Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Floods... In The Desert?

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usIn a sign of just what an abnormal summer we are having here, there was major flooding last weekend when one of the two major dams in Namibia had to be opened before it overflowed, flooding the towns downstream.

Some try to blame the water company for opening the dams and thus devastating these towns, but things would have been much worse if they had let the dams overflow and wash out. 

The last time Namibia saw such floods was 2000, when more than N$20 Million of insurance claims were made for repairs.  This time is expected to be worse.

To further complicate the issue, last weekend was a home weekend for all hostels.  Anyone who traveled south to go home was trapped by the flood waters.  Many schools just north of the floods have many learners not present.  All the schools in the affected towns are closed, some may be closed for some time while damages are repaired.

As all floods do, tangent problems have cropped up.  Sewage has been seeping into drinking water, washed out roads affect distribution for gas and groceries, and insurance companies are already talking about bankruptcy.  The police are trying to maintain order while search and rescue crews look for survivors.  The electricity is expected to be off for a week or more while power lines are replaced.  It's a mess.

I see the local affects of flooding every time it rains here in Katatura.  The rivers and storm drains fill almost instantly, making them impassable after just ten minutes of hard rain.  Most live above the flood plain, which is small here due to the numerous hills, but inevitably every rain brings floods that destroy houses.  I can only imagine what it looks like in Mariantel, one of the cities most affected by the flooding.[/cut]

Monday, February 27, 2006


I've never had my patience tried as I have here.  Watching someone who is using a mouse for the first time is a lot like watching baby horses on those Discovery Channel shows, all wobbly and out of control.  You say "Click the start menu, right there" and watch them slowly inch the mouse towards the bottom left of the screen with all the speed of a drugged-up worm, stopping every inch or so to make sure predators are not watching.  Once they finally arrive there, the big moment comes: the click.  Before the click can be successfully mastered they first have to practice not pushing all the buttons on the mouse at the same time.  They then have to learn not to hold the mouse button down as they drag.  So now they click, but instead of a simple click, they murder the left button on the mouse, smearing it's guts all over the mouse pad.  The result is random shortcuts that are created when you drag and drop from the start menu.  You start over yet again.  "Bring the mouse here.  Good!  Very good!", trying to maintain a positive and patient attitude.  Then you say "now click" and watch them shove all their weight onto the mouse. "No! Wait, remember, a click is just pushing this button, like this."  But it's like riding a bike for the first time, fingers seem to loose their dexterity and instructions seem moot.  You just have to do it again and again.  Once the click finally happens they've got to click yet again on the "All Programs" menu.  This produces another round of mouse button massacres and try-agains.  [cut]Finally, the "All Programs" menu is open, and the really hard part begins.  They have to move the mouse up the menu without going outside it (because it will then close).  Slow progression up, up, up.  Then they stumble and the mouse falls outside the "All Programs" menu, closing it.  They panic and start clicking away, creating a new folder on the desktop in the process.  After a few more trys, they manage to get the menu open and the mouse finally over the program that needs to be opened.  This is the tense part.  After all this work, everything comes down to this last action.  They know that if they make a mistake, they will have to do it all again.  It's here that the most frustrating mistakes happen; here is where they start to forget everything we went over just minutes ago.  Mouse buttons are smothered and smeared.  Icons are moved, duplicated and deleted.  A frenzy of desperate clicks results in making the desktop a bloody battlefield of scattered icons and relocated folders.  We start over, yet again.

Soon these novice computer users will master these basic skills, but until then every program that needs to be opened, every file that needs to be found is an arduous ordeal that sucks the very life from my veins and pleasure from my heart.  The only consolation I have is knowing that both life and pleasure will be returned ten-fold once they finally master these skills.[/cut]

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Ahh, Internet...

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usAhh, good old high-speed internet.  I've got my computer connected to a decent-speed internet connection for the first time in months.  What's the first thing a true computer guy does in this situation?  Email? No.  News? No.  Computer updates?  Oh yeah!  It's a constant annoyance thinking that there are updates for my computer and software that I can't get access to.  Now I'll have them!  Happy day!![cut]

On my way downtown today (Saturday) there was a small parade for an African Youth organization.  What was most cool about seeing this parade was actually knowing some of the youth that were in it.  I was first scocked when I started hearing my name- "Mr. S!  Mr. S!".  But then I saw several learners from the high school, as well as a few from the hostel I live at.  It was the first time I got to whip my camera out to snap a few shots and not feel like a tourist.

I decided not to go to Omaruru this weekend after wasting half of yesterday waiting for the guys to fix our internet problems.  I say waste because after I agreed to wait at the school for them to return for more than three hours, they called and said that they would just work on it from the office.  In all the excitement from Thursday (getting packages from home) I almost forgot: this is Africa.  As if to drive this point home, I got home Friday to find that the plumbers fixing my hot water heater.  After a solid two hours of work, they bolted without even talking to me.  I found immediately that I had hot water (yippeee!!) but when I went to the kitchen (where the heater is), it was leaking water all over the place.  I have to turn it off and shut the hot water off.  So, now I'm without hot water for a totally different reason.

Ahh, updates are still downloading... what a great feeling!!

Next weekend I have at least two PCV's staying at my place.  There may be one or two more.  Good to enjoy this lonely weekend (so far) while I've got it.  I now have plenty of entertainment options.  Until next time![/cut]

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Happy Day

When your thousands of miles from home and missing your family and friends, nothing washes the bad feelings away better than a package from home.  I was thrilled to find out that my guarded hope at possibly receiving a package today was fulfilled.  Good old DHL.  But most importantly, good old family.  Coincidentally the DHL package, which contained a replacement DVD player for my laptop (Dad, all I can say is you are amazing- thanks!), was accompanied by another package they had sent in January.  Two packages in one day![cut]

I extracted as much pleasure as possible as I removed each carefully packed item like a dedicated chocoholic (that's me) would while enjoying what would be his last candy bar for months.  A painting made by my three-year-old niece; what beautiful craftsmanship!  Straight to the wall with this one!  Some flavored almonds; oh yeah, a wonderful sample from the land of plenty.  The next Stephen King novel in his Dark Tower series; what's the last word in the book?  What great cover art!  I took my time as I removed each item, inspecting them carefully as though handling fragile valuables.  But alas, as all good things do, it came to an end. 

I am starting to feel cluttered.  With all the books that came in the last package (thanks sooooo much mom!!) I actually have things on all the shelves I own.  I've got things on all the walls and am considering the ceiling as the next display area. As much as I like keeping my place spotlessly clean (let's see how long that lasts...), a little clutter really felt good today.

The great roller coaster of life seems to be on the up-swing at the moment.  Now with a working DVD player, tons of books and magazines, an almost fixed hot water heater, and reliable Internet at school just within an arms reach, almost all my worries are being resolved.  I'm now faced with a new challenge and irony.  With plenty of movies to watch (thanks Luke for the tv shows!!), books to read, computer games to play and newspaper clippings to catch up on (thanks Grandma!) I have to start watching my sloth-level.  I hated wasting more than an hour on TV each day in the states, and it's the same here.  It's so easy to make an evening disappear with these little proclivities.  I remarked just a few posts ago that I felt like I had so much time.  Well leave it to movies and computer games to take care of that.

I've considered spending a day one weekend at the Location, just walking around and talking to people.  I want to get to know some people and that's the best way to do it.  It's quite a hike form my comfort zone though, so send me your courage.  While in Katatura, the simple fact that I have to take a taxi to get there makes me feel vulnerable and far from home.

It's Thursday night and I have yet to decide whether or not I want to take a short trip to Omaruru tomorrow.  I've considered going back to see my host family, meet up with the PCV's there and take in the small-town air for a few weeks now.  It's comes down to how tomorrow plays out.  There is a big athletics event in which our school is participating.  Even though only 15 learners are competing in events, ten teachers have been assigned various judging duties.  This means that the school will probably shut down.  I'm not sure exactly what will happen, but if everyone goes home early, I'll probably be off to O-town.

On a more technical note, I've been working with Schoolnet and some technicians from TelCom to resolve our internet problems at the school.  It took three visits each with different technicians to convince everyone that the problem was not on our side of the link.  It's a microwave wireless network which is owned by TelCom, but leased by SchoolNet to provide low-cost internet to schools.  Today's visit was by far the most productive, and we think we've narrowed the potential problem causes to just two places: the SU that connects the tower to the computer which may be malfunctioning, and/or the content filtering system at SchoolNet, which may be causing packet timeouts by delaying the already delayed wireless data while inspecting it for inappropriate material.  Maybe sometime next week I'll have a consistent connection to the Internet at school.  Oh yeah.

Well, that's all I've got for now.  I've got more to write about classes at the school, but the DVD with season 3 of "The Shield" is staring me in the face, giving me that "you know you want me" look.  I give in.[/cut]

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

From the eyes of a resident

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The fries come with chili powder on them.  Taxis are flagged by pointing in the direction you want to go.  True desperation and hunger can be seen in the eyes of street beggars.  An auto mechanic is characterized by a tattered house with a small metal ramp sitting out front to park a car on.  Walk-up bars can be found on every corner.  Kids play in dirty polluted water. Stop signs are treated as yield signs; yield sings as no sign at all.  Petty crime happens out of need and desperation, not boredom and entertainment.  This is Windhoek, Namibia.[cut]

Most businesses in the states want a slim, efficient work force.  Here, 40% of the population is out of work, making labor so cheap that efficiency is not necessary.  Most retail, grocery and fast food stores employ two to three times the employees you'd see in the States.  Most of them just sit around, waiting to clean your table once you finish; Standing guard over an isle; ready to weigh and tag your produce.  Security guards are among the largest employers in the Nation, sending out thousands of poorly-trained bottom income earners to guard the stores and cars of the top 1% of wage earners; sometimes with guns.

Retail outlets are almost universally tourist or rich resident oriented.  You can see this by driving outside of town to the sprawling slums and noting the numerous small businesses run by local residents from their front yards; everything from clothing and furniture to fresh meat and auto repairs.  The largest employers for this area is the textile factory (more than 15,000 employees) and the numerous security companies, both of which fairy their employees to and from work each day in the backs of pickup trucks and crammed toe to toe in busses.  Government and in-town retail employees constitute the lucky few who managed to get out of the slums.  Even then, pay is low and living expenses are much higher in the city.

Here, the most important thing you can have is family.  Above all ambitions, high school youth dream of having families; the sooner the better.  The more people you have in your family, the larger the contact network you will have access to, and the more wage earners you will have contributing to the household.  Small one and two room shacks are inhabited by four, five, even six family members to a room.  Housing is cheap (actually completely free in the "Location") but food, water, electricity, toilets, and trash services are very expensive.  Better to pool your resources. 

The average grocery bag for a family of four is N$250 a week, counting only essentials.  Most families are larger than six and have a combined weekly income of just over N$100.  Illegal hunting and diets that consist of mostly corn and wheat make up for this huge disparity.  And this is Windhoek, the capital city.  35% of Namibians live on less than $1 US a day, more than 90% of that number are rural.  During apartide tribes that were mostly subsistent were driven to less fertile lands.  Now they fight to survive in a land where they once had flourished.

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The government is making honest efforts to address these problems.  Shelters are being built to feed starving children.  Schools are being erected in even the most remote villages.  Farms are being purchased (annexed) by the government and re-distributed to native tribes. But progress is slow and corruption makes every step forward a painful one.  Even now the Prime Minister is having a huge billion-dollar estate built in the hills across town from the numerous schools that need additional classrooms and textbooks.  It's hard to live in a place where there is so much unfairness and injustice.  It makes it harder when I sit on the just and fair side of the fence, wondering whether pity or anger is the best response to a wholly uncontrollable situation. 

One thing is for sure, apathy is rampant.  It's a lack of concern for the problems that allow the owners of $300,000 BMW's drive by the men who guard it and think there's not a thing wrong.[/cut]

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Here I come

I'm switching to blogger. ModBlog is giving me too many problems, so here I am again. I'm in the process of cleaning up the page so it looks like I want it. Once I'm done, I'll start posting again.

I'm also working on a new way to do images:

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Monday, February 06, 2006


I attended the school's first soccer game yesterday (Thursday) against a German school on the other side of town.  The game was supposed to be a blow out (the German school's team is quite good) but Hage Geingob High School played hard and with spirit, coming to within just one point of it's rival.  The final score was 3-2, but the loss was hardly a loss.  Getting such a close score against such a good team was a huge accomplishment.  Below are some pictures of the game.

Here's the team all piled into the Combi (van) to go to the field.  I think there were 20 players that all crammed in here!The team photo.  Don't they look professional?The pre-game huddle.  They were actually quite organized despite only having a month of practice since the beginning of school.
Hage Geingob controled most of the first half, which ended with a tied score of 2-2.  The second half, the German team showed the benefits of hard training by running down HGHS and controling the ball most. 


Each week now brings new adaptations to my new home.  Just today I took a taxi back to Katatura at 5:00 in the afternoon to pickup something I left at school.  Just a week ago this task seemed dangerous, problematic, and even scary.  But now I know where to catch the taxis, how much it will cost, and most importantly what to expect.  Yesterday I met up with another volunteer who was in town for a medical visit and I showed her around, taking short cuts, getting lost, but always knowing roughly where I was.  I had a short conversation with the guard at the school in Afrikaans.  I laughed and joked when some teens lied to me again rather than take it personally. I’ve learned that lying here is not the same as it is in the states: it’s like a game among men here, and something for the women to make fun of.  It may seem sexist, but it’s exactly the way it is.  Yeah, I’m adapting slowly, but it’s happening all the same.

The highlight of the week had to be our school choir singing during assembly.  I was expecting a jumble of uncoordinated, unpracticed and unenthusiastic group to match the athletic teams I’d seen the previous week.  Instead I was very surprised to see choreographed dances and hear wonderful harmonics.  The teacher that leads the choir has always struck me as a little odd, but he showed a different side as the leader of the choir; dancing and singing along with them.  Next time they sing I’ll be sure to record it for all of you.

The big task this week became splitting my classes.  Some of the classes got so big it was ridiculous.  I found a way to split the larger classes and still keep learners on the computers for the same amount of time, but it has meant giving up a lot of my free periods.  But I would much rather give up some free time for 20 learner classes than have to recover from six 40 learner classes each day.  Having one learner per computer will make all the difference in lesson planning as well.  You just can’t teach computer skills if half the class isn’t using a computer.

The weeks sure are flying.  I can’t believe it’s been five weeks since school started, and six since swearing in.  Reconnect is just around the corner. 

I spoke with Waldo yesterday.  He wanted to make sure I don’t put myself in an awkward position by allowing PCV’s to stay at my place when they aren’t supposed to be in town.  Apparently some previous volunteers got in trouble for this.  Waldo is a great guy, and I have tremendous respect for him.  He has a way of changing the tone of his voice so that you know when what he is saying is from him, and when it’s from his boss.  I could tell which angle this request was flying from.  I’m going to try to talk with Jeff (our country director) about Windhoek safety; it’s not near as bad as he’s saying it is. 

I’ve finally found an internet cafĂ© downtown that allows me to connect USB devices.  It’s more expensive then all the others, but it’s worth it.  I can even connect my webcam to do video conferencing! I’ll be heading back there tomorrow morning to post this blog entry and get my pictures organized.

One last thing of note: I love it here.  I love doing work that means so much to everyone around you.  I love being in a new place.  I love having new experiences every week.  I love having time to relax, sleep, and enjoy life.  I love the way the world looks when viewing it from Africa