Stroke My Massive Ego…

August 12, 2011

In a boost to my already massive ego I’ve been a ‘guest blogger’ for Woo.

You can find my drivel at:

Or read it here…

In March 2009, I was dropped off outside a busy casualty department of a developing-world hospital at two a.m. on a Saturday morning and was met with all the kinds of sights, sounds and smells you might imagine.

I’d quit my job and travelled thousands of miles to come here and do a voluntary job in international development.

Here was the small town of Opuwo, capital of the Kunene Region of the Republic of Namibia and home of the Himba tribe – one of the world’s most visually unique and oft-photographed tribes.

The job was to be an IT Specialist for the Ministry of Health and Social Services, a role with a two-paragraph explanation encompassing just about everything.

Everyone’s motivation for volunteering is different but honestly for me it was mainly selfish with a degree of altruism mixed in there somewhere. I wanted to travel, have new experiences, challenge myself and hopefully do something worthwhile along the way.

I spent quite a while “shopping around” the different opportunities for volunteer work abroad – everything from the “pay yourself” projects, to the build an elephant reserve or orphanage sites. In the end, I settled on applying to Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

VSO (CUSO-VSO in Canada) are a large charity that specialise in sending skilled professionals overseas anywhere from three months to two years in a variety of roles in many different countries.

In September 2009 I attended an assessment day in London and by some miracle was selected as a potential volunteer. Six months later I was standing at the casualty department wondering what the hell I was doing here and thinking I may have made the biggest mistake of my life.

But by the next morning it had become apparent I hadn’t made a mistake as I explored the dusty little town I now called home. Walking the streets was like being inside a National Geographic photo shoot: the sun was beaming down and the bustle on the pavements was interrupted only by the occasional wandering goat or donkey.

Working overseas is far different from travelling or touring. The level of exposure to different cultures and experiences are far beyond anything I could have experienced as a tourist. Working alongside the people gives you the opportunity to get to know them well, struggle through the same challenges, drink with them in the shebeens, celebrate their birthdays and weddings.

Professionally it’s been an eye-opener. Gone are the days of forming teams of various skilled individuals to solve a difficult technical problem. Now it’s just me with a paperclip, glue and some luck. If network cabling needs installed then I’m off in a heavily-loaded bakkie with a drill, cable and the willingness to get very dirty crawling through ceilings (or rather convincing colleagues to do the crawling).

And personally, it’s confirmed what I think I always knew (or hoped); people are people the world over and generally good. The less well off people are often the more generous they are and nearly everyone is keen for opportunities to better themselves or better their work.

I’ve been lucky enough to work and live alongside some really dedicated professionals. Opuwo may seem like an idyllic placement to me coming from the UK, but for many of my Namibian colleagues it is seen rightly as a difficult place to live and work. The sparsely populated vastness of the area and the rugged terrain give delivery of healthcare some very unique challenges.

One of VSO’s mottos for their volunteers is that they must be adaptable. Last week for instance, I was doing a network installation for one of our hospitals, this week I’m out driving around with a team doing polio immunisations and next week I’m giving a presentation to a group of Parliamentarians on ICT development in the Kunene Region.

Of course it’s not all been plain sailing. There have been nights in the summer where I think my brain is about to melt and run out of my ears, local and not-so-friendly bacteria take time to get used to (if you ever can) and getting stuck in sand in the middle of the Namib desert with only a few leaky water bottles on hand and not seening another car for 24 hours was worrisome to say the least.

But despite all that, I can confidently say that this decision has been the best of my life.

If I had one piece of advice to give to aspiring international volunteers it is this: you can’t expect the unexpected – so try and expect nothing, keep an open mind and see what happens.

The results, unpredictable as they are, may well astound you. They will certainly surprise you.

Anyway if you’re Canadian or whatever and fancy volunteering you should check them out.

Please Note…

I’m traveling at the moment (right now in Dar es Salaam) so blogging and email replying may be slower than ever.

Some posts are safely on a hard disc supposedly in a bag flying to Europe (if all went well). Others are just in my head.

Great, so NOW I fall in love

July 11, 2011

Is it Murphy’s law that 29 months into a 30 month placement I fall in love?

Oh well, I suppose I’ll just have to make the most of the few short weeks I will have with her before I head back to the world.

I apologise for the gushy nature of all this but I’m head-over-sheels and want to shout it to the entire world.

I’m not going to lie; there are a few haters out there and people who have no qualms in telling me they think our relationship is wrong. But seriously they can all get stuffed – I’ve never been happier and spend my time now grinning and wanting to break into song.

So a few details. My new beau’s name is Susan and she is sexy, smart, funny and generally wonderful.

She’s an HP 1810G-24 Ethernet Switch with 24 multiple-personality 10/100/1000 ports and two of the HP GBIC expansion ports.

Quite simply with a web interface, SNMP, auto-everything and a flashing blue locate LED you can turn on and off she is wonderful.

I really fell in love though the first time I turned her on. The startup sequence of LEDs lighting up, flashing and turning off all in a row was too much to bear.

Now I’ve known some slutty switches through the years, and there is always a time and a place for slutty switches, but Susan is refined and classy – not like some Cisco Catalyst switch all telnet interfaces and logos.

I’ll have to leave her behind but parting will be such sweet sorrow…

And is it wrong for a man to love an Ethernet switch? I mean love. Spiritually, emotionally and physically. Especially physically. Oh yeah. But, really, is that a good idea for the copper contacts? And do I care?

I is soooo Gangsta

July 1, 2011

I think it was Confucius who said: “if you lend your car MP3 player to your Dutch neighbour it will come back full of white noise, crazy electro-pop, and gangster rap”.

He was right.

Bombing round Opuwo today delivering letters (we can’t go any further because of the fuel card situation) with the windows down (yet another blue-skied perfect day).

NBC decided as it often does to stop playing music and go to some interminable speech by someone or other about key stakeholder involvement so I popped the MP3 in and bumped up the volume.

White noise. Next.

Sounds like modems making love. Next.

“**** my ******* ******* in the ***** and I’m gonna ****** you too ********” blurting out. Nice.

Not my weirdest musical experience here though. Not long in-country I tagged along with some colleagues on a tour of the other districts.

Otjiherero rap was the order of the day and I – foolishly – asked the driver what was being said.

It turned out to be a list of things the singer was planning to do with his other half when he got home and then even more explicitly the things he demanded she did to him.


But the weird bit was the music selection was hardcore Otjiherero rap interspersed with Dolly Parton (which everyone sang along to, except me of course as I’m way too Gangsta for that).


Fuel Card Fiasco

June 30, 2011

The network equipment for Outjo Hospital is waiting at Wernhill Mall for me, the order for which is here in my office, the replacement RMT switch is at an Industrial Estate in Windhoek and the order for that is sitting here as well.

My trip has been approved at all necessary levels and so on sunday I should be off to Windhoek then back to Outjo to install cables then home.

What I’ve just been told though is that owing to some accounting SNAFU – we haven’t paid our fuel card bill – none of our fuel cards are now working.

Apparently with our remaining resources we need to do stuff like pickup staff already away and transport emergency patients. Pah, priorities huh. Seems facebook for the masses isn’t as important.

Namness Snapshot

June 28, 2011

In lieu of anything better or meaninful here are some randomish snapshots of Namlife.

The Sister

On having fixed a computer problem for someone.

Him: “Thank you so much. I must get you something. You can have my sister to marry”

Me: “Oh well, thanks but you shouldn’t really give away your sister like that… But, have you got a picture?”

Him: “No pictures. It is rude to refuse a gift!”

The Bed

Went to someones house to visit and was in his room.

Him: “Come, come, sit on my bed. You are a single man after all”

Me (sitting down): “What if I was married?”

(Some consultation between him and another friend in the room)

Him: “You’d have to sit on the floor”

Typos in Meeting

In a long meeting about babies and suchlike I spotted the following two typos:

1. When talking about resuscitation for newborns an objective was; “encourage resuscitation with bag and musk”

Pretty powerful musk.

2. On a form for recording ante-natal checkup information: “Fatal Heartrate”

Hint: Nearly always 0.


Internet Access, Ahem, Well, Erm, Yes.

June 24, 2011

Some people have said that internet access seems slow over the last few days. I’ve noticed it myself once or twice.

A few weeks back I made a change which only allows web access through a box called a ‘proxy’ which records it. This helps to speed up network access and also allows easier identification of which PCs might be virus infected and making lots of dodgy internet requests.

It’s all part of my mad attempts to get everything cleaned up for when I leave.

The proxy logs are pretty ‘high level’ in that they would record say a visit to gMail but not who was emailed or in any way the content of the pages. A similar proxy runs for our Government Network controlled by the Office of the Prime Minister and possibly even logging to a greater level.

Having been pretty darn busy for the last few days I haven’t had a chance to see if any specific computer is slowing the network down. Today I was in a feedback meeting with a WiFi connected laptop so had a quick browse while TB treatment protocols and other things not concerning me were being discussed.

First I accessed our network tools and the reporting options for our proxy (note in these images stuff is redacted to protect the guilty and also our network details):

Kunene Network Tools Main Menu

Then it was onto the proxy reports (SARG) for today:

Web Access for June 24th 2011 in Kunene Region

So then our top user for the day has downloaded over 1Gb (quite a bit) and been responsible for 81% of all internet bandwidth.

I wonder if it’s perhaps a combination of Windows and anti-virus updates? A rogue virus? New health information from the WHO in massive download format?

Clicking through:

Web Access for 24th June 2011 for Person X

Um, no, it appears to be technicolour grumble flicks.

A closeup of the top 4 URLs if you can’t be bothered to click or can’t see them:

Closeup of Top Web Sites for 24th June for Person X

Erm, well, yes. Bit awkward.

I have never put any filtering in place here (apart from the 30 minutes when I accidentally blocked Facebook testing the proxy – met with much hostility). Everyone is professional staff and I’ve never been asked or told to limit anything.

Only looking for a possible virus I find this. And this is a probable cause of slow internet access.

What to do? Name and shame? Block that site (and/or any other gentlemen’s entertainment sites)? Nothing? Redirect traffic to lolcats? Mention quietly in conversation with X that the internet is slow and I think pr0n is to blame and am investigating the ‘source’? Demand a copy?

I’ll ponder it over the weekend.

VSO IT Do It With Everything: The Faulty Switch

June 24, 2011

In what I hope will be a final post in the VSO IT Do It With… series I’ve had a problem which called upon all my bodging newfound skills using paperclips, staples and masking tape.

To explain this I’ll try and be not overly tecchie and then put the tecchie bit in italic underneath for anyone who cares.

Faulty Switch

The switch is the thing that connects all our computers together and onto the internet.

Yesterday I needed to turn it off and back on. Turned off ok but wouldn’t come back on; either the power light flickered a bit or just didn’t light up.

We have a gigabit switch at the core of our direct-internet network (not the GRN WAN one). The server on that network which does routing and DHCP locked up and needed power-cycled.

Normally after its back up I’ll drop the switch for a few seconds causing Windows to see ‘disconnected’ and then ‘reconnected’ and so ask for an IP address (rather then keeping the auto-assigned one while DHCP was down for a random period of time).

Business Continuity

As I stood thinking “well that’s not good” more people kept coming to the office asking about the internet. Facebook – and occasionally some health sites – being critical.

The original fault had lost us internet for 5 minutes or so and now they were getting messages telling them I’d unplugged cables (as the switch was off).

Realising this wasn’t going to be simple to sort out I scrabled around and raided my office for my desk switch and numerous cables and adapters.

Within 45 minutes of the original failure I had most of the offices connected using various means (and being lucky in that a few of the offices are vacant right now).

Facebook access was saved.

Using an 8-port 100mbps switch normally on my desk, the spare LAN ports on a wireless router we use just as an access point and just the right number of long cables I had spare (long enough to reach the router) I managed to restore connectivity for 9 locations (one of which was our secondary wifi access point serving 4 PCs and many laptops).


Using various highly advanced techniques (a box with probes that tells me what’s happening) I found the power was coming into the switch.

Opening it up and probing different bits narrowed the issue down to being the PSU/power board; this is the bit that takes the mains voltage and converts it down to a lower voltage suitable for small electrical use.

To be certain this was the faulty component I bypassed it and connected another power supply directly to the switch.

The power board was giving 12VDC out but when connected to the main switch board the output at the connection terminals dropped to 4.5VDC.

Hoping that the power side was faulty and not the switch board I used a variable supply and a fan connector (to plug into the port) to see if it would power up – it did!

Testing switch with a small variable DC power supply to check circuit

Replacement Power Supply

With the faulty board identified it was just a matter of removing it and finding something else to provide the 12V to the switch.

Unfortunately the variable supply used for testing was nowhere near powerful enough to actually power the switch in operation.

A power supply unit for a computer though did provide 12V and would be. It’s possible to trick one of these into thinking the computer is on and so then use its power for the switch.

Normally you would use a paperclip to ‘trick it’ but after testing it with the paperclip I went one better and decided to put an on/off switch in as well.

The all had the added bonus of clipping lots of wires making me feel like a bomb disposal expert.

I decided to use the 12VDC output from an ATX PSU as the variable supply was rated 500mA and the original internal supply rated to 3A (the ATX supply I used was ok to 14.5A).

Rather than just bridging the ATX connector to short-start I cut a switch off an old AT supply and connected that to some pronged connector I had from an old variable supply which perfectly fitted the pins.

Then it was just a matter of taking the 12V feed from one of the molex connectors to my fan-connector already connected to the DC input on the switch board.

The Fulty Power Supply Unit

Faulty original PSU/transformer-rectifier whatsit

Bridging an ATX PSU to a switch - better than a paperclip longterm

Better than a paperclip - connection to short the ATX supply into working when switch closed

Using an AT switch to control an ATX bridge, held on with masking tape

On/off switch mounted on new external PSU

The Frankenswitch Lives

Closing the on/off switch amazingly now led to the PSU spinning up and the switch itself turning on in a flurry of self-test lights.

I’d disconnected an internal fan that was sticky and may be the cause of the problem so I’ve sat the whole thing on top of some big fans blowing air through it. Though this probably would make a fire worse not better. My on/off switch design through should burn through (and shut off) quicker than a paperclip though.

I’ve started moving people back onto this switch and so far no fires or failures.

Rather boringly though I’m going to get a replacement one as an emergency order instead of leaving the Frankenswitch as my legacy in Opuwo.

Repaired switch on top of rack and working

All plugged in and sitting on top of rack fans for cooling and extra oxygen for inevitable fire (backup switch seen in the background)

Switch working in extended testing

Switch actually working with the first test group of people back on it

A Very Public Apology

June 21, 2011

One of my many character flaws, in some circumstances among the worst, is that I sometimes think I’m funny. This as we shall see is not the case.

Recently there have been some tribal tensions in the Kunene Region between the Herero and Damara.

This started off at a school near Sesfontein (and a Peace Corps volunteer was pulled out) and spread to Opuwo when a group of Hereros protested outside the Regional Council offices about what they see as a disproportionate number of Damara people employed there.

All this has been very peaceful but as a result the Regional Council offices were closed for two days and a police car sat outside.

One of my fellow Opuwo VSO vols, a Dutch lady we’ll call her M, works at the Regional Council but was down in Windhoek when the protest and closure occurred getting her work visa renewed.

On the Friday while waiting for something or other to boot up or finish installing I sent her and E (another Dutch VSO vol but who works at the hospital) the following text:

“Group of people standing outside the Regional Council holding signs saying ‘unite against the real enemy the Dutch’. Wonder who put them up to that?”

M promptly replied with “Are you joking?”.

There are many responses I should have sent back, ideally just a simple “Yes” and maybe a reassurance all was actually calm.

But no, thinking I was being funny, I instead sent the following:

“They’re now chanting ‘death to the dike building cyclists’ not sure what that’s about”.

Ha ha ha? No.

A very short time later my phone went and it was the VSO Programme Manager for HIV/AIDS (another Dutch lady who happens to be my and M’s programme manager).

She was asking my advice on the anti-Dutch situation she had just been informed about and if it was safe for M to come back to Opuwo at all.

A quick calculation in my head came to the conclusion the N$58 in my bank account wouldn’t be enough to buy fatcakes and cool drinks to actually entice a crowd into an anti-Dutch protest leaving only the options of coming clean or fleeing to Angola. I came clean.

After finishing grovelling to the PM who admitted she had been confused as to why there would be this sudden anti-Netherlands feeling in Opuwo I called M and began to explain, grovel, apologise, beg forgiveness and promise to never do it again all at the same time.

The names I was called in a mixture of English, Dutch and I think Mandarin would make a Polish sailor blush but were of course entirely justified. 100%.

I then spent a nervous couple of days waiting to see M in Opuwo and my inevitable slow and painful fully-vindicated death at her hands.

Luckily – and entirely undeservedly – she didn’t kill me and instead forgave me. This was unexpected and I’d made my peace with no fewer than 19 different gods.

On the record then: a thousand apologies to M and a million thanks for her generous nature.

She did then go on to lose my left boot in a shebeen the following weekend which I later found hanging on the hospital gate but that is another story. I don’t think it was revenge, not consciously anyway.

So no more jokes or japery from me from now until the end of days.

Which reminds me actually, have you heard this one?

“Two Himbas walk into a bar…”

Where Minibusses Fear to Tread (and Probably Shouldn’t): NID Round One

June 17, 2011

For the first round of National Immunisation Days (NIDs) I had to stay local to Opuwo so I could kick a modem regularly. I ended up assigned to Mobile Team One which entailed doing the villages, locations and other areas immediately around Opuwo.

Unfortunately the vehicle I was given was our Toyota Quantum minibus (combi in Namlish). Though roomy and great for actual immunisations it is the least practical vehicle ever invented for going anywhere other than perfect tarmac.

Of course this being Opuwo there only is one tarmac road so we spent a lot of time bumping, bashing and bouncing through/over uneven terrain.

The Toyota Quantum 'Immunobus' used by Mobile Team One for Kunene Namibia National Immunisation Days 2011 Round One

Once at a location the Immunobus was great – we could have the vaccine chest easily accessible and use it as a table, keep the engine running for AC (it’s pretty quiet) and snooze in the fully-reclinable seats.

Thanks to the ultra-low bullbars, positioning of wheels, two wheel drive and long body getting there though was an exercise in feeling our way over stuff, gouging holes and getting beached twice (though as luck would have it we got off both times).

Queue for immunisations for Mobile Team One, Kunene Namibia National Immunisation Days 2011 Round One

As a mobile team our job was quite literally to drive around looking for children and then enticing them to our van. Any other time, place or reason and we would have been arrested.

We had success though so here are some pictures from our efforts to make lots of children cry:

A child is upset after immunisation, held by its mother while an older girl holds another small child, Kunene Namibia National Immunisation Days 2011 Round One

Child is Upset After Immunisation

Two mothers with their children watch immunisations and wait their turn, Kunene Namibia National Immunisation Days 2011 Round One

Two Mothers and a Baby Watch Immunisations

A mother holding a child watches others being immunised waiting for her turn, Kunene Namibia National Immunisation Days 2011 Round One

A mother and her child wait for immunisations

Marking the right thumb of a child immunised as part of Kunene Namibia National Immunisation Days 2011 Round One

After immunisation children are marked with ink on their right thumb

A Himba baby receives an oral immunisation near Opuwo, Kunene Namibia National Immunisation Days 2011 Round One

Himba Baby is immunised while a Herero mother looks on

Dust-covered children coming for immunisations, Kunene Namibia National Immunisation Days 2011 Round One

Dusty children come for immunisation

A dust-covered child receives a Viramin A oral booster, Kunene Namibia National Immunisation Days 2011 Round One

Dusty child receives Vitamin A booster

A child watches immunisations, Kunene Namibia National Immunisation Days 2011 Round One

A child watches immunisations near Opuwo

Mobile Team One at work, Immunisations near Opuwo, Kunene Namibia National Immunisation Days 2011 Round One

People queue at the Immunobus

Baby receiving immunisations, Kunene Namibia National Immunisation Days 2011 Round One

Baby being immunised from the Immunobus

Baby receives polio immunisation near Opuwo, Kunene Namibia National Immunisation Days 2011 Round One

Baby receives polio drops

A-Z of My Nam; part three

June 16, 2011

The thrilling final instalment of my self-indulgent and entirely unoriginal A-Z of my Nam experience:

S is for Serra Cafema, destination of a truly amazing adventure through mountain passes, crossing sun-scorched expanses of desert and navigating by dead reckoning and luck.

S could also be for sunsets – they are really rather spiffing here, especially in the dry season (9 months of the year) when the dust kicked up during the day means the whole sky turns purple and pink as the sun goes down.

T is for Travelling, something I’ve thankfully got to do quite a bit of – for work, for VSO or just for fun.

U is for Unbelievable, which is what it is anyone would offer me (me!) the chance to come here and get paid (me!!) for messing around with computers. It’s also half the stuff that happens (nobody will believe you about the bizarre stuff that happens in the Nam).

V is for VSO, the organisation that kindly decided to send me, despite my obvious shortcomings (as some sort of charitable act in itself I suppose or just to save the UK), to Namibia for a couple of years. The VSO staff in-country are great, tolerate me amazingly and even laugh at some of my jokes (another post on VSO Namibia staff later I feel).

V could also be for Victoria Falls, not really in Namibia but close enough you know, pretty impressive. Also V could be for Vastness. The country is vast, everything is vast; the landscapes, the sky, the temperature difference, the change from dry to wet season and back again to name but a select few.

W is for Winter, which though you wouldn’t expect it is bloody brass monkeys especially this year. Freezing my nads off in sub-Saharan Africa between the tropics! Ridiculous.

X is for X-Ray, the film used to fashion an anti-scratching collar for Mr Cat after half his head fell off (really). As you can imagine Mr Cat was anything but impressed with all these goings on but my scratch wounds have now almost healed.

Y is for Yanks, they’re bloody everywhere between the Peace Corps and numerous evangelical/missionary sorts. Neither group have managed to save my soul but I’m still holding out hope even if they’ve given up (quitters!).

Z is for Zebra, it’s like a horse but stripy. Oh and has a stripy mohican which is in the same black/white pattern as its body. Nice. They’re also, well, hung like Zebras which is pretty darn impressive and a source of much astonishment until an elephant whapped his out in the background. Made my eyes water for poor (or lucky?) Mrs Elephant. Also fun to tell the Yanks the correct pronunciation according to English. Proper English that is.

I am away. Or maybe just asleep. Either way not actually posting this now now. This p**s poor effort was pre-written and scheduled for publication during the NID period. Look at me all Raymond Chen but without the skills, followers, ability or human decency.