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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