Cooking & Kinyarwanda

Pascal cooking

Dinner every day is close to a four-hour affair. Tonight, Sophie and I started cooking the rice a little past six while June was out visiting Kigogo with Pete. Joey and Max, meanwhile, worked on calculations for civils designs. “Civils” refers to the larger, structural parts of the system, like the channel that brings water to the turbine. Joey and Max eventually left for the market and bought around 1500RWF in groceries, roughly three dollars US. This is enough to feed the eight of us for the night.

Cooking with the open wood-burning stove has made us think of the bioenergy team and their previous initiative for clean cook stoves. The stoves that we cook with spew smoke, and although we open the windows and the door, it’s uncomfortable to be in front of the fire for a long time. The smoke bothers me, and I often have to step out of the room for a breath, but I notice that our Rwandan counterparts are unfazed.

Pascal is a student from the Kigali Institute of Technology that has been working on the sites with us, and he seems completely unfazed by the smoke. Jeremiah, a long-time DHE contact in Banda and a doctor in the village health clinic, and Pete, our foreman, can indefinitely continue to stoke the fire and peel potatoes in the small kitchen.

For the people cooking with it every day, the smoke can be lethal. Over the years, the air pollution takes a serious toll on their health. Because they’re not bothered by the smoke, there’s also little incentive to look for alternatives. Jeremiah’s petroleum-fueled stove sits next to the wood stove, but he leaves is unused. As a doctor, he has one of the highest incomes in the villages and is the most conscious about his own health, but still, the price of petroleum is too high.

Once we finished cooking, it was past 8:30 and we wolfed down the food. Two nights ago, we talked with Pascal, Jeremiah, and Pete about marriage and relationships in Rwanda, the overturn on gay marriage in the US, and the expansion of the universe. It was a great night. Tonight, as we finished our dinner, Pete announced that we’d be learning more Kinyarwanda. We pulled out our notebooks and turned on our head lamps.

How do you call this?: Ichi cyitwa gute?
I want: Dashaaka
I like: Ngunda

Egg: Umagi
Potato: Ibirayi
Sweet Potato: Ibijumbo
Bread: Umugati
Onion: Ibitunguru
Tomato: Einyanua
Rice: Umucheri
Salt: Umuunyu
Pineapple: Inanasi

One: Rimwe
Two: Kabiri
Three: Gatatu
Four: Kane
Five: Gatanu
Six: Gatandatu
Seven: Karindwi
Eight: Umunaani
Nine: Icyenda
Ten: Icumi

Spoon: Fork
Fork: Ikanya/Ifork
Knife: Icyuma

Other words that we already knew:
White person: Muzungu
Yes: Yego
No: Oya
Good morning: Mwaramutse
Good afternoon: Mwiriwe
How are you?: Amakuru?
I’m good: Ni meza.

I didn’t get to write down all of the words that we were taught, but hopefully I’ll get to learn more as the weeks go on. We finished at around ten, and the six of us from Dartmouth talked for a few hours, updating each other on our progress for the day and talking through some of the more controversial design decisions. Our days are long but rewarding.

Alison, our last traveller, gets here at the end of the week. We’re excited to see you!

Beginnings in Banda


We arrived in Banda on Wednesday, tired by our five and a half hour journey from Kigali in a crowded car, but excited to finally reach our home for the summer. As our car descended the final few kilometers into Banda on a road that managed to consist primarily of potholes, we finally gleaned our first glimpse of the T-shaped town of Banda that has become familiar to us only in pictures. (Note: our driver referred to the violently jostling descent in Banda as an “African massage,” perhaps using “massage” a bit too loosely.) At the end of the hill, we finally arrived in the main town square with at least a dozen children happily chasing our car.

We immediately drove to our new home, the house of Jeremiah, the medical professional in charge of the Kageno health clinic in Banda, who has housed and worked with DHE students in the past. Jeremiah is wonderful and his home is lovely. The beautiful landscapes resting just outside our windows continue to amaze us, along with the brilliant star gazing we are able to partake in after dark.

Our days in Banda have been varied. On the day we arrived, we went down to Kageno to play soccer, which attracted quite a crowd of spectators who spent most of the time laughing at our (many) whiffs. That said, our onlookers were quite smiley and friendly, and made us feel welcome in town despite our incompetence on the soccer field.

Our next day was spent visiting Nyargasigo and Kigogo, and it was great to finally see the sites in real life. While the pictures Joey had been sending had been extremely helpful, actually being at the sites allowed us to better understand what we will be doing to improve the sites and why it is necessary. We have decided to work on Kigogo first because the repairs/changes are less complex, making it an easier site to begin with. Since our first visit, we have returned to Kigogo to take more measurements and talk to site operators, as well as working on putting together the electrical system and preparing the civil upgrades from home. We’re planning to test the electrical system tomorrow and begin creating a spillway along the channel on Monday. Progress has been great so far, and we hope things continue to go smoothly.

We spent this morning carrying bags of sand up a steep hill to a construction site for a few hours, taking part in umuganda, or community work that is mandatory across Rwanda. Of course, we were shown up by people from Banda carrying massive amounts of sand, but the community was appreciative of our efforts and gave us tips on how to carry the sand most easily. After umuganda, we announced our intentions for site upgrades and surveying to the community with the help of the leader of Banda, Pascal. Pascal has been quite friendly so far, going so far as to invite us over to his house tonight when we met with him yesterday.

Perhaps what has been most memorable from our time in Banda so far is getting to know Jeremiah (our host) Pete (our contractor), and Pascal (a KIST student who is working with us this summer). Our conversations go on late into the night as we talk about everything from the culture around relationships and marriage in Rwanda, Japan, China, and the US to the Big Bang to light refraction. We’ve also been teaching each other our languages, with Pascal, Jeremiah, and Pete teaching us Kinyarwanda (Maramutse!), Shinri teaching Japanese, June teaching Chinese, and all of us travelers helping our Rwandan co-workers with their English. Yesterday, Pete returned from a trip to buy biscuits with Shinri reciting numbers in Japanese.

All of us travelers are doing well. We’ve been working hard on electricals and civils for Kigogo and planning our days to minimize the need to shut off the system or wait on parts. In addition, we’ve been practicing our Kinyarwanda and learning the art of cooking on an open fire. Other than June’s perpetual concern for one of Jeremiah’s chickens (which likes to absent itself from the yard for extended periods of time), Joey’s frustration about the lack of sushi available in Rwanda, I’d say all is well with us.

We’re Finally Here! But First, Our Path to Banda…

2013-06-14 12.01.16

Muraho! Hello!

I’m Shinri Kamei, a ’16 and a prospective electrical engineer from Japan. I’m a part of hydro’s travel team to Rwanda this summer, along with Joey Anthony ’12, June Shangguan ’13, Max Sloan ’13, Alison Polton-Simon ’14, and Sophie Sheeline ’16.

We’ve been in Rwanda for almost a week now, and we’re currently in Banda, where we’ll be spending most of our summer. In 2008, DHE’s hydro team set up two hydropower sites at waterfalls each about a thirty minute walk away from the village. Most villagers use car batteries as their source of electricity, and these can be carried to the sites and recharged. Previously, the only source of electricity had been a micro grid, six hours away by foot.

The path to the hydro sites is like a scenic hiking trail, and after finally meeting our local partners, I know that the next two months will be amazing. Our house is pitch black at night, and a small battery, charged by one of the hydropower sites, lights up the kitchen that we cook dinner in. I learned to say 100, 200, 300, 400, and 500 in Kinyarwanda, the native language, and our contractor and foreman, Pete, now knows the same in Japanese. Our toilet, a hole in the ground more than thirty feet deep, feels charming, and the freezing shower is refreshing. The next two months will be amazing.

But our trip didn’t start a week ago when we got on our plane at JFK. Let me step back and walk you through what we’ve been up to.

In the two weeks between Dartmouth graduation and our departure to Rwanda, they hydro team split up into sections. June, Max, Alison, and I stayed on campus and spent upwards of fifteen hours a day in Thayer, working through an electrical intensive with Prof. Charles Sullivan, one of DHE’s advisors. We got a chance to thoroughly test and understand the electrical system implemented by previous trips and identified its limitations. We spent so much time together that we all shared the same cold. We huddled in Thayer’s otherwise deserted Advanced Design Laboratory with tea, honey, and popcorn. We somehow made it out alive.


June led the charge on the intensive. She’s a computer engineer that just graduated from Dartmouth with her B.E. and is headed to Michigan in the fall for a Master’s in engineering. Prior to the intensive, she’d been the only one in the group with electrical expertise in the system. She quickly caught us up to speed and started presenting us with different design diagrams. Our questions would lead to changes in the design, and once we had our new design for the day, she’d respond with her trademark “good,” complete with the extended o-sound. The next day, we’d present our design to Sullivan, and his critique would inform further alterations.

Max is the other ’13 on the team. Being a mechanical engineer, electricals were completely new to him, but by the end of the two weeks, he could answer any of my questions about dump load sizing, charge control, and anything else I was unclear on.

Alison, a ’14, is a NYC native and the past year’s DHE president. She spent her spring term away at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and returned at the beginning of summer for our electrical intensive. Alison is a fiercely organized computer engineer and is a lover of lists and Greek yogurt. During those two weeks, she juggled communication with Joey, who was already in Rwanda, documentation, finances, logistics, and of course, electricals, with a sage-like wisdom.

At the end of the two weeks, June, Max, Alison, and I finally came up with a new system design that we were happy with.


A lot of our work was defined by Joey’s work in Rwanda, which was going on at the same time. Joey, a member of the 11X travel team had worked in Banda two years ago, and was project leader of hydro in the terms that followed. The Monday that our intensive officially started, he got on a plane from Tokyo and departed for Rwanda alone. In Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, he hired a contractor and interpreter. Upon arriving in Banda a few days later, he visited the sites we’d been working at and discovered that not only had storage batteries, crucial buffers for the system voltage, had been removed from both sites, and one site had zero circuit breakers.

These situations made sense. The storage battery could be sold for profit to new customers. Circuit breakers, if designed to trip at low current levels, made the system safer but could be a nuisance. These current levels were higher than those expected during normal operation, small but harmless spikes could trip the breakers and cut the circuit. They could also break on their own and were difficult for the villagers to replace.

These revelations informed our design of the system, and we were able to come to Banda better prepared.

Meanwhile, Sophie Sheeline ’16 prepared material for Impact Analysis from California. An engineering major with a focus on applying engineering to global health and development, Sophie had been working all term on preparing surveys and surveying methods for the summer, so that DHE can better understand the impacts of our sites on the people in Banda, and how we can make our impact bigger and more positive in the future. In the weeks leading up to our departure for Rwanda, Sophie finalized survey documents and plans with the help of previous travelers and Peace Corps volunteers that spent their last two years in Banda.

Thank you so much to everyone, both inside and outside DHE, that helped us along the way. We’ll make you proud!