Archive for April, 2009

Water water… nowhere

April 30, 2009

For the last three days most of the hospital (and Opuwo in general) has been without water. My well connected friends tell me a water pump has failed and NamWater are getting people in from all over to try and get it fixed.

Last night at 6pm I found… it was back on!

Did I take a shower immediately? Fill up water containers? No.

I stupidly thought it was now back on and so there was no rush.

At half six it went off again and stayed off. Long holiday weekend this weekend so little hope of repair I think.

Argh!

The Funny Side of Language Difficulties

April 27, 2009

Sitting in the car waiting for our boss to sort out the bill at the lodge we had been staying in.

She comes back to the vehicle and leans in asking “Can I have the order?” (purchase order).

This was the cause of much hilarity from all concerned and cries of “which one”.

Apparently in English order means “order” whereas in Otjiwambo order means “penis”.

I hate Norton

April 25, 2009

Norton AntiVirus is pants.

Not only is it unforgivably large bloatware of the highest order. Not only does it encompass more features, badly, than AntiVirus software really should. Not only does it not actually work very well.

It takes forever to uninstall, if it will uninstall at all, so a superior and freeer product can be installed in its place.

Three hours. Two reboots. Technical knowledge required to use msconfig to turn off the services before running the uninstaller again.

All to remove a piece of software nobody wanted in the first place yet the PC manufacturers, no doubt receiving a hefty kickback, decided to install a 30 day trial of.

Argh!

One of the best bits? Turning the machine on for Norton to immediately tell me its firewall had blocked Rootkit.Hacker.

Wonderful. Well done Norton.

Blocked it. Not removed it via the AV component or quarantined it or healed it. Blocked it. Check the logs and you can see that, every time the computer boots, it blocks it.

Detect it… block it… fail to delete it.

It’s the way forward. Guarantees more work for the AV industry I suppose.

Well maybe third time lucky.

Some Things I Miss

April 20, 2009

Signing up for the whole VSO experience I thought my natural spiritual and philosophical outlook would enable me to cast aside worldly possessions and the trappings of corrupt capitalism with ease.

It surprises me then that what I seem to miss the most are almost entirely consumer goods or services…

iPhone

I loved my iPhone. I only came to realise just how much I loved it, the interface and the permanent connectivity of “living in da cloud” once I had sold it.

It was as if a virtual third arm had been severed. I cried real tears and missed its reassuring chirps. I could even forgive it iTunes.

I am an unashamed (but crying) fanboi.

Tesco

Tesco may be the cause of much evil, almost as evil as Walmart or Coke, but they truly are the store of endless wonder. Everything I could possibly want for sustenance… under one roof.

Premade sandwiches, a café, cooked (hot) meat, veg, fruit… and all open 24 hours (apart from Sunday). Wonderful.

Here we have, at very best, Ok. If Ok is ok then Tesco would be fantasmagorical.

Xbox

Should be doing better things? Why not loose an hour, a day or a week in mindless GTA, CoD, Battlefield or Ghost Recon action.

Get Some

Broadband at Home

Too lazy to even switch on the Xbox then loose countless hours on YouTube. Have new films and TV simply “fall” off the internet overnight ready for perusal.

iPlayer how I miss you.

Transport

Yes I miss my car. I miss having a car. More than the car itself though I miss the ability to go somewhere, anywhere.

Here in Opuwo there are “combi busses” (leading to travels like this) or you can try and “hike” in stranger’s cars.

First Eastern, National Express and One Railways… I’m sorry… all is forgiven.

Money

What was it like to have a “real” job paying “real” money? I have almost forgotten but I bet it was ultra-wicked-cool.

Fridge

How cool are fridges? Well cooler than room temperature and cool enough to stop stuff going off. Also cool enough to keep your drinks nicely chilled.

Right… Enough with the bitching…

Off to rock back and forth crying which is, let’s be honest, more productive.

Banks the Third

April 20, 2009

Following on from the last bankskapade I managed yet again to get locked out of my internet banking and go through the tedious and abhorrently expensive trans-continental phone call rigmarole.

Eventually, thanks to the kindly people at the Co-Op, all is well again and so far I haven’t been arrested for funding international terrorism.

When is a thousand pounds not a thousand pounds?

Simple – when you transfer it via the wonders of SWIFT international banking to Bank Windhoek. The Co-Op charged me £17 for an urgent transfer (not that it was actually urgent, just that non-urgent was £15 and would take twice as long) which I didn’t think was too bad (1.7%). This is an account charge to be debited at a later date from the balance.

Four working days later and with a marked thud some money arrives in Bank Windhoek. I’m rich. No, hang on, not quite as rich as I should be.

At worst case exchange rates (13.22 N$ to the £) £1000 should equal N$ 13220. Bank del Windhoek have instead credited me with N$ 12860 (£972 at worst case rates).

So that’s a transaction fee of about 2.8% to deposit money in my account.

But can I even get access to my account?

Faced with rapidly dwindling cash reserves and feeling flush with my newly transferred wealth I tried on Saturday to use my cash card (Visa Electron) for the first time.

Mini-statement? No. Transaction Cancelled.

Cash withdrawal? No. Transaction Cancelled.

Balance enquiry? No. Transaction Cancelled.

I suppose I should count myself lucky the card didn’t get swallowed.

So today when I found the strength it was off to the bank to face the endless tutting and exasperated sighs of the customer unfriendly staff. For a laugh I thought I might take along some travellers cheques just to see the look on their faces then thought better of it.

Oh well obviously

Tried the ATM in the bus-on-bricks out the front of the bank to no avail. Chatting to one of the 4 year old security guards (not the one who previously dropped the gun, this one has a much bigger shiny silver shotgun rather than a pistol) he thought the ATM might be knackered.

We waited until another customer tried and succeeded to get money out. As I was swearing and bemoaning that it had never ever worked the security guard (from a security company, not Bank Windhoek staff) said that if the card was new it would need “activated” by the ace customer service staff inside.

So in I went.

“Yes David, obviously it needs activated”

Of course, this wasn’t written anywhere or stated to me, or in fact told to me when I came to the bank to collect the card from this same guy. Oh no, too easy.

Anyway, two mouse clicks later and the card was activated and I am now cellphone banking enabled.

And the card even worked. I danced a little jig in the courtyard and only a few people looked at me funny.

Effusive thanks to the security guard who is friendlier, more customer service orientated and apparently more knowledgeable than the customer service staff.

Update: Actually Co-Op (though bless their hearts, all is forgiven, they’re still better than BankWindhoek) charged me £38 for the transfer (3.8%). So that’s roughly a total charge of 6.6% to move money electronically from Europe to Africa. No wonder money laundering and currency smuggling are so popular.

A Plea to the Laptop Gods

April 20, 2009

I love my laptop. It was only cheap (£399) but it now has become the centre of my working world and out of work entertainment (non-alcoholic entertainment that is) world.

For those who care it’s an HP G60-214EM with some sort of fast dual-core AMD Athlon X2 processor, decent (for a cheap laptop) nVidia graphics, 160Gb hard drive and (for my VM obsession) 3Gb of RAM. The native Windows Vista Home Premium only lets it down a bit. The 15.4″ widescreen brightview (or whatever the HP term for that is) screen is very nice for watching all manner of DVDs etc if not a little fingerprint-prone.

Even the battery life isn’t too bad – anywhere from one to two hours dependent on the “power profile” you have chosen and precisely how much donkey pron you’re burning via the DVD-RW.

But recently it has developed a small foible – not charging the battery.

Works fine on the battery but when it’s then plugged in the mains/charge light either doesn’t come on (as it should when charging) or flashes as if it was in sleep mode. Windows helpfully reports the power “on mains, battery xx% (not charging)”.

Usually a little jiggery and powering off, leaving to cool down and general prayer/human sacrifice seems to resolve the problem. A brief googling shows many dells with similar problems and… horror of horrors… faulty hardware.

Faulty hardware on a UK model laptop in deepest darkest Namibia where parcels of much-less-enticing things cost a fortune to send and disappear without trace from the postal service is not a good thing.

So… please laptop Gods; have pity on me and make the problem go away like it has today.

I will sacrifice as many desktop machines (evil fixed-working-positions servants of Satan) or humans as required just let me keep my Family Guy and Friday Night Comedy podcasts… please.

Clean in Body if not in Mind or Soul

April 20, 2009

I cannot begin to express the sheer delight of finding the water on at 7am on a Monday morning and also having some clean clothes.

The boundless joy of walking to work without feeling oily or the need to stand at least five feet away from people when talking to them.

Oh what simple pleasures.

Banks Again

April 15, 2009

Forward plan for financial issues VSO tell you. A handy guide (I think written by a returned vol) lists things you might very well like to consider and/or do such as registering a trusted third-party with your bank.

This would allow you to ask them via email, for example, to transfer some money from your UK account with the oh-so-lovely Co-Op to your shiny new Namibian account with the oh-so-unlovely Bank Windhoek.

To add a third-party to your account (with the Co-Op anyway) involves a posted form, confirmation over the phone and issuing them with their own PIN code and secret password. So far, so good.

Until now I haven’t needed to ask my “trusted third-party” (TTP) to act on my behalf with the bank as the internet access here is reliable and I can check my own dire financial straits online easily. Today however I wanted to transfer some money internationally to Bank Windhoek and this can’t be done online, it needs to be either on the phone or by post.

As international calls are hellishly expensive and the post slow and unreliable I emailed my TTP and asked if they wouldn’t mind phoning up and doing the transfer.

Alas when they called the bank refused to acknowledge them or their password and in fact, rather counter-intuitively given then had failed to gain access, put my account into immediate security lockdown mode. Pressing, I would imagine, some sort of “International Terrorist Alert” button in the process.

Hearing back from the TTP left me with no alternative but to ring (especially as now even the online services were locked out).

Just before completing confirmation of my name, place of birth, inside leg measurement, date and amount of most recent direct debit etc etc my mobile phone (just topped up at great expense that very morning) ran out of credit.

This left me with no alternative but to try my newly issued phone PIN on the hospital phone and… it worked. Eventually I got back through to the Co-Op, convinced them of my lack of terrorist connections and who I was. They now tell me (a) the TTP password has been setup so this won’t happen again and (b) the money is winging its way via high-speed bank-ether down to me. I am convinced of neither.

If the hospital gets cut off for dodgy international phone charges in the next month though I may have quite a bit to answer to.

Stranger in a Strange Land

April 15, 2009

One of the oddest things I encounter on a daily basis here (well apart from the heat, insects and bizarre flora) is a lack of shared cultural references.

Being more than a bit of a nerd I obviously wouldn’t ever expect everyone I interact with to get all geek-culture references.

These range from the cultish “smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast” to more culturally general “42” or even “The engines cannae take it captain”.

Here however lack of shared references extend well beyond the nerdy.

“That hat is cool, it looks like something out of Indiana Jones”
“Who?”

(On seeing a particularly wheel-squealing cornering by a truck) “Who does he think he is, James Bond?”
“Who?”

(On dealing with a particularly difficult person) “We’ll need a pair of pliers and a blow-torch”
“What, what, WHAT??”

Perhaps even stranger for me though is the deep knowledge of English football that just about everyone here seems to have (far more knowledge and, let’s be honest, interest than me e.g. some).

As a result people will often ask me where I’m from and when I reply “England” or “UK” am regaled with a long list of English football teams and players most of whom I have only vaguely heard of.

“James Bond? Never heard of him. Gareth Southgate or Gazza on the other hand…”

Music tastes also take a bit of getting used to. This is not just the Otjiherero rap music that blares from every Shebeen and stereo endlessly but the taste in Western music.

Sometimes I get asked what music I like but they have never heard of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the Scissor Sisters or anything very recent. Asking the question back (in a western sense) usually elicits answers like “Michael Bolton” (??!?!?) or “Michael Jackson” (they don’t seem to have heard the news here… I’m just waiting for a fan of a certain glam rock star to show up).

Banks

April 11, 2009

I am becoming less hopeful for the future of Namibia. Not just because they were stupid enough to request me and have me delivered by courier halfway around the world but because of the banks.

Banks are, universally, b*****ds. I have known this for many years (especially NatWest who are, let’s be honest, the biggest suckers of Satan this side of Chris Moyles). Not only do they charge you obscene (and laughably in the UK, illegal) amounts when you deem to mis-calculate your balance but it now transpires that the international banking sector has spent the last decade looking at computer screens and manipulating a system so complex and utterly flawed that nobody actually understood what was happening until it was all too late.

They have nothing on Bank Windhoek, the bank that likes to look at you like you are dirt, tut and moan whenever you make the slightest request for actual banking services.

There are two banks in Opuwo – FNB (First National Bank, some sort of illegitimate offspring of Barclays) and Bank Windhoek. FNB is always busiest and further away so I opened my account at Bank Windhoek.

On opening the account (over two hours) I also managed to cajole them into cashing some travellers cheques (no mean feat I assure you) and so avoided hawking organs on the back streets.

Having opened the account and thusly become a paying customer (and I really do mean paying – it costs N$2 to get a balance) I thought things might go slightly easier but no.

The bank itself is split in two, there is a brick building inside which various snotty (and spotty) cashiers work except they’re not cashiers they do enquiries only. If you actually want cash you must visit the coach on bricks (I am not making this up) that is “parked” outside which has an ATM in one end, a customer entrance at the other and a solitary cashier in the middle.

Around and about are various two to four year old security guards each with at least one massive gun each. Last time I was there it was a shift change and as a holstered pistol was passed from one to the other it was fumbled and dropped on the ground. Luckily nobody was accidentally shot.

Having cashed some travellers cheques on opening the account I decided that, as I had to return anyway to collect my high-status Visa Electron card, I might as well cash some more and add to the thief-inducing pile of dollars I keep under the bed in case of an emergency such as civil war.

“No David” (David in the bank you see – no formality like here at work or at home in the bank) “these are travellers cheques” (Well Done Sherlock) “and… you are no longer a traveller, you are staying in Opuwo”.

Eventually even more lies, threats, tears and temper tantrums and I did manage to get them paid into my account at least and this was “the absolute last time David”. I still have £400 worth which evidently I am going to have to actually travel elsewhere to cash. Arse biscuits.

Next week I’m going to have to run the gauntlet again to find out my actual account number (each bit of paper they give me says something different than the last) and try to activate cellphone banking in the vein hope that I won’t then have to ever actually deal with the bank again. Ever. Tossers.