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Preparing for Butare: Candy Bridges, Hiking and Mom’s Renovation Projects

Preparing for Butare: Candy Bridges, Hiking and Mom’s Renovation Projects

December 30, 2015

Authored by Loren Bloomberg who will be volunteering his talents at part of the CH2M Foundation volunteer team supporting Bridges to Prosperity in constructing a 90-meter suspended bridge in Butare, Rwanda in early February 2016.

I’m taking the week after Christmas to spend some time with the kids and work on the house, but definitely thinking ahead to February. I have been reading A Thousand Hills (Stephen Kinzer), which is an unbelievable story. I think it’s a must-read for anyone, even those who will never have anything to do with Rwanda. There are lots of important lessons about leadership and the reality of organizations (both good and bad).

How else do you prepare for a trip like this? Like a typical engineer, I’m focused on the knowns, and the things that I can control. However, most of the trip preparations don’t require too much stress for me. I’m just fine with bugs (previous bloggers have called them “creepy-crawlies”) and humidity and mud and makeshift sleeping conditions. I’m good with power and hand tools. I really enjoy flying, so 24 hours and multiple connections aren’t a worry. I’ve been to Africa once, and some other developing countries, so I generally know what to expect and what to bring.PracticeBridge

My biggest worries are pretty typical, I expect…how am I going to help with the bridge, and can I hold my own with the physical labor? I’m definitely not a bridge engineer – traffic engineers are best around computer models – but I can read plans and follow directions. Plus, I was just part of a bridge-building team at the Southern California office (SCO) holiday party. We should have won, but there were some judging “irregularities”. On second thought, maybe that candy bridge doesn’t really prove anything.

Of course, it’s hard to know how to get ready for a very different kind of work than meetings/conference calls/memo writing.TrailWork Our fearless leader, Jason, gave us some good (albeit sobering) advice: “Most of us likely perform our daily work from a desk with a little field work from time to time. For this build, we will be performing physical labor for 10 straight days or so.” I’ve done a couple of half-marathons and climbed tall things, but the training for those is pretty obvious (although sometimes mind-numbing). I’m also getting some good(?) advice from my 16-year-old son/athlete/amateur fitness trainer but I’m not sure either of us really know what I should be doing. I’ve also been doing lots of hiking with a shorter training partner named Bruno, but he’s not much for advice either.

MuddyBootsI did come up with a creative self-test: I spent three days working on my mom’s house in Baltimore earlier in the month. The conditions seemed Butare-like (at least what I expect). There were unseasonable temperatures up around 70F, and lots of mud in her back yard. I took out a wooden fence, which requiring some creative strategies for the well-fortified fence posts, painted her basement, tiled a bay window, and generally hauled and cleaned and fixed things. After three 10-hour days, I was a little sore, but short of building a bridge in her backyard, I think I did OK. Of course, I got to run to Home Depot whenever I needed something (five times), sleep in a comfortable bed in her guest room, and ate some very nice restaurant food (I don’t think we’ll get sushi, pho, and crabcakes in Butare). Hmm, maybe that test didn’t really prove anything either.

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