Archive for June, 2009

Two New Projects

June 30, 2009

Since I still don’t have internet access properly at home or at work I’m limited to madly creating it’ll never work projects offline on my laptop, uploading when chance allows.

Should I ever get Namibia Telecom to install my broadband or manage to actually start the wired networking project then I will be able to concentrate on proper work mainly a web migration project I said I’d help.

So to my two latest amazing feats of crap uselessness:

WAIFS – www.purplepixie.org/waifs

This will be, if it ever gets off the ground, an utterly pointless and bug-ridden file storage wrapper for MySQL.

Before you even start, yes, yes, I know… but I just want to have a play.

VSO Journals – vsojournals.purplepixie.org

This is my stab at a rip-off of the Peace Corp Journals idea, basically a central directory of all current and past VSO blogs sorted by country.

Using the wonders of RSS feeds it also picks up posts from those blogs and displays them. Ultimately it will also offer RSS feeds on a per-country basis.

Right now it is even uglier and less functional than most of my web projects because I am concentrating on the under-the-skin RSS reader engine.

Feel free to drop by and have a look though. Any comments or feedback anyone has always welcome via the email address shown on the contact page. Ta.

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Made it This Far

June 28, 2009

On the 7th of June I marked my three-month (1/8 or 12.5%) point. Wow. Just over nine short months ago I was sitting in front of a computer (much as I am now) madly typing away (much as I am now) dreaming of distant far-flung places (much as where I am now).

So, stealing the idea shamelessly from other bloggers out there, I give you a few different “open letters” to sum up progress and feelings to date.

Namibia

Dear Namibia,

First off, thanks awfully for having me. I know you’re not exactly short on space or overcrowded with IT people but still your immigration and visa policies are pretty strict. So, thank you for letting me in.

Generally you are very nice, warm, colourful and beautiful. Just a couple of small suggestions though…

Would it not be easier if everything was a little closer together?

Thanks for the nice weather to date but I must admit I’m slightly confused when I run into fog. Inland. When the sun is shining.

Yours appreciatively,

Dave.

Namibians

Dear All Namibians,

Thanks for the warm welcome and generally relaxed attitude to most things.

It’s great that I make you laugh although if this could be more often at my “jokes” and less often at my attempts to speak your language, navigate your shops, pronounce your places or at my range of admittedly stupid hats that would be marvellous.

Sadly, though I am sure she is lovely, I am unable to marry your sister or cousin because “she would like to live in England”. Although, as you rightly point out, there is nothing in my culture to prevent inter-racial marriage we do normally prefer to have met the person before making such a commitment, sorry for our old-fashioned ways.

I am also less than convinced that your sister or cousin will really like England given that when it is ever-so-slightly less than baking hot here you all start wearing six jumpers and massive leather jackets. We have cold and wet weather approximately 96.42% of the time in the UK.

So with great regret I have to decline.

Yours with love,

Dave.

Water

Dear Water,

They say distance makes the heart grow fonder and this is true. I never realised how much I loved you until you went away from me to return only fleetingly and occasionally.

I really do feel it is time we can take our relationship to the next level and you should move in and live with me permanently. Having to come and see you outside via a fire hose or buy your sweet attentions five litres at a time in Powersave is just not enough for me.

I’m sure you see our relationship as just “take, take, take” on my part but I promise I will work to let you know every day how cherished and important you are to me.

Yours in sticky appreciation,

Dave.

P.S. If you could also have a word with Mr Tap-in-the-Kitchen I would be very grateful. On the rare occasion you have stayed over and are still around the next morning he seems to take great delight in, no matter how careful I am, waiting for the opportune moment to surge forth and splash my trousers as I’m washing my breakfast bowl out, sending me to work having clearly just had an accident.

I wouldn’t mind, it’s just people are starting to talk.

Pre-Departure Me

Dear Me Nine Months Ago,

Don’t worry. Believe it or not you will make it through the assessment and training with “continuous assessment”, get your paperwork completed, have your vaccinations, get your tickets and then turn up in some far-flung land.

You will never be too certain if this is a result of your natural abilities or because VSO were really struggling to find volunteers at the time. Over time you will stop worrying about this.

Just one hint – for all that is sacred save money. The kind of financial calculations you will do over the next few months will turn out to be horribly and hopelessly flawed and you will never know why.

Oh and enjoy the Xbox, HDTV, DVDs, cinemas, broadband, transport and friends while you can. And water. Sweet, sweet water. Especially of the hot variety.

Good luck,

Dave.

Post-Arrival Me

Dear Me Three Months Ago,

Don’t panic. You will get used to the sights and smells of the hospital and Opuwo generally… slowly.

In a few short months you will be wandering through casualty to drop off or pick up keys or whatever without wanting to rip your eyes and nose out. Well, not much anyway.

Sadly no, people don’t learn to understand you although you will start to understand them slightly better. You will also come to the realisation that Tafel lager is one of the greatest drinks ever invented by man.

Most of the beggars and street hawkers will come to know of your tightwad ways and stop pestering you when you go to the supermarket.

Seeing tourists and new faces in town with their shocked looks of bewilderment will make you realise how far you have come towards just living in this crazy place. Until the next experience that leaves you looking shocked and bewildered that is.

Stiff upper lip old chap,

Dave.

Farmers

Dear Farmers,

Obviously your cattle have to graze and I am by now getting a sense for how important farming and specifically cattle-rearing is for the economy and for your status generally.

It’s just I fail to see what the benefit is for you if your cow, cleverly camouflaged, has a meeting with me in a speeding metal box sometime in the night.

I really can’t see this ending well for me, the cow or for you.

Have you maybe considered reflective jackets or just not leaving them on the road?

Please.

Yours in confusion,

Dave.

Paid in Part

June 25, 2009

It turns out that around the 25th of May I was paid a grand total of N$1820 for March (two or so weeks) of “work”.

This is both good and bad news.

Good News

  • VSO have my bank details correct
  • The Ministry do accept they have to pay me
  • My bank account works (you never know with Bank Windhoek)
  • Unlike international transfer it looks like being paid directly doesn’t result in excess charges

Bad News

  • I thought I was doing so well with my “float”. Turns out I was actually N$1820 lower than expected.
  • It is still several months behind
  • Unlike some others I have been paid nothing else for the “full” months of “work”
  • Apparently the woman who now holds the account password to authorise payment has “gone away”

MTC Tango Mobile Internet Settings

June 24, 2009

If you should find yourself in Namibia with a mobile phone on MTC Tango (the pre-pay service, I am not sure about any of the others) and wanting mobile internet here are the steps and configuration.

First: Internet-Enable Your Phone

Although there is a web service to do this it doesn’t seem to actually work (I’ve tried three times with varying levels of failure).

The best bet is to call MTC customer services on 130 from your handset. They will data enable your SIM and also send you a specific configuration message to your phone.

Once this message is received you will need to open and accept it to setup your phone (you may need a configuration PIN for this, MTC can provide it or you can google it for your model).

I think there was also a step of turning the phone off for five minutes then back on to re-register it on the network (they will explain all).

Second: Connect Your Phone to PC as a Modem

How exactly you do this varies massively from make-to-make and even model-to-model.

For Nokia’s you will need the Nokia PC Suite (available from their website) whereas for Motorola you just need the USB driver as their full-on PC tools is a commercial product in its own right.

Google your phone and get it to the point where you have a valid data connection and it appears available as a USB modem.

Third: Setup Dial-Up Networking

You will need to create a new internet (dial-up) connection specifying use of a dial-up modem.

This can be accomplished through the control panel on Windows XP and Vista but should be fairly straightforward on any operating system.

The key details you will need are:

  • Number to dial: *99#
  • Username: ppsuser
  • Password: ppsuser

That should be enough to let you connect. If you’re still having problems check the following settings (on Windows):

  • “Include Windows Logon Domain” is unchecked
  • In PPP options:
    • Enable LCP is checked
    • Enable software compression is checked
    • Negotiate multi-link is unchecked

Fourth: Surf Away

Off you go. MTC Tango pre-pay is (at time of writing) N$1 per Mb which is quite reasonable. Speeds vary throughout the country.

Kicking Children

June 24, 2009

A few nights ago after a long bad-road 4×4 drive to a clinic to make a delivery and return I got back to Opuwo around 6.30pm, dropped my colleague off at his house and, like a good little GRN driver, went back to the garage to fill up the tank before returning the vehicle.

As it was late I couldn’t tell if the other garages were open and so went to the famous 24-hour BP garage next to the Ok supermarket. Being early evening this was quite busy.

Though the BP is open 24-hours it has the distinct disadvantage of being the one tourists use on their way through and so is a congregation point for beggars. As I’d been cooped up driving for most of the day and was tired I got out to stretch my legs ended up leaning on the back while the attendant filled up (there is no such thing as self-service here).

Immediately I had several people come up to make conversation, “Are you from Germany?” “No”, “America?” “No” etc. I did my usual, remained non-committal but polite and above-all-else gave them no money (it has taken me months to build up my reputation as a tightwad to the point I’m not accosted outside Ok).

After fuelling was complete I handed over my fuel card with odometer reading and was just waiting for the receipt and card.

While I was waiting three small children, two very young boys of six or so and a slightly older and taller girl, maybe eight or ten came wandering onto the forecourt and towards me. The first thing I noticed was the girl was wearing a refuse sack as a skirt and all three were terribly filthy.

Just as I was thinking this was the saddest thing I had ever seen and wondering how I could give them some money or food without starting a riot with the adult beggars who had been softening me up in conversation for the last few minutes one the attendants catches sight of them and runs towards them shouting.

The two young boys ran away but the girl stood her ground until the attendant reached her and kicked her, hard, in the rear. All the time he was shouting what I assume was along the lines of “Go Away” in Otjiherero. Quite sensibly at this point she also legged it avoiding a second boot from him.

It took a couple of seconds for what I had just seen to sink in. The petrol attendant had just, maliciously and violently, kicked a small child.

There were perhaps twenty people on the forecourt at this time and it seemed I was the only one staring aghast in shock at what had happened.

I wanted to march over and enquire as to whether kicking children made him feel like a big tough man but realised pretty quickly that I was absolutely incandescent with rage and really couldn’t trust myself. Even writing about it some days later I find I am still very angry.

Whatever the correct response should be, I was pretty certain that fisticuffs on the forecourt wasn’t it.

I tried to think what I should do.

In the UK I think a whole group of people would have confronted the attendant, the child would still be there and the police would (rightly) be called.

In Namibia nobody batted an eyelid and the kids had run off, even if the police were to be called the victims had gone.

Instead I, impotently, settled for glaring at the attendant who (though I may be imagining this) wouldn’t meet my eye.

I resolved if that attendant brought my receipt I would say something. He didn’t.

So I drove off, very angry at what I had seen but somewhat pleased that I hadn’t ended up rolling around on the floor (and no doubt getting arrested/deported myself).

As a result I am now practicing a one-man boycott of the BP garage (unless absolutely essential as it’s the only 24-hour one). I’m also keeping an eye out for the girl in the bin-liner skirt and will make a point of giving generously if I do see her again.

I think what got me the most about it wasn’t as much the violence, I’d be foolish to assume that violence against vulnerable people doesn’t happen here as it does anywhere, but the lack of response or empathy of any kind from any of the numerous onlookers.

Now with the gift of hindsight I am able to wonder why the attendant reacted so vociferously to the kids when the adult beggars are allowed to freely practice their “trade”. Perhaps the kids are famous for their thieving or perhaps he couldn’t get away with it as adults are liable to kick back.

Either way and whatever the back story I still find it totally unacceptable and objectionable on many levels.

No Planes, No Trains but Some Automobiles

June 22, 2009
Clinic Delivery - partially unloaded

Clinic Delivery - partially unloaded

Over the past two months I’ve been trying to get permission to drive government vehicles. I began this arduous process back when I thought there actually were some vehicles (it was always lack of drivers I was told by various people).

Though I now realise once you take away special “globally funded” cars on specific projects only, those in a bad state of repair, those reserved for taking the families of key people around and those mysteriously unaccounted for this is not the case. However perseverance has become like a badge of honour to me.

Having ever so slowly managed to move the process forward I was still some steps away until, amazingly, the transport manager needed my help in delivering the district supervisors out for National Immunisation Days phase one. Magically it seems when they need you to be able to drive the permission can be completed in about four minutes.

It was through this process that last Monday mid-morning I found myself in command of a 4×4 only slightly smaller than the hospital not having driven for the preceding three months.

First I had to go around Opuwo taking a couple of people to the bank to get literally wedges of cash out and then to various other banks and NamPost to pay it into accounts (for people using their personal vehicles for NID).

This involved excellent pimp-style sitting around outside places and then handing brick-sized bundles of notes out through the window (hopefully to the right people).

Finally having completed this task, got back to the hospital, waited for people to show up, waited a bit more, went left, went right, stopped at the bank, stopped at Ok, went back to the hospital for stuff we had forgotten and stopped once more to Ok (all standard Namibian pre-departure procedures) we were ready to leave Opuwo at about 1.30.

I drove first to Outjo down through the Red Line and Kamanjab where (as I’m sure is the law) we stopped at the petrol station. There was little traffic (no surprises) and few cows trying to commit suicide (more surprising) so we made pretty good time and got there at about 5.30.

Having dropped the Outjo supervisor off, delivered the tonnes of crap as per usual and stopped at Ok (to buy cheese – CHEDDAR!!) we departed, now in the dark, the next 130km to Khorixas.

Tarred roads all the way.

Got to Khorixas and managed to find the hospital, found someone to accept the post and dropped the Khorixas supervisor off to his duties I popped in for a chat and a cup of coffee with my pharmacist friend living in the hospital grounds.

She is in a single room in a brand new (but already falling apart) nurses accommodation block. I would have been jealous of her accommodation until two weeks ago, now I am just jealous of her always on hot and cold water. Their shared kitchen is also yet to become a cockroach paradise (I told her it’s only a matter of time).

By then it was time to return to Opuwo (now on my own) so I did the 14km on tarred roads before turning off onto the “good gravel” road (130km long) from near Khorixas up to Kamanjab.

This is where the journey turned from just epically long to epically epic.

Of course I’ve never actually driven on gravel roads before. Certainly not at night. In the middle of nowhere. In Africa.

Well it’s interesting to say the least. Especially when massive thunderstorms are closing in on you illuminating the whole sky in bright flashes and you know you’ve got about a trillion more miles to go to get anywhere like home so you can’t afford to crawl back.

Actually (as I was to discover later in the week) it was an excellent gravel road (as these things go). There were no sudden bone-shattering dips and the bits where it narrowed were actually signposted.

Of course I had little to no traction and every time I even dreamed of touching the brakes the ABS shuddered immediately and the car slowed ever so imperceptibly.

After a few miles of this road, slewing left and right in a fountain of dust, I had a stroke of genius. Why not engage the four wheel drive?

You see (just to bore anyone who doesn’t know about such things and enrage anyone who knows lots about it with my simplistic explanation) the type of 4x4s we use here are not “permanent all-wheel drive”. Most of the time they coast along in 2H that is two wheel drive high range where the rear wheels only are driven and you can get normal “high” speeds from them.

If you engage four wheel drive then a number of mechanical things happen, primarily the front drive shafts start to turn and the “free wheeling hubs” on the front wheels engage (in two wheel drive operation these stop the front wheels from turning the drive shafts etc by disconnecting them).

Sitting next to the main gearstick is an enticing lever with various modes on such as 2H, 4H and 4L.

Now of course thanks to my nerdishness I know all the theory of this and that, selecting 4H rather than 2H should seamlessly drive all four wheels and give me greater traction and engine breakability.

Tempting.

Just as I was about to wrench the lever over I thought – “Woah, I wonder if you have to be fully stationary or do something special with the clutch or something”. So I stopped, had a quick picnic under the absolutely staggering full-on milky way night sky and fished the owners manual out.

Blah.. Blah.. Engage four wheel drive.. Loosing traction.. Blah.. Stationary if hubs not engaged… Blah.. Don’t exceed 100kph (60mph) – fat chance.

Then my eye was drawn to an ever-so-tiny box at the bottom. “Warning: Engage your front hubs and drive mechanism at least once every month to keep them lubricated and in working order. Failure to do so may lead to irrevocable damage when you shift into four wheel drive”.

The chances someone had ensured everything was turned over at least once a month? Zero.

Now to be blunt the idea of irrevocably damaging a government vehicle doesn’t phase me as much as the idea of irrevocably damaging a government vehicle in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

As I’d picnicked on the bonnet one of the startling things was the absolute and total quiet out here. There were no other cars on this road (I saw three the entire journey home).

So this left me with a quandary, continue four-wheel drifting two-wheel driving along or, at the risk of a graunch followed by total mechanical failure, switch to four-wheel drive in the vein hope it would be better.

How I pondered. In the end I reasoned that I had made it this far on two wheels and would make it the rest of the way. My hand kept itching towards the drive selector but I managed to resist.

Several hours later and with a high opinion of my ace off-road (well on-road but off-tarmac) driving skills I finally re-emerged at Kamanjab, got back on the tar, and began the next neverending stage of the drive back to Opuwo.

I eventually got in at about half past one on Tuesday morning having covered near on 1000km (600miles).

Then came Thursday. Our chief clerk (and part-time pastor) asked if I could do him a favour and drop a delivery off at a clinic some 130km (90-ish miles) away. One of the artisans would come with me and knows where it is etc. Now some of our clinics are so remote we’re have to use a helicopter to reach them so naturally I asked if it was near the main road. “Oh yes”. On further enquiry which direction it was from Opuwo I was told “Past Ok” i.e. south, to Kamanjab, on the tarred road.

So 130km on tar. Ok no problems.

We took the cab off the back turning our 4×4 into a pick-up truck type of affair and then proceeded to dangerously overload it with a fridge, table, TV, toolkits, 12 chairs and, for added zizz (or rather added baaadddaaa-booom) a massive (5 foot) full gas bottle. Oh and various other sundries.

We then tied all this down with washing line and set off.

“So you know where this clinic is then?” “Sort of, I’ve been there once”.

Good start.

14km out of town (journey barely begun) and we turn right. Onto a dirt track.

Needless to say the next 100+km made my previous experience look like a walk in the park on a bright summer’s day. There were potholes the size of the car, massive ditches, ruts. At one point the road disappeared but we could just see it again in the distance so we just went cross-country until we caught up with it.

Dried up rivers were crossed. At many points I missed the craters and smashed into them causing the cargo to jump a good foot in the air. Each time the artisan hung out the rear window (he was sitting in the back, the only place we could squeeze the TV was in the front seat) and shouted “it’s good, go, go” to my unasked “****-a-duck is everything still attached?”.

Again time was a factor as I knew we had to be as quick as possible to drive the least distance back in the dark.

After a while it got really fun. It was honestly like a stage from Colin McRae apart from the fact there is no way in hell a rally car could make it through. Up steep slopes, picking through boulder fields.

Eventually we actually made it to clinic which was in a tiny little village. Unloaded everything and headed back.

Thanks to my take-no-prisoners allow-no-safety-margin driving we were off the truly extreme part of the road by nightfall and just had the odd ditch and river crossing to contend with. Back by half six.

It’s done my kudos with the transport team no end of good though. Apparently the transport manager was beside himself when he found out I (who he obviously had no faith in) had gone to that clinic and decided he would never see us again.

On Friday I had to repeat my Monday journey (Opuwo – Outjo – Khorixas – Opuwo) and pick up the supervisors I’d dropped off and one other.

This went pretty smoothly apart from the varying mechanically dubious noises coming from the wheels (just needs a service I’m assured) and the ninja-style cow dodging once it got dark.

I did get to have a nice lunch with some friends in Khorixas though which more than made up for the long drive.

National Immunisation Days

June 22, 2009

Last week (16 – 19th of June) was round one of the National Immunisation Days (NID) with a swanky launch event on held on Monday the 15th.

The focus of this round was on immunising under fives in the Kunene Region (and nationally, hence the title) against Polio, Measles and Vitamin A deficiency (though I’m not sure if this last one is strictly an immunisation or just a “booster”).

As part of this all Ministries and NGOs etc mobilise to provide a fleet of vehicles and various seconded volunteers to head out into the field and help with the actual immunisations or support administration/logistics.

Kunene has a target population of 11,241 under fives (estimated) and even with some results still to come in reached a coverage of 96.1% for Polio and 92% for Vitamim A and Measels.

In actual fact it turns out the population estimate was significantly under with the Khorixas and Outjo districts coming in well above 100% of target. This helps bring the overall figure up even through Opuwo was well below target as the helicopter didn’t turn up for the hard-to-reach area.

The programme has universally been viewed as a success and now everyone is safely back it’s clear that there were none of the adverse reactions (severe reaction always being bad but especially so eight hours away from a hospital) or logistical (running out of vaccines or simply crashing of vehicles) seen in previous years.

Now just to prepare for round two in July.

Launch of NIDs Round One

Launch of NIDs Round One

Fleet for NIDs Round One

Fleet for NIDs Round One

Namibia Telecom Installation Strategy

June 21, 2009
The cable... ends

The cable... ends

Having previously mentioned Namibia Telecom’s communication strategy time for a work on their installation strategy.

Less than a day after paying my N$500 deposit two engineers turned up, drilled holes and ran cable.

They left the cable just loose. No socket, no telephone and certainly no ADSL modem. Apparently someone would call that afternoon to complete the work.

That was more than two weeks and about four visits to their office ago.

Last update… “Monday for definite Mister David”.

I have total confidence, obviously.

More Compact At Least

June 21, 2009
Entertainment - June 2008

Entertainment - June 2008

The image above shows my home entertainment setup, circa June 2008.

This consisted of…

  • 32″ Samsung HDTV
  • XBox 360
  • Dolby 5.1 Surround (with sub-woofer on the left to annoy the neighbours)
  • Freeview (DVB)
  • 7.5Mbps ADSL Broadband (Wireless Enabled)
  • Windows Vista Home Premium media centre PC (and PC games console) with twin DVB tuners

Below is my current (June 2009) home entertainment setup…

Entertainment - June 2009

Entertainment - June 2009

Consisting of…

  • A laptop

Hmm… Well on the plus side it is more compact and certainly has a smaller carbon footprint.

On the downside it’s, well, not to put it too bluntly, erm, not as good. Sob.

Strangely when I was sorting out my stuff to come here I had no shortage of people willing to “look after” all my entertainment gear.

Did You Know

June 14, 2009

Did you know it takes 10 litres of water to flush my toilet?

I didn’t, until today, when I had to fill up bottles from the fire hose (which still has water, well for the time being at least, let’s hope there’s not a fire) and empty them into the cistern.

10 litres!

That’s loads. No wonder all the greenies always go on about water wastage.

Mind you, not that I’m wasting much water right now. I’m practicing serious water husbandry as we’re now on day 5 of no water. Fun fun fun.