Tuesday, 30 September 2014

One Day in Africa

Here is the maiden performance of my first homemade guitar.

One day in Africa

Hope life and hospitality everywhere you go
So many barriers
actually working
trying to accomplish
you might forget
keep in mind, This Is Africa

You may come to change the world
The world is bigger
You may find yourself changed first

Greet a stranger on the road
Dogs and roosters fade into subconsciousness
Every shopkeeper's friend, boss, same time

Feel the rain
Feel the heat
Feel the cold
Feel the beat
Breathe the dust
Smell the sky
Scuff the dirt
You're alive

One day in Africa

(c) 2014 Andrew Christopher Potts

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Cigar Box Guitar

As promised, here is the story of my first homemade guitar!
It started with Chabota, a student at Chodort, asking me if I could teach him to play guitar. He came over to our house on a few Sunday afternoons and played the one that MCC had in storage, which I've been using. It's a decent guitar, it looks nice, the intonation is okay, etc. I think a SALTer had left it here after a previous term. Because it is MCC property I didn't feel right about loaning it out, but Chabota really needed something to practice on. While there is an Academy of Music right here in Choma which he is a member of, his schedule doesn't allow him to go there to practice. And so was born the idea of making my own (for him to borrow).
Another spark was the visit of the parents of one of our colleagues from USA. Jan's father works with hardwood and came to Chodort to buy some rosewood for a guitar. I realized I had a treasure trove of guitar wood right under my nose! So I planed down some old window frames and made a couple of necks. They were a bargain at 15 kwacha each! ($3). I made them quite thick because I didn't want them to bend, being a six-string guitar with no truss rod.
I should also note that I don't have the patience to build a good guitar. It simply takes too much time and there are too many things that can go wrong. I found out about "cigar box" guitars online--a cheap alternative in the Bluesy Southern USA. Basically they are a neck and a cigar box. I don't have access to cigar boxes here but I knew I could make something similar. The main difference is that CGBs usually have only 3 or 4 strings, and I wanted six.
So, I chiseled out a space for the box, glued on some toothpicks for frets (using a fret calculator for spacing), and attached two metal pieces from a doorknob for nut and bridge. My parents sent me some tuning hardware and nylon strings via my brother-in-law who visited us in August. I put the strings on before I had built the box, and it sounded okay (though very quiet)! There were a few problems with fret noise and a string that kept breaking, but overall I was happy with my first attempt.
I kept waiting for plywood offcuts at work, but having found none, I bought a sheet of 6mm ply for 110 kwacha ($20) and cut it with a handsaw. It was quite rough but I wasn't going for beauty here. I attached it with screws, glue, and nails. Some watercolor paints gave it character and some sanding sealer finished it off. Tonight I re-tuned it and played some songs! It was the coolest feeling to hear the strings resonating against the box--they are now audible! It will definitely work for a learning guitar! But before I give it away...I'll have to make a music video. (coming soon) I will also have to start on guitar #2. Then, I think my career in guitar building can wait...until I retire.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Mobile Carrier Ads

In Zambia there are three major cellular companies. There are no contracts to get locked into (that I know of). If you have a phone, almost any phone, you can buy a SIM card for about a dollar (though you have to register with I.D.). This gets you a phone number. Then you buy airtime in the shops or on the street, in varying amounts. I usually buy about 10 kwacha at a time, which is about two bucks worth, and that will last me a couple of weeks, unless I have a lot of calling to do. (Since I'm not a phone person I don't make a lot of calls) :) Texts are cheap too, and you don't pay to receive them. Anyway, these three companies have different rates and deals on their own networks, and some are better than others as far as reception goes--we like Airtel for calling and MTN for internet. But they are all decent for service and reliability, I think. So I have created some ads that I will send to their advertising departments, and then check the newspapers next month. ;)

Renovation in the Bush

I had a busy weekend. Chodort was doing a quick renovation on a container computer lab in Chikanta, a 3 hour drive from Choma. We had converted it into a classroom two years ago, but some termites had made themselves at home inside the wall panels and the school asked for some help. Our initial estimate was a bit low--the damage was greater than we thought. So I found myself leaving early on Friday morning with three other guys to join the two that had already been there since Monday. We took more timber, paint, tools, and food.
When we arrived in the afternoon we found the container gutted, the brandering (studs) replaced, and the original particle board panels going back on. We got right to work and worked into the night--we had solar-powered fluorescent lights. No one slept too well that first night--we camped in the container. I suspect the hot still night and the ant poison we had sprayed might have been part of the problem!
Early Saturday morning we went back to work. I had packed some food so I ate a bit, but most of the guys waited until lunch and were getting dizzy with the heat by that time. (A line of women with water buckets on their heads went by as the sun came up. I only managed to get a picture of the last one!)
There was beautiful singing from a nearby chapel as we worked--many of the students are Seventh Day Adventist in this area. We worked hard again all day and managed to make good progress, but unfortunately we had to spend one more night. I was persuaded to take an African bath at the water pump that night, under the stars. It was very refreshing! The other guys took good care of me--they were sensitive to the fact that I'm not used to the water, the food, etc. I felt a bit babied but mostly respected. :) Sleep was slightly better that night except for the paint fumes and a squeaky cabinet door that started swinging with the breeze at 3am. I finally put some cooking oil on the hinges and tied it shut with my handkerchief, but couldn't sleep.
We started work at 6am on Sunday. Our driver, Mr. Banda, made us an excellent breakfast of rice, eggs, tomatoes, and onions. Soon we were installing the desks that we had modified with keyboard trays, and other furniture I had designed such as a battery box cover and a teachers desk made of two student desks.
Around 10:30 we started packing up, and soon started the long, bumpy drive home. Peter and Mr. Banda posed in front of the finished container for a picture.
Not far from the school I took a picture of Peter sitting on an anthill, where there was better phone reception (we had seen someone sitting in the same place previously, talking on their mobile). I am planning to make a mobile carrier ad and send it to the various cellular companies in Zambia.
Overall it was a good experience, though tiring. Some volunteers from Intel were coming the next day with some donated desktop computers, making the computer lab functional for the high school. Aside from some sticky varnish on the desks, everything was ready for them!