Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Lounge

It occurred to me as I visited the Peace Corps lounge today (Sunday) that many of you at home have never even seen it!  So here it is, the grand Peace Corps volunteer lounge, established so that traveling volunteers can crash, relax, use the Internet or make phone calls.  It's a horrible mess, but it's a homey kind of mess.

The front door with a single pad lock. If you think this may be unsafe, consider that this door is inside a 10-foot gated compound that is guarded 24-7.You enter to the computer, sitting idle (if your lucky) on a shaky table in front of an even more shaky chair. The notice board with two-year old notices. 
The second room with a couch, closet, table, phone and lots of junk.The other side of the second room showing the book case of old books and more junk. 

It should be noted that several volunteers have volunteered to clean the place up, but just like so many places in life, it just gets messy again.  I actually like it messy- somehow it doesn't feel right to have an orderly lounge in the middle of Africa.

The book case in the lounge holds a decade long conglomeration of reading material.  Most of the good stuff has been snatched by volunteers, so all that's left are the unknown authors and titles. 

There's also a bathroom and shower, which has never looked used despite the signs on the shower warning of no hot water. 

The main room also has a large grid of cubbies that we use as mail boxes or long term storage- whatever the need may be.

In the summer we crank on the air conditioning and in the winter we turn up the heat.  It's a very comfortable and messy place that has welcomed hundreds of volunteers for many years.  Hopefully it will welcome a continuing stream of volunteers in the future as the education and health problems in Namibia persist.

Next time I'll give you a tour of the Peace Corps offices.

Helping the Community Center

Four learners at the computers they just cleaned and moved around.

Back to the community center!  We (Joel from the Ministry) and I took several learners back to the community center yesterday (Saturday) to reorganize the lab and clean things up.  As usual we had lots of fun, watching Dumb and Dumber and playing games.  The newly reorganized lab looks great and is now all ready for classes next term.

Another day of work.  We started around 9:30 and didn't finish until after 2.  After their long day at the community center these guys went home to study for term 2 exams that are taking place next week.

I plan on having some of the learners from Hage Geingob teach basic computer skills to primary school learners in the Babylon area.  They are really excited about this- the chance to be an expert and to teach something to someone is a new idea to them.

Yes, we had lunch too!  Imagine trying to feed some US students a lunch of bread with spam-like meat squirted all over?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Tech Squad

Wow, what  Saturday!  I had a blast taking 8 learners from the school to a community center in Babylon (on the outskirts of Katatura) to work on their computer lab.  We started the morning with a tour of the fire station that is next door to the community center.

All of us at the fire house.  They particularly enjoyed seeing all the parts of the fire truck (they called it a "big machine")The eight lucky 12th and 11th graders who worked all day on computersOur ministry transportation fell through (big surprise there) so we all piled into the back of Joel's truck.

At the fire station they learned all about the equipment, job responsibilities and life style of a fire fighter.  They were even allowed to shoot water from the hose and play with some of the medical equipment!

After that we spent some time in the computer lab reformatting computers.  We also brought some computers that were discarded by the Ministry as non-functional and were able to get most of them running again. 

The kids had a blast.  We had a nice lunch, played in the stair well of the Indongo building (again) when we took the fixed computers back to the ministry, and rounded the day off with some computer games at the school lab. 

This time I took 8 learners, four of which went last week to work on the labs at the Library and the Ministry.  The 4 twelfth graders each picked one eleventh grader to bring with them and teach everything they learned.  It worked really well, and now I have four eleventh graders that are ready to take the lead next year.

They got to play with the stethoscope, which they (of course) yelled in and tried to break each other's ear drums.Here's a Namibian ambulance.  I don't have much experience with them, but it looks pretty standard to me.At the end of the day, we brought the repaired computers back to the Ministry
A well-earned lunch of baloney sandwiches, apples, chips and a sugar-loaded drink.Walking from the fire house to the community center to start work.Abram and Aron feeling the tremendous back force exerted by the hose while shooting water at full-stream
Reformatting computers at the lab.  There were ten computers which needed an overhaul after several years of use.After learning about the insides of computers, these guys correctly diagnosed the problem with this machine: no hard drive! 

I really enjoyed working in Babylon.  It was established in 1998 officially despite having had residents some ten years prior. Once enough people setup homes (illegally) the government was forced to put in streets, toilets and water.  Joel, who runs the community center, has done several studies of the residents of Babylon, mostly centered on education.  He found that many of those who live there have never been to Windhoek and some haven't even been to Katatura.  The community is nearly self-sufficient with ad-hoc businesses in every other house.  You can buy anything from produce to a hair cut, even get that dent in your car door hammered out without even leaving the town. 

A shot of the playground and soccer field, both empty despite the hundreds of kids on the streetA shot of a main street with greater Katatura in the back ground.Here you can see a "shower" to the right of the closest house.  This is the outer most area of Babylon, which continues to grow each year.

When you drive through Babylon you pass an uncountable number of people, mostly children, out on the streets and sitting in yards.  Community is everything here and no one lives alone.  The kids play in groups in the fields and yards while the teenagers and adults sell goods and hang out at the stores and bars.  According to Joel, there are quite a few wealthy residents as well.  A precious few have made it in the world outside Babylon, landing jobs in companies or government offices.  They continue to live in Babylon because it is their home and also because it is their perceived duty to care for the rest of their family.  One successful family member can support 20 or 30 people on a full-time salary.

Another amazing thing about Babylon is the crime, or lack thereof.  The community center sits at the center of the town and has only a small five foot fence around it.  Even though it's the only building for miles with electricity, water and even computers, it is not vandalized.  The community here understands what it is there for and has a central role in running the programs it hosts.  The community here is very tightly knit.  Everyone knows everyone, which makes crime very opaque. 

There are plenty of problem though.  While mal nourishment is not a huge problem, sanitation is.  The recent polio outbreak is evidence of this.  Several of the victims of the recent outbreak were residents of Babylon.  There is also a lack of education.  Despite the fact that most families value children in hopes they may one day be able to support them, they do not invest or appreciate education.  Again, according to Joel, most parents do not help their children with school work, attend school events nor encourage attendance and diligence.

There are a lot of changes happening though.  One of them is the parks and soccer fields that have been built by NGO's and ministry programs.  I was shocked to drive by a very nice park in the middle of these hundreds of rows of shanty houses.  But what was most surprising was that the park was empty.  Joel says that most kids here don't know what to do in a park.  Swinging on a swing and sliding down a slide were not a part of anyone's upbringing here.  I wonder if someone were to show them if they would enjoy it as kids in the states do...

All in all it was a great day.  I'm so thrilled to be working in an area like Babylon and can't wait to get more involved with projects happening there at the community center.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ministry Training

Ministry employees all working on the Internet for the first time. They are doing an Internet scavenger hunt and currently trying to find the exchange rate for the Namibian Dollar against the Euro.
I'm having a blast teaching introduction to internet classes at the Ministry of Education.  I've done two classes so far and have another four scheduled, each with six participants.  The participants are all managers of departments and heads of offices.  You'd think this would make the training formal and somber, but these guys have had a blast laughing and playing throughout the workshop.

Many of the participants have never even used the internet before, even though it's provided free my the ministry.  This is because the ministry does not provide computers.  So unless you're one of the lucky ones, or just have the cash to get your own, you don't get a computer.

Anyway, just thought I'd share that.  It's been strange doing workshops on basic internet skills for office workers on the 9th floor of a very tall building in the middle of a African desert, but hey, it's my job now!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Formattin' Computers

I had a great filed trip this past weekend.  I took four 12th graders downtown to setup a computer lab in the public library and reformat a lab in the Ministry of Education.  They had a blast and learned quite a bit.  They also got a feeling for what an 8 hour work day is like.  Below are the pictures.

Here we are, Aron, Abram, Myself, Erik and Tarrance
We started the day at the library, hauling in two donated computers.  We formatted them and were even lucky enough to help the first library patrons who were looking for information about dinosaurs.
It wasn't all work though!  We ate lunch at KFC and played in the stair well of the 17 story Indongo building.Erik, Tarrance, Aron and Abram: victorious!
There was also plenty of time for group photos: on the ledge outside the computer lab at the Ministry, on the roof of the building below it, and outside, looking up at the Indongo building.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Unenvited Guest

I made myself some hot chocolate last night.  I noticed something floating in it as I stirred.  Using the spoon, I pulled out a rather large cockroach.  I then drank the hot chocolate. 

I've learned a few things about cockroaches in my time here.  They are simply everywhere.  Encarta says that there are thousands of cockroach species world wide, but less than 1% of them are considered household pests.  Most cockroach species confine themselves to moist environments like bogs and swamps, rotting trees and plant matter and forest floors.  The very few species that invade our homes prefer dark corners near food and water.

The common household cockroach has a oily skin that allows it to slip into very small spaces and also protects it from dehydration.  Water is essential for survival, so most often you'll find them near water sources.  The cockroach is actually a very clean insect, spending much of it's idle time cleaning itself.  It does, however leave droppings all over the place and casts a noticeable and disgusting odor, so they aren't all good. 

Cockroaches go through several stages of development, growing larger at each stage.  They shed their exoskeletons (molt) at the completion of each stage, each time looking more and more like an adult.  They mate like most animals do, males and females getting it on.  The females lay 20 to 30 eggs which are usually then abandoned to fend for themselves.

So what have I learned from all me research and experiences with cockroaches?  They aren't all that bad, and when you see them every day you stop to worry so much about them.  You're not going to get rid of them.  Just keep your place clean and they won't bother you.  I almost feel bad for killing them all the time.  Almost...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

All Quiet...

What a quiet weekend!  I heard from no volunteers (except for sms's) the entire weekend, so I assume no one was in town.  Robin stopped by Thursday night on her way through town, but other than that I saw no one.  I enjoyed the quiet and got a lot of cleaning, reading and sleeping in.  I managed to do quite a bit of eating and walking too.

So in the interest in keeping up with my blog and posting something I offer this:  I have cleaned and organized my kitchen area.  Exciting, isn't it?  It ended up being a great idea for reasons I hadn't considered before I started.  Half way through cleaning out the storage area in the top of my closet I came across a huge cockroach nest.  There were probably several dozen of them all living happily and crapping all over the place.  So the great cockroach massacre began.  I was thinking of leaving one of the dead bodies pinned to the wall as a sort of war memorial, but then decided that would be gross. 

All my food, pots, pans and other kitchen stuff nicely organized.I put up (hung) a little shelf for the spices.  Isn't it great?  I love it.

So that's it.  The week at school as more of the usual.  I've had meetings with the ministry regarding computer training, website development and mobile computer labs, but nothing much has progressed yet.  African time.  I'm hoping to have something exciting to report later this week as I start a Desktop Publishing and Digital Photography workshop for employees of a local nonprofit.  I'm also taking some of the teens from our school downtown next Saturday to teach them how to work on computers.  We will be setting up a computer lab at the public library and reformatting a lab at the Ministry of Education.

Back at school, movie Fridays are a huge hit.  I've shown two so far and will continue them as soon as the projector is fixed (it was broken after our last movie two weeks ago).  Photographs are selling like hot cakes.  For N$5 anyone can get their picture taken and printed in full photo-quality on a printer I bought for the school.  I've been printing 20 to 30 pictures a day and volume seems to be increasing.  I'll be doing class photographs next week.

I'm starting to feel like I have a normal job now: meetings, stress and preparation.  No more procrastination.  Speaking of which, I need to get that workshop ready for next week.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Yet Another Weekend

Wow, another month gone by.  It's amazing how time has started to fly.  Our training and first months at site now seem like memories rather than yesterday's events. 

Another great weekend: this time spent in Windhoek and Omaruru.  I'll let the pictures tell the story...

The main event for the gathering at Omaruru was Luke's birthday and Himba wrestling.  Here's a few pictures of the latter.  In Himba wrestling, you grab your opponents waist and attempt to toss him on his back.  You are not allowed to grab any other part of their body, which makes it a game of balance and strength.
We played a game of soccer with some of the local kids in the location.  I had a blast and I think our spectators enjoyed the show.Mark was a little thirsty.
I got to meet up with my host mother while in Omaruru.  It was a nice family reunion.We topped the night off with Fondue, made possible by Luke's parents and the staff at the Stand Dragon restaurant.  It was truly amazing- shrimp, beef, chicken, veggies, and of course fruits and chocolate!  What a meal!
 Luke forgot about his cake on the night of his birthday, so we broke it out Saturday.  Worried about creating too many dirty dishes we just ate from the pan.   What we didn't eat Saturday we took care of Sunday morning. Yummy!