Saturday, January 23, 2010


Sorry I haven't posted in a while. But this one has pictures! So I think it makes up for my lack of writing. We're in Kampala now, which is our last stop on our crazy LFC assessment trip. We're working with Fatuma, who had visited us at MIT in March. It was fantastic to see her again-- she has tremendous insight into wheelchairs, given that she is a wheelchair technologist and wheelchair user herself. She was a great host and really made us feel welcome.

Off to explore Kampala today, and then hopefully going rafting on the nile tomorrow (fingers crossed!)

Eating fresh cassava chips in Mombasa, Kenya

Abdullah testing the LFC in Moshi, Tanzania

Monday, January 18, 2010

Greetings from Kisumu

Happy MLK Day! I’m in Kisumu, Kenya now which is a sprawling city on the edge of Lake Victoria. The views of the lake are nice and the fish is quite tasty. We’ve just come from Kisii, which is another town, about 2 hours south of where we are now. It’s been really interesting to see so many different towns and cities, but I’m looking forward to settling down back in Arusha when we finish next week.

The testing has been up and down. On the one hand, we’re getting great feedback from the users and can return to MIT with solid ideas of how we can improve the design. But on the other hand, nothing seems to be going according to plan-- one LFC (leveraged freedom chair) was fitted way too big for the client, which slowed him down quite a bit. Another user hadn’t clearly understood the instructions on how to use the LFC when it was delivered. He was quite slow and uncomfortable when we first arrived, but did make a marked improvement after just 15 minutes of instruction. And yet a third person who was testing the LFC became sick just before we arrived and was unable to do the physical testing. But we’re learning a lot from these things and will be able to design the next LFC trial better, as well as make improvements to the design of the chair itself. And we haven’t reviewed the data yet so there could be some good news still lurking in the electronics box!

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about water. Clean water. And how so many people lack access to it. Yet at the end of the day when I’m hot and sweaty from working all afternoon, I can walk into a shop and buy a large bottle of clean water to quench my thirst. Doesn’t seem quite fair.

Monday, January 11, 2010

About time for an update!

Looks like my New Year’s resolution to post twice a week has not been met. But the good news is that I have indeed been flossing! Every night. So at least I’m making some progress.

Things have been quite busy. At the start of last week we were in Moshi, Tanzania. It was pretty hot, but it’s still a favorite city of mine over here. Abdullah was very patient with us, even when after the first day of testing we discovered that a setting was off and no data had been recorded. He was a great sport and helped us iron out a lot of the kinks in our testing procedure.

In short, the tests consist of the user doing their daily commute (presumably a long-ish distance), a 100m dash, a comfortable 100m ride, and a series of hill climbs. They do this both in their regular wheelchair, as well as our lever-powered wheelchair (the LFC-- short for Leveraged Freedom Chair). And all the while, this crazy data acquisition box that Amos wired collects data ranging from heart rate and oxygen consumption to distance, velocity, and hand position on the levers while pushing. This combination of mechanical and metabolic data will teach us a lot about how people are using the LFC, and how it compares to other wheelchairs.

On Wednesday we drove to Mombasa, Kenya, which turned out to be an 8 hour drive instead of the 5 hours that we had heard it would be. About halfway through we found a little shop to get snacks at. We got large cakes that I nicknamed “famine” cakes (they’re actually called family cakes, presumably because they’re large enough to feed an entire family, or a weary traveler on the verge of famine as the case may be).

On the way into Mombasa I was overwhelmed by the traffic, both in terms of cars and people. It was just mobbed. And stifling hot. We checked into our hotel and Joseph and I decided to go for a walk to stretch our legs after the long drive. Because the streets are so packed, the city is full of little tuk-tuks that operate as taxis. After wandering for a bit we decided to flag down of those little tuk-tuks, with the intention of going for a quick 20 minute ride to orient ourselves to the city. Our 20 minute ride quickly turned into an hour long tour that included several stops, including one to get freshly made cassava chips. Our driver was very patient and stopped for us to take pictures all along the way. Dinner that night included the thickest mango juice I’ve ever had-- so thick that the straw could stand up in the middle. Let’s just say I was a whole lot more positive about the city by the end of then night!

The next morning we went to APDK (the Association of the Physically Disabled of Kenya) to visit the wheelchair workshop and to meet Sahale, the woman who had been testing the LFC for the past few months. Unfortunately she had become quite sick the previous month (possibly with TB) and so she had been unable to use the LFC in the recent weeks. We didn’t want to make her do a lot of intensive activity so we decided to skip the physical testing and just do the video interview. Sahale was great and gave us lots of valuable feedback-- most specifically that the LFC needs to be lighter and narrower. This made even more sense after we visited her house and saw how narrow the doorways are. We also had a long chat with the president of APDK, which gave me a lot to think about.

We took advantage of the extra day in Mombasa to head to the beach. We got a late start, but it was still nice to have the afternoon on the sand. They sell all sorts of interesting stuff on the beach, including camel rides! I almost caved and took one. Perhaps next time.

All in all, it’s been a pretty interesting trip so far. As I’m getting quite close to graduation (yikes!) I’m thinking even more about what I want to do after MIT. I definitely want to be doing development work, but perhaps from a different angle-- microfinance, public health, or something else along those lines. I’ll be sure to keep you all posted as the adventure continues.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Heri ya mwaka mpya!

Happy New Year!! I touched down in Kilimanjaro with what I thought would be plenty of time to get to town for the new year's fireworks. Unfortunately they were having trouble attached the stairs to the plane (which makes no sense to me, seeing as they do it everyday). But in any case, it meant we had to sit on the plane for another 45 minutes while they managed to assemble some stairs. So close yet so far!

But my bags (yup, both of them made it this time!) were waiting for me on the other side and I made it into Arusha just in time to get a fireworks-watching spot.

And after a meal today that left me feeling like most of the food was still stuck in my teeth, my first new year's resolution is to floss every day. Wish me luck!