Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Day 37

Another long but productive and rewarding day. The classes went very well, everyone is really enjoying them. We even had some TRC volunteers come and sit in on our last class who had very kind comments about our class and teaching styles. Jay and I work very well together. Since we do the lesson plans together, we can communicate things like "you want to do the next section?" or "what is next?" without words. Jay's methodical and detail-oriented style balances well with my exuberant and fool-hearty style. Together we get things done and make the class a fun place to be. I will miss working with him after our training is over.
I won't complain anymore here about my computer problems. Just know that if I don't post for a couple of days, it's due to computer problems and not lack of Internet access.
Tomorrow my host family leaves for South Africa. I'll be alone until Sunday. I'm looking forward to the alone time, but making my own food every night will be a challenge. Cooking after a long day is never very fun. I'll probably just eat cereal and eggs. This weekend we have nothing planned. Our language test was moved to Monday (big suprise) and our language instructor attempted to scare us into studying for it. I'll probably try, but I'm not very motivated to learn more Afrikaans now- the environment just doesn't suit it. Our instructor is scattered, the temperature is hot, no one speaks it here, and I speak English all day in class. I'd much prefer to pick it up at my permanent site.
I'm looking forward to swimming again this Sunday. Other than that, I'll likely be walking and listening to Harry Potter. I've been listening to the audio books on my iPod since we started going to Okombahe, filling the travel time. It's been a nice nostalgic activity since I both enjoyed reading the books and have very fond memories of the days I read them. The audio books are very good quality too, the guy that reads does all the voices just like you'd expect them to sound. I'm already three quarters of the way through the first book. I've got all six in audio format, but since that's more than a week of recordings, I doubt I'll get through them soon.
We're also planning our host family appreciation party next Wednesday. It'll be an American barbeque: hamburgers and hot dogs, potato salad and chips, apple pie and ice cream, lot's of fun! We will start shopping and making some of the salads Sunday. That reminds me, mom will you send me the recipe for my favorite red stuff? I'd like to make that. Oh, and while I'm at it, dad, can you find a number for HP technical support? Maybe there's one for South Africa- the document you send me is just for business centers. (Sorry to other for putting personal messages here, but I can't write emails right now- my computer only lets me write short letters)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Day 35

What a day. Today Jay and I started teaching. We had a great time. Our two adult classes went very well. We taught basic mouse skills using Microsoft Paint. I was surprised how quickly these adults who were using a computer for the first time in their lives picked up the skills. We had a fun group activity where they drew a picture on a computer, then switched computers every minute and continued drawing. We ended the session with a group game of Pictionary using Paint. It all went great.
The kids were much better than I was expected. They contributed when asked and were very respectful. We spent a bit more time on rules then with the adults, but they really didn't need it. We succeeded in getting all the classes to laugh and participate in games, which did a lot for setting the mood and making the class feel less like school and more fun and games. It was a pretty unique experience watching these people use a computer for the first time in their lives. Perhaps like watching a toddler making his first steps, or child getting on the bus the first time. It was a proud moment, I finally feel like I've done something here.
The activity we chose was perfect for what we wanted to accomplish, basic mouse skills and some vocabulary. Everyone picked it up quicker than I anticipated, and we had plenty of time in the classes to play the games. Tomorrow we've got another great game planned that will teach basic keyboarding, then formatting in Word.
Language is going pretty good. The long days make it very difficult. With two hours of driving, at least an hour of walking, 4.5 hours of teaching, and two hours of language every day, there's not much time for eating and writing. It's 20h00 and I'm just now sitting down to relax. Regardless, words are sticking in my head with regularity and I feel like I have made progress. I'm not worried at all about our language test this Sunday- I figure that the PeaceCorps won't send me home for failing as long as I have a positive attitude and try. There's just so little time, and the end of the day is not when I want to sit around and play "guess that word" in Afrikaans with my host family. I want to sleep.
Okay, so this is the fourth time I've written this blog. Each time I get a bit further before the computer quits. If I wasn't so tired, it'd probably really bother me, but as it is now, I don't really care. As long as it [computer quit here and I am typing now 1/2 hour later] stays on long enough to write entries and post, I'll make due. It's powerless feeling though, almost like I don't have a computer at all, I just borrow it from some ghost who likes to take it back at random times while I use it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Day 33 - 35

Sunday was a great day. I stayed home from church to enjoy a movie with Hermanas. After that we went down to the ORC to hop on the Internet for a while. We then met up with Myrial, Beth, and Suzie to go swimming with our host brothers and sisters. The kids had a great time and the pool was thoroughly dirtied when we were done. It was so nice escaping from the heat!
We wrapped the day up with another movie (X-Men 2) and some computer games. Ahh, Sundays...
Today (Monday) was work time. Jay and I were tasked with getting the computer lab at Okombahe ready for classes tomorrow. Most of the leg work was done last week, so all we had to do was copy software from computer to computer. We now have 14 operational computers, up 5 since I arrived last week.
Classes tomorrow will be fun. We have come up with a great activity to introduce basic concepts and start teaching mouse skills. We'll be using Microsoft Paint in a sort of pictionary-gone-wild activity. Each person will have three minutes to start a picture, then everyone switches computers. The participants will learn about icons, menus, styles, clicks, and dragging. It should be a lot of fun. Pictures and stories to come tomorrow (computer permitting).
It is so hot in that computer lab! The day's high of 105 was made much worse by the orientation of the computer room- broad side facing west, and the heat-churning nature of these older computers and monitors. The room only got up to 94, but hey, that's freekin' hot. Imagine trying to learn something in that environment! It's going to be interesting...
The TRC's all went to different sites today. It was great hearing back from them at the end of the day. It sounds like most are doing well, but being challenged. Everyone was pretty impressed with the level of competency and creative styles that the PCT's employed in teaching. We've got a great group here, and they're going to be doing great things all over Namibia.
Our evening language session was more like a high school giggle fest than a productive learning session, but we got through it. For the first time I felt a bit of pity for our trainer, she was honestly trying to get us working; but if the heat doesn't knock you out, it makes you insane.
I've really enjoyed the drive to and from Okombahe. It's about an hour drive from Omaruru, in the middle of the desert. It's easy to find; just drive south west from Omaruru for about 45 minutes, perfectly straight. Then make a left hand turn when you reach a lonely store that seems to have gotten lost some years ago, giving up on a quest to find a village and just deciding that here was as good a spot as any other. Another 15 minutes brings your through some impressive jagged rocks down into the Omaruru river valley and into the small town of Okombahe. The near side is the location, tattered and broken. The far side is the city proper, formerly white, very nice. One store. One school. One church. That about sums up Okombahe. The streets can barely be called that, most snake around trees and potholes like a river meanders through a prairie. The hundred (maybe two) residents of this town seem almost trapped here; pinned down under the tall canopy of a few African trees, tied forever to an unreliable but solitary source of water. I have not met many residents; I wonder what they think of this place, a small oasis in the vast space of sand and rock. I'll ask tomorrow.
It's cool tonight. Maybe somewhere in the 80's. Yes, that's cool. It's only when the sun finally is hidden behind the earth that I remember that the sweltering conditions I endure each day are merely temporary; I don't have to put up a fight for long. It's the nights and mornings that we enjoy, letting our guards down. Only then do we plan walking routes without concern for shade. It's then that we are able to let our thoughts drift to wonderful subjects, not torn away to reality by heat. Yes, it's cool every night. I think some of my humanity would fail should it be otherwise.
Computer update: I spent most of last night and some of today reformatting on a new hard drive (a backup I brought). Same problem. But now it's been working fine for 6 hours, save the blue screen that I got flashed twenty minutes ago like a big middle finger from the HP computer gang. It is horribly sluggish when first starting up, then acts fine. I just hope it lasts me until January. Please God, just let it make it through the year!
There's more I want to write, but the battery is nearly dead and I left the power cord in Okombahe. For now, I want to let Dad, Mom, Grandma, and Richard know that I am drafting emails to all of you and will send this weekend. Jana and Cheli, I'm working on a short video and hope to send that to you early next week. To everyone else, riddle me this: Why, oh why, is the lightning so much stronger here? Someone's got to have an answer! Seriously, I don't have Internet like you guys do, help me out here.


Just a quick note. Computer problems persist. It's likely a faulty temperature sensor on the computer. I've even tried changing the hard drive with no change. I'm starting to get used to it now though. Just save often and run the disk repair every time it shuts off. I'm also backing up everything!
I've put some more pictures up. I'll try to get a good journal entry done tonight.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Day 33

Still having computer problems, although the randomness of the shut-offs worked in my favor. I spent a good hour yesterday online without any problems. But then later in the day I was trying out a Linux program (OpenLab 4) and it cut out. Frustrating.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day off. It was a cooler day, actually a bit cold in the morning (near 65 degrees). Partly cloudy skies helped keep the temperatures low all day- what a treat. It's getting very humorous for me to hear the locals complain about the weather. It's a part of any conversation you have with anyone in this town, the phrase "Oh, it's sooo hot!" comes up. It's as if one was expecting it to be cooler, or everyone had just, that day, moved to Omaruru, Namibia and were shocked to find it was a desert. The heat has not bothered me at all. I haven't burned since I've been here, and as long as I've got my hat and water, I could walk all day out in the sun! Even the 90 degree nights aren't that bad. Who knew?
I'm totally digging Linux. Go to to see what I'm talking about. It's a completely free operating system for a computer that comes with tons of educational programs, games, utilities, productivity programs (word, excel, powerpoint) and more. I'm thinking of loading it on the lab computers at Okombahe next week.
Jay and I have restructured the trainings for the next two weeks. Instead of working in different towns, we will work together in the same lab, taking turns facilitating. We will also run three classes a day, two for adults (a beginners and advanced) and one for the kids after school. They will be long days, but I imagine we'll learn a great deal. The classes start next Tuesday (Monday is prep day) and run through next Wednesday. Thursday the 22nd is certificate presentation day, and that Friday is cleanup day.
The 22nd is also when we all move out of our host families homes and back to camp. This has become a much anticipated day as we are all missing each other and looking forward to story-telling. We'll spend the following two weeks having our Christmas party, doing AIDS, TRC, and IT workshops, and otherwise working very hard and trying not to complain about it.
January 6th. That is the day. The 6th is when we are set free. Everything that happens now is just a means to getting to this day. Once we are sworn in at Windhoek in front of the mayor and other important people, then we are free. We've learned from other PCV's that "service" (post-6th work) is nothing like training (pre-6th work). Ahh, service. It's like a wonderful dream hanging on the horizon, soon to be encountered. Service; the fantastic end to this difficult journey. A reward to enduring training. The reason we joined in the first place. Service is coming.
All us Omaruru guys got together at the end of the day Saturday to hang out. We listened to music, watched a bit of "Big Fish", and played cards. Today (Sunday) we may use the swimming pool located at the German bakery. They charge $10 per person, and it just may be worth it!
I'll probably not post for a while. With Monday starts very long days. We'll be getting up early to catch a ride to Okombahe, training all day, getting back at 16h00 for language training, then hopefully home to eat around 18h30. I'll try to get some pictures of the model school while I'm there. I know Mike and Amy are teaching at Okombahe, so count on pictures of them. Until next time

Friday, December 09, 2005

Day 32

I was so frustrated and worried about my computer, I didn't feel like typing much earlier. But now, after a long walk with Hermanas to the store for ice cream, then the river, then the rail road tracks, now I'm ready to write.
People are getting frustrated. I mentioned an incident earlier in the week. What happened was one of our Omaruru group had their host parents leave last weekend. According to the PeaceCorps rules, this is not supposed to happen. The PCT didn't want to make a fuss of it, perfectly happy to take care of them self. Sunday night, three PCT's went to a movie at the house of the American that runs the Sand Dragon restaurant. They weren't done until late, so when they left to go home, they quickly realized that walking home in the middle of the night was a bad idea. They went back to the house and spent the night. The next morning is when the problems started. One PCT's host mother didn't know they would be spending the night and was quite worried. Then when PC found out that another PCT's family was gone, and they weren't notified, they began to think it was some sort of conspiracy. They made one of the PCT's sign a document outlining what happened, which was quite weird, and threatened to send her home. By Tuesday, we were all talking about this. The short of it is that some PCT's made some bad mistakes, and the PC didn't react very professionally to it, thinking there was some sort of conspiracy (planning to spend the night somewhere else) and not listening to the reasoning of the PCT's. The PCT's shouldn't have been out so late to begin with, and should have notified the PC when the host family left.
So that's the story. One of many. Another more general story is one I got on my trip to Okombahe today. There I spoke briefly with some PCT's who have been spending the whole week doing model school, a sort of mini-school where they run classes and get experience as a teacher. They spend the mornings teaching, the afternoons in a debriefing session, the evenings in language class, and the nights writing lesson plans for the next day. They are very tired and are in need of some time off. I didn't have the heart to tell them all the fun things we've been doing here.
Things are constantly in a state of chaos. Even when Naf asked me to be ready to go this morning at 6:20 outside the Spar, I somehow knew this was not going to be the case. I waited a half hour for them to pick me up- chaos. Jay is sick. I haven't had the chance to talk to him about it yet, but he said he had a headache yesterday. We had KFC for lunch and I don't think that helped either. This has added to the chaos, for since he needed the day to rest, he couldn't go check the status of the computer lab in another town. This means it will have to be done sometime this weekend or Monday, because we start classes Tuesday. Tomorrow we have the language class that was canceled today. Sunday we will rest when we should be taking our language exams; they were postponed due to a death in the family of one of the testers. Chaos. As of now, I am planning on making everything up as I go next week, even if someone says there is a plan. Chaos reigns supreme.
I can't wait to get to Windhoek. I just want to burry my head in some work for a while, forget about the endless stream of problems and possible projects I see every time I start talking to someone. There are so many needs here, it's hard to imagine how anything you can do would help in the slightest. Here I am, an IT volunteer, hoping to leave behind some computer skills in the people I work with; but even then I'm not addressing the huge problems with English, math, and science education in the schools. I'm not touching the vast abyss that is health education. It's hard to justify my work when you can see the whole picture. For the first time since I've been here, I want to stop learning about Namibian and just get to work on something, anything.
My computer is having problems. It shuts itself off about ten to fifteen minutes after I turn it on. I think it has something to do with the temperature of the processor, it's possible that the heat sink may have become detached or the fan is not working properly. Either way I cannot fix it and will have to spend tons of money on a phone call to HP then shipping, even though it's still under warrantee. I'm considering just buying a used desktop when I get to Windhoek. I tried to take it apart this evening to inspect the processor, but I don't want to make it worse than it is, and it's not a simple task; getting to the processor. At least I can use it for ten minutes at a time now. It's just so frustrating!
Tomorrow we have language in the morning, then the rest of the day to ourselves. Should be a nice break.

Day 32

Well, I'm having computer problems. If I'm lucky, it will just go away. I'll finish this entry, save it to disk, and post it on the web. If I'm not lucky, then at some random point while typing, the computer will just shut off. I have a sneaky suspicion that it's the processor fan, which is finally running now, but wasn't before. When the computer can't start the processor fan when it needs to (like when the processor heats up) it shuts down automatically to protect the computer. Unfortunately, unless you already know that this happens, there's no way for you to know what the hell is going on. This is the longest it's stayed on since last night, so I think I may be in the clear.
Today I went to Okambi, a small town about 100 kilos from Omaruru to look at their computer lab. They had 15 computers donated by HP in 1999, coordinated by PeaceCorps volunteer. The lab was pretty bad. Of the original 15 only 12 remained. New computers have made up for the loss of the others, but I still don't know what happened to them. Only 9 computers would boot, and all of them were trashed; icons all over, themes loaded, random shareware installed, programs menu a mess. I managed to reformat three others, but the remaining two were not working- one was missing a hard drive and the other wouldn't power on at all.
It was a bit disconcerting to see the work of a previous PeaceCorps volunteer, who had done an amazing job putting together this lab, go to near waste. She had documented everything she did, so it was easy to see what was missing from the lab and what fell apart. The community education classes she started stopped once she left because no one wanted to take the time to teach them. Classes are still taught here, amazingly enough, but they only hold 12 learners at a time due to failing computers (they would have been down to 9 had I not stopped by), and I can only imagine the entire lab shutting down in a year after the last computer failed to start.
It's clear to me now what is needed here in terms of IT volunteers. It's not to have PeaceCorps provide teachers for computer classes, it's to provide computer education to community members and teachers so that they can run the classes. They also need competent volunteers to run around form town to town getting labs operational again. Slowly, knowledge will be transferred and Namibians will be able to do all this on their own.
I'm going to talk to Waldo (my APCD) and see if this is even remotely a possibility. Until then I'm thinking about the first term next year- I can't wait to start teaching!!
Okay- I'm super-thrilled that my computer seemed to be on the mend, so I'm making these entries short- don't want to push my luck. I've posted pictures and added text descriptions to the most recent pictures I posted- check them out!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Day 30

Other than a short language class, a short conversation with the Omaruru clerk, and typing up some Afrikaans language notes, not much was accomplished. I spent a good part of the afternoon on the Internet at the ORC getting my blog updated and new pictures up. In the evening, I also organized my journal on my computer (it's now 26,000 words!) and am finding some tricks that will enable me to write my blogs before getting on the Internet.
Some follow-ups:
Since the ORC's only public-access internet computer was taken out by the storm, I (and my wireless internet cafe setup) am the only way for others to get online. I think Internet use will be cut down a bit over the next few weeks until that computer is fixed.
I won the war with the mosquitoes. I've had to suffer 90 degree heat when I go to bed at night due to keeping the windows closed, but the pay off is that I don't wake up in the night with buzzing in my ears and fresh bites on my arms.
There have been some... incidents. I don't have all the information yet, so I won't just yet put the details, but the gist is that some PCT's made some bad decisions, and the PeaceCorps seemed to over-react. There were threats of being sent home and much crying. Things seem to be nearing resolution, but like I said, I want to have the facts before going into details.
The Omaruru group met to plan for our host family appreciation event. We decided on an American-themed dinner: hamburgers, hot dogs, potatoe salad, apple pie, the whole things. Our families seemed to really like this idea- they're looking forward to eating some somewhat authentic American food.
It has been 30 days since this journey began. Just to jog your (and my) memory, here are some highlights:
Day 1: I meet my first PCT while deplaning in Phili.
Day 3: Funny skits and light-hearted conversation before leaving the States.
Day 4: We get our first details about what to expect
Day 6: An amazing welcome to Omaruru
Day 7: Omaruru in all it’s African beauty
Day 10: Language lessons
Day 12: People get sick
Day 16: The hardest day ever
Day 19: Settling in
Day 23: My new host family
Day 27: Storms and work
Ahh, memories. Today should be a day of note: a trip to Windhoek to meet with Microsoft, SchoolNet, and the Ministry.

Day 31

Today the whole Omaruru group went on field trips. The TRC people were dropped off at Karabib to see the TRC there and do some workshops. Jay and I continued onto Windhoek for some meetings with Microsoft, SchoolNet, and a computer reseller.
We learned a great deal about the IT job market in Namibia and Africa. There are plenty of job opportunities for qualified IT workers, the problem is that so many people that make up the core of the working class are dying of AIDS. It's a problem that has economic consequences as well as the social and health ones. We got the name of someone else at Microsoft who deals more with schools. Hopefully we can contact him next week.
After stopping by a local computer store and noting how much more expensive electronics are here, we had a meeting with SchoolNet. We learned all about how the organization is funded and works. The lone donor for all of SchoolNet Namibia is a German company, pretty interesting. They also are short on funds, so have stopped shipping computers to new schools and are instead upgrading current ones. The most interesting thing we learned was the training program SchoolNet uses. They train 50 people on how to setup the labs and run classes using the computers. These trainers then go to new SchoolNet schools and setup their labs, run a few classes, and teach the teachers. Hopefully, they will be hired by the school full time. The SchoolNet training, travel to the school, and accommodations are all paid for by either SchoolNet or the host school. The idea is to provide education to Namibians who can then use it to get jobs. Great idea!
With our heads and bellies full, we headed back to Omaruru. Oh, and no time for the Internet Cafe- too bad.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Day 29 & 30

I’ve learned many things today. Some seem trivial, like how to sing “happy birthday” I Afrikaans. Some are not so trivial, like what a TB ward in the location looks like. The first lesson of the day came as I was walking out the back door to the TRC where we have our morning language classes.
I bought a briefcase-like bag in the China shop downtown yesterday. I needed something that looked cheap to haul my computer and camera around in so as not to draw attention. The bag that my mosquito net came in was working well, but I couldn’t fit very much in it. I was very happy with the bag, and at just $50, it was a good deal. When you buy something cheap in America, how long do you expect it to last? A month? A year? Longer? Well, I found out this morning as the shoulder strap snapped, tossing my laptop and other items onto the ground, the standard in Namibia is about a day. There could be no doubt when later the seam around the handle started ripping. Luckily, nothing was broken, but now I know: cheap is too cheap here, it’s best to spring for the more expensive stuff.
It was in our language lesson that we got to learn how to sing “happy birthday”, as it is my host mother’s birthday today, and she works at the TRC (if you recall, she is a school inspector and kind of like the manager of the TRC). The rest of my group wasn’t very pleased with me once it became clear that the “happy birthday” song we all know and love doesn’t exist out here. Instead, there’s a long poem about living long and strong souls that took quite a bit of effort to pronounce, let alone sing. Regardless, we managed the task and Bessie was quite pleased with the result.
We spent the morning learning the Afrikaans words for things you find in a hospital, from pills and nurse (which has female and male form of the word) to pain and cure. We also got to make up songs using the words we just learned, which was a pretty fun activity. I’ve got to remember to bring my ipod and voice recorder so that I can record these classic Afrikaans learning moments.
Jay and I worked on our primary school project after that. This past Saturday, we visited Omaruru Primary School, which had some unused computers (IBM-100’s, 5.67 Mhz, 640K RAM, and two 5.25 floppy drives- no hard drive). These computers still worked, so we decided to round up some software and get them all running with at least a keyboarding program, a skill they can apply to even new computers. Yesterday we stopped by the CTC again (Computer Training Center, operated by two Americans) and got loaded up with great software on 5.25” floppies, as well as some replacement keyboards. Our goal was two-fold, first to get the computer lab going for the school, and second to collect some software which we could take with us and use at other sites. We failed on both accounts.
We brought one of the computers to the TRC to work on. There, we hoped to install on of the 5.25” drives on a new computer, where we could then copy all the games and make disks. These IBM’s were so old that the drives wouldn’t even work in the new computers. We even accidentally blew up the IBM when trying to put it back together (it was on its last leg anyway…). So we were then unable to copy programs for use at other sites, but we still could get the lab up, right? Nope. These archaic IBM’s use proprietary keyboards, and the keyboards that the school had were broken. Proprietary is a word used in the computer world to mean “do it our way or no way at all.” In this case it means that no standard keyboard was going to work on the school’s computer. Luckily, one computer had a functional keyboard. Unluckily, nearly all the games we had either didn’t work, wouldn’t work with our hardware, or required an original disk. We ended up with one computer with two games and Logo, not so much of a computer lab as a museum display. The end result was not what we expected, but at least we’re done with it now.
Having that project now finished means much less walking. Yesterday we spend a good three to four hours on walking from place to place in near 100 degree heat. The school is about a mile from my house, which is a mile from downtown, and another mile from the rest camp (now called the ORC, Omaruru Rest Camp, where all us PCV’s stay when we’re together). Yesterday we went from the TRC (near my house) downtown, to the ORC, back to the TRC, to the school, then CTC (near my house also), the TRC, then the school, then downtown and finally to the ORC. Count em’ all up, it’s more than you think. I’ve already gone down one hole in my belt (yes, that’s the only method of measurement, no scales here). Honestly though, the heat is really not that bad if you have a hat and walk at a fast enough pace to catch a wind. It sounds funny, but it’s true. I’ve also learned to push my elbows out just a smidge so air gets to my pits and I don’t sweat buckets. I know what your thinking, and I can tell you that walking funny is well worth not having to ring out your shirt at the end of the day.
After all the failures we packed up and headed back to the school. In the library of Omaruru Primary School (where the computers are located) there is a rather large gem, an upright piano. As we were down to one computer, and Jay was content to do most of the work, I spent a good part of the day playing. I found the piano in tune and well cared for. It was great playing; I haven’t played in months. I just hope I can find one in Windhoek! In between sets, I worked on two documents which were tasked by Naf, the education coordinator. He asked us write an account of our activities as well as a draft thank you letter to the CTC which we suggested should be produced. By 15h00 we were done and heading back to the TRC to meet up with our language group.
Our last activity of the day was visiting Omaruru Hospital. This is one of two hospitals (can you guess why there had to be two of them?) and the more neglected of the two (can you guess why?). The building is in the location, right off the main road. It’s a single-story complex consisting of three main buildings: the administrative offices and laboratory, and two wards. One ward is for walk-in’s, trauma, and post-op’s. The other is the TB ward, and pretty much only houses AIDS patients. TB is the single most common infection associated with AIDS, and the Doctor informed us he had yet to see a case of TB in his six years that wasn’t coupled with AIDS.
The laboratory had an old x-ray machine, chemical analysis equipment, and a general-anesthetic surgical room. Jay and I arrived late for the tour and missed this part (the group forgot that we were at the TRC and left without us). I did see both wards. The buildings were plaster and stucco with narrow (for a hospital) hallways of about five feet. The only adornment on the walls of peeling white paint were AIDS information posters. Ceilings were high, about ten feet, and opened on one side to windows. Doors lined the single hallway, the first of which was the local-anesthetic surgery room. In this room was a single gurney covered with a light blue torn plastic cover. A sink and table on one wall housed a surgery tray with just a few tools strewn about- some scissors, a small knife, and some long hook-like metal tools. The only light in the room was an exposed light bulb directly above the gurney. The windows opened to the courtyard, and you could almost imagine a small group of kids pressing up against the window as a doctor and nurse work on a patient. On the floor were blood stains, several large splats that seemed somewhat fresh, and older pool-like stains from days past. This was a scary room. The lack of equipment (IV racks, monitoring devices, medicine, pretty much anything you’d expect to see in a hospital) was the surreal part. It was like this building wasn’t really a hospital, only someone’s house where sick people gathered.
The next room was the men’s area of the ward. There were about a dozen cots rowed twice and topped with tattered mattresses. Five men occupied the room, all of them were laying down and had bandages either on their arm, leg, or stomach. Those that were awake gave half-cognitive glances at us. It seemed like a bad idea to practice our Afrikaans at the point, asking how they were. Instead we waved and said hello. Most waived back. All of them were rail thin, and I have no idea why they were there.
We then saw the children’s ward witch had just one infant who was dehydrated. I’m not sure what care this child was receiving, but there were no IV’s, no medical equipment of any kind. Just a bed and the AIDS posters.
The other side of the ward housed the women. There were more women, and most of them seemed awake and alert. One walked with an IV hanging from a tall pole on wheels, which was the first piece of uniquely hospital-like equipment I saw in use.
The TB ward was very different from the other one. There were two sections, a hotel-like area where room after room contained two beds and a small table. We were informed that this is where the TB patients who have been on the drugs for a few weeks would live. The other section was where new patients lived. It was a single large room with about eight beds. Of the ten patients I saw, none looked any worse than a bit malnourished. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but these people all smiled, waved, and I heard not one cough.
These three buildings flank each other, creating a courtyard in the center that contained a water tower and sheds. The whole complex was quite large, and I’d estimate the capacity of this hospital at sixty patients. Two doctors (GP’s) and five nurses work here. On any given shift there is one nurse, maybe two, and a doctor on call. This single nurse cares for patients in both wards with the help of nursing assistants. The doctors perform the minor operations themselves, while calling in a specialist when more complicated surgeries are required.
Most cases at this hospital are walk-ins: stabbings, broken bones, occasional shootings, and the whole host of infection and disease that comes from living in a malnourished and unsanitary state. Many of the patients that come with infections are so bad by the time they get to the hospital that permanent side effects result: blindness, amputations, and chronic conditions just to name the obvious ones. Anyone can walk in and get an AIDS test for $4 (Namibian) that takes 15 minutes. Pretty much all of the care provided is free, as Namibian citizens are not denied healthcare and all who come cannot afford to pay.
Namibia does not have a single medical education program. This is primarily because the WHO (World Health Organization) does not provide support for such educational facilities in nations with a population less than five million. The result is that every single doctor and nurse that works in a hospital, nation-wide, came from outside Namibia. The doctor that gave us the tour was from Zimbabwe. He speaks none of the local languages (not even Afrikaans), and is here (as he admitted freely) just to get experience, planning to move back to Zimbabwe to start a private practice next year.
I have to supplement this description with a glaring omission: the hospital is being renovated. A new wing is under construction which will house all of the current patients, and then the old wards will be remodeled. Because of the early stage of the construction, it was impossible to tell what manner of facility it will be, but the situation is hopeful. It’s just amazing to me that this building was being used as a hospital for nearly seventy years- simply amazing.
I’ll round off the night with dinner. I’ll probably be coerced into putting on another movie, as I was last night, but I’ll not likely say up to watch all of it, again like last night. The day drains my energy, and come nightfall my body aches for my pillow. Despite the junk food run Jay and I made earlier today (hey, we earned it!) I have been eating very healthily: mostly grains, meat, and veggies. I’ve been taking a multi-vitamin daily now and feel pretty good. I’m looking forward to working out again when I get back to Windhoek.
The latest news (as of last night) is that Jay and I will be traveling to Windhoek this Thursday to meet with people from Microsoft, the Ministry, and SchoolNet. We are very happy about this, and I’m looking forward to getting out of town.
Other stories I don’t have time to write about:
A huge lightning storm hit last Sunday and knocked out two computers at the ORC. I looked at them, one just had a fried modem, the other had a fried main board.
Jay and I have found several short cuts to and from houses, schools, and downtown. It’s pretty fun walking them; they are in high brush and grass that temporarily block the view of anything civilized. There are literally hundreds of such paths around here, well worn by school children.
I walked to the river, which consists of a 200-foot wide sandy dry river bed. What’s most amazing are the trees that have grown along the banks for more than hundreds of years, they have grown to more than 100 feet high. They spread out in magnificent form, casting shade on not houses, but entire blocks. Pictures to come.
It’s my host mother’s birthday. I’ve bought her a chocolate milkshake. She had it after dinner and I think rather enjoyed eating it in front of the rest of the family. She also had Hernandas draw a hot water tub to soak her feet in. She’s earned at the very least these few luxuries.
I’m earning my keep (or tying to) by helping with the dishes. It’s not much, but it’s something. Joseph will be gone next week, so I’ll try to help out with the yard work. Also on the home front, Marcela is leaving for her Aunt’s house tomorrow, Joseph is leaving for a wedding Friday, and we’ll be down to three next week. The house will feel empty.
Consuming water has become a way of life. I now use two bottles, one in the freezer and one attached to my side. I swap at least twice daily, making my average daily intake about 1.5 liters. I sometimes wonder if drinking less water would help reduce the copious amounts of sweat my body produces each day. At this point, going without a constant supply of cold water is not worth finding out.
I have declared war on the mosquitoes. They have been eating me alive at night. I currently have five bites on my left leg, three on my right, three on my arms, and I think there's one on my neck, but I can't be sure. Tonight I launch a full-scale retaliation. The weapon of choice is "Doom" which is a spray that kills just about anything. I've bathed my room in it- we'll see who the victor is in the morning.
I’m hoping to get access to some high-speed internet in Windhoek later this week and finally download all my emails. I’ve produced a short video called “Rain in Omaruru” which I’ll post as well.
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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Day 28

Went to church today. It was a Roman Catholic church in the location. I’ve only been to one Catholic church before, with Matt in Boise. This seemed pretty much the same. Lots of standing, sitting, kneeling, praying, singing, and listening. There was no choir, but the songs sounded great. The prayers would be read aloud by the congregation in monotonous drawl, but the songs were belted out with passion and practiced accompaniment. These people love to sing, and in this small church my ears had their fill of skilled intonations that reverberated off the walls as well as souls. It was all I could do to keep awake through the readings, but the constant standing and kneeling kept me on my toes. There was a great diversity of patronage in this church, from the well dressed city dwellers to the T-shirt and jeans youth from down the street. Infants, elderly, teens, mothers, every possible category was present. One thing that surprised me was who didn’t show up- more than half the town! I was expecting to see everyone filling into church on Sundays in this very religious town and nation. Rather, most we walking down the streets, selling goods, and otherwise not attending church.

While I was very happy to have gone to church and had that experience, meeting some wonderful people and seeing first hand the passion that patrons had for their beliefs, I don’t think I’ll go back. With as much respect as possible for the Catholic church, I have to say that services are a tough ordeal to endure when not a member of the faith. At least in a protestant church you get to hear a pastor rant on some cultural problem. Here in Catholic church, you get the Bible straight, no frilly stuff.

I spent the afternoon with Hermanas. We went to camp to get some things from storage so that I could connect my laptop to the TV to watch a movie tonight and try to get on the Internet. We were unsuccessful in getting Internet (all phone lines busy, probably storms), but did meet up with Suzy, another volunteer staying in town. We went to her house and played some Chinese checkers, borrowed a deck of cards, then returned home.

After some card games with my host parents and Hermanas, a big thunder storm hit. I got a lot of it on video, and plan on putting it all together this week. I’ll try and post it somehow on my blog. There was tons of thunder and lightning, but it only rained for about twenty minutes. The lightning here is amazing, coming down in solid columnar bolts which reignite two, three, and even four times. I’d like to know why lightning is so common here, and why the lightning bolts last longer than in the states- anyone want to do some research for me?

After watching Armageddon with the family, I played some cards with the kids, finally getting some quality time in with them. We had a great time playing “BS”, but it took a while before we were all comfortable with each other.

And now the end of the day comes. It’s nice and cool, dark; the stars must be hiding behind clouds. There is a gentle wind that carries sounds of back yard barbeques, TV’s, cars, and every once in a while, church bells. Crickets are the dominant noise makers, followed by incessant barking of distant dogs. Dogs here are strictly for guarding purposes, which means they bark every time someone walks by. If you had a mind to, you could track the progress of various night walkers by listening for distant barking.

I have no idea what I’m doing tomorrow. Should be fun.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Day 27

Things are changing. There are fewer and fewer means of measuring days left to us. In the States and our first couple of weeks, time was the measure. Days went quickly, then slowly, then quickly again. Locals use temperature to measure days, having hot days, very hot days, and days with “weather”, where clouds, wind, and occasional rain segment the hours. I used to refer to classes attended, sessions sat in, and trainings endured. But all these measures have lost their utility.

Time is no more a resource than the heat, and we spend most of each day avoiding them both. My observation is that cultural norms have blended with a simple resource issue to create this thing we call “Africa time”. Without cars, getting anywhere on time is a difficult task. Depending on weather, who you are walking with, your mood, and who you meet, it can take anywhere from ten minutes to hours to cross town. How can anyone honestly expect a timely arrival under such circumstances?

Weather is a favorite gripe and conversation moderator. Whether you’re greeting a stranger, filling silence in an awkward conversation, or recalling the day’s events with a friend, the weather will be mentioned. The heat is both a way of life and a curse. Here in Omaruru we tolerate our environment as a child tolerates the play pen; occasionally fussing, but mostly trying to find entertainment with whatever can be found.

Flexibility is no doubt a requirement here. Plans change daily and promises lack romantic connotations of fulfillment. Because of this work has less glamour. The challenge is continuing on in the morning, not making it through the day. The challenge is trying not to anticipate what may happen, despite written timelines and verbal assurances.

Without these key utilities to measure days, this past week has gone by not quickly or slowly, not hot or dry, not busily or laid back; rather these days have just gone by. Perhaps a measure will present itself, some adjective that could contrast one day from the next. For now, all I have are stories.

I got home about 18h00. The afternoon sun mixes with small quantities of dust diluted in the air, causing a paling effect that both dull and simplify the view. I walked through the house, dropping my things on my bed, and proceed to the front porch with a book. On the front stoop I relax on the short wall in between two pillars. A rough breeze attempts to cool our town, but the radiant heat from the ground and buildings puts up a hideous fight. Three roosters, one adult and two babies walk by, thrusting their heads forward with each step they take, stopping every three or four steps to either peck the ground, cast a suspicious glance at me, or let out a bellowing “Koook-a-dooo-a-doooooo!” Trees across the street play with each other in the wind, mocked by the cacti that stand like English bobbies, unflinching even when taunted.

After reading a couple of chapters, I go next door to take a shower. The shower has cold water only, but when taking a shower in the evening the hot of the day and the warmth of the pipes make this minor fact inconsequential. The small house the shower is located in is just twenty steps from the back door, and has an external entrance. A single pipe (no shower head) drops water from two feet above my six foot body, both relaxing and cooling every part of me. Refreshed, I stop to say “hi” to the dogs and rooster on the way in. They hide in the safe shadows of small bushes, looking at me hopefully as if I was about to either make it rain or give them food.

Back on the front stoop now, I have witnessed large thick clouds combine to blot out more and more of the blue. The nearly inaudible sounds of distant thunder bring memories of rain just last Sunday, but it’s the small rainbow that can be seen nearby that brings hope of rain tonight. It’s raining on the other side of town. One solitary cloud decided to rejoin the ground, but was unable to convince its neighbors to come along. Rain can be smelt on the wind now. Every time it rains it seems like it’s the first time.

I’ll be wrapping up the day by watching Mr. Bean on TV, having a quiet dinner with the family, and reading a bit more Stephen King. A tidy end to a Saturday.

This morning we all met at camp. All 58 of us got up early so that we could be stuck with another needle and share stories from the pseudo home front. It was amazing how diverse our situations were. Some bath in buckets with cold water (Matt) while others have in-home hot water showers (most of us Omaruru guys). We have been split into four cities, three of them outside of town, and the fourth right here. Only us IT and TRC volunteers are staying here, and we’re very happy about it.

The story of the day was from Myrial. Once her host father left for a week the partying began. She was convinced to go with her host mother and a strange guy (who had been drinking and making verbal sexual advances on her) to a dance club in the location. She convinced them to stop at another host family’s house on the chance that they may be able to help her. After some swerving down the street, it became clear to Myrial that she was in a bad spot. It was PCT Chris that saved the day, telling the drunk couple that there was no way Myrial was going with them to the dance. She has since been placed in a new family, actually the home of Dameon (our favorite Namibian youth) and Celina (a true African super-mom), so everyone is happy.

Many of the discussions centered around chores. Most of the men found that they were not expected to do anything, while many of the women were asked to do a bit more than their fair share. Some men were admonished for doing dishes, while others were welcomed to cook and clean. I have to admit that I’ve been pretty lazy here, and intend to help out more tonight. I helped with dinner last night, but wasn’t really of much use.

After our morning sessions, we were set free. Having already got my hour of Internet time early this morning, I didn’t need to stick around. Jay and I went with his host father to Omaruru primary school to look at some broken computers. The school was very nice (Namibian for saying it was previously a white-only school) and Catholic. The archaic IBM computers actually ran, and we found that the original software was already installed. Good old DOS, Word 4, and logo will make for some entertainment for learners next year. What was most startling to me at the school was the health display. One entire corner of a main room was dedicated to AIDS information. This included pamphlets on how to put a condom on, how feminine contraception worked, urgings to “stay faithful” to one person, and use the ABC’s (Abstinence, Be careful, Condomize). Imagine such a display in a Catholic school in the States! Here no one debates the ethics of contraception. AIDS is destroying these people, and all means of fighting it are being employed. There are currently 120 million Africans with AIDS, including children. We learned that in some towns AIDS is so stigmatized that doctors tell patients they have TB (tuberculoses), but neglect to mention AIDS. While TB is a common problem among AIDS inflicted people here, the cause is the AIDS. We also learned that the highest risk factor for women is being married. Both men and women often have extra-marital sexual relationships, but continue to have unprotected sex with each other. Women often have no choice as they are financially dependent and culturally expected to do as they are told. Meanwhile orphanages overflow with youth who are left without family. It’s a sad situation. I wonder if the odd family structures here are the result of youth being shuttled to distant relatives as parents either leave to find work or die of AIDS. I doubt there is a single household in this entire town that has just two parents and kids only from that partnership.

After that our language group met to watch an Afrikaans movie. This ended up being “The Gods Must Be Crazy” which is not Afrikaans, but is African and funny. We were only able to get through half of it though; most of us were nodding off, wishing we were either on a soft bed or enjoying a meal. We all left earlier than expected.

Tomorrow I go to a Catholic church in the location with my host mother. I’m looking forward to seeing the location (which I haven’t yet) and other parts of town. I also wonder how this church will differ from ones in the states. After that, who knows.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Day 24-26

What a crazy couple of days! The schedule for our training changes by the minute, making each day a surprise. We started the week thinking we (Jay and I) would be training some employees at the TRC. After we realized that they were struggling to round up people for us to teach, felt like it was a waste of time. Adding to that, we were missing our language classes and getting behind in Afrikaans. We talked to Naf and arranged to drop the trainings formally, but continue to work with some of the employees who needed it on a as-needed basis. This left us free for language classes, which have been fun. That was Wednesday.

We spent yesterday (Thursday) making lunch at one of our hose families house. We’ve met in coffee shops, the TRC (Teacher Resource Center) and other places to learn. The learning is going very slowly. We’re at this weird in between place where we know enough to speak, but not enough to hold a conversation. It will come with time, we are assured. We ended the day in the library checking out children’s books in Afrikaans.

For language today, we met this evening at another house. We worked on fruits and veggies, directions, and a funny poem about grandparents farting. Earlier today Jay and I had several productive conversations with the owners of a computer business here. They do just about everything you can imagine on a computer: flyers, databases, certificates, training, custom building, installations, etc. They are Americans who have been living here for 13 years. They had a great deal of insight and information for us. I now have three good contacts in Windhoek (one at Microsoft!) to get a hold of when I go back there. We also got some great free software.

Next we spoke with a manager at the local phone company who filled us in on the telephony infrastructure of Namibia. We learned that there’s a 64 channel fiber optic line carrying high speed internet and phone running through Omaruru on to a larger town, but no junction here. Thus, the fastest connection in town is a 32 Kbit dialup from which you get about 4 kbits throughput due to poor phone line connections. Good stuff.

I’m getting ready to go to a barbeque at the Camp for us eight volunteers that are in Omaruru. Before that is a school play in which our favorite Omaruru resident is starring in. Dameon is a 12 year old genius of a Namibian. His mother works at the rest camp, so we saw a lot of him these past weeks. He’s very smart, witty, and fun to be around. We’re all going to watch the play tonight.

Tomorrow is reunion day. All 58 of us will be returning to camp to organize our stuff (we’ve got to consolidate rooms to save money), get some more shots, and attend a few sessions.

I have to apologize for the short nature of these past posts, I’ve been busy during the day and very tired at night, plus I’m spending a lot of time with my host family, so writing had been difficult. I’m hoping to get some time this Sunday to write in detail my experiences and feelings.

Until then!