us just stood there, with 100 people staring at us, until another woman came up to dance with us. of course we had no idea what we were doing, but everyone was very amused by our attempt at senegalise dancing. when we went to sit back down the drummer came back to us and told us since we danced we now had to give him money. so we did and sat back down. the next day kids in the neighborhood whenever they'd see us yelled 'toubab' (white person) and started dancing and laughing. so we paid money to be embarrassed in front of all the people. i have a feeling our dancing might be the highlight of the wedding video, the portion the couple shows to everyone. oh well, after that i don't think i'll be embarrassed dancing again.

Friday, July 02, 2004


the other interns and i have just returned from louly, a village about 2 hours south of dakar. we helped with a baseline survey of the village, which involved going around to all 50 households, asking them individual and household questions, and then weighing and measuring all the people who were present at that time.

it was interesting to see the difference between the city and a village without running water or electricity, still dependent on argriculture as the sole source of income. i must say it is nice to be able to take a shower again and wash off all the built up dirt, and to have access to a fan again.

yesterday evening, our last night in the village, there was a village dance with griots (musicians- drummers). the villagers were extremely amused by us toubabs (white people), especially when we tried to dance. dancing is a big public display, with a couple people dancing inside the circle of people watching. the locals would drag us up one or two at a time to dance with them and we'd amuse them by trying senegalise dancing moves, which involves moving various parts of the body very quickly...