ENGINEERING FOR TOMORROW & RAISING KILIMANJARO
by: Eric Oberwise

Documenting three months on the continent of Africa engineering renewable and sustainable technologies in Lilongwe, Malawi followed by a trek to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro with a young woman who was was once paralyzed and told she would never walk again.
One more time: a young woman was told she would never walk again - and now we're climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

All this to raise $20K for May We Help — a nonprofit that uses skilled volunteers to invent, modify or adapt devices to improve the quality of life for those who require them.

Many The Miles.

Now, romance can be a tough subject in and of itself… but romance from a distance is a whole different ballgame. It’s certainly not something for the pursuit of the faint of heart. It’s that light at the end of the tunnel that keeps you going. Truly, distance is not something that persons of all walks of life can pursue. It takes a couple of very strong-willed, level headed, and extremely passionate individuals to ignite and sustain the flame.

At times, long distance can be so incredibly tough. When words and worries are misconstrued with emotions from a distance being so hard to convey, that light at the end of the tunnel is nothing but a glimmer. Something that seems like a fleeting figment of imagination. It’s in those moments that it takes two individuals of a certain character to dig deep, circle back, and realize why they got themselves into the mess for: that person they adore and the way they bring happiness in their life. There is the realization that going through the distress caused by distance can only make the relationship more robust. What a horribly beautiful problem to have.

Those of Malawi are very familiar with this concept. Spouses, children, and family are far flung hundreds of miles away between the major cities of Lilongwe and Blantyre. Most circumstances are done out of the desperate need to work and make money, yet the people here understand what it means to have faith in reaching that end goal of being together. It seems that they count themselves to be lucky to have the opportunities and extremely appreciative to see loved ones again.

I’m one amongst bunches of the long distance romantics here. Truly, I feel exactly the same way as the majority of Malawians, blessed and beyond appreciative to have the opportunity to be here and, at the same time, with someone that brings so much happiness into my life, even if it has been from a distance; Someone who is, in every sense of the words compassionate, supportive, empathetic, intelligent, driven, spontaneous, selfless, and loving. It is the grit and grind between visits from both ends of the romance that has made us stronger and, without a doubt, closer; I say this despite being even further than ever before.

Without coincidence, I’m posting this on the day that marks seven months of being together yet almost constantly apart. And with even less coincidence than that, in those seven months I’ve had some of the happiest and most hopeful moments of my life due to the person willing to make the sacrifice of distance alongside me!

I’m of the firm belief that missing someone gets easier every day because, well, you may be one day further from the last time you saw the person but you’re exactly one day closer to seeing them again.

Caitlyn, I miss you tremendously but, more so, want to thank you for being my light at the end of the tunnel and bringing me the utmost happiness.

Without Matrix Service Company it wouldn’t be possible to give one person the chance to physically conquer a mountain to represent the mountains that hundreds of others conquer through the inventions of May We Help.

Without Matrix Service Company it wouldn’t be possible to give one person the chance to physically conquer a mountain to represent the mountains that hundreds of others conquer through the inventions of May We Help.

Curiosity.

I don’t think it always killed the cat… In fact, I think it helped more than it hurt him a good number of times.

I noted in my last personal post that the people of Malawi have shown a very curious nature about ME as a foreigner and azungu (ghost a.k.a white person). I still find their fascination with foreigners really fascinating but want to talk about a very different kind of curiosity that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing here. It’s not the type of curiosity surrounding things that are, at surface level, very foreign and strange. It’s deeper than that.  Not to get all philosophical but I think people here have the exact same curiosity for the bettering of our human existence and the success of human kind.

Now, I don’t mean this in a religious sense. When I say ‘curiosity’ it also entails some of the drive and motivation to figure out what it is that is lacking or misunderstood. The individuals I’ve had the opportunity to work with and talk candidly to display this curiosity about life that, in an ironically upside-down way, makes me a bit envious. I say upside-down because there aren’t many thing here that I envy here in comparison to my life back home. I’m envious because, to me, it seems like a genuine curiosity. Yes, life here is much more simple and often traditional, but it doesn’t mean that these people don’t have dream, aspirations, and, most importantly, curiosity about the future.  

To give just one example, I’ll use education. I’ve noticed a profound difference here in the desire for education. Certainly, the drive to achieve higher education is on an individual basis, but the general sentiment I get in talking with my co-workers is that if you have the opportunity to learn at an institution it’s something that is sought after with excitement. Institutional learning is looked at from a “lifetime of learning” perspective as opposed to “get your college degree and go make some money”. It’s arguable that the discrepancy may be due to the broken education system in the U.S.  but I think an even bigger factor is the cultural curiosity about life. Maybe it’s just the American mentality of being spoiled by the education system and looking through the lens as learning being something that’s given and not earned?

I think it’s simply a matter of opportunity. A good pedestal to hold up would be India. They have been able to give educational opportunities and, despite coming from tough economic conditions and very rigid cultural traditions, they have individuals chomping at the bit to be educated.

A lifetime of curiosity and learning; Great mentality. 

Ever get the feeling like everyone is staring at you out in public?

Most everyone knows the feeling. Maybe it’s because you’re wearing something you think others will find strange or you have a stain from something you were eating earlier. Realistically, most people don’t even take notice and,for the most part, all the worry is in your head. As humans, we have the innate ability to amplify our worries when we feel insecure around others. For the most part, that’s what people overcome as they transition into adulthood.

But what if everyone WAS starring at you? All the time. Like an exhibit at the zoo!

It’s something that I had absolutely no idea how to prepare for or even begin to expect. To walk down any street or path and have a ninety-nine percent chance that every person you walk past stares. Every person.

Initially, it was incredibly difficult to wrap my mind around what exactly these people were thinking as they stared. Some almost seemed to have a look of resent, maybe due to unfamiliarity? It may have been simple curiosity but either way it gets uncomfortable if you dwell on it for too long. Those who look at me with initial curiosity followed by a smile or simple hello are typically warmly welcomed and the sentiment is reciprocated by me.

I think a great takeaway from this all is that a smile and simple greeting, even when things appear foreign, should be the standard response as human beings. Why take the initial emotional action to be defensive or aggressive? It’s something I’ve probably even done myself in the US and not thought twice about it. I’m incredibly appreciative to have the experience now from the other side and will work for the rest of my to be better at taking on unknown persons with a friendly nature. It’s something universal and doesn’t even have to be applied to foreign relations.

Your smile is a messenger of your good will. Your smile brightens lives of all those who see it. To someone who has seen a dozen people frown, scowl or turn their faces away, your smile is like the sun breaking through the clouds

- Dale Carnegie

Alright everyone. I’ve been pretty bad at this whole blog thing, forgive me. It’s a first for me!

Things have been going really well. My main project is a VSBK which is essentially still in construction phase. We should be laying the foundation for the brick extrusion machinery this week and I can then begin on working with the heavy equipment to get it up and running. For some reason I feel like the amount of time working is about to go from 0-60 once we get everything lined up. Things move SLOW here. Construction is measured indefinitely and deadlines are intentionally not set. Getting used to that mentality is pretty tough coming from the deadline ridden American culture. 

This past weekend we took a trip to Lake Malawi… It quickly made sense to all of us why people live here. The lake and lodge are absolutely beautiful and essentially untouched by tourism.

More to come!

Stop living the norm, get exploring and always be all about the good stories. 

n pursuit of the right way to transport all the necessary equipment for 10 weeks of engineering in Africa AND documenting a hugely momentous climb up Mount Kilimanjaro I had to be smart about choosing the right pack.  Knowing that Mountain Hardwear produces some of the best in the business, I reached out to them about Raising Kilimanjaro and potentially supporting our cause. It was a long shot, but, guess what, it paid off. Why? Because Mountain Hardwear is awesome.

Mountain Hardwear was able to give all three climbers of the group a large discount on gear for the fundraiser. With that, I purchased the Wandrin™ 48 pack for myself.

I say this with complete sincerity, this thing has been everything I needed and then some. It’s versatile and compact enough that I can tote it around with me when I go into the office or out in the field and it’s big enough to carry everything I need and then some for long trips. You can read the full product details here, but I’ll give you a couple highlights on features I’ve found incredibly handy: 

  • Convenient pull out rain cover stores in lower compartment and keeps your gear dry
  • Fully padded hipbelt with two zippered pockets to keep small gear handy

The raincover that comes with the pack is awesome. When you know that your going to be experiencing a huge variety of different weather conditions this is a must-have and it’s saved my butt.

The belt may look slightly like a fanny pack, but its awesome! Everything small and important is right at your fingertips.

Again, a huge thanks Mountain Hardwear for their philanthropic works and for supporting us to help invent independence through engineering and May We Help!

A culture of inherently happy people in incredibly tough situations.

Me: Do you have a garden at home where you grow also?
Kumwala (the office gardener): Yes, I do but I do not have much.
Me: Why do you not grow much there?
Kumwala: It is because I live far away.
Me: Oh, well how far away do you live?
Kumwala: I am 14 or 15 kilometers away.

Out of sheer ignorance I continued to ask only to find the incredible truth that so many Malawians face…

Me: So how long does it take you to get to work?
Kumwala: (with a smile on his face) I walk for 3 to 4 hours

At that point I wasn’t sure if it was depression or shock that came over me but I knew I couldn’t bring myself to ask any more questions or prod into this man’s day to day life. What he faces is entirely too common. If employed, workers will walk for miles just for a day’s wage to feed his or her family. After sitting there working and contemplating in silence for five minutes the only thought I had in mind was, “How in the hell is this man able to support his own garden?”. I kept that thought to myself and simply said, “Kumwala, you’re a pretty amazing guy”. I can only hope to help ease the struggle for people like this using the resources available all around them to engineer sustainable living.

Huge thanks to the Autographer team for helping to sponsor climb with a free camera! I highly suggest you check them out. Autographer works using an intelligent system of sensors to take a picture and capture moments without you missing a beat. Some of the cool features include:
- A Wide-angle lens to capture more of your surroundings
- A desktop app which gives you access to all your images & means you can also easily make videos/GIFs using it
- The ability to control the capture level with the modes & simple (manual) sequence shots
- A mountable adaptor which means you can use the device with a bunch of third party accessories like bike mounts