Wednesday, August 10, 2011

After nearly two months of waiting, the books I’d ordered from Amazon UK finally arrived here in Ouagadougou.  I’d ordered them in the middle of June and it was now almost the middle of August, so I’d nearly given up on them.  In fact, on the day they arrived, I’d checked the Amazon UK website to verify that there hadn’t been a problem and that they’d actually been shipped.  Sure enough they had, with the anticipated arrival date in Burkina being listed as July 6!

All this got me to thinking that there must be a better way to get items like this to the regions and countries of the developing world where the postal system is not always as fast or reliable as what we’re used to in North America and Europe.  Not only had my package taken nearly two months to get here, but it had cost me a shipping charge of almost $20, which was actually more than the two books I’d ordered had cost together!  Surely, in today’s modern world, there had to be a delivery method that was faster, cheaper, and more reliable!

I’d already thought of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.  We sometimes use this method for various things, seeing as folks coming for short stays usually do not use all their baggage allowance and have room to carry extra stuff.  But the people making such trips are usually few and far between because I really don’t know that many people personally, and no one that I knew was coming from the UK anytime in the foreseeable future.

Then I thought of the Internet and the ability it gives people to connect, communicate, and collaborate on things.  What if someone were to set up an on-line database where people travelling to various locations around the world and not taking their full baggage allowance could register their trip, and people living in such places and wanting stuff delivered to them could go and search for possibilities, getting in touch via e-mail, Skype, chat, text message, or phone call to firm up the details?

For instance, suppose that when I was preparing to order my books, I went to the website to see who was coming to Burkina from the UK in June or July (and maybe even how much spare baggage allowance they think they will still have).  A search yields several possibilities and I email several of the most immediate to say that I have two books that weight approximately so much.  I quickly make arrangements with one person and get their mailing address, to which I have the books shipped (which would only cost me about $5 since it’s local shipping).  Of course, they can open the package to verify the contents once it arrives before placing it in their baggage.

Once they arrive in Burkina, we meet so that I can get my books and the person who brought them can get a pre-determined, fixed payment (maybe between $5 and $10) for their trouble, a win-win situation because I save some money and get my books more quickly, and the deliverer gets some extra money for something he had anyway (spare baggage allowance) and that didn’t cost him a cent.

No doubt, as on e-Bay, there will be some abuses (like the delivery people stealing the stuff for themselves or demanding more payment once they arrive), but such cases can quickly be weeded out with a reliability evaluation system like the one e-Bay uses.  Once a delivery person tries such a trick, they will never be trusted by anyone again and be blacklisted on the website.  Ditto for those who want stuff delivered but try to abuse the system by shipping illegal stuff.

Anyway, food for thought.  Anyone coming to Burkina in the near future?

Monday, August 1, 2011


After nearly two years of Kathy getting after me to make a BBQ, I finally did it.  You see, we can’t go to Home Depot, Zehrs, Canadian Tire, or Wal-Mart to buy a BBQ here.  If you want a grill to cook steaks, sausages, or hamburgers on, you’ve got to make it yourself.  To that end, we’d brought a nice set of enamel grill racks with us, but I had to draw a design for the BBQ and then get a local welder to make it (someday I’ll have my own welding machine to do stuff like this, but we didn’t want to wait THAT long!).
What finally pushed me to do it this time was Kathy’s statement that she had some nice sausages to BBQ for Canada Day... if only we had a BBQ to do it on :)  That was it.  I got out my paper, pencil, and tape measure, and started to sketch out a design complete with the appropriate measurements.  Then I took it to our friendly neighbourhood welder and gave him the sheet with the design, along with a verbal explanation.

Commissioning stuff to get made here, especially western-style stuff, is always an adventure because despite drawings and explanations, you’re never quite sure what you’re actually going to get.  If they’re not familiar with the thing you want them to make, they’re going to make up what they don’t know.  For this reason, I stopped by the welding shop each day to see how things were coming along.  Of course, since I can’t stand over him and watch every step he makes, by the time I come along, some things will already have been done and it’s too late to change it.

For instance, even though I hadn’t drawn it in, the welder decided to fabricate a tubular steel frame for the firebox.  Thus my inside dimensions became his outside dimensions, and the racks no longer fit snugly just inside the firebox (where they could be removed but otherwise not move) but now sat on top of it (where they could slide over and even off the BBQ.  So I had him weld a couple of steel stops in place.

And instead of using heavier angle iron for the legs as I’d put in my drawing, he built them out of light tubular steel.  This was good in the sense that it made the BBQ lighter to pick up and move around.  But when you opened the lid, the weight of the lid shifted the centre of gravity sufficiently to the rear of the BBQ to cause it to tip over backwards.  His solution?  Weld a long, narrow container near the bottom of the front legs in which I could pour some cement to provide the weight needed to keep the thing from tipping over.

Okay, so it’s not perfect.  But after it was painted black, it looked pretty good.  And it worked.  Next time, I’ll make some modifications.  But for now, it makes Canada Day sausages just fine :)