After a couple of weeks where we unfortunately had less work to do, we had to pick up the pace again. In the last two weeks we still the completion of the solar pump installation, Jimmy’s wedding, Yaro’s and Renosh’s birthdays, and the problem of the drillers before us. It proved to be two busy weeks, with many ups and downs.
The first week started with the connection of all the solar panel strings together and to the charge shop, where the main electrical installations are located. Testing the voltage generated by the solar panels was exciting, as a problem with the panels would be a big setback at this point. Luckily enough, all of the strings gave proper voltages, so the connection of the solar panels was completed. This was already enough brighten our mood for the rest of the day, but then our hero from the Hard Rock Hotel, John, came to the school to make the day even greater: he had brought us pizza! It even came in real pizza boxes, and turned out to be delicious.
The batteries… finally?
Most of the installation was finished at this point, but one big boy was still missing. As the batteries we originally ordered couldn’t work in our installation, we had to send them back during one of the first weeks of the project. Up to this point, the replacement for the batteries -a single bigger battery- hadn’t arrived yet because our supplier was still negotiating the terms of the exchange with their supplier of the batteries. Luckily enough, we finally received news from our supplier that the exchange had been completed, and that our supplier would absorb the extra cost (thank you Davis!).
Wednesday was D-Day. The batteries arrived in the morning, and we were incredibly excited to be able to install the battery in the charge shop. After opening up the packaging (in front of a crowd of students), we were finally able to install the final part of our installation. This meant we could power up the installation for the first time! Carefully, we turned on the battery and observed the start-up routine of the components. After switching on the first lights, powered by our new battery, we couldn’t help but exclaim cries of joy. This feeling got even better when the solar panels started charging the battery, after connecting them to the system.
Unfortunately, one of the (non-essential) communication components (the Victron Cerbo GX) didn’t work. We tried looking for a solution, but doing so while a component doesn’t even turn on is of course very difficult. Furthermore, this was one of the components we took with us from Belgium, making the situation even more complex.The component itself does provide a lot of extra functionality, like allowing us to monitor and control the system from anywhere in the world, so we wanted to find a solution. Thus, after negotiating with Humasol’s board and our supplier, we agreed to order the component again, but now from Nairobi, Kenya (our supplier’s headquarters).
This setback didn’t mean we had nothing to do. Using Bluetooth, we could already setup most of the components through the VictronConnect app. In parallel with choosing the correct settings, we started working on a manual that explains the locals how the installation works, how it can be handled safely (in case of failure), and how it should be maintained and managed. Finally, we also cleaned the solar panels, as they had been getting dirty from all the waiting.
Starting from Friday, the wedding took up most of our time. Yaro and Ryan already had their suits, but Eveline and Pieter still didn’t have anything to wear. Eveline shopped for a dress together with the other maids, and Pieter, as the best man, finally chose a suit matching with Jimmy’s (the day before the wedding). At this point, we just went with the flow, and didn’t worry to much. Although the Ugandan people don’t plan that much, everything still seemed resolved. So, we decided to stop worrying needlessly, and just trust on the process. In the end, everyone had their clothes in time for wedding.
Saturday was the big day for Jimmy and Agnes. They had already been married for the state for more than 10 years, but they were still missing the rings around their fingers. Being the brother of the Bishop, it was only normal that Jimmy should enter the holy matrimony together with Agnes. As the ceremony was supposed to start at 10AM, we went to the Bishop’s house early in the morning to prepare ourselves. The chaos was even greater than what we had gotten used to. To make matters worse, the groom went missing from the scene right before the start of the ceremony! Afterwards, we found out he had lost his ring, and quickly drove on his bodaboda to the border town to get a new one.
After finally returning, the groom calmly started preparing for the ceremony, that should normally have been halfway at this point. This was of course not very well received by the bishop, who had been waiting for well over 1,5 hours to commence the ceremony. So Pieter, being best man, received an angry phone call; it was his responsibility to make sure that Jimmy would be ready as soon as possible! So, Pieter started helping Jimmy to get dressed. Meanwhile, Yaro and Ryan helped Pieter by feeding Jimmy breakfast and buttoning up his shirt. We rushed out of Jimmy’s house, but were halted for a quick prayer with the elders of the family. After prayers, we hurried to the church, so the wedding ceremony could finally begin.
The ceremony itself is was very similar to a normal Sunday mass, but with a lot more people, and of a part of the mass dedicated to the marriage of the couple. After signing the documents, and confirming the marriage with a ceremonial hug, the couple and their maids hopped in a car to make a celebrative tour through the village. With a lot of honking, we conquered the bumpy roads towards Movic hotel, where we took some wedding pictures. Finally, we arrived back at the bishop’s house to celebrate the marriage. Although it is custom to have many guests at a wedding, we hadn’t expected this large of a crowd, but neither did the organizers. However, Jimmy did go around saying the muzungus would be at his wedding, which he realised afterwards resulted in many more people than invited attending the wedding. The Big Muzungu Show continued!
After the introductory dance by the newly-wed couple, the maids were invited to dance with their partner. This took us all by surprise, as we were very poorly briefed about the proceedings. So, one-by-one, Yaro, Ryan and Eveline needed to freestyle together with their date in front of a crowd of more than 1000 people. Pieter got lucky, and only needed to dance with his date together with the married couple. After this somewhat embarrassing moment, the wedding party resumed with a lot of dancing, loud music, and a long line of gifts (which also determined how the cake was divided). Finally, we could present our gift; our goat called ‘Muzunguuuu’ (mandatory to be pronounced this way). The couple, especially Agnes, couldn’t be happier with our gift. The wedding was finalized with a short dancing party, while we could finally eat after the long day.
The next day, we again attended the Sunday mass, this time in our wedding Kitange. It was a regular mass, with a special touch to highlight the marriage. After the mass, we celebrated Yaro’s birthday by picking up our new Cerbo GX, and testing it out. It was the best birthday gift Yaro could have imagined: the Cerbo GX worked! Thereafter, we enjoyed a cake together with Father Tom’s family. Finally, we went for a quick swim in the swimming pool at Vienna Hotel, and enjoyed a meal at our own Hard Rock Hotel.
The final week!
The final week started with the configuration of the communication components. Finally, the system became smarter, as the Cerbo GX allows measurements to be shared by the system, and serves as a single control and monitoring hub. By connecting an LTE-modem, we could even monitor and control the installation worldwide, only requiring a simple internet connection. The remainder of the week was spent finalizing the installation, decorating the charge shop, and organizing workshops. Eveline did a workshop on basic electricity, aimed at interested students, teachers and some of the untrained technicians. Yaro, Pieter and Ryan did a more advanced workshop aimed at technicians, the security guard, and school admins to ensure that the right people understood how the installation works, how it can be handled safely, how it should be maintained. Finally, we went over the manual to make sure they understood how the manual is organised.
Besides the work, we spent the last days in Bwera saying goodbye to all the people we had been interacting with. This entailed our last rolex meal, our final evening at Bishop Tom’s house and the last meal from Reena. We ended the week on a high note, by going swimming in the river neighbouring the Bishop’s compound.
And what about the solar pump?
Unfortunately, after the drillers left, we never saw them back. They kept promising they would come the next day, but were likely stuck due to mechanical problems or busy with another assignment. Funnily enough, they arrived and started drilling exactly the day after we departed from Bwera. We will follow up the progress, and are actively looking for solutions (e.g. letting our supplier install the solar pump). Although we are disappointed to not have been able to finish this aspect of the project ourselves, we are confident that it will get finished in the near future. The plan has been worked out, and all of the components are readily available.
The drive back from Bwera to Entebbe was the same dusty A109, but now we observed it in the opposite direction: the banana-tree filled planes in Bwera became green hills in Fort Portal, which finally transformed into the red planes in Kampala. Father Tom and Reena joined us on this drive, as a final goodbye. The goodbye in Entebbe was as heartfelt as the departure in Bwera was.
The last day of our adventure was spent in the ViaVia hotel in Entebbe, allowing us to get used to the European feel again. We met up with our supplier from Kampala, Davis from Epicenter Africa, and were finally able to thank him over lunch with all the flexibility he had shown during our project. Finally, we packed our bags for the last time, and headed for the airport. We are extremely grateful for the entire experience, and hope to be able to go back in the future.
Stay tuned for our final blog!
The next blog will reflect on our experiences in the last two months.