Solar Panels
I apologize, for I failed to mention the safe retrieval of the photovoltaic solar panels from the Nairobi International Airport. If you will recall, when I arrived in Kenya late Sunday night, the 12th of August, the solar panels donated by my high school physics professor Dan Heim did not arrive with me.

It was explained that the London Heathrow airport misplaces luggage on a routing basis, and that it should arrive the next day. Sure enough, just as Leonard and I were heading toward Nakuru, the call came, and the panels had arrived. Too late, we had to plan to return.

A little over a week later, a week ago this past Tuesday, Leonard and I returned to Nairobi with intent to first retrieve the panels and then do some school shopping with hope of finally locating and purchasing political and geographical maps of Kenya with specific interest in the area immediately around Nakuru.

It was perhaps our confusion, but we thought we were suppose to visit the national offices of KLM, but upon arrival at the 7th floor (by foot from the Mololine station to the business district of Nairobi among sky scrapers and serious traffice congestion) we were told we needed to go to the Kenya Airlines office, which is two floors lower. Upon arrival at The Kenya Airlines office, the confirmed that the panels were in fact at the airport proper, awaiting our visit.

Leonard phoned a high school friend and taxi driver who happened to be around the corner, and away we went. At the airport, Leonard was asked to wait in the parking lot as I walked through the scanner and was briefly (poorly) searched. Once to the baggage claim counter, I was asked to follow a young man to the steel cage lockers (which I described in my opening post from Kenya) and sure enough, there they were! (And in one piece :)

I wheeled them over to the counter (which looked really humorous, I am certain, as all three weighed nearly 150lbs, the bottom wooden crate boasting wheels which I attached before I left Colorado, my nose to the ground with full effort pushing forward, tail in the air.

Kenya Airlines was kind enough to reimburse nearly the full amount of my travel for the day, from Nakuru to Nairobi, the taxi, and back again. At customs, I was nearly completely ignored upon arrival at the counter, a television facing away from me fully consuming the four officials’ attention.

I began, “I need to declare these boxes.”

A woman asked, “What is in the boxes?”

“Solar panels. They are a donation for an orphanage in Nakuru.”

“Are they new?”, she responded, paying more attention the TV than me.

“No. Quite used and not worth much. I will appreciate your waiving the import taxes as have the airlines, to allow the donated funds to be used for more important things at the orphanage.”

And just then one of the football teams scored, everyone cheered, and she said, “Just go, go on through,” no even looking in my direction, a casual wave of her arm toward the exit. I love football :)

The solar panels are stored safely in Wakesa home. The next time I or another volunteer comes, we will move to bring the D/C to A/C inverter, battery control modules, and monitoring hardware/software to build a proper setup.

Disaster Strikes
I am afraid to admit that despite my two years engineering and several years building all kinds of crazy things, I seriously failed to properly design for the weight of the food in the construction of a storage system, in the room next door to the kitchen.

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We built the under structure from full 2×4 material, hand-picked for quality, milled the same day for consistency of dimensions. The first sign of trouble was the discovery that the walls were not concrete nor even structural masonry but instead a very light weight block made of cinders far, far softer than U.S. standard cinder block. The concrete anchors (expansion bolts) failed to hold 30% of the time, leaving us without what I counted upon as the primary support for 3 of the 4 sides.

For lack of proper tools to deal with situation, we decided to move ahead and use side to side pressure applied by slightly over-sized timbers to keep the system in place, assuming the sheer force of the load was neither ample to sever the bolts nor rip them from the wall.

Last week Thursday I selected 3/4″ particle board over 9 ply to save a considerable sum of money. Big mistake. Friday afternoon we moved the bags of rice onto the left side; then beans, maize, and maize flour to the middle and right. Ten, twenty, thirty bags, each at 50 to 90Kg (225lbs), it seemed to be working well. I occassionaly peered beneath the shelf (which is isolated from the floor by 32″ to reduce the invasion by mice, and saw no sign of sagging. Perhaps a 1/2″ over 2 meters front to back. Another fifteen or so bags remained on the kitchen floor, next door.

A host of eager boys brought one, then three, and eventually a half dozen bags into the room, tossing them from their shoulders onto the edge of the shelf. The boys on top hoisted and placed them into the appropriate piles.

I was in the kitchen, coming back to the storage room with my end of one bag when I heard a snap. I voiced my concern over the hustle of the students, stooped to look beneath the structure when Bernard shouted back, “Don’t worry. It was only a bag of beans.”

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Just three or four seconds later, it collapsed. Just like that, the entire back of the shelf buckled and dropped to the floor, the front steel posts and wooden beam which they held remained in place, but bent and twisted. The particle board had snapped in several places, but the underlying timber remained in tact in all but a few joints. No beams broke. It appeared to be either a failure of the bolts which enabled the back braces to drop, or the particle board giving way along key points, caving in, and pulling the bolts from the soft wall.

The room was dead silent. The boys on top having experienced a short, safe drop, jumped to the ground. No one said a thing.

John was standing next to me. I was not angry, for I knew that there was no one to blame but me. I had not paid attention to the limited anchor strength of the bolts to the wall nor the potential for the particle board to snap under extreme load, even with evenly spaced under structure. As I had designed the system for more than 60 bags and we were at just 40, I was surprised.

I shrugged my shoulders, looked at John and then the boys, and said, “I am very sorry. My design has failed. I am really sorry, for we have all worked very hard for this. Let’s remove the bags this weekend and on Monday we’ll figure out what to do.”

A few patted me on the back, a few shook my hand, and the boys mostly shuffled their feet out, into the kitchen. A few more came in to see what had unfolded. Bernard remained by my side and offered a voice of wisdom and comfort beyond his age, “Mr. Kai. It is very good this thing happened today, for you are here and you can fix it. Later, maybe, we would not know what to do.”

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Today, Monday, the broken particle board was removed, the entire infrastructure rebuilt and reattached to the wall, including the complete penetration of the back wall for a through-wall threaded bolt to be applied against a pressure plate and washers. We will add another 3 1″ steel pipes to carry the load, and then purchased what they call “blockboard”, 1/2 x 4 pine strips glued edge-to-edge and then sandwiched between 2 thin veneers. I desired exterior grade, 6 or 9 ply both times the structure was built (which is partially why I chose particle board, as I did not like the other options any better), but the block board appears to be quite strong.

Hoping for completion by the close of tomorrow.

While it was originally our goal to create two food storage shelves, a larger one on one side of the room (the one which collapased) and a smaller on the opposite, we have determined that the average number of sacks of food seldom exceeds 40 with hope (fingers crossed) that the rebuilt shelf will be capable of supporting this quantity.

So, as soon as the shelf reconstruction is complete, we will turn our attention to the other side of the room and build instead a work bench to provide a proper, designated place to build and repair furniture, school desks, and to store tools behind lock and key.

John, who is an experienced carpenter in addition to his duties as gardener and cook at Pistis, is very pleased with the decision, granting him an opportunity to do what he does best.

More to come …