KALIYA Solar Roof Diary - Day 1

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Africa » Malawi » Northern » Nkhata Bay
December 4th 2006
Published: January 3rd 2007
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Day One

At last! After constant pushing and encouraging, buying and painfully slow transporting of 3,000 bricks plus suggestions of other projects on the lakeshore which could make use of the panels and batteries stored in Pauls house, the building was as ready as it would ever be to accept SolarAid's solar power system.

The shell from September now had a roof and, under that roof, a store room has been created. The rest of the building remains unfinished but in the past 2 weeks, whilst teaching a group of 12 young men and women how to start a business making and selling small scale solar panels, I've been employing electricians to install "first fix" conduits and boxes and making sure that internal walls got built, walls plastered and floors screeded ready for me to start work today.

Coach bolts are nowhere to be found in northern Malawi. I tried every shop and every market stall in the country's third city of Mzuzu on Saturday accompanied by the building's carpenter, Taimon. After a very frustrating couple of hours trying to agree a secure solution with Taimon (the most non-committal person I've met so far in Malawi and someone who is convinced that "The Tanzanians" will come and steal the solar panels from the roof to order) we finally opted for shed loads of very long and very fat woodscrews which would require lots of pre-drilling of the hardwood timbers Kaliya had sourced for mounting the PV system. I finally got to travel from Mzuzu in an Isuzu. Couldn't help thinking on the way home that we had forgotten something.

Transport of all of the equipment from Chikale Beach up to Bwelero was being arranged by the KALIYA trustees. As soon as I arrived back from Senegal I made sure that they knew that I needed 4WD transport for 240kg of batteries and other equipment for this morning. So when I reminded Rev Mwase at the start of last week and he told me that nothing was arranged and I "should talk to 'Chiumia' ", alarm bells started ringing. Mr C told me that he was on the case and that a vehicle would be at Njaya Lodge on Monday morning.

A text arrived late on Sunday evening teling me that it would now "probably" be the afternoon. "That's OK" I thought to myself. "Taimon can get on with the battery box and hanging the door and we'll have lots of time to start on cutting and marking timbers". It also gave me a chance to re-think the panel mounting. I called Taimon the carpenter to let him know that I would stay down the hill until the transport arrrived and checked that he was happy - He'd found the plans (the only copy of all of the sketches from discussions we had back in September) which had been mislaid and so was busy cutting wood for the battery box. "I have no nails" he announced - which, for a carpenter, suprised me a little. "And no wood glue. . ". OK now I was starting to worry. "And no hinges or screws. . . ". Oh bollocks - Why hadn't he said any of this when we were shopping on Saturday ?!

So, in 35 degree heat, rising humidty and strong sunshine I sweated the 25 minute slog into Nkhata Bay in search of nails, glue, hinges and locks. Mr Chiumia's phone was out of range so there was no way of checking what time the transport was arriving - I had dreams of being able to get a lift back from town to Njaya as the sun was getting ever stronger and I was starting to wilt.

My 30 day right to stay in Malawi was about to expire so I dropped in with Katherine to see Nkhata Bay's chuckling immigration officer. His grinning response to our request to extend our stay concerned me a little - it was one of those "it's not the parts, it's the labour" tooth sucking type of responses you get from mechanics back home. He vanished for about 5 minutes and we started to get our story straight, having heard that this guy could be quite difficult at times and had a habit of deporting people on a whim. We were fine - our carefully dropped comments about important community projects did the trick and we now have the right to stay until early January if we like.

Still no word on the transport as I headed back up the hill in noon sunlight, carrying a kilo of nails and 5 kilos of water. Still no word on transport as I made sure everthing was as close to the car park as possible. Still no word on transport as morning turned to early afternoon and early afternoon became late afternoon. Finally a message from Mr C that a car should be arriving by 4.30. At 5.30, with no sign of the car and the light rapidly fading, it was clear that I wouldn't be getting the equipment up to Bwelero today. At least I managed to send Taimon's nails and glue up the hill so that he could get on with the battery box. Mr C called to let me know that the car would be at Njaya at 8am the following morning. I started making backup plans and prepared to comandeer a 4WD belonging to a couple of German tourists.


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