Saturday, April 25, 2009

Free Stuff and Alternative Energy

They say that the best things in life are free. Apparently, there are a few fair-to-middlin’ items out there for grabs too, like this towel rack I discovered by the sidewalk while out walking the other evening. This is a very welcome addition to our home since we're short on towel rails, but furniture placed outside with “FREE” or “Take it if you want it” signs is very other-worldish to us!

Snow’s free too, but I expect few people here had it on their “best things in life” list this past week, since summer is supposed to be just around the corner. It started snowing the day we left for the mountains for a few days with our kids.

But when you can’t read the road signs, it’s a bit tricky finding that secondary road to the mountains that skirts Calgary.

You can easily miss your exit and end up in heavy rush hour Calgary traffic--in the snow (like we did). Shoot! What’s the name of that street anyway? Yeah, the one up there by the light. Caked with snow.

Thankfully, it didn’t snow much during our 2-day break so we went on a few good walks and took in some sightseeing. It’s low tourist season right now because winter sports are done for the year and it’s not warm enough yet for summer activities to start, so we sort of had this neck of the woods to ourselves. We had a great time with our kids!

Some of the trails were a bit snowy and slippery, but Russ helped keep us (me, anyway) from falling on our noggins.

There was a “Beware of bears” sign that was a bit alarming (personally, I prefer the “free” furniture signs). Thankfully, we didn’t see Grizzlies.

Russell and Dwight did try out for the part though.

We also thoroughly enjoyed the modern, fully electrified place we stayed in, complete with dishwasher and a fridge with an ice dispenser. It’s quite the contrast to our bush home.

In Mozambique, we generate our own electricity with a diesel engine that has a generator unit. This supplies us with 8-12 hours of power per day. Generators are great, but like cars, they need fuel, oil and regular maintenance/repairs/replacements. And it can really throw a monkey wrench into things when they have a hiccup or suddenly stop working. (Scrambles for candles, does laundry by hand, etc.)

This is our diesel generator (“Genny” for short. It could also be considered a term of endearment too because it is our main source of energy). Looks like Dwight was installing an electrical cable here.

The genny goes off at 9 pm, so if we need power for a bit longer, like say if we want to use a fan on a stiflingly hot night, we use an inverter. An inverter changes 12 volt DC power to 220 volt AC.
This is our inverter (+ batteries) at home.

1. You need some 12 volt deep-cycle batteries (black boxes in picture).
2. Hook the batteries up to your inverter (grey box under fan).
3. Switch the inverter “on” and you have power for as long as your batteries last.
4. Make sure you recharge batteries when genny comes on again. (Or use a solar panel—see Hint #3)

Hint #1: The more appliances you plug in (or the longer you run them) the less running time you have, so you really want to prioritize use.
Hint #2: Deep cycle batteries generally don’t last much more than a few years.
Hint #3: It takes A LOT of solar panel to generate enough power for even just one appliance. And they’re expensive.

Fun huh?

This is our fridge, and yes, it’s as small as it looks. It uses either
1. gas (propane) or
2. electricity (in our case, that generated by the diesel genny).

This is not very “green”, of course, but it is one of the few systems that is practical and affordable out where we are. 

The fridge has a short chimney for exhaust, and sometimes when the mixture (or something) is not right, the chimney gets “carboned-up” and the house smells like a car maintenance garage. That’s when the whole kit and caboodle gets moved outside onto the veranda until someone has a chance to look at it.

I've come to rather enjoy bush life, but it does definitely have its challenges. We’ll be back there soon enough, but in the meantime, we’ll be enjoying 24/7 electricity, modern appliances, and the odd other-worldish free-bee that comes our way unexpectedly!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Drip, drip, drop little April showers…

If not, then maybe some snow? Perhaps?

Most of us agree that it should not be doing this in April, but the weather system clearly hasn’t watched the Disney animation Bambi lately. This really isn't that unusual for Alberta though, and for those of us who haven’t had to put up with it through the long, cold winter, it was kind of nice, and fun. Right, Hon?

Guess not! (Haha, just posing for the shot, don't worry.)

Clearing snow is not nearly as fun as playing in it, or watching it float to the ground while you sit in a warm, cozy chair indoors.  But this snow didn’t hang around for very long at all. For the last few days, we’ve had sunny days, up to +15 C, that invited anyone with cabin fever to spill into the streets stripped down to t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, and to drive around in their convertibles (top down, of course). If it were ever to get as cold as +15 C in Mozambique, we would wrap up in our woolies, curl up in a cozy chair, and sip hot tea. That’s relativity, I suppose.

Anyway, on to other highlights of this week:

We were home just long enough to wash, dry and repack our clothes so we could hit the road again, south this time, to Three Hills, Alberta. Three Hills is a town so small that if you blink twice driving by, you'll miss it. Despite its size, it is hometown to Prairie Bible College, and I'd say that Prairie is pretty much what places Three Hills on the map!

While there, we met with a number of people. Some have been to Mozambique already, some are slated to come next month for the first time, and others are involved in other ways. (To see posts related to last year’s nursing team visit, click “nursing students” under “labels” in the right hand column of this blog. Posts related to their 2007 visit can be found by clicking "2007" in the blog archive and toggling down to the June posts.)

Below: Me with Suzanne (Practical Nurse Instructor and practicum team leader) and some of the 2nd year nursing students who will be doing a practicum in Mozambique this May. We got to put some finishing touches on their schedule of activities then had a good visit afterwards.

Below: Dwight sharing with students in the aviation program. Dan, one of the engineers from this faculty, came out to do the  annual inspection on the mission's aircraft in 2007. We highly value the input of those who have come out to serve with us!

After two happy but fairly full days, we returned home to yet again to unpack and do laundry. Thankfully, we and our overnight bags will get a bit of a breather since most of our activity will take place close to Edmonton over the next little while. Our kids are feverishly studying for final exams right now, but as soon as they’re done, we plan to take a few days for some family time and R&R in the mountains. We’re hoping to hike and sight-see a bit, weather cooperating, but mostly we just want to be together. So if it decides on “little April showers”, or snow as could be the case, some cozy chairs, hot tea and a chat will be real nice too!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Walking for Food

While we were on the road the other day, I decided to get a job done that’s been on my “to do” list for a long time: sorting through the many photos on my laptop. I love old photos because they all have a story to tell, and this one I found is a happy one—all the better.

Year: 2003

This is Ernesto, one of our health care workers (right), with Liria and her (then) recently orphaned grandson, João (center). She walked for 3 hours this particular day to get help from the mission to feed João and his 2 sisters. They lived in a small stick hut at the time (I’ll post that photo too if I ever find it). Liria and her grandchildren have received monthly help from the mission’s Amigo Orphan program since then, and they now live in a brick house as well. She’s a hard-working woman who loves God and loves people—2 of those being neighbours who are partially debilitated and disfigured from leprosy. She’s taken them under her wing to help provide care for them, just as she did for her own family.

Year: 2008

This is João, now 7 years old and in 1st grade. Pretty picture, happy story. ☺

I didn’t get finished sorting through all my photos. There are SO many and our week was jam packed with activity. We started off by attending the mission conference in Grande Prairie (at Christian Fellowship Assembly) where Dwight was the keynote speaker. We thoroughly enjoyed connecting with all the good people there. I was pleasantly surprised when a couple, who is involved in orphan ministry in Uganda, helped us raise funds for the annual Global Care-a-thon that helps keep our school’s feeding program running. We’ll both be participating in the event and we each have our own sponsorship sign-up-sheet, so there’s a bit of fun competition going on there right now! Thank you, Ted, for helping me get ahead :D

What amazed me about Grande Prairie was the sheer number of pick-up trucks (bakkies) in the city. I have never seen so many pick-up trucks in the same place at the same time. Ever. It has to be the truck capital of Canada!

Another thing I was amazed by (Dwight jokingly described me as “fixated on”. Obviously I commented on this more than a few times, but whatever…) on this trip was the amount of water sitting in farmers' fields from the melting snow. Many fields looked like small lakes. I can’t imagine the ground absorbing all that liquid or trying to get in there with a tractor, but I’m sure both will happen in due time.

This is one of the flooded farmers' fields. (You can see why I commented so many times.)

Oh, and as a side note here, one of the hosts we stayed with this week has a "snow-making business", and get this, they make snow in the winter time. I kid you not. This machine-made snow is used to fill creeks (ie. a snow-bridge) so oil drilling rigs can transport their machinery across the creeks to wherever it is they need to go. 

All in all, we put on just under 3000 km during this week's travels and went as far north as Manning, Alberta (which felt like the far edge of Canada) then back to Edmonton again.

Our hosts were all absolutely wonderful, the food was far too yummy, and the beds extremely comfy, but still, it will be nice to be back in our own beds tonight.

In closing, I’ll put up a few more photos of the school feeding program, which is what the Care-a-Thon funds support, along with a plug for the Global Care-a-thon. Thank you so much to those who have sponsored us already. And for those of you who may be interested in sponsoring someone to walk, you have a choice. You could sponsor Dwight or you could sponsor me. (Pick me, pick me!)

A little competition is a healthy thing. ☺

Fernando, dishing up (above and below).

Pots on the fire in the school's kitchen. This is how it's done in the Mozambican bush.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Different Worlds

There’s nothing like stepping out of one world and into another to make you realize just how different they can be from each other. We're very aware of the differences right now since we're still rather fresh in Canada.

For example, in Africa, pedestrians essentially have no rights once they step off a sidewalk. Streets are for cars. Everything else has to fend for itself. Crossing a street consists of 4 very important, ordered activities:

1. Stop
2. Look
3. Listen
4. Dodge traffic (this may mean run across the street, even though mom taught you not to)

In Canada, pedestrians (and animals) have the right of way on both the sidewalk and the street. This is a nice change from the 007-type maneuvers described above, but when you're not used to it, it can be a bit unnerving when cars stop for you for what seems to be no apparent reason. After a few awkward moments, you figure out YOU’RE the reason they stopped and you skidaddle cross the street asap all the while feeling like you should salute or something.

Another difference between our worlds is internet speed. I noticed the upload speed in Edmonton the other day was 50-60 kb/sec. That’s nothing short of wonderful. On our bush satellite system, upload "speeds" start at 20-30 kb/sec then quickly drop to 6-7 (on a good day) or to1-2. Sometimes we even have “no speed” days.

(One of our guards, proudly displaying his cell phone.)

Even our cell phone coverage has its hiccups, though we shouldn't complain since we waited so long to get it in the first place. Many of our attempts at calls out don't make it past “Network busy” or “Try again”.

But necessity is the mother of invention and the work-around for the poor reception problem is to make your calls from higher ground. Like this:

Wow, dizzying height...
Or this:

(Nat phoning the airline to track down lost luggage.)

Although the location below is a super-good reception spot, it’s about a 10 minute walk from our house. Great for one's health but it makes you think twice about how important that call is.

Onto news...
Guinea fowl project: We did a pilot project on the side with the guinea fowl we recently bought in for distribution. Since it was laying season, we collected their eggs and put them under this broody little hen since they're better "hatchers" than guinea fowl hens. Conditions weren’t optimal this time around, what with our learning curve and all, so our hatch rate was only 3 out of 10, survival rate 2 out of 10--but even so, I’m very impressed that we have these two little guinea fowl chicks, keets as they're called! (Photo compliments of Heather)

On the road again: This week we will be putting on some miles traveling north to visit supporting churches and people in Grande Prairie, Manning, Carrot Creek, etc.

Below: getting photos ready for our display board. Fun job ☺

Snow along the highway in Alberta.

I'll close this post off with a recent photo of us with a niece (Kim) and grand-niece (Cora). 

I've got to run for now, but until next time, I'll be enjoying that speed. And we'll do our best to try to remember to stop for pedestrians matter where they be!