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Ethiopia Tech Challenge Day 3: Up the Mountain and Down to Business

Oct 20, 2017

Day 3 | Sunday, 15 October

Let us start by telling you that we are all safe and generally speaking in one piece – there are some sun burns, some sore bums from lengthy donkey rides and a few minor allergic reactions, but so far, no real need to call the helicopter rescue (despite it being suggested numerous times!)

So, picking up where we left off in our last update – James was not popular at 5am as the team woke to head to Gondar with no idea what to expect; however, after 24 hours of hard travelling, no sleep and last-minute planning it was somewhat of a relief to finally be on our way to Adisge School.

The domestic terminal at Addis was an interesting experience and unfortunately some of the team already had slightly unsettled stomachs. Our tickets were printed off on a machine from the dark ages, and strangely the flight we booked didn’t appear on the departures board. Nevertheless, we proceeded through security – with Andy blatantly smuggling 2 large bottles of water and James on edge due to the contraband he was carrying (to be revealed later…). Thankfully in the end we did make it onto a flight, which seemed to be going to the right place and sure enough an hour later we landed in Gondar.

It was there that we met with the AWF team: Raven, Commode and Kalanga, and proceeded to leave the airport to be greeted by the Northland Bear, Shif, his team, and several Land Cruisers ready to take us over to Adisge.

This drive was the first glimpse of real Africa that the team got. As the hours past, everyone drifted in and out of consciousness, waking only to hear the driver honking to move cows, donkeys & pedestrians carrying all sorts of unusual objects on the road. This is Africa!

Finally, we made it to Debark for a spot of lunch, and the injera (the same flannel-esque local dish we had the day before) came out again much to Ayman’s delight. Christian also got involved, eating a load of injera and really settling in to the environment! Our lunchtime entertainment was brought to us by a local climbing a telephone pole to tap into what looked like a high voltage cable to power his make-shift bar down below.

Following this and knowing the next 3 nights would be spent in tents in the middle of nowhere – there were calls to buy beer (from Josh) to keep us going. Before we knew it, 3 crates appeared in front of us and were loaded onto the trucks.

At this point there was only 1 hour left of our journey, but the road conditions continued to get worse and worse. We entered the Simeon Mountain National Park and immediately saw our first glimpses of Gelada monkeys (or bleeding-heart as they are commonly known).

After a couple of stops to admire the views, we reached the end of the road. At this point we were told last minute that the road had been badly damaged by heavy rain, and therefore donkeys may be needed to transport everything to site! The Northland and AWF team jumped out of the cars to begin a short hike to the school, while the drivers continued to battle with the road conditions to try and get the 4x4s there.

As we walked over the hills we saw our first sight of Adisge School, and James recognised it straight away after hours spent studying the design and plans over the past few months. Upon arrival we were greeted by the locals who were eager to get the solar panels on the roof as soon as possible!

So without any time to acclimate, or even for a cup of James’ Yorkshire tea, we got to work with all hands on deck to get the panels onto the roof! Henok from Lydetco was already on site and already unloaded the solar equipment. Much to our surprise, the panels had been fixed to an angle iron that was specially designed for the school, and without any deliberation the locals all flooded around the panels helping us hoist them all up in one go! (Not quite the way we may have done it given the choice!)

We quickly rushed around grabbing wood to lay on the tin roof to protect it and to support our weight. We found a ladder made from nothing but tree branches and a few nails, and we tied ropes around the angle iron to help hoist up the panels. Henok, Andy, Josh & Christian took the lead on the roof, with the rest of us trying to maintain organised chaos down below! The panels were pulled and pushed around and eventually were slid in to place. But this was only the beginning, as we now needed to figure out how to fix them to the roof.

The Northland team started the quest to find an HSS bit and a drill to make the fixing- our standard procedure. The locals’ approach was to drive a 6-inch nail through the angle iron and into the roof. This turned out to be a much more effective solution, and within minutes the panels were secured so we could begin to start cabling. At this point we still hadn’t seen where we would be sleeping. There were tents already put up which we assumed were for us, but the only thing anyone wanted to do was to get the job done!

We split into small teams and started getting the cabling in between buildings. Andrew started creating a makeshift masonry bit out of the earth rod, trying to sharpen it enough to blast through the sand bag walls. Frustratingly, even though making the hole wasn’t such a problem – when the bit was removed, the hole instantly filled again with sand meaning no cable could go through! The rest of us decided to leave him to it and get on with tacking some cables to the walls. Hours later we heard a “WOOO YEAH” and that was it- the first cable was through the wall!

At this point we started to question how easy this job was actually going to be, and reached the conclusion for the first time that there was nothing ‘mini’ about this Challenge!

After that, everything seemed to become more and more difficult. Tools were limited, and sometimes completely non-existent. Everyone grabbed whatever they could get their hands on and used everything for any and all tasks. Light sockets were mounted with a hammer, nail and an SDS bit. Joints were made with tape. Funnily (or sadly) enough the super strong side cutters we used for cable cutting snapped in half the first time we used them! Despite all this, at the end of the first day we had made excellent progress. We were gradually finding our way and adapting to the environment and equipment we had to use.

Soon everyone’s stomachs started grumbling and the sunlight was disappearing. Before we knew it, we had a 3-course gourmet meal on the table! This was something you would only expect to find in the finest London restaurant. Don’t believe us? Ask Christian – he has photos of every meal! This was well deserved after such a productive afternoon, but all of us were completely baffled by where the food was magically coming from!

A couple of beers later and talking with Dejen, our guide, it suddenly dawned on us that what goes in must come out. Where were the toilets!? Dave bravely took the lead and headed off to check them out, baby wipes in hand. 10 minutes later he returned and his expression said it all. The rest of us wondered how long we could hold out for, and if we had brought enough Imodium to last the rest of the trip. I think the experience scarred Dave for life and he will never be the same again. Luckily enough, Christian has since made us a “how to” video for the toilets, and proceeded to show the rest of us the easy way!

Food finished and toilets investigated, it was then time for bed. We headed to our tents and within seconds – literally – Ayman started snoring yet again. Now everyone had discovered James’ miss-fortune on the first night in the hotel! To be fair, Ayman did warn us to bring the best noise cancelling headphones especially for this occasion! On the plus side, Ayman kept all the wild animals away giving the scout some time to sleep.

Day 4
Monday, 16 October
Everyone was up early and got to work before breakfast. Time passed and we got more cables in place, the ground rod hammered in, cables put up between buildings using adapted tree trunks as our supports and sockets and switches were mounted. It was a very productive day and by the end of it, amazingly, we managed to turn lights on in the battery room, the classrooms and to the chef’s delight – the kitchen! This turned out to be a real life-line for us, as that night had torrential rains and thunderstorms. We all have Aleh to thank for working with Henok on the head-end, getting some of those Northland standards in place!

It wasn’t all smooth sailing however, as we begun to realise we were short on cables to finish the job and there was a solar panel that had been damaged in transit. Amazingly, a few phone calls were made, and more cable and silicone for the roof were booked on the next flight to Gondar! Things were starting to come together.

The evening came again very quickly and the weather conditions continued to get worse. The word ‘biblical’ was mentioned numerous times. We all decided to hide in the tents and try to sleep through it. Rivers of rain water ran under the tents as water seeped in, soaking all our clothes. The wind blew hard against the sides of the tents, and thunder cracked above us. The only saving grace to this was that all the noise meant we couldn’t hear Ayman.

A few hours later, we had all had enough and decided to get up to start the day. The weather brightened up, and we continued to lay the final cables that we had and finish the terminations. It wasn’t long though until we had run out of supplies and had to find another way to entertain ourselves – a game of football with the locals! Believe me when I tell you that this was probably the hardest game of football any of us have ever played. The altitude makes things so difficult, and what normally might be quite easy becomes incredibly hard. Nevertheless, Captain Christian managed to smash his first two goals in between our make shift posts and won the game for his team!

Time moved on and still the cables had not arrived. We all started to worry that we were going to be installing in the dark with torrential rain yet again! We took the opportunity to give everything we had brought to the director of the school including footballs, crayons, colouring books, solar showers, sleeping bags and clothes. Soon enough the cables arrived and we cracked on. It was a big last push so naturally we started to improvise further to make it happen. Andy and Dave teamed up with James on their shoulders to get the last few cables at height into place, while the others wrapped up the final bits in the admin block.

Before we knew it, we had lights and sockets in the teachers houses too! It was amazing to see that when we all pulled together, we could get things installed so quickly! By the end of the day there wasn’t too much left to do, and Henok agreed to stay a final day to wrap things up. So, we all finished for the evening feeling extremely pleased, and seeing the gratefulness of the locals was something we will never forget.

We spent our last night in the tent preparing for an early start for the big hike: 10 hours to Lima Limo lodge!