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Dam tough

Names & Faces - Dan Rea has recently rejoined Arup after a year in Zambia.

For most engineers, the prospect of living on a diet of boiled Bush Rat and maize meal porridge for 12 months might be expected to dull their enthusiasm for work in Africa.

Dan Rea admits 'they're a sort of chubby hamster that lives off forest fruits - not to everyone's taste'.

But subsisting on locally caught bush meat was one of the many challenges that made construction of the Zengamina hydro-electric scheme on the upper Zambezi River in Zambia 'just an amazing experience'.

Rea persuaded his employer Arup to give him a year's sabbatical so he could work as an engineer on the £1.2M, 700kW, hydropower scheme.

'I wanted to get some real construction experience under my belt. I started as an assistant, but soon after starting on the project I was asked to take over as site engineer and manager - with full responsibility for the site, construction and a workforce of 400.' Rea's modesty is put to the test as he relates the following months of intensely hard work.

'It is hard to know how to start conveying the challenges of building a large, technical project that is 600km down a bumpy road from the nearest town, has no telephone, an unskilled workforce and an incomplete design, ' Rea says.

'I was working 12 or more hours a day, six or seven days a week. I would trek off to a missionary post several miles away to do administration in the evenings. When I got back to my tent at night I'd fall asleep while still getting undressed.' Rea had to design parts of the scheme from scratch while juggling his other responsibilities.

When he started on the project the workforce numbered over 400.

As funds were stretched, Rea set about improving workforce efciency, treading a ne line between getting rid of excess labour while maintaining morale and support.

'Despite ashes, redundancies and having no money to pay wages some months, I succeeded in creating a very good atmosphere and general attitude on site.' Back in the UK, Rea is working as interface manager on the project to underground the power lines crossing the Olympic site in east London.

Q&A Dan Rea

Career high: Building the Zengamina hydropower scheme.

Low point: Being so isolated, it often felt like the project was going nowhere.

Favourite food: Bush Rat's an acquired taste.

Best adventure: Biking across the Namib desert.

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