Archive for ‘Journal’

October 20, 2019

Kinshasa Orientation

For the next two weeks it was a mixture of following up with business opportunities (more Othy, but sometimes both of us), and looking for an apartment. Some days I worked from our temporary home or from a cafe in town (a juice bar and crepe place called Surprise Tropicale) while Othy went on apartment searches or to meetings, and other days we both worked from home. After about two weeks we finally found a place that we thought would be a good fit. Although the construction was slightly shoddy, it was close to town, a good price, and a bit quieter since it was off the main road. Our broker helped us arrange a meeting with the landlord and we wrote up an agreement. In Congo it is common to pay three months of deposit, but to get an even better price we agreed to pay six months. We paid half with the agreement we would pay the other half when the place was finished in about a weeks time. We were thankful and relieved that we would soon get to move into our own home!

Two days later we visited the apartment and met up with the building manager so that I could see the place in person and so that we could give instructions to make sure the finishes were done well. In speaking to the building manager we learned that the person our broker set us up with was not the landlord and that we had been scammed! When we shared our situation with a few of our Kinois friends, they said “Bienvenue à Kinshasa”, as if this was our orientation or “baptême”. I was pretty sad about it as it would mean that it would take us even longer to be settled. Othy was determined to try to get some justice and our money back, and so he went to the police and continued communicating with the broker pretending that we were unaware of their scam so that we could arrange another meeting with them and catch them. About a week later we caught a guy who was with the broker when she showed Othy the place, but we lost a chance to catch the landlord and her assistant because the police decided not to go to the meeting Othy had arranged with them. We were able to get $400 back from the parents of the one guy they caught in exchange for letting him go free. Apparently in Congo, you spend 48 hours at the police station, and once you are sent to prison than it is very difficult to get out again. The parents signed an agreement to give us the remaining amount after one month, but they didn’t honour it. And even though the police could probably track the whole network down using their ID-registered phone numbers, they haven’t done anything.

We have learned our lesson that in Kinshasa nobody can be trusted and there are a lot of people who will go to sad lengths to make a buck. We also learned that we are mostly on our own and the police aren’t all that helpful and many people escape justice. Contracts don’t necessarily stand up because there is no way to enforce them. I think that for there to be real positive change in this country, the public institutions need to be overhauled so that they function properly. I find it fascinating that all of the institutions exist and many people are employed, but beyond paper-work, very little gets accomplished. What’s crazy is that I’m sure many people would jump at the chance to actually be productive instead of moving through the bureaucratic motions. So I challenge the current or next president with this task! I think it would be like pulling off a bandaid and would cause some upheaval, but money would be much better spent and the public would recognize the leader that made a change that improved their wellbeing.

So finally after a month and a half of being in Kinshasa, we have found a place! It was definitely a test of patience. We are thankful for the generosity of our friend who hosted us all that time. So there may be broken institutions that cast a negative light, but Congolese hospitality is some of the best! More to come about our new apartment! And hopefully some photos too!

October 8, 2019

Move to Kinshasa

Last month Othy and I finally made the big move to Kinshasa. This had been something that had been in our sights for a while but finally the timing was right once Othy was finished teaching his intensive courses at UCBC and I had returned from the conference in Nairobi and Othy from the forum in Nigeria. The timing still felt bad because moving to another country is an expensive endeavour, and Kinshasa is an expensive city. But despite not feeling financially ready, we had to make the leap because as long as we stayed in Kampala, it would only be me supporting the two of us, whereas in Kinshasa Othy would quickly find opportunities to do business.

Even though our apartment in Kampala was pre-furnished, we had still managed to accumulate a good amount of stuff. We sent some of it to Butembo when we sold our car  to friends of ours who live in Beni. We only had two larger suitcases and so Othy and I went to Game at Lugogo Mall and bought two storage bins. Unfortunately as we were packing we discovered that this still was not enough. We decided to fill the box that I had brought the keyboard in from Canada because Othy was planning to bring the keyboard as a carry-on (I didn’t think he would succeed in this). What was supposed to be an oversized box but still a manageable weight, became a very heavy, oversized box! We were hoping that they would still take it and just charge us an overweight fee.

In the early afternoon of September 4th we headed to the airport with a special hire. A friend of ours stopped by and picked up the last valuables that we could not take with us like clothes hangers, cleaning supplies, and remaining food items. We got to the airport in good time but it was very busy. The Entebbe airport is under construction and so the parking lot was almost a gridlock. Our taxi driver didn’t want to bring us all the way to the drop off, but we refused to get out early because there would be no way to move our luggage without carts. Once at the drop off we had to push our carts up the large ramp to the second level because we had too many to carry up the stairs. Then after putting all of our stuff through the entrance metal detector, we waited in the long check-in line for Ethiopian Airlines.

Eventually we got to skip to the front of the line because there were two flights waiting to check-in and ours was the earlier one. Ethiopian lets each person take a combination of 23kg and 36kg, and we were both over and had to pay $8 for each extra kilogram which came to $150 dollars. As for our big atrocious box, they were not willing to take it at all. I waited near the check-in as Othy sent the big box back to a friend’s place by taxi, and withdraw cash and then exchanged it to pay the overweight fee for the other luggage (we were shocked that they didn’t take cards or Ugandan shillings). By the time our luggage was checked in, the plane was boarding and they were calling our names on the intercom! When we arrived at the plane, Othy had trouble bringing his keyboard on board (as I predicted!). In the end they made him check it but promised they would put it in a safe place.

It was a relief to finally sit down in our seats. I thanked God that somehow my energy had kept up. The day before I had had a mean headache and I was glad it had not returned. I was also happy to discover they were serving dinner even though it was a short flight to Addis Ababa. Both of our flights and our layover went very smoothly, and we arrived in good time in Kinshasa in the early morning. All of our luggage arrived, though one of our storage bins was cracked and broken and it was miraculous that it appeared nothing had fallen out. Othy’s friend Jon and another friend were there to pick us up. It was wonderful to receive such a warm welcome! They brought us to our friend Dadis’ place where we would stay for two weeks while he was away in Goma. This would give us the time we needed to find our own apartment.

The Kinshasa adventure begins!

 

September 21, 2019

Kampala Reunions/Goodbyes

We would soon be moving away from Kampala, but before leaving we had a few reunions with friends. I’m not going to write much, but here are some photos from the various gatherings that we had.

20190810_212508

We had a wonderful reunion with the Vitslawmbe’s! Lauren and Ben were passing through on their way to Goma, and Matt and Jess were staying in Kampala for a short time before moving to Burundi. It is sad that we have all gone our separate ways, but we decided we should try for another reunion in Kinshasa in August 2020!

20190829_193151 copy

To conclude my Swahili class I hosted my teacher and classmates for a pizza night. The idea started when, during class, our teacher asked us what we prepared for dinner on the weekend. I responded with pizza, and teacher said that I should make pizza and bring it to class. I said that instead I should make it at home and invite them over at some point. So for my last class, everyone came to our place for pizza, and Othy got to meet everyone.

20190902_200030

Two days before we flew out, we met up with our friend Patrick. His wife Linette couldn’t make it, but she was with us in spirit! We are thankful that we got to meet this wonderful couple at KIC church.

20190903_202401 copy

The evening before moving we visited our friend Joella and her mother who was visiting.

20190904_132148

Our friend Joel visited the day we flew out to help us gather the few valuables that we could not take with us. He is the first of Othy’s friends that I met in Kampala. He helped drive my family around when they came for our wedding. So it was cool that he was the last friend we got to say farewell to.

Goodbye Kampala! I will miss the ease of getting around by boda (motorcycle taxi), swahili class, the nice apartment that we found with the open concept kitchen, trees and the big balcony, and the abundance of fresh and affordable produce! I’m sure this will be far from the last time we find ourselves passing through this city.

Tags: , ,
August 18, 2019

Plastic Nave

interior-tall

A few months back I submitted an entry to an architectural competition hosted by Young Architecture Competitions (YAC) called Plastic Monument. It is a proposal for a monument meant to embody the problems that plastic waste is having on our oceans and planet. The project brief as well as the selected winners can be found on the YAC website.

I thought I had a chance at winning, but my entry was not selected. I think once again I was probably too ambitious. The winners were either meshes filled with plastic waste to make a desired shape, or else a representation of how plastic is filling our oceans or how many plastic bottles are produced each minute. My project was a nave constructed using a plastic bottle space frame detail that I developed. The bottles are easy to assemble and disassemble making it easy to involve the community and recycle the bottles afterwards. The nave is a an open space of awe and light and side aisles host a photography exhibition about plastic and our planet. The space frame structure is paired with a scaffold that holds a clear modular container that is suspended above the nave and collects the plastic waste collected during the monument’s tour. The container is designed to be lowered and new wall extension pieces added so that it can hold more over time. It can even fill up so much that the whole nave is full and the visitors can only walk through the side aisles.

I think that my proposal is more impactful than others as it would involve the community in the collection of bottles and construction of the nave, impacting their perspectives and using local plastic that may otherwise end up in a landfill. Secondly, a monument that changes physically and takes away the light and beauty of the original construction has more meaning to visitors than a metaphorical sculpture. And finally, the space frame detail, if developed further, could become a construction detail used to make improvements to precarious housing, for temporary constructions like pavilions during festivals, or for refugee housing, a construction that has practical uses in many parts of the world where there is no infrastructure for plastic waste. Even though this competition has ended, I am super excited to develop this prototype further on my own. In a few months Othy and I will be moving to Kinshasa where I hope to collect more used bottles and build a larger prototype.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this competition proposal and the prototype. Feel free to leave comments below! Check out lifesectionstudio.com for more of my design work.

interior-short

exterior

IMG_8018

Prototype

A3_25803_PM 6

Process:

August 13, 2019

Entrepreneurship Forum

While I was in Nairobi attending the NOCMAT Conference, Othy travelled to Abuja, Nigeria where he participated in the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Forum. Here are some photos from his time there and a link to a video by the DRC presidential office that he was interviewed for.

August 10, 2019

NOCMAT Conference

The International Conference for Non-Conventional Building Materials was held at the University of Nairobi which has a beautiful campus. On day 1 my favourite sessions were a keynote lecture on the development of standards for non-conventional materials, a presentation about the challenges and opportunities for the reuse of excavated material in the built environment, and a presentation on the development of a panelized building system for low-cost housing using waste cardboard and repurposed wood. Another interesting presentation was the one before mine on lessons learned by MASS Design Group and ARUP on earth construction they did for the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture. My own presentation was on the analysis of earthquake testing trends of alternative building materials. It went well and I received some valuable critical feedback afterwards from two structural engineers.

The following day my favourite sessions were on the application of alternative construction techniques in rehabilitation of urban slums, and the study of the socio-economic, cultural, and environmental impact of the use of unconventional building materials in conventional buildings. These were both presented by the partners of a design practice in India called Masons Ink. Overall I enjoyed the conference and made connections from a variety of backgrounds including engineers, materials researchers, architects, and community activists. The overlapping of various disciplines was a welcome sight as collaboration between these groups is what is needed to solve the complex problems in our world today.

August 4, 2019

Bamboo Design Workshop

From July 24th – 28th I attended the International Conference of Non-Conventional Materials and Technologies (IC-NOCMAT). The first day of the conference was a workshop held by an engineer and bamboo specialist from ARUP, a structural design firm that has an international development arm. I found the workshop to be very useful because it helped me understand the strengths and weaknesses of bamboo as a material and the importance of appropriate design for its use. Here are some of the biggest points I took away from it:

  • Bamboo can last forever if it can be kept free of beetles, termites and rot
  • The best and safest form of treatment is the use of Boron (and it’s also readily available as it is used as a fertilizer for agriculture), but it’s biggest weakness is that it can wash out if exposed to moisture
  • Therefore all exposed bamboo structures need to be protected entirely from rain and splashing and for rain a 45 degree angle must be considered when designing roof overhangs because rain can always come at an angle.
  • There are three ways the bamboo can be treated with Boron. The most traditional way is piercing the inner nodes with rebar and using a bath (7-14 days in cold water, 7 hours in hot water). There is also a “boucherie” method where the end is clamped and the liquid is forced through the longitudinal cells of the bamboo. The last way is called VSD  where the bamboo are stood up on end in a scaffold, all the nodes are pierced except the last one, and the bamboo is filled up for 7-14 days.
  • In some cases fire protection needs to be a consideration. Bamboo walls can be protected using mud plaster, cement/lime plaster or gypsum plasterboard. The plaster would need to be applied to a matrix that helps it adhere to the wall system. 25mm of mortar or 12mm of gypsum plaster board provides a 30 minute fire rating
  • Bamboo is strongest in compression. I always thought it was strong in tension too but because of the connections, bamboo is much weaker in tension. One design consideration is to consider using bamboo in compression where it is strong, and use steel rods in tension.
  • Another thing to consider is that bamboo is weak in the cross-sectional direction. Because of this a design should try to create direct load paths. For example, it is better for columns to move past beams so that there isn’t a heavily loaded column bearing on a beam
  • Connections are always the weakest point and a few things to keep in mind when designing them are to minimize holes, pre-drill all nails and screws, use dry bamboo (and keep it dry), reinforce against splitting, consider corrosion protection to steel, fill nodes with cement mortar (that will not shrink or expand), and design out areas where water can collect.
  • There are few codes and standards available but the most well developed one is the Colombian code NSR-10G developed specifically for the Guadua variety. ISO has developed codes 22156 and 22157 but they currently have errors. The good news is there is an updated version in development. In the meantime a good guideline is the IStructE Note series.

That is a summary of the most valuable lessons I took from the workshop. Of course this summary does not replace the need to consult an experienced structural engineer when working on a specific project. I hope that I will get an opportunity to work with bamboo in Congo! The reason why it has become established as a building material in Colombia is because the government supported it, standards were developed, and architects such as Simón Vélez have made some beautiful projects out of it that are showing the possibilities of what can be done with good design and craftsmanship. So perhaps the same is possible in Congo and we can start using a building material that is available, affordable, and highly renewable!

August 1, 2019

Nairobi 2.0

This past week I took my second trip to Nairobi. This time it was for the International Conference of Non-Conventional Building Materials and Technologies (IC-NOCMAT). Since I was coming from Kampala I decided to save money and take the bus. The cost was $45 roundtrip instead of $300! The bus departed on Sunday night at 7pm and I made a special request to the driver to drop me in Limuru which was on the way and saved me the time of going into the city only to come back out again. It was a 14 hour journey! I managed to get at least a few hours of sleep after walking to the front of the bus and asking the driver to turn off the music. I think music on overnight buses has become a real pet peeve of mine and I am getting bolder!

After getting off in Limuru I walked a short way to a nearby gas station and then called a boda to pick me up and take me to where the Shaws live. I visited them the last time I was in Nairobi and they are in the same neighbourhood but have moved to a different house. It was a warm reunion and extra large because other international CI staff were there! The first day was full of naps between times of catching up. In the late morning I went on a walk with Kate to Browns Cheese which make delicious cheeses, crackers and apparently ice cream too. Once back at the house I filled up on some of the best crackers and gouda I have had in a long time! In the early evening I went on a walk with the Lawsons and Martins to the tea fields. It was so beautiful! I enjoyed the fresh air and peacefulness that comes from being outside the city. The next day I had to get a bunch of work done since I wouldn’t have the chance to do any for the following three days of the conference. Other people needed to get work done too which created a nice working atmosphere. That night for dinner Kate made lasagna because I had told her it was my favourite. I was so spoiled!

Jon, Kate and the kids were headed to Nairobi early the next morning and so I was able to get a ride with them. We went to a cafe called Le Grenier à Pain, and I enjoyed a delicious hot chocolate and pain au chocalat before saying my farewells. I ordered an Uber to take me to my Airbnb to drop off my bags before continuing to the university for day 1 of the conference. The location of the apartment building where the Airbnb was located wasn’t obvious but after asking around I found the entrance. The street was busy and a bit ruddy, but the unit itself was well furnished and peaceful. The price was right at $20 per night and the place was only a short walk from the university. I was running a bit late dropping off my bags, but decided to walk to the university anyways in order to get my bearings. The university proved easy to find as the conference was being held at the University of Nairobi Towers which is a clear landmark. I was thankful for the time I had catching up with old friends and also for the opportunity to learn more about alternative building materials! Day 1 of the conference was a bamboo workshop which I will share about in my next post!

IMG_8034

IMG_8044

IMG_8053

IMG_8061

IMG_8060

July 16, 2019

Billow

Title: Billow

Date: June, 2019

Medium: Folded paper on card

fluid_random

Random first placement of pieces

fluid_directional

Groomed to form a wave

 

Tags: ,
June 20, 2019

Results Review

I just recently finished a 12 week workout program by Results App. When I lived in Toronto I would get enough exercise walking and biking to get from A to B, but after living in Kampala for several months, I found that I needed another way to get exercise and get rid of my restlessness. I currently work from home and so I don’t go out often during the day. I don’t enjoy walking or running where we live because there is a high traffic road and no sidewalks! I started the app hoping it would also help relieve back pain that I had been dealing with for some time. It has definitely helped! Over time my back pain and stiffness became less and less until now I almost experience none at all. The ab work has helped, but I think that working my glutes made the biggest difference. Overall I am glad that I tried the app. For now I will continue with it though may decide to seek an open source alternative sometime soon. Below I list out what I like about the app, what I think can be improved, and things to be prepared for.

Here are the things that I liked about the app:

  • It plans the workouts for you so that you don’t have to think about it
  • The user interface is very simple and easy to understand. There is a voice option that can be turned on to guide you through the exercises so you don’t need to be looking at your phone the whole time.
  • The workouts change up over time and gradually get more challenging based on an initial fitness test and feedback you give after each workout
  • The workouts average at about 30 minutes though they got on the longer side closer to the end
  • Short video clips help with proper form of an exercise that is unfamiliar
  • The videos are short and don’t require too much data (an important one for Uganda!)
  • I like that there are alternatives offered for exercises that may be too challenging (i.e. knee push-ups in place of push-ups), though I only use them rarely because I am stubborn…
  • The app is flexible and allows you to choose how many days you want to work out each week. After you choose, it reminds you to keep to what you said you would do
  • When late on finishing the number of workouts that week, it tells you how many days you are overdue, and encourages you to get back in the game; I had weeks where I was sick or traveling, and appreciated that it had a balance between keeping you to your goals without overly discouraging you at missing a target. It actually took me 4 months to complete the 3 month program.
  • There is an option to set a separate cardio goal that can be measured using the parallel Runtastic App. It is nice how the two apps share info. Runtastic offers a choice of running training programs that are also available under the Results membership.
  • The cost is $12CAD per month with tax. I’m on the fence with this one. It is much more affordable than a gym membership and yet I sometimes think how they must be raking in the money with so many people registered. I would challenge Results to make themselves more affordable so that lower income people can also benefit.

Here are things that I think could be improved:

  • The workouts sometimes became too hard, too fast. I’m stubborn and so I wasn’t always ready to give an honest review at the end of a workout; it could be cool if they assessed performance based on the time it took to do the exercises rather than just our opinion.
  • The stretches are the same every time. I think they could also be a bit more varied.
  • The second time I did the fitness test it measured my improvement to be very small when I think it was more significant than that. I think that the test isn’t accurate because there are only so many exercises (like situps, squats, or burpies) you can do in a minute with good form. So perhaps the time period needs to be longer or the exercises need to be more difficult to get a better sense of overall improvement.
  • I think they focus too much on weight loss in the app. I would like the focus to be more about being strong and healthy and reducing pain while increasing mobility.
  • The app always asks after every workout whether I want to share my results with social media. I would like a setting where I can turn this question off so I don’t even have to see it. I don’t think my friends need to know how many push-ups I did on Tuesday.

Things to be prepared for:

  • I didn’t realize how much jumping this program has! I can’t say I love it but am getting used to it and have seen biggest improvements in this area. Fortunately the jumps are quite varied and so they don’t get boring.
  • I still get sore after these workouts even though I am past the 12 week mark! I thought I would get past it in the first week, but how wrong I was! I tried Insanity for a month and was only sore the first week, but for this program the soreness keeps coming, probably because the bar keeps getting raised higher each time.
  • The improvement on my arms is a much slower work in progress and not as much as I was hoping for. I’m going to keep chugging away at it though! I found this Runtastic article about incline pushups very helpful and am trying to do them on days between workouts.

That’s it! I hope that you find this review helpful.

Tags: ,