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Engineering HELP in Africa: Kigoma Kitamu (Sweet Kigoma)

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Editor’s Note: Students from Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering are working in Tanzania to help improve sanitation and energy technologies in local villages. This series chronicles work being done by the student-led group, known as Humanitarian Engineering Leadership Projects (HELP), to design "rocket stoves" in the village of Mwamgongo and top-light updraft design (TLUD) gasification stoves in the village of Kalinzi. The goal is to create a healthier, more energy-efficient cooking apparatus that these villagers will accept and use. HELP students are filing these dispatches from the field during their trip. This is their third blog post for Scientific American.

KIGOMA—While Tim and Wendy stayed back in Dar es Salaam, the rest of the group arrived in Kigoma. We were able to get in contact with Revo, our translator from last summer, and invited him over for dinner at the High Tech Lodge. We knew that it would take a long time to get our food—High Tech is famous for taking forever—but we weren’t prepared for the three hours it took for our food to arrive. However, it did provide us with a good time to catch up with Revo and the other team members.

In the morning, we broke up into our three project groups: coffee husk stove, rocket stove and water system maintenance. Kanika and Zach gathered supplies for their departure to Mwamgongo village (on the water taxi ride), and Kevin, Ryan and I started buying materials for the coffee husk stove. We then talked with Clara at Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) to arrange travel logistics to the village of Kalinzi.

Mitch and Aaron had arrived back in Kalinzi after conducting a preliminary assessment of the water system in Mwamgongo and they entertained us during dinner with a funny story. In typical Tanzanian fashion, Aaron and Mitch were accompanied on their survey of the water system by at least 20 children. On their way back down from the water tank, Mitch got held up talking to someone. During the wait, Aaron entertained himself by teaching the gaggle of watoto (children) surrounding him to say, "Mitch! Come On!" which they immediately echoed. Although we found this comical, we also learned a new way to deal with kids who only know how to say, "Give me my money!" or "What is my name?" Teach them a new phrase that they can say instead. To this day, the kids still yell "Mitch! Come on!" when anyone from our group comes to Mwamgongo.

Back in Kigoma, Mitch and Aaron worked to track down who exactly built the water system or anyone that knew anything about it. They soon found out that the Spanish equivalent of Engineers Without Borders (Ingeniería Sin Fronteras or ISF) had built the system, and they would not be available for a meeting until Monday. In the meantime, Mitch and Aaron ran into a group of five doctors from Vermont, who were also funded by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and working with JGI. The doctors had hired a boat to Gombe National Park and invited Mitch and Aaron to join them. Since none of the people that they needed to talk to were around on the weekend, they seized the chance for a free ride and hung out with chimpanzees for the day.

After work, the rest of us headed to dinner and tried to find a place to watch the Holland-Brazil World Cup match. I have started to appreciate vuvuzelas (soccer horns) a lot more because they let you know instantly that the World Cup is playing on the television. All you have to do is follow the sound of droning bees and you can see the game. A few of us walked into the Lake View Hotel (a small place with local food) to grab a bite to eat and watch the game with some Tanzanians. However, we quickly found out that there was only beer and no food.

We ended up at our favorite restaurant, The New Modern Restaurant, which was empty. It’s our preferred place to eat because they always have some food that was recently prepared and ready for quick consumption. The normal wait time in the other restaurants is around two hours, which significantly delays work. Plus they have amazing juice and provide a free fruit cup at the end of every meal. Yum.

The next morning we met with our translator Rita for breakfast. Rita had just recovered from a terrible accident in which she spilled hot oil on her foot, and we were all happy to see that she was doing better. We gave her New Moon, the second book of the Twilight series—not the best literature out there—but our Spring Assessment Group had told us that Rita loves the series. Later, we went into the Mwanga Market with her to talk to the metal workers who make most of the stoves in Kigoma. We commissioned a stove so that we could watch them build it from start to finish. With a hammer, chisel, pliers and a piece of railroad track, they were able to do a lot. The basic conclusion was that with the techniques that were used to build a charcoal stove, the metalworkers could definitely make a coffee husk gasification stove for us. We told them that we would be back later in the summer to teach them how to build our stove, and we departed back to downtown Kigoma. Little did we know that this was the beginning of an amiable relationship that would soon serve as the foundation for the supply of our coffee husk stove.

Image of a Mwanga market metal worker courtesy of Parker Reed





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