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 fourth blog post for Scientific American.
KIGOMA—After getting only a few hours of sleep, Wendy and I woke up and headed to the airport in Dar es Salaam. The plane was pretty small so we felt every single shake, and all the turbulence a person could handle. As we stared out the window, we saw many of the "wild" fires (slash and burn) that are responsible for the smoky haze in Kigoma. After about three hours in the air, we landed on a dirt runway. When I stepped out, I breathed in fresh air and smiled; we had finally reached Kigoma, our home for the next two months. That night, we ate dinner with the remaining members of the group except for Kanika and Zach, who had already left to go to Mwamgango, a small village north of Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika.
After a full night's rest, I woke up at sunrise to go for a run. I thought that because it was early, the roads would be pretty empty, and I wouldn't attract too much attention. I strapped my Ipod on my arm and put on running clothes—there was no hiding my "Mzungu-ness" (being a Westerner). Running for exercise is considered a strange practice for many Tanzanians because they already get so much exercise during the day, plus Tanzanian men almost never wear shorts.
I jogged up and down small dirt roads, hoping to explore more of the city. I attempted to complete a full circle back to our hotel since I've always been pretty confident in my sense of direction. Although this technique commonly works when I go running in the U.S., this did not work in Kigoma. I found myself constantly running down dead-end paths and crossing over so many hills that I no longer had any idea of where I was. While it was amusing that people were laughing and calling out "Mzungu," I was beginning to become irritated and frustrated; I was out of shape, but I was ashamed to slow down under such scrutiny. A little boy began to run with me, which cheered me up somewhat. I asked him if he knew the location to Zanzibar Lodge Hotel with the little Swahili I knew. He just smiled and kept going. I didn't know whether or not he understood me, but I was desperate. I started to follow him, and at the next junction I slowed down slightly to see if he would lead me. Sure enough, the boy turned without a moment's pause. I began to smile as we continued to weave through small little side paths—we're making shortcuts now!—and began to climb a large hill. When we got to the top, I could see all of Kigoma. It was then that I realized we were far, far away from the direction of Zanzibar Lodge.
I paused, gestured that I was now the leader, and said "Twende! Let's go!" When we finally reached to Zanzibar Lodge, I started to stretch. The boy immediately mimicked everything I did, even the butterfly stretch, which he found a little strange at first. We even did pushups together. When we were done, I gave him a high-five and a little money to buy some water on his way home. It was a pretty special moment; one that I'm sure we'll both never forget.
Unfortunately, the evening was equally memorable. My body was very dehydrated since I failed to drink enough water before and after the run, and I easily became sick after eating some Swahili-Indian food contaminated with bacteria. That evening, my body broke out into terrible sweats and chills while my stomach felt like splinters were poking my intestines. My digestive system was in poor shape, and I felt awful.
The next morning was even worse. Although I had started drinking more water, my body during the night seemed to be sweating it out at twice the rate I had been consuming. When I tried to meet up with the rest of the group at Jane Goodall Institute, I was a complete mess. I had trouble walking, and the hot African sun only made things worse. My eyesight started to fade, and I felt like I was going completely blind. A man at JGI, who noted my fatigue, suggested that I go to the hospital and be tested for malaria. I agreed and submitted myself to a strange set of tests (including wiping my stool with matchsticks) only to find out that I did not have Malaria. After lying in bed for two days, and reviving myself with some delicious porridge made by our cook Tuma, I finally recovered from my illness.
I was finally able to return to work with rest of the team, and I hoped that nothing would further delay our journey into the villages. But in Africa, you never know whether things will happen the way you plan.
Image of the main road in Kigoma near Jane Goodall Institute courtesy of Tim Bolger