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Shoprite Car Park Mzuzu

A chaotic summary of thoughts

…unlike the parking lot at Shoprite Mall, Mzuzu!

Yup. Malawi. Not what I expected but what I believe should be told as well… Before I came here I had this “image” in my mind… Houses with straw roofs and no access to water and no cars and all. And guess what: These areas do exist and people carry BIG buckets of water every single day on their heads from some remote well to their house and they drink it. It might be contaminated with parasites or E.Coli… but hey – you gotta drink something…right? And you have other things to think about as your house has no lights or electricity. No internet access (only prepaid and that is way more expensive than in Europe… if you have reception at all in your village!) And you are busy with trying to figure out how many fruits you have to sell at the market from your garden or farm to be able to pay the school fees for secondary school for maybe one or two of your 5 kids… All kids to secondary?? Keep dreaming!

You get it. Possibly the way you and I imagined it all along all these years when we hear stories about “Africa”…. Which country somebody is talking about doesn’t matter to most of us anyway – right?

So. I am sitting in a car at Shoprite parking lot as Cristina is buying groceries… Shopping Mall XL. Everything you could want and buy in any European town anywhere. And both is Malawi. Of course the discrepancy between the poor and the rich is a problem everywhere in the world I suppose and so there ARE people living here with all the luxury and comfort we are used to in Europe. And I am a part of it. And I don’t want to change that for myself. And I also don’t feel bad about it of course. That is important to remember! But I believe that every person in the world should have at least free access to clean drinking water and also a possibility to wash hands after going to some sort of toilet… and if these waters start to mix the problems begin.

So that is one of the reasons I am getting myself more and more involved into the functional design of the Wells for Zoë pump. When I planned going to Malawi to visit WfZ I had the intention to hand-dig a little bit. To maybe cut one or two pipes and see what everyone is doing and document it. But when you are in the factory and you see them working you automatically get involved. And the pump design is really simple but still, the cheaper-the-better right… so I am trying to simplify more.

And always when I am like… yup. That should work waaaay better… lets change this diameter of that plastic pipe – Harisen tells me: “it is difficult to get these parts in Malawi you know, maybe Kamlesh can get them – the great friend of WfZ Indian shop owner and more. But nope unfortunately he can’t. At least most likely not to prices that make sense. We don’t want a Benz – we need a Landrover style of pump. Should work with only three wheels…

Being the German-everything-can-be-done-very-precise-guy I am struggling to use a caliper on new parts just to find out how the samples vary a lot and the design changes I planned will not work or at least not without a ton of PVC-solvent – the glue we use here for the assembly.

Did I mention that everybody here tries their hardest to keep this ‘machine’ running?! But with the circumstances it just isn’t always easy. We need full rod material for manufacturing custom parts. Full rod material exists. In exactly 63mm. No problem. But that’s about it. We need diameters of it of 36mm, 40mm and 55mm. Price is per kg. So first step in manufacturing the valves – the heart of the pump – is chopping the material down to 36mm. Yup, that’s about 70% of it wasted. But there is no other way. “But there should be” I constantly say to myself in my mind!

Where was I?

Oh yes. Parking lot. Car. Laptop. Excel… “I thought you build wells in Africa???” is what my students at home would ask me if they see this picture! I do… kind of. Well I think I do. But it is more complicated.

I am making excel sheet after excel sheet to figure out if it is cheaper to buy PVC plastic rods from China in the desired diameters… or in Malawi in the 63mm. Sounds easy right? But what’s the buzz about these diameters anyway? The problem is: There is no functioning recycling system here. That means that if you buy 20kg rod material to produce a valve-part that looks like a Swiss cheese – photo updates will follow when I find the time – then the resulting weight of the used material will be maybe 3-4kg. The weight of the chips: 16+kg. The original deal was that the PVC-manufacturing company reinserts all PVC chips into the mix for producing new parts. By now I know that it even says in wikipedia that PVC can’t be recycled through thermoforming very well. So what you end up doing – being a chemistry and biology teacher – is look the other way when the older guy takes all the chips away in a wheelbarrow to throw them in a pit to burn them. We stopped that now after discussing with the heart of the team btw. But the question remains what to do with the waste & how to reduce the amount?

PVC rod maximum size from most Chinese manufacturers is 10mm. Alright. Which material do you have in the diameters that I need? POM. Awesome let’s use this then… Minimum order: 500kg per item-type. Want two different diameters? 1000kg. There you go. Shipping? CIF or FOB… wikipedia…. oh. Transport to Mzuzu in Malawi – naaah. We don’t do that, sorry. Can you arrange that on your own please? Even DHL freight international says no… So the stuff would arrive in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania in a container. Then we have to organise the rest. Taxes? Insurance? Theft… the list of “we have to ask someone about that” is getting longer.

(It this as confusing to read as it is in real life?… trying to get you to see my perspective haha)

If you buy 500kg of the smallest rod you need 1500kg of the thick one for the same amounts of wells. 10800 says my excel. I guess we need more donations. A LOT more for 10000 wells… Of course some sell 20kg as minimum order but the prices are double… So half of the wells with the same amount of donations…

On a side note. POM and PVC can not be glued. So as we can’t get the right material we have to change the whole process of connecting the parts. Now we try to heat the pipes, expand them a little with the valves inside of the pipe and it seems promising… So POM from China could work…cheaper…less waste…IF…I’ll keep you guys posted!

This is the first time I find time to write so it is a bunch of things that have crossing my mind. Next time will be more structured! Well… let’s see 🙂

P.S. Are you an expert in logistics, engineer working in plastics, fastening or someone else who has some good ideas? If so please share with us, or even better, join us here in Mzuzu for a while. We would appreciate it!

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