Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Work on the bridge has slowed to a crawl. The NGO that had been contributing the wages to pay the labor force has been kicked out of Sudan by the President of Sudan. In response, the World Food Programme jumped on board and offered food-for-work, but the deal has not been well received. We had four men sign up for work last week (when we need about 25), and then nobody renewed work for this week.
This is something that has been hard for us to understand. The amount of food being offered by the WFP is actually more valuable (by 20 percent!) than the wages that were offered in the past. The laborers could actually sell the food for profit if they chose. The local governor was shocked that nobody signed up to work.
This puts us in a weird spot, but one that is also very interesting. One option is to sit back and wait until the community decides that they need the bridge enough to provide the labor force. There are communities in Ethiopia (which is about 20 km away) that have assembled volunteer work crews to build bridges like ours, so the idea that Yabus could pull itself together and see this project through is a reasonable one. The second option is to write home about the need and raise the $2200 (that's right, two thousand, two hunred dollars) in order to pay the wages of the laborers and get this bridge built before the rains start. In a certain sense this is a debate between doing development work and doing aid work, between doing something sustainable and something not-so-sustainable, between teaching a man to fish and giving a man a fish. Option 2 is best for the community for its immediate needs and Option 1 is best for the community in the long run.
I'm a supporter of good development theory and practice, but we've come all the way to Yabus to help this community build a bridge. Our presence here represents a significant investment on our part and on the part of our families, church and supporters. If we don't get started on the work right away, our trip here will have been a waste. And yet, this work and this project and our lives are not all about us and our investments and agendas.
Yesterday morning we talked and prayed about this situation as a challenge to our tendency as Americans to be independent of God, doing things on our own strength. We have encountered an obstacle – do we pray and wait on God for a solution or do we rely on our own strength, ability, ingenuity, and push obstinately forward? This is a tough one for us – please pray with us for wisdom.
In the meantime, we have offered the student work force (which works on various construction or maintenance projects around Yabus in order to pay tuition) the opportunity to contribute to the bridge project. They have class all morning but are available to work from 3 to 6 in the afternoons. Yesterday we had five students show up to help, and we worked on collecting sand and gravel from the river. With five men, we can work at a snail's pace until next week, when work will come to a stop. The cables are very heavy, and without a crew of at least 25 men, we can't move them. In addition, our departure date is about five weeks away (see previous post) and we are especially conscious of that deadline.


Today marks the first day, since arriving in Yabus, that I have daydreamed about the day that we leave Yabus. If I were to rat out Emily, I'd tell you that she lasted about two days here before daydreaming about that day. Life is tough here. There is no escape from the heat and there are few distractions. Mostly, we are just realizing how spoiled we have been for so long. Our move here has been real whiplash in so many ways.

Yesterday afternoon Em and I were sitting on our porch during rest time (12:00 to 3:00) and there was a hot breeze coming through our porch. Em likened it to when you're baking something and you open up the oven door to see if it's done. There is a whoosh of hot air that escapes the oven. Yeah, that describes it pretty well. There's not a lot of relief in that kind of breeze. Then she said that there are 36 days until we leave (look who's been counting!) and said that, just as in baking, it's like we have 36 days until we're done, completely baked, and ready to be removed from the oven.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Internet Day

Saturday brings extended internet hours, so I wanted to take the chance to post a few more pics.

Jonathan and Evelyn have been loving it here – playing in the dirt with rocks, chickens, dogs. They've been such good sports too – haven't complained once about the heat. Jonathan has been amzing us with his appetite! It must be a combination of the heat and all the exercise he's been getting, but he eats three helpings of rice and beans at every meal!

The other day our work at the bridge was interrupted by a request for help from one of the market truck drivers. He had somehow tipped his truck (which was piled high with bamboo he'd harvested and was preparing to sell at the market) over onto its side. We brought over a winch and were able to tip it back up, and when we returned in the afternoon, the truck was gone. What often happens (and by often I mean every day) is that the trucks are so heavily loaded that they can't make it up the hill on the far side of the existing stone bridge, so they stop there and block traffic in both directions while they unload the bamboo. It takes hours to unload, move the truck and then reload, so you're totally out of luck if you'd planned on crossing in the car. Yeesh.

Here are some shots of the bridge foundations. The first is a shot of the soil anchor reinforcement, which I spent my first couple days here assembling. The second is a shot of the soil anchor formwork. The cage of reinforcement sits in here, and we'll fill it up with concrete next week. This last shot is the threshold on one side of the river. We built these two masonry colums and then filled them with reinforced concrete. The steel piece on the top is called a saddle, and the handrail cable will come up and over it. The traffic will walk in between these columns. Pretty cool, huh?

How Hungry Are You?

In the few months before we left the States, I would often receive calls from contractor-friends of mine who were out of work and searching for the next job. The recession had not been good for folks in our industry. The phrase that I heard quite often from these contractors was “we're hungry.” “Do you know of any jobs we could bid on? Me and my guys are hungry.” It's a figure of speech in the United States, but hunger is a reality here in Sudan. The World Food Program has donated food to our bridge project as compensation for labor. If any of you contractor friends of mine are still hungry, we have plenty of work out here. One milk can of sorghum plus good measures of sugar and tea is the going rate for a week of work. Let me know.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Welcome to Yabus!

Some things are as we expected - others not. We are SO thankful to be here and to begin settling into our new home. We wanted to update our prayer partners and say thank you for praying us all the way here – it was certainly a long journey. The most exciting part for me was to see the four cable reels at the airport and to assist in loading one reel into the plane with us. With five men we were able to roll the cable reel up a ramp into the back of a truck and then up a ramp from the truck to the plane. Whew! What is especially remarkable to me is the number of people who have a stake in this bridge – who are invested or involved in some way. Customs folks, logisticians, taxi drivers, airport security, pilots, and now the people of Yabus. When the plane landed in Yabus we rolled it out of the plane onto a truck and then drove it to the site. When the day comes, we'll unroll the cable from the reel and get a large group of people together to set it into place.

The SIM Secondary School recently finished a new faculty house that is not yet occupied, and they decided that we should use it while we're here. It is beautiful! With half-height masonry walls and wood framing above (with bamboo siding) it is quite breezy and cool. On the day we arrived we hustled to mount our solar panel to the roof and plug everything in so that we have a couple lights and a plug strip for charging our computer. I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn how to set up a solar system!

The kids have been having a lot of fun playing with the other kids here and seem to have adjusted already! Em and I are finding that while many things take much longer to accomplish without running water, we are very much enjoying the company of our highschool friends the Faders and are enjoying the cushy service of our Sudanese cooks and clothes-washers!

I have already been asked to be on the board of directors for Microenterprise Yabus, Ltd., which is beginning its first in a hopefully long series of micro-loan programs. This is a very exciting venture to be a part of, and it will be fun to see these aspiring business-owners build their businesses and provide for their families.

I visited the bridge site today to assess the construction and to work on a schedule with the project manager, Eli. The towers look terrific, and the work has come a very long way. I am very impressed and very excited for the work ahead. The first step, beginning tomorrow, will be to complete the concrete works (tower thresholds and soil anchors) so we can allow them to cure while we prepare for the next phase. The schedule will be very tight.

Each morning we begin the day with a time of devotion and prayer, joining the Sudanese, Indian, American and Swiss teachers at the BELC (Basic Education and Learning Center – the adult education program). This is a great team to be a part of, and we are thrilled to be here, serving alongside them. Blessings on you all!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

All our bags are packed...

We're ready to go!
Our house is packed up.
Our goodbyes have been said...
Africa, here we come!

Thank you so much for all your prayers. We've been so aware of God's helping hand through all of these busy packing days and the sadness of goodbyes. He has certainly been our shield and strength.

Thanks also for your continued prayers! We have quite a journey ahead of us!

Here's our itinerary:

Friday, March 6th - 10 1/2 hour flight from LAX to London
Saturday, the 7th - 24 hour layover in London
Sunday, the 8th - 8 1/2 hour flight from London to Nairobi, Kenya
Monday, the 9th- 12th - stay in Kenya for 4 days getting supplies, adjusting to time change...
Friday, the 13th - fly to Lokichoggio, Kenya (on the border of Sudan) and spend the night.
Saturday, the 14th - catch small plane to YABUS!

Thank you to all of you who are praying for us!
We'll keep you updated as we can along the way.