Sunday, August 31, 2008
To date, there are 15 houses connected to the grid. This is good news - and there's more. As I write this, the hydrogenerator has been running with the new dump load for about 24 hours!! The battery voltage climbed all the way to 59V, which is the upper limit I set before leaving. This seems to indicate that the dump load controller is working correctly. I talked Sergio through the process of lowering the upper limit to 56.4V, which is better for the batteries.
I could hear the excitement and enthusiasm in Sergio's voice, despite our terrible connection. A few weeks ago, Sergio's cell phone was stolen when his house was robbed (again). So when I wired him some money for project-related expenses, I included a little for a new phone for him. It's a "company phone" so we can talk while he is in the village, and since it's prepaid by him, he can also use it for his personal use.
I'm anxious to return and see things for myself. I am planning to do so in about a month, perhaps in time for the first bill collection. That might be interesting.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Today is a special day for Enrique. He is going to the city, something he has only done once or twice before. Mother made him put on his best clothes for the trip, so he put on his "imported" blue tee shirt with English writing on it. He doesn't know what it says, but North American visitors would recognize it as an NBA Championship commemorative shirt from 2001.
His family rents a small plot of land, about an acre, on which they grow most of their food: beans, rice, and plantains. Free ranging chickens walk in and out of their front door, although sometimes they get eaten for dinner. Several days a week, his father and older brothers walk a mile down the footpath to work at a palm oil plantation. Enrique likes to play in the plantation, because the trees are planted in straight lines that go on and on as far as he can see. He and his friends run beneath them and enjoy the shady canopy seemingly held aloft by innumerable living pillars. Much of his life takes place in or around this plantación, this orchard on steroids, itself bigger than his entire village many times over.
Enrique and his father also climb into the truck to start their journey to the city. The foreman doesn't mind the extra riders; it is common for rural Hondurans to "catch" rides from friends or even strangers.
Enrique has only been in a motor vehicle a few times before, and he finds it exciting but disconcerting. He stares at the controls with wonder, but he fidgets a little because he doesn't know how to act in the truck. His unfamiliarity with the (unused) seat belts and door mechanisms remind him that his family is poor. As they crawl down the potted paved road at 40 miles per hour, lots of pickups and smaller trucks pass them as if they are sitting still, though to Enrique it seems they are moving very fast.
After an hour or so, they pull the truck into a gated processing plant and get in line behind half a dozen other trucks that have come from other plantations. They are not allowed to go inside the plant, so they wait in the hot truck while the fruit is unloaded into a hopper to be processed. They are good at waiting, and at being hot. They get a lot of practice at both.
Later, his uncle drives Enrique and his father around the plant for the next leg of their journey, but for the fruit itself, this is the end of the line. It will be crushed and smashed and filtered into huge tanks of golden orange palm oil. Tank trucks are filled with palm oil on the far side of the plant, and that is where his father is introduced to another man, Fidor.
Fidor drives a tank truck and is friends with Enrique's uncle. Goodbyes are said and Enrique, his father, and Fidor climb aboard the biggest vehicle Enrique has ever seen. They are headed for the city where, apparently, they need a lot of palm oil.
By the time they return home to the village, Enrique's father has explained that the new thing is an electric light, and that their village will soon be wired for electricity. Enrique is fuzzy on the details, but his father seems genuinely excited, something Enrique has seldom seen.
You see, although they live far from the national electric grid, the plantation owner is partnering with a private company to start a village-level electric company called "Energía Para Aldeas" or EPA. It means energy for villages.
A small portion of the palm fruit will be processed into palm oil with small equipment similar to that in the processing plant. It will then be converted into biodiesel with another machine at a cost low enough that electricity can be economically produced with a simple diesel generator.
Electricity will not solve all their problems or meet all their needs. But the village will be better off than it was. The people will no longer have to use "candils", or home-made oil lamps, for lighting their homes at night. But beyond the improved quality of light, the improved respiratory health, the improved safety from fires, their is a dawning hope in their hearts. "If we can have electricity in our homes, what else is possible?" New businesses arise. A carpenter can use power tools. Someone buys an ice maker and begins selling ice to preserve food and cool drinks. Enrique can do his homework at night. They can finally charge their cell phones!
Someone even buys a television and a pirated DVD of "Walker, Texas Ranger" season three. Oh, wait. That's not really an improvement...
[This story is fiction based on fact. Regular readers (hi Mom) of this blog will see the connection with my work. But these things did not happen, yet. This is an expression of "what if?". All the photos except the light bulbs were taken by me in Honduras, 2008.]
For me, this means I have been a little depressed. I am fatigued and tired and haven't had much to say. But last night The M said to me, "I wish you would blog". Even though she sees me and talks to me every day, she still wants to read my thoughts and feelings. I'm not sure, but I think she likes me.
While in Honduras, I ate a lot of refried beans. I can't get enough of them. They grow a red bean (frijoles rojo) that is really superior to the pinto beans one gets in Mexican restaurants in the states. Don't get me wrong, I like those too. But the red beans in Central America are the best beans I have ever eaten.
Imagine how delighted I was to find a bumper sticker that said "Yo ♥ Los Frijoles, Honduras" at a gift shop in the airport!! I put it on my car, intentionally crooked, and it looks... well... kind of odd, but that's OK. I'm kind of odd too.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
On the drive to the park we played 80's and 90's music from The M's iPod. Jonathan and AJ, in particular, enjoyed singing along.
The picture above shows the entrance to the park. The mountains are close to the road here, but the strip of land between them and the road is chalk-o-block full of pineapples. In an earlier post, I showed a photograph of these fields taken from the air and mistakenly identified them as aloe vera. This only proves you shouldn't believe anything I say.
There is a small waterfall near the entrance and we all enjoyed a little swim in the delightfully cool and amazingly clear water.
If you were a strong enough swimmer, you could swim against the current and reach the point where the water crashed into the pool. The force of the water was nearly painful on your head, and it would push you under and out if you didn't fight against it constantly. It reminded me of the power we are capturing with the hydrogenerator; it's the same power of falling water.
My boys enjoyed their day and the extra attention from the students. We really had great teams this year and I was glad that my family could be part of it! Fun was had by all, most of the time. I put together a little video that, I believe, captures the spirit of that day. Lighten up.
Friday, August 15, 2008
From left to right are my friends the circuit breaker panel, the inverter, and the dump load controller. Interesting story about the dump load - we needed a 2.3 Ohm resistor capable of dissipating 1000 Watts, but we didn't have the right part in the village because, frankly, I didn't think we would get that far in the construction.
So I started looking around at various metallic items around the site. I found a piece of rebar, and a drill bit, but both of them measured to have less resistance than I needed. I tried to use the drill bit anyway, so I used electrical tape to attach it to some wires from the dump load controller. It didn't work, however. I considered putting the rebar in series with the drill bit, just so I could say I did it, but decided to use the coffee maker instead (which happened to be in the car). We electrical-taped the coffee maker plug prongs to the wires and gave it a try. It was just about right, and soon we had the hydro generating power and the dump load controller controlling the dump load. Since then, we have designed a new dump load consisting of seven, hot water heater elements in parallel.
Ryan, AJ, me, Jonathan, and Matilde. Elizabeth was off working while we hung around and took pictures.
[By the way, I began this post in Honduras, but I am finishing it in Houston. We have all returned now and left Sergio in charge of completing customer connections, paying the employees, and supervising the maintenance. I plan to call him in a day or so.]
This is Adolfo's pregnant wife, Waldina. She is cooking by candil. A candil is a kerosene-powered, home made, Molotov coctail style light. The light quality is on par with a large candle. This is what the houses are like at night now. It looks romantic, but it's hard to work or read by, and it's expensive and dangerous to operate.
We have deployed the equipment and it is working. The employees have been trained and will continue to connect houses to our lines, to maintain the system, to educate the villagers, and to sell compact fluorescent light bulbs. Ryan and I are planning to return in October to check on progress, and we will be in weekly email contact with Sergio in the meantime.
I am delighted that we were able to get this far. At times I thought we would not. I am relieved and excited about the future here, and I know the villagers are happy and excited too. That gives me much satisfaction. The guys that we know the best, Walter, Adolfo, and Matilde, are enthusiastic and full of smiles.
My prayer for this work is best described by Mathew 5:14-16 where Jesus said:
May it be.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Unfortunately, when we got in the car, we noticed it had a flat tire. This delayed our departure BY NEARLY THREE HOURS! The reasons for this delay are too boring to write, but suffice it to say that it was both fun and stressful.
After we let the car down off the jack, we saw that our spare tire was also flat, although not as flat as the original. I decided we were going to try and drive out on it anyway, but the family stayed behind in case we weren't able to make it out, which we did, gratefully. I was a little concerned that crossing the river with a flat tire might be difficult, but it wasn't any more difficult than normal.
So this morning, The M dropped the work crew at Danta Uno and then picked up the family at the suspension bridge. The mother gave her a big hug when she saw her, which was a surprisingly demonstrative display of affection. They all went to the hospital and got her examined and scheduled for tomorrow at 11 a.m.. The hospital is contributing 10,000 Lempiras (about $500) which will leave the bill at around $750 plus some expenses for food, and a hotel for a couple of nights. We have this covered now, thanks to you generous donors.
We shared a scripture with the family, Galatians 6:10 which says:
I told him that even though we work with a different church than the one he pastors, that we share the same father, and are therefore family. His face brightened at this, but then he mumbled something about mangos that I couldn't follow.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
The canal team (Ryan and Jonathan) finished their concrete work and began the installation of the big honkin' tubes. It looks like a double-barrel shotgun to me. Take aim at poverty. OK, that was corny.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Isn't she adorable?
"Cool, I'm making a rack of ribs."
But she is passed that now, and smiles much more frequently, as you might imagine. I taught her how to give me five and I think she likes me. This is the best picture I have of her; sorry you can't see better.
The surgery is going to cost about $750, and putting the family in a hotel and helping them with other miscellaneous costs might be another $50. I have had several folks tell me they want to contribute, and the total of these "email donations" is about $370. That leaves us about $430 short. Send me an email if you want to contribute. This is the final call... probably.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
We calculated that we needed about 150 poles which would be made from trees. At first I was concerned that all the trees in the area would be cut down for this purpose, but when we tasked two of our employees, Adolfo and Santiago, to get us a dozen poles to start with, they came up with a great solution. It was a great case of appropriate technology.
Their solution came from the Madreado tree, which grows like crazy here. The people use their straight branches as fence poles for their barbed wire fences. When you cut off a branch of this tree and stick it in the ground, it does not die. Instead, it sprouts leaves and, presumably, roots. So almost all the barbed wire fences in this part of rural Honduras are constructed with these trees. New fences look like bare posts, but old fences look like rows of trees. I shot the following video of some cows walking by a fence like this. They look like uniformly sized trees in a straight line.
Anyway, Adolfo and Santiago used these madreado trees as power poles. So in a few years, instead of having fewer trees, they will actually have more trees - albeit connected by wires.
After they put in the first dozen poles, Adolfo and Walter began running the first spool of wire! Walter has a bad arm that resulted from a childhood injury, but he can lift more with his left arm than I can with both of mine.