Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sky Captains and Economic Development

It has been a while since my last post and a lot has happened.  We got the grant money, bought the materials, hired a crew and built the Mabira Forest Canopy Super Skyway in the past 5 months.  It was a little rocky at first, but it didn’t take too long to get the hang of building the platforms.  My very good friend, construction manager and now, Sky Commander Kabugo Gregory was absolutely essential in finding a crew and many of the materials.  One of the huge challenges we faced was finding workers crazy enough to climb these massive trees.  Everyone wanted to work for the white guy until they saw how big the trees are.  So Gregory found some guys that had worked on some power lines and smoke stacks and we finally got the crew we needed.  With a little consultation from various sources, we managed to get 4 platforms and 3 zip-lines up and realized that we hadn’t even used half the grant yet, so we decided to add 2 more platforms and have the last wire cross the River Musamya (the really polluted river that feeds Griffin Falls).  So we now have 6 platforms and 5 zip-lines totaling 220 yards of zipping.  The addition of the last 2 platforms really adds a lot to the experience.  The final zip-line is 200ft long and passes between two 115ft trees.  Then we repel you back down to the forest floor and we hike over Griffin Falls and back to camp.  The month of February has been strictly for training my workers to be “Sky Captains.”  It worked out really well because I was able to hire most of my construction crew to be the Skyway operators.  Since they built it, they have a sense of ownership and comradery which results in them showing up on time and being happy to work.  I posted a message to all Uganda PCVs that they could come and do the Skyway for at a discount during this month to give my guys some practice and the response was excellent.  I also met a couple Israeli folks that went up and have since sent me 3 other groups.  We’ve got the insurance thing taken care of and we are planning a grand opening in March.  After that, I’m hoping to kind of phase myself out of the Skyway equation.  I was a little worried at first about these village fellas using such technical equipment but they picked it up in no time, and I now have no doubts about the safety and awesomeness of this attraction.

I also wrote a grant to The Pollination Project, which is an awesome group who give $1,000 every day to help seed small, personal projects.  I used the money to have a mural painted in our reception depicting all the cool animals of Mabira Forest and also to have huge stones put in the sugar cane fields at intersections to direct people through the labyrinth of roads to Griffin Falls Camp.  There was all kinds of drama getting the mural painted with our artist taking a bunch of money and disappearing, but we ended up harassing him enough to finally come back and finish it and it looks really great. 

So those are the big things I’ve been working on and they are all coming to a close as I start to think about what comes next for Tata Django (what some people have started calling me, meaning father of Django).  I’ve danced around with so many possible things to do with my life that I realized that I just have to pick something and stick with it.  And I think that something is going to be getting a Masters in Mechanical Engineering.  Building the Skyway made me realize that I really enjoy that kind of creative problem solving and I think I have a mind for it.  I still have no idea what I will end up doing with it, but it feels good to know which field I want to get into.  It will also give me mad post-apocalyptic value.  
Also, my awesome parents sent me a harness for Django.

It’s crazy to look back and see how much this experience has changed me.  I’m going to be SO WEIRD when I get back to America!  Overall, I think the changes are positive.  Just knowing that I am able to pack up and move to a completely foreign place and make a life for myself really makes me feel like I can do anything.  I never would have dreamed of getting into engineering for my undergrad, but now I have no doubt that I can do it.  Still got 5 months to go though…

One of the hardest parts of this whole experience is meeting amazing people who are traveling or doing other awesome work here and then realizing that you are here WAY longer than any of them.  So they all leave.  It’s great to keep in touch and to know people living all over the world, but it’s still hard to see them go again and again.  I can’t express how important my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers are to me.   Especially now that I’m in the oldest group, so I know I’m leaving before ANY of them!  And so the emotional roller coaster rolls on.

1 comment:

  1. Aaron! This is so impressive and amazing and so many other words that are synonyms for awesome! So happy you're making such a difference, but seeing you is also kind of on the horizon, so selfishly, I must say I'm glad.