Archive for September, 2010

Heroes Acre and THE DOOM BUG OF OUTJO

September 28, 2010

Some pictures to fill the void while I scratch my head and try to think of something to blog…

Heroes Acre

Just outside Windhoek is the Heroes Acre – a massive monument to the Heroes of the Liberation Struggle.

Statue at Heroes Acre, Windhoek, Namibia

Towards the top is a massive spire and a statue of the Founding Father of Namibia Dr. Sam Nujoma who was the leader of SWAPO and the first president of the independent republic.

The text reads: Glory to the fallen Heroes and Heroines of the motherland Namibia!

Statue at Heroes Acre, Windhoek, Namibia in Shadow

Doom Bug of Outjo

A while ago I spent a weekend camping in Outjo and Waterberg with two VSO colleagues of mine. On the first night (OppiKlippe near Outjo) I completely failed to make fire as I had forgotten firelighters and my bushman skills were sadly lacking.

I tried do-it-yourself firelighters with Clutch Cleaning Fluid and wood and even resorted to petrol. Try, try, try again and then fail. Of course the very next time I was in the same predicament, without such a supportive audience, I created a massive blaze with nothing but dried grass and skill. Oh well.

Defeated on the fire front we popped into Outjo to get some food and came back to our campsite. Shortly through the gate on our return a kudu jumped out in front of us and as we were watching it there was an almighty BANG as something hit the car. Something big.

It was some sort of massive devil bug. Easily the size of a golf ball it had flown full pelt into the windscreen, knocked itself senseless and was now on the bonnet.

The thing was enormous. And clawing away at the air with one of its many sets of clawlike-things.

TERRIFYING. I haven’t seen anything that big capable of flight and that scary ever.

So here’s a picture – the windscreen wipers can be seen for scale. Try not to loose sleep over it. Unless you’re living in sub-Saharan Africa of course where I’m now convinced these things rule the night killing humans at will.

Massive bug that hit the car at OppiKlippe, Outjo, Namibia

What the hell! I mean; WHAT THE HELL. And I only am half-convinced the red-eye is from the camera flash.

Be afraid…

Measles

September 24, 2010

Late last year we had a major outbreak of measles within the Kunene region, the disease having crossed over the border from Angola.

Because of the lack of immunity in the population combined with a transient lifestyle and close living conditions it spread very quickly, sadly resulting in a number of deaths of people who had underlying conditions and were in many cases already immunocompromised.

The Ministry of Health and Social Services instigated an emergency response in the region and received assistance from far and wide to help fight the outbreak.

Some of the assistance included:

  • Tents for an isolation unit provided and setup by the NDF (Namibian Defence Force)
  • NDF ambulances (tank ambulances), nurses and doctors
  • Nurses from other regions
  • Technical support teams from national level
  • Epidemiological support from the WHO

In the end we had three special rounds of immunisation – starting with children 6 months to 5 years and ending up immunising anyone of any age.

New Cases of Measles in Opuwo District (nb reports from outlying clinics often delayed)

Our biggest problem was reaching everywhere in time – the Opuwo District is particularly sparsely populated and rugged so everyone took part in the effort, I even contributed in a small way.

From the graph above you can see what a major impact the response had – the immunisation campaigns were held from around week 44/45 onwards. By the end of January 2010 new cases had dropped to almost nothing and by pushing ahead with one further round of immunisations hopefully that will be the end of it.

What this shows I feel, apart from the importance of clear focus on emergencies and prompt responses is the simple message that routine immunisation works. Other places with a much higher rate of immunisation (a higher “herd immunity” to use epi-doc-speak) simply wouldn’t have had anywhere near the rate of infection.

Prior to this outbreak we would often find some Himba communities reluctant to take part in vaccination campaigns. A post-appartheid legacy of not trusting the government, word-of-mouth tales of adverse reactions (and of course actual adverse reactions, many children will have a small and brief fever after immunisation) and a trust in traditional healers all played a part. Really it was a more forgivable version of the UK MMR fiasco.

Sad though the outbreak was the one positive result has been a marked change in attitudes in the community. Everyone knew someone who was infected and given the small population everyone knows of someone who passed away. Towards the end of our special campaign (and in routine campaigns since) we have had people queuing up to have their children (and themselves in some cases) immunised.

More Information

http://www.newera.com.na/article.php?articleid=9466

http://www.swapoparty.org/measle_mass_vaccination_in_opuwo.html

http://www.namibian.com.na/index.php?id=28&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=63563&no_cache=1

http://www.nbc.com.na/article.php?id=680


‘elf and safety gaan mayd

September 23, 2010

Full Disclosure: The author was in previous employ a Health and Safety Champion which meant he ran around in his pants and a cape until complaints to HR stopped it. He also might have done an Institute of Safety and Health (IOSH) Course on “why not to juggle full grown tigers” or similar. Oh and been a fire warden as well. It’s a miracle nobody died.

Filling Petrol in Kamanjab to 5l Water Container

It has become quite a common area of derision in the UK for hackneyed commenters to screech about ‘elf and saafty gane maad.

This is along with the other favourite of political correctness gaaan maaad.

Children no longer allowed to practice throwing flaming darts at each other in the playground? It’s ‘elf and saaaafety gaaan maaaad, innit?

Public funds no longer allowed to be used in a celebration of slavery and the pygmy massacre of British India? It’s political correctness gaaaane maaad I tells ya!

Often of course such crackdowns are more a result of a litigatious society running out of control (ok then; gaaaannn maaad), with people just trying to limit insults to the four surviving members of the pygmy tribe (and to avoid litigation) or just simply made up on a slow news day (What’s that??!? They’re cancelling Christmas and calling it Ethnic Winterland Multicultural Day? They’re banning Santa? Arrrrrr!).

The nature of the real cause of all this, the legal risks, are normally overlooked by tabloids adorned as their pages are with adverts proffering the services of cheap four-times-struck-off Dodgy Bob’s no-win-no-fee services (Did you once fall over blind drunk? Have a bit of a sore knee the next day? Let’s sue the brewery, the pub and the council at once! One may well settle out of court and after fees you will probably have enough for a beer or two) next to the Littlejohnings and other faux-outrage.

Also overlooked are the massive decreases in deaths and maimings at work during the last century following the introduction of various things such as the Factories Act and the dreaded Health and Safety at Work Act.

In simple terms this legislation has forced employers to stop treating people as disposable commodities and give some sort of thought to the risks they expose their employees to. With the expected results that it is now safer to work in industry than at any time before. This is a good thing.

In fact real HSE prosecutions are few and far between, you basically have to shoot an innocent person in the head to end up in criminal court. A minority certainly compared to civil no-win-no-fee type actions for compensation.

But to shamble forward to my actual point…

Namibia Needs Some ‘Elf and Safety!

Having come from a society which if anything is over-protective and over-cautious (Wales being the obvious exception to this) it is a bit of a shock to come to Namibia where everything is under-protective and over-dangerous.

The environment is bad enough – pretty much everything tries to bite you, scratch you, fornicate with you (not in a good way) or lay its eggs in you.

Stuff here – plans and animals – are tough. Proper rock ‘ard. As one quick example take the cows; in the UK we have nice black and white placid things for the most part whereas here it’s all massively horned battle-scared great big ugly and mean-tempered buggers. They have to be just to survive.

With the environs out to get you maybe it’s little surprise people-based health and safety is not taken as seriously. Or really considered in the slightest.

It’s quite common to see petrol being filled into water containers (above), pumped by people smoking, a dozen people (some standing) on the open back of a bakkie at 120+ km/h and workmen using a combination of “scoffolding by the grace of god” and sheer luck working atop leaning towers of beer crates.

In my own experience we have done network cabling in the office. We had only one step-ladder (a venerable old thing) and this wasn’t tall enough for many sections. No matter, utilizing a combination of chairs, tables (with chairs on top), putting someone up into the ceiling and then moving the ladder from under them to another point we got the job done.

I had to force myself to overcome ingrained horror at using chairs-on-tables as a method of working at height but I managed and, more through luck than judgement, everything was completed without any major injuries.

Now this is of course all for the fun of living in a less-regulated and somewhat risk-welcoming society but I can’t help but think some, just a little, regulation and care for the workforce might, in my humble opinion, be a good thing. Nice though it is to be able to climb over, swim in or drive up anything and everything you want without warning signs and over-zealous officials it is my choice to camp at the site that requires a stomach-churning descent past burnt out cars and skeletons but the workman using beer crates as support probably has little choice if he wants to feed his family.

After all if you make it through without getting killed at work there is more opportunity to loose your life in some horrific but natural way; snikebite, eaten by lion, rutted to death by rabid kudu, swept over unprotected waterfalls, gored by cattle or even a pedestrian old illness like cholera or measles.

Danger Gaaaaannnnnneeeee Mayd I tells thee!

Apology

What was intended to be a sober and thoughtful discussion on the relative merits of risk aversion turned, as usual, into a diatribe of waffle and hyperbole. Oh well.

VSO Namibia Volunteer Conference 2010

September 22, 2010

Last week nearly all VSO Namibia volunteers and staff descended en-masse to the Greiter’s conference center in the hills north of Windhoek for the 2010 Namibia VSO Conference.

The idea of the conference was to, as a group, consider various aspects of VSO Namibia not least the future strategic direction.

VSO NamVolCon 2010 Session

Timetable (in brief)

Sunday

  • Welcome

Monday

  • Introduction
  • Programme Area Reviews and Sessions
  • Introduction to Climate Change

Tuesday

  • Technical Session – Climate Change
  • Skills Building Sessions – ICT in Development / Leadership and Development
  • Technical Session – Gender
  • Gender Programming and Climate Proofing

Wednesday

  • Advocacy
  • Technical Session – Marginalised Groups
  • Volunteer Experiences

Thursday

  • Pilot Programme Planning
  • Country Context Analysis
  • Skills Building Sessions – Teamwork / Business and Enterprise Skills
  • Volunteer Experiences
  • Regional Working

Friday

  • The Volunteer Experience
  • Volunteer Engagement
  • Knowledge Management and Brokering
  • Learning and Evaluation
  • Summaries

Welcome to VSO NamVolCon 2010

The Long and the Short of It

VSO Namibia applied for and has been chosen as one of 6 pilot countries to try out a new way of working.

Following the last strategic review (called I think Focus for Change) it was decided to concentrate efforts in one of six programme areas; health, disability, HIV&AIDS, education, secure livelihoods and participation & governance (of these VSO Namibia has programmes in four – disability, HIV&AIDS, education and secure livelihoods).

The pilot is to look at moving away from this so that individual countries can focus their efforts in a way to address issues within the local context more easily. So there are some serious questions to be asked (and maybe even answered) about what the key issues are in Namibia that VSO can tackle in a meaningful way.

Of course life also has to go on so most of the first day was given over to working within our programme areas and considering how effective they are or might be made more so.

Technical Sessions

Throughout the week a number of guest speakers came to talk to us in “technical sessions” looking at different areas, mainly on Climate Change and Gender.

These were then discussed in terms of what we could do to support efforts in these areas more and if VSO Namibia should consider changing its primary focus purely to one or both of them.

Lively discussion ensued. For myself I was in the camp supporting the idea of integrating some focus on these areas into our planning but not as a primary focus, not at the cost of current programmes dealing with real hard-hitting issues on the ground right now. Of course I am famously short-termed in my thinking and given that Climate Change will probably lead to the extinction of humanity maybe we should all get aboard with a massive Ark building project or similar in the Namib.

As luck would have it an expert from VSO UK was in Windhoek at another conference and was able to run a well received advocacy workshop exploring issues and tools to help advocate on behalf of the most marginalised and/or vulnerable groups.

Skill Sharing

Hoping that the volunteer base lived up to its name of “skilled professionals” a number of skill sharing sessions were run throughout the week including one co-hosted by yours truly on ICT in Development.

Much was made of these people volunteering for a session. In my case it was more a case of seeing my name on the agenda rather than volunteering for anything.

However on Tuesday morning myself and Joel (an IT trainer) led a session. In typical ICT style we had a projector/laptop SNAFU causing much amusement within the assembled masses. Luckily part of my section was on disadvantages of ICT including it going wrong, at the worst possible time. I wish I didn’t have to prove my point so successfully though.

I was in my usual not-in-MoHSS-office attire of shorts, t-shirt and sandals when Joel appeared in a suit including a waistcoat and tie.

In the end though it went off ok with my confused and non-sensical sections (“Volunteers using and abusing ICT in their placements” and “Kunene MoHSS ICT Case Study”) glossed over by Joel’s smooth delivery and content. We even had someone introduce us and everything (thanks Joseph).

Volunteer Experiences

Another vol-led bit was the Volunteer Experiences. Eight volunteers were asked (well actually more were asked and said no but it would be impolitic to mention which ones) to present on their experiences. Unsurprisingly I wasn’t asked.

These brave souls discussed various things; what they had achieved, the challenges, amusing anecdotes etc and one even had a music-backed photo presentation.

Other Stuff

Other sessions included things like Volunteer Engagement (interesting range of scores for “how involved are we now….”) and how best to manage knowledge (always a prickly one). I say burn it. All. Who needs knowledge?

Wrap Up

As a high-powered Volunteer Regional Representative (of the VSO Namibia North-West Region: VSO population 1) I also took part in the rep-led wrapup session on the last day. In true VSO style we made people get up and present through the medium of mime etc. Surprisingly not lynched.

Also my idea we should just do the entire thing through the medium of inappropriately close dancing was also shot down in flames.

In the end it all worked out ok (I think) with the patience and skills of the other reps making up in part for me and my narcissistic personality disorder.

Social Stuff

Of course it wasn’t all work work work. It turned out I actually knew most of the volunteers there (benefits of travelling around a lot) but also met some new people.

It was great to see everyone especially good friends whose paths I don’t often cross. There are so few of us left now from the March 2009 intake and hardly any who haven’t gone slightly mad, lost a limb or are wearing an eyepatch.

Needless to say Tafel lager was drunk. Aah Tafel.

Amazingly the barstaff seemed to trust me with a tab whereas some others were told cash only (maybe this was just down to a quantity decision?) which led to some incredulity “you trust him?”.

A volunteer committee arranged entertainment including Greek Dancing (had to leave after 30 seconds and a near coronary) and a pub quiz (which, ahem, our team won) amongst other things.

In Summation

I think a good and useful time was had by all. Extra credit goes, as always, to the hard-working VSO staff (brown nose) who arranged everything and were always working late trying to pull the flipcharts with postit notes we had created into some semblance of order.

Getting useful input from that many people, especially VSO volunteers who (me included) have a tendency to wax lyrical about not very much is a skill.

If you were to ask 60 VSO volunteers to jump: 3 would ask “how high”, 10 would argue amongst themselves about the definition of “jump”, 5 would be unable to jump owing to placement-induced injuries, 25 would just start randomly jumping in different directions, 7 would take offense to being told to jump at all, 5 would be asleep at the back and the last 5 would be nowhere to be found.

So in final summary: Cross-regional synergistic working with a focus on Climate Change and blue-sky mainstreamed advocacy programming challenging Gender norms within marginalised groups.

A Conferencing I Will Go

September 9, 2010

Tomorrow I’m off down to Windhoek to the VSO Namibia Volunteer Conference.

This will be an opportunity for all us volunteers to meet up along with all VSO country staff and some big cheeses from UK HQ.

It’s a full week of discussions about the strategic direction of VSO in Namibia and a whole load of other topics about volunteering in the local context and our specific program areas.

In addition to the serious highbrow discussion there may be, I dare to suggest, a modicum of socialising and rampant partying.

The highlight of the week for nobody will be on Tuesday when I (and an equally press-ganged IT vol I’ve never met) run a session on ICT in Development. Fiddlesticks.

I was thinking of talking about how IT nerds here are slightly less derided, abused and socially shunned because they aren’t as prevalent and everyone wants their Spider Solitaire to run smoothly. We’ll probably have to come up with something boring though about the potential positive impact of ICT. Or something. Perhaps I’ll just do the Monkey Dance.

My only real objective for the week (well apart from finding out all about what’s going on with VSO and maybe trying to make a few inputs that sound slightly coherent and vaguely clever at least until anyone analyses them) is to not get sent home for any highly inappropriate japery.

I would live blog the event (spew endless blog posts about who has said what, who has cried, who has been sent home and who drank the last Tafel) but I probably am too slack and internet coverage may be dodgy.

It should be a good crack though with nearly all of my intake who are left in the country (scant few of us now though), all my other VSO friends and an opportunity to meet more volunteers from far-flung corners and exchange horrific stories. And also maybe I’ll finally learn about some of this development stuff people keep talking about whilst I’ve just got my head stuck inside a computer case (though in the end it was fine as butter and a donkey-harness managed to get my head out).

High Ho to the Conference….

Maid to Perfection

September 8, 2010

I hate handwashing clothes. Hate it. Despise it. Can’t stand it.

Any romantic notions I had about living free of the decadent luxury of a washing machine and finding a soulful pleasure in the act of scrubbing away a days grime from my shirt under the bright blue African skies were destroyed on about the third occasion I had to do it.

Hand scrubbing (especially when you get as dirty as me) is damn hard work. Extra hard if you want to do it well, actually end up with consistently clean garments (without a streak of dust still down the back) and avoid the horror of not sufficient rinsing with the consequence of turning into a bubble bath when you get sweaty or rained on.

In fact I hate it so much that when a good friend of mine invited me to come to Caprivi (about 2.7 billion miles from Opuwo) for three weeks of work my first question wasn’t “what work?” or even “you don’t want me to do that on film again do you?” (because I’m not – I don’t care how artistically necessary the director says it is), it was “does your washing machine still work?”. A select few volunteers have washing machines in their houses provided by their employer or VSO. Strangely they are always very popular people for other volunteers to visit for a few days.

So to avoid this and allow more time for lazing around working as well as empowering the local community I have always tried to find a washer-person. This has had mixed results.

The first couple that my office buddy H found for me only turned up once or at best twice (I think the horror of my socks was too much for them).

Eventually I was put in touch with L, who was one of the Red Cross and MoHSS volunteer councillors for HIV. Not only did she usually turn up within two days of the arranged time but was also good fun and happy to eat the lunch I would prepare on days I was there without throwing up. One day she found N$ 100 in a pocket I had totally forgotten about (more than her daily wage) and it was on my desk when I got home from work.

Unfortunately I shot myself in the foot by helping her apply for a full-time job as a Community Councillor at a clinic outside of Opuwo. Which of course she got. To be fair all I really did was help her be clear what they wanted on the application and with a bit of the English. By the time I was able to put in a good word for her with the boss two offices down she had already been accepted.

So sadly L was no more and was off to bigger and better things with much less to do with my socks which I’m sure she is eternally grateful for.

Thus began another round of searching in vain for someone who would actually turn up.

And as if by magic I found out that another friend of mine has an actual maid who is reliable and he trusts totally. So just a week after trying to arrange it A turned up at my office.

Unlike L she speaks almost no English. Unlike more dedicated and/or skilled volunteers I speak even less Otjiherero.

Through the medium of sign language and expressive posturing (thank you VSO training) I was able to show her where the washing was as well as all the other necessary odds and ends like baisins and soap powder.

What I was not able to do was in any way discuss what she was to do other than the washing. I assumed she would just do that and at N$ 50 (about £4) for a “day” this would in fact be cheaper than L.

But no – not only was my washing all done but the floors were scrubbed, the worktops (those not covered in boxes of crap, books and broken bits of computers) all wiped down and two particularly horrific unwashed saucepans I had left until I gathered the strength were gleaming as new.

When she came into the office to give back my keys there was some confusion about her comingthe next day as well. Luckily someone was passing who could translate. She wanted to come back because she now had to be off (about 3.30pm) and hadn’t had time to do the floors of the bedrooms! I said there really was no need but she was persistent and explained she did not want any more money. In the end I managed to convince her there really was no need and everything was better than fine.

We’ve now left it that when I’m back in a week from the great volunteer conference in Windhoek we will arrange (with a translator present) a day every week for her to come which she seemed extremely pleased with (maybe my socks are loosing their potency?).

On the back of this I was taking a well earned break from serious toil (and for once I was actually toiling if maybe not in a serious manner) and admiring my clean floors whilst trying not to fall asleep on the sofa when the Matron came round with a notice for hospital tenants and I could actually invite him in without the shame of squalor.

Letting from Housing Committee

A compulsory meeting for all tenants and written in caps? That can’t be good.

Maybe they have had too much of my crazy late night parties or my livestock. Luckily the Matron is someone I “built bridges” with (thanks again VSO training) using both of my people skills so I was able to ask him if I was being evicted. He said “you should be ok on your side”. I think that means as a VSO volunteer.

Anika (my Peace Corps volunteer neighbour) is foolishly away on holiday and won’t be attending. I will therefore be responsible for representing all volunteers at this meeting. So I should be annexing Anika’s house sometime next week if all goes well.

Keep on Blogging…

September 6, 2010

In place of an actual post as I’m just too busy drinking and slacking off working on important stuff here are some random pictures. I felt the need to post something as less than a week after my pledge to be less blogslack ™ I’ve still only posted twice (one of which was the pledge itself).

So here you go…

In the bush there isn't much mobile service. Here you see a rock on top of a hill near Etanga that if you climb (and the gods are with you) will give you service. In this instance we were on immunisation duty and were texting through for an update (basically could we come home yet - the answer was NO)

Himba kids at a homestead near Etanga. Cute but also deeply suspicious of the great white devil.

Himba kids at a homestead near Etanga. Cute but also deeply suspicious of the great white devil.

A view of the Kunene River Valley at the end of the Hartmann Valley (Hartmanfluss, Kunene)

Yet another view of the Kunene River Valley at the end of the Hartmann Valley (Hartmanfluss, Kunene). Shows the green and blue corridor of life twisting through the barren desert. Or something.

Serra Cafema: The Long Trek

September 3, 2010

Back in late 2009 we had an serious outbreak of Measles in the Kunene Region, for a while we were even featuring on the WHO website. As you might expect the Government and specifically the Ministry of Health and Social Services swung into action throwing money and resources at the problem which thankfully was resolved in the end.

The response effort was massive, involved the Namibian Defence Force, various ministerial visits and more than a few column inches in the national press.

During this time it was all hands to the pumps in the Kunene Region and even the lowliest smelliest IT Advisor was roped in. This then is the story of a small part of the battle to defeat Measles; the Great Trek to Serra Cafema.

The Call

In a week in which the massive special immunization drive was already in progress a report came into the Ministry of Health from a far-flung outpost called Serra Cafema, far up in the North West of Namibia in the Namib Desert and sandwiched between mountain ranges and the Kunene River with Angola on the far side.

The lodge had reported, via satellite phone to their head office, a number of deaths related to Measles in the area and requested assistance from the Ministry of Health. As most of the people in the office were already out with the immunization drive a crack team of a misfit (the IT Advisor) and health professionals was hastily assembled and agreed to load up and attempt to go and get through to Serra Cafema, find out what was happening and immunize as many children as possible.

The Team

  • Driver – IT Specialist: Dave (me!)
  • Nurse – Senior Health Program Administrator for Health Information Systems: Michael
  • Environmental Health – Opuwo District EH Officer: Barbara
  • Social Mobilization – Kunene Regional Information and Education Coordinator: Anika

Preperations

First off we had to find a car and see if we physically could carry enough fuel to get through. The transport team found us a Nissan Hardbody 4×4, one of the vehicles with a good if not Landcruiser-quality reputation and from the IEC stores we managed to get three 20-liter fuel cans. Quick expert calculations involving the back of an envelope, tutting and cussing revealed that it would probably be enough.

In addition to our camping equipment, food and fuel we would be taking a large chest of immunization supplies, mosquito nets and water purification kits (not to miss the opportunity to distribute these to an area the MoHSS rarely reaches).

We also filled up several 10-litre plastic water containers. These promptly leaked all over the back soaking luggage and people before dripping out of the drain holes.

I Can’t Tell You Not To Go. But…

At this point we had a rough idea of the place we were going. We had also heard a few horror stories from the transport office and not least from Barbara who it turns out was once stranded for more than two days along the route we would have to take in part.

Lacking a map or any sort of a clue we headed to the police station where the Opuwo District Commander brought us into his office to offer assistance.

The verdict it seemed was not good; the roads were bad, the entire place is isolated, deep sand, shifting dunes, gut-wrenchingly steep mountain passes and almost certain doom.

He got out a photo album of the most recent police trip to the area – they went in a convoy of seven vehicles. One of the vehicles was dedicated for the mechanics alone and carried the generators, compressors and airbags required to traverse the terrain. The photos were mainly of cars suck axle deep in sand and bemused looking coppers standing around the scratching their heads.

But it was no good – we had to go we were after all a handpicked crack Ministry of Health team on vital work.

“Well” he said, “maybe if you have a really strong car”. We pointed to our Nissan. He didn’t seem impressed.

“Well” he then said, “it really all depends on the skill of your driver”. All eyes turned to me. Well Sheeeeeeeeet.

“Well” he said finally, “I can’t tell you not to go, but… I would strongly advise against it”.

In the end we agreed that we would stop at the Orupembe police station and take their advice before going cross-desert. We would turn back if they said it was impassable and if we carried on they would know our route and radio it back to Opuwo. At such time as we made it back out of the middle-of-nowhere they could also radio back our safe return. If nothing was heard a search party could then be dispatched (I think to bury the bodies and bring the car back).

As soon as I heard we would be radioing through updates I tried to convince everyone we would need a codename. I suggested the likes of Operation Brokeback, Operation Certain Death or Operation Megadeath. Sadly nobody seemed as up for this as me. It didn’t stop me referring to us by various Operation monikers from that point on.

We were also able to get a map from him which we used for the remainder of the journey.

Navigation Map into Hartmann Valley

Our expertly drawn map of the route

This was the map. We were going from the bottom-right (Opuwo) to the top left. Along the roads clearly marked – in pen.

Orupembe

And so we set off triumphantly, water leaks trailing behind, towards Kaoko Otavi and Orupembe.

Things went well for the first ten minutes or so until frantic waving from the back stopped us and Anika jumped out and promptly threw up. One of the fuel cans had a misfitting top (I had noticed this when filling but expertly wedged it closed with a plastic bag and brute force) and was filling the back of the bakkie with petrol fumes (sadly we only had a single cab vehicle so passengers rode in the back with the luggage, water and fuel).

After a brief conflab she swapped places to sit in the front with me so Michael and Barbara went in the back with windows open for full ventilation.

Eventually after going over umpteen hills and through endless dry riverbeds we reached Orupembe. Not so much a town as two huts, a small shop (also a hut) and a massive police station (explained as they also live there not by the massive amount of criminal activity).

We consulted with our friends in blue who were very helpful besides constantly asking with some amazement if we were “really going there, in that, on your own“. They confirmed there were two routes – the long way through the desert or the less-long-way (I don’t want to call it short) through the mountain passes to Rooi Drum which I naively assumed was a funnily named town.

We decided that the mountain passes would be better – avoiding the sandy stuff for as long as possible and offering a better chance that we wouldn’t run out of fuel and die of thirst in the middle of the desert.

So in good cheer we set off toward Rooi Drum looking to find somewhere to spend the night. Apparently there was a place called Marble Camp just before the passes which would be a good bet. It was now getting dark and we picked our way out of Orupembe and into the hills. At one point the road split and I was going to take the right-hand fork when Anika pointed out the danger blasting area sign so we took the other way.


No Entry Blasting Area

No Entry Blasting Area

We pressed on and presently came into Marble Camp which was offering camping with hot water and all the other good stuff for N$50 (about 4 pounds) per person. Barbara and Michael stressed to them we were MoHSS people on important immunization missions and places normally let us stay for free but the owner was away and the staff couldn’t do that.

For myself I would have happily paid the N$50 but it was decided we should head off to an abandoned IRDNC camp a few km away. So we headed back and into the blasting area. Eventually we found this ghost camp in the middle of the blasting area and with some kerfuffle over the Ministry tent that lacked working zips bedded down for the night.

Rooi Drum

At first light we were up and packed ready to commence the crossing of the passes to get to the desert after which the crossing of the desert would commence.

Having found our way out of the blasting zone I said to Michael “we must hit the main track soon” as the track we were on was little more than a goat path. “No, this is it” was his reply. Ah.

Slowly and not-so-surely we climbed up through the hills feeling our way through loose rocks and around boulders standing in the middle of the track. Eventually we came across a Y-junction and, wonder of wonders, another vehicle with a Himba family sitting around enjoying a picnic. They confirmed we were on the right track for Rooi Drum. In return we handed them mozzie nets and water treatment kits. Their kids were either too young or already immunized.


Mobile Clinic and Net Distribution

Mobile Health Center

Eventually having climbed up in low range we came to the top of the first bit of the pass and were faced with a series of very steep twisty descents and angular ascents. A few times we were forced to stop entirely and walk ahead, surveying the route and planning mad left-then-right wheel wrenching. Only once did I get stuck on a rock and then the mighty Nissan pulled itself back off with no damage.

Amazingly and to everyone’s surprise (not least of which mine) we actually made it through. Intact. And with most of our bowels still under control.

As the track got better and the inclines gentler we emerged from the hills into the edge of the desert and Rooi Drum. Rooi Drum is Afrikans for Red Drum. I did think this was a funny name for a town. Except it isn’t. It’s literally a drum, a red one, in the middle of nowhere.


Rooi Drum / Red Drum Namibia

Rooi Drum

Next to the fabled drum itself is a stone used as a plaque upon which people write their details. It turns out this is actually the remote bit of a remote tourist trail serious off-roaders do. Of course where they were turning back at this point or maybe going straight on into Marienfluss we were turning left and heading into the desert.


Rooi Drum / Red Drum Names of the Dead

Names at Rooi Drum

There were some guys at Red Drum who had been out hunting Springbok and other game for meat and also to control the numbers so we were met with carcasses hanging from trees when we arrived which was a bit surreal and gave the place a Deliverance vibe.

The Next Drums

From Rooi Drum we headed to Blue Drum which was, as I now had learned to expect, a blue drum. This one featured a satellite phone for some bizzare reason. Of course a sign explained the phone didn’t work for one reason or another.

Blue drum had just three or four names scrawled on rocks at the base.


Blue Drum, Kunene

Blue Drum

From there we entered the desert proper and at Orange Drum stopped heading West, turning North for the great push up to Serra Cafema. There were no names at Orange drum.

North Ever North

The Namib desert is beautiful and I would say no more so (and I have seen it in most places) than the far North-West. Here great mountains give way to hilly dunes and tussocks of grass with the occasional scrub tree. It is stunningly desolate and yet still teeming with life this far inland.

We headed north tracking along the edge of the desert through valleys and endless numbers of dry river beds which for two days a year would spill out into the sea which was still another few hundred kilometers west.

Though meeting patches of deep sand we managed to get through using momentum, power and luck. Above all I wanted to avoid “airing down” the tyres (a curious turn of phrase meaning letting some air out). This was because all we had to air them back up again was a crappy handpump which didn’t work at the best of times.

Eventually many hours into crossing endless expanses of nothingless (which really I can’t adequately describe save to say that Michael and Barbara who are actual Namibians were awed by the immense wonder) we were climbing up the side of a valley when the inevitable happened and we got stuck.

Michael suggested we air down. I countered by showing the pump. So we tried to find another way.

By digging under the car, making mats of grass and pushing we managed to cover the next kilometer or so in an hour of sweaty sunbaked hell.


Stuck in Deep Sand in the Namib

B******s

Above you see Operation Drunken Monkey stuck in the sand. This was actually one of our shallower stickings. Barbara is energetically digging out underneath while the rest of us look on.

Finally we managed to get some good (ish) traction and I simply couldn’t stop so had to power on 500m or so leaving my pushing team behind. On what I thought was firmer ground I stopped. And stuck solid. How they laughed once they had finished walking up.

Sadly on finally cresting the hill the other side of which I dreamed of tarmac or maybe just firmer sand the soft stuff stretched out in front of us. I still refused to compromise on the tyres and we continued to start-stop-dig-matt-push-start-repeat. Fun.

Suddenly along the road came the first vehicle and people we had seen for nearly 12 hours. It was a raised seating Safari style Land Rover from…. the Serra Cafema lodge. We were not only on the right road (which had been in some doubt) but had only a few kilometers to go.

The Land Rover was taking some of the lodge guests down the valley to the lodges’ own airstrip. The contrast between us, plastered with sweat and namib sand driven ever so slightly mad in the sun and these clean ultra-rich tourists was stark. Anika says one of them waved though I am pretty such they looked on in horror and disgust while holding scented hankies to their noses.

The driver also told us the deep sand was pretty constant from here on in and we should air down our tyres. He had a plane to catch so couldn’t hang around but promised he would tow us up if we were still stuck when he returned.

With a heavy heart and a foreboding of the reinflation to come we aired down the tyres and…. immediately were crusing through the sand like it was tarmac.

Another few kilometers of sandy hills and we finally came across civilisation – a rough Himba homestead perched on a dune in the middle of nowhere. Hardly had we stopped to distribute nets and water kits as well as find kids to stab with syringes than another Land Rover and a Quad Bike turned up from the lodge having been alerted to the approach (and stuckness) of Operation Platonic Penguin and come to rescue us. As we had rescued ourselves (get in) the Land Rover headed off but the guy and Quad Bike waited for us to finish in that homestead and show us the way to the lodge.

Sheer Cliff

We followed the quad bike for a good few kilometers up and over severe dunes and steep sandy hills until he stopped and looped back to us.

“Be careful in the next bit, it’s quite steep” he said and motored off.

Steep? The next bit? Bloody hell – what was the bit we’ve just been doing?

Then came the cliff. Seriously. The sand just stopped and disappeared downwards. The quad bike just vanished over the precipice (there is no way I would have driven over it if not following the bike). I waited until he was probably clear, made a quick prayer to any listening god, steeled my bowels and – counterintuitively – drove over the sheer bloody drop.

In low range first gear we basically fell down the side of the dune. The sand free-falling alongside just kept pace with us. Had I not lost the power of speech through fear I would have screamed out loud. In fact I think I might, almost a year later, still be screaming inside.

200+ feet of near-vertical descent later we reached the bottom to find Mr Quad Bike grinning at my pale face.

We then descended into the Kunene River valley proper – rocky passes of 45 degrees or so (seemed like nothing after the CLIFF OF DEATH).

Suddenly we caught a glimpse of the river – a narrow ribbon of lush green cutting through the empty orange desert.

Kunene River Valley from Above

Before long we were down on the floor plain and heading into the lodge.

Ice Cold in Alex

Parking up in the lodge carpark (for employees only – nobody drives there, they fly in) we shambled over the bridge to reception.

Two days hard on the road through the desert and hours digging sand by hand we stepped into another world. Standing there, gummed up with sand ingrained to our stubble (and that is just the ladies), a liveried waiter handed us ice-cold apple juice and cold wet towels to wash our faces.

A minute later and we were through in the bar meeting the manager who, with correct priorities, asked us if we wanted a drink.

“Tafel lager” I croaked and by some magic it appeared in front of me. Cold. Condensation dripping down the side. Perfect. Beautiful.

It was my ultimate Ice Cold in Alex moment.

Operation Drugged Dragon had arrived.

The Mission

Over a sumptuous meal we met with the lodge manager who had requested us. It turned out (thank goodness) that the 10 deaths were more hearsay than anyone local and if they had happened at all it was on the Angolan side of the border.

The mission therefore of Operation Perturbed Parrot was to immunize as many local kids as possible and distribute our nets and water kits.

The Lodge

It’s worth me just mentioning the lodge here. Serra Cafema (named for the mountains on the other side of the river) is part of the Namibia Wilderness Lodges who operate various plush lodges all over Southern Africa.

It costs about US$1000 (600 pounds) per person per night for the lodge only and guests exclusively fly in. On the companies dedicated small airline.

In the months before our visit Microsoft founder Paul Allen had been staying as well as various other movers and shakers. The lodge is simply plushness itself – everything is built to perfection and (unsurprisingly) the staff are amazingly friendly, helpful and able to converse in many different languages.

In addition to catering to, let’s be honest, very well off tourists part of the agreement is the lodge is involved with the (sparse) local population. They operate a border crossing service by boat and know all the local families well. In such a remote spot everyone has to stick together I suppose.

Rather wonderfully, equipped as we were for another night of hard living, we were put up for the night in the family suite – two rooms with twin beds. For free I hasten to add as I don’t think the Ministry would have signed our expense claims.

The Beds at Serra Cafema

The Balcony for OUR ROOM at Serra Cafema

Simply; it was pretty damn plush and pretty damn swanky. Ever find yourself as a rich holidayer you should give it a look.

But fly in. Seriously.

Operation Blind Badger Begins Proper

Fortified, rested, washed and invigorated we headed out. To Angola.

It turns out the Himba locals are pretty transient and cross between Namibia and Angola regularly. The manager had heard that the main local Himba family were at their Angolan homestead.

So we (some of us – those allowed into Angola) jumped into the boat with a couple of lodge staff and cruised down the Kunene River to find them. A wonderful small boat ride later I jumped off the boat and scrambled up a steep bank to invade Angola! Sadly it was already claimed else I would have added another territory for Her Majesty.

Hiking through scrub on the Angolan side (sadly pretty similar to the Namibian side) we found a homestead. Abandoned. Not a person in sight.

We tracked our footprints back to the boat and scrambled back down the bank. Retreating from Angola after half an hour having immunized zero children – Operation Mental Mongoose was not going well.

Right Chaps - Back to Namibia

To Business

Back in Namibia we saddled up in one of the lodge Land Rovers and went out hunting for Himba children to immunize. Fortunately we had more luck this time and got round all the local homesteads with even enough time to pop up a quick mountain and admire the view.

Kunene River Valley View from Above

Basically we would turn up, greet the people who would converge, talk to the adults, hand out nets and water kits and then make the children cry by stabbing them with syringes. Not me but the trained health professionals that is.

Kids at a Homestead

Preparing...

Success! Stabbing Children with Syringes

This was my first experience with immunizations in the field. The mothers would usually avert the kids eyes (shown above) at the point of injection. The first couple would always go fine until one cried. At this point all the waiting children would (quite understandably) get upset while those that had already been done would walk around looking pleased with themselves and winding the others up as to how much it would hurt.

On a serious note though these children (with few exceptions) had none of their basic immunizations and wouldn’t have even had measles if we hadn’t come all that way on the back of a crisis. It’s easy to see how diseases can spread easily out here with semi-nomadic people and no easy access to basic primary healthcare.

Barbara Leaps into Action


Pretty Fly Little Kid at a Homestead

Pretty Cool Little Kid at a Homestead

Operation Paralytic Penguin a Success

Thanks to the local knowledge of the lodge manager we completed the immunizations in record time and returned back to the lodge for a few more cold beers overlooking the river and a sumptuous dinner (again on the house).

We decided to get off early in the morning and try and get back to Opuwo in a single day, stopping at any other homesteads we found on the way.

Calculations showed we should be able to get back to Opuwo with 20 litres of fuel to spare and the lodge manager had shown me the best way to get through the dunes and back up out of the valley (going back up the cliff of death not being an option even for such hardy souls as us).

Tired but happy and content we went to bed ready for an early start.

Homeward Bound

In the morning we were up and off driving through (“charging” is I believe the correct term) dunes, up rocky passes and up and out of the river valley back into the Namib.

Homeward Bound


Barbara Wandering Off (I think she was sick of us)

With our now “aired down” tyres we had no problem getting back through the deep sand and back down through the desert making it back to Orange Drum far faster than we had taken going (hours spent digging sand didn’t help).

It was here we dug out the handpump of doom and in shifts attempted to reinflate the tyres. The pump is old, knackered and has a habit of loosing the seal so you will be pumping hard once, twice and then as you go to push down with all your might there will be no resistance and you’ll almost break something slamming down. This would then necessitate a pump disassembly and realignment. It was hellish and honestly I preferred digging sand by hand. In the end we got enough pressure to continue to decided to just make for Opuwo and a proper compressor.

Wrong Turn

From Orange Drum the plan was to retrace our route – Blue Drum, Red Drum, Mountain Pass, Marble Site and Orupembe. I was both nervous and looking forward to going back through the Red Drum pass the other way (this time the really difficult sections would be uphill and harder).

However it wasn’t to be as a few km after orange drum we came upon yet another parting of the ways and, having considered the options, took the right-hand fork. The wrong fork.

After another few hours had passed and Blue Drum was nowhere to be seen it became clear we were lost.

I didn’t want to worry anyone but thought this was potentially a bit perilous. We didn’t really have enough fuel to turn round and go back to the junction, get through and make it back to Opuwo and if a rescue party was dispatched we had left instructions at the lodge we would be heading back the old Orange-Blue-Red route.

A few times I was asked as the driver if I “recognised anything”. Well yes I did. Everything. Sand, sand, sand and more bloody sand crossing dried up rivers. Pretty much like featureless desert.

Though becoming slightly concerned I was pretty certain we had just managed to come back the “long route” we had chosen not to take going – the desert stretched away on our right and the mountains we should have been driving over were to our left. If we kept straight on (south) then we should hit civilisation eventually. Shouldn’t we?

At this point for the first time I dug out my GPS. This isn’t some sort of fancy off-road GPS or even a hiking GPS – it’s a bluetooth one that links to my phone and (though it thought we were in the middle of nowhere navigation wise) did give us a longitude and latitude.

This we plotted on my map of Namibia (which had grids shown). From that we extrapolated our position on a map of Kunene we had and from relative position on that we plotted ourselves on the hand-augmented map we were using. Still north of Orupembe and on the edge of the desert heading south. So all kind of well.

Further still and we came to a valley with – heavens above – buildings on the other side. Down one side and up the other and, wait, yes, it couldn’t be but it was; the Orupembe Police station!

I had no alternative but to jump out and do my “We Made it to Orupembe Alive” dance.

Happy happy days.

We were again warmly welcomed by the police who got on the radio to HQ and let them know the good news – Operation Shambolic Retreat had made it through with not a single death.

News of Our Return is Transmitted to Opuwo HQ

Phase the Second

Happy to have made it back to Orupembe we were eagerly anticipating the journey back home to Opuwo when a complication arose.

The police had reports of several severely ill people (adults with measles) in the Marienfluss valley who needed collected and brought to the Opuwo hospital pretty sharpish. There is no way our ambulance could even get 10% of the way there, the police only had an open bakkie and we were the only Ministry of Health team for many miles around.

So we were asked could we go back down through Red Drum, up the Marienfluss valley and collect the patients.

Who did they think they were asking? We were the team who had successfully carried out Operation Certain Lonely Death: of course we could. Or rather we could once we had unloaded the car and filled up more fuel from the police stores.

Leaving Anika and Barbara behind to dispatch nets and water kits to the local populis me (big lad), Michael (also big lad) and the police sergeant (also a big lad) crammed into the front bench seat of the Nissan and headed back once again to Red Drum. Owing to the seating arrangement and the four-wheel drive controls I got to know our police friend pretty intimately. Very intimately.

This time a seasoned pass professional we reached Red Drum easily and stayed heading North up into Marienfluss. Is the Hartmann valley was amazing and beyond my skills to describe so was Marienfluss. The sun was westering and the entire place seemed to glow in golden light.

Eventually we found our patients who were very glad to see us and loaded up. Michael wasn’t sure if he had been immunised for measles the the policeman was pretty certain he hadn’t so I was the only person who dared go near our precious cargo.

Back to the south and I did get to drive through the Red Drum pass the “hard way”. This time in twilight. Halfway through we found a Ministry of the Environment bakkie stranded on some rocks and were going slow enough in first gear low range to wind down the window and apologise we couldn’t help him but were on a medical emergency and would try and send someone back (we later heard he had been rescued ok).

Once again in Orupembe and we met back up with our missing team members. In our absence the roadkill Springbock the police were in the process of butchering as we left had been cooked and some kept back for us – it was rather tasty.

Home James Home

As arranged we now headed back to Opuwo in loose convoy with the police bakkie carrying our luggage and Barbara. Anika jumped on the bench seat with us in place of the policeman and there was a little more breathing room (and luckily no need to operate the four-wheel drive controls).

We made it back through the night with no dramas, crossing the plains west of Kaoko Otavi abreast of each other like ships. I had to keep reminding myself I wasn’t in a ship and at any moment a tree could appear from nowhere.

Back in Opuwo we delivered our patients to their much needed medical care at about 3am and shook hands, standing around stoically like heroes. Not that anyone else noticed.

Home and bed beckoned.

The Aftermath

Back in the office people were pleased yet surprised to see us. We ended up running a day late and they had assumed, with good reason, we were stranded in the middle of the desert somewhere fighting off desert coyotes and hoping to be rescued.

We have all lived up our experiences and when talking about the measles campaign with someone weeks later they said “I heard one team went all the way up Hartmann valley, wow”. “Yes” I was able to say, “that was some kind of crazy team”.

Of course we had been a tiny tiny part in the massive measles campaign and two days later I was off again living in the bush for a week at Etanga, driving over mountains and hunting down unsuspecting small children that we would then make cry.

Random Pictures

A Map We Found AFTER THE EVENT Showing The Area

Nothingness

Kunene River from Above

Another View of the Kunene River Valley

Lessons Learnt

  1. Naming your venture Operation Certain Slow and Painful Death doesn’t inspire confidence
  2. Though I was right to plan ahead and decide in what order I was going to eat my fellow team members it was probably wrong of me to tell them
  3. Make sure your water containers are watertight
  4. There is nothing quite like a cold Tafel after a long stuggle under the african sun in the desert
  5. The Himbas that live up there are seriously tough hombres
  6. Nissan Hardbodies are hardcore vehicles

Another Account

I am writing this almost a year after the events and in my usual way have glossed over the parts where I cried or had to be changed by other team members.

You can find a more contemporaneous account here on Anika’s blog.

She also has some more pictures online here.

Her blog also features some detailed posts about the Measles outbreak and is generally writter betterer like and actually updated now and then so you should check it out.

Blog Neglect

September 2, 2010

As one of my two semi-regular readers might have noticed I have been neglecting my blog of late. I reached the epic 100th post milestone with a post about the joys of urinating on ice in February, posted once in March and have been silent ever since.

Various other VSO bloggers have talked about the fact that to them life becomes more normal after a time and so they have less bizzare or seemingly unusual stuff to write about. Not in my case; life continues to be a bizzare mix of the seemingly unusual as I lurch from disaster to cultural misunderstanding, back briefly to disaster and then onwards to failure.

My lack of posts is probably due to one or more of the following potential reasons:

  1. I’m just too busy being generally awesome, saving orphans and puppies, solving the poverty problems of the world and addressing inequality in my spare time.
  2. I have been too caught up in various sagas such as the saga of the keys (see below).
  3. My spare time has been filled developing further features nobody wants or uses in my range of cackware FOSS.
  4. I was actually kidnapped by the Angolans and forced to escape with only a spoon and a loin cloth. Lived wild in da bush for several months surviving on my wits, bushman skills and takeaway from the Opuwo coffee shop.
  5. General slackness.

Hint: It’s not 1. Or really 2, 3 or 4.

What Has Actually Been Going On

Ok well some stuff that has actually happened is…

  1. The Great Network Project ™ Phases IV and V completed – yeah and verily. Basically all the offices in our regional office slated for network access now have it, we also have a link to our head office and new computers for our finance and HR people to run their applications without having to travel to Windhoek one week in two (good news for efficiency and our budget; bad news for their per-diems and the guesthouse business in Windhoek). We also have a proper half-height rack, a fibre link to our district office, a proper server, some proper switches and all that good stuff (probably deserves a post in its own right if I don’t fall back into blog-apathy).
  2. Some new VSO volunteers arrived in-country. I happened to be in Windhoek the week they came so gatecrashed their welcome lunch and as many meals out as possible. Meeting new volunteers is great as not only are they all clean, shiny and keen but also think (for two minutes at least) that you’re interesting with your hardcore knowledge of the country (hah). So I filled their heads with half-truths and outright lies.
  3. In an election worthy of North Korea I won the much sought after position of VSO Regional Representative. It was a landslide victory and I would like to thank my electoral team for their support as well as the electorate for their loyalty. It hasn’t changed me much, I just now wish to be called “Blessed Leader” or “Sainta Davida”. Between you and me though I think the fact I am the only person in the VSO North-West (Opuwo) region might have had something to do with it. Nonetheless I attended the Regional Reps meeting in Windhoek and only made one highly inappropriate “joke” (that I can remember). It was probably bad enough to get me sent home but luckily, and amazingly, people laughed rather than shouted.
  4. Various other stuff such as trainings, computer repairs, travelling, holidays, meetings and all that good stuff.

Additionally a few months ago we received a reminder from VSO to make sure we state that these are our views and not necessarily those of VSO on our blogs. Whenever we get the reminder I always (perhaps wrongly) assume some poor demented malaria-prophylaxis-crazed heat-stroked VSO volunteer out there has vented their spleen online.

So – just to reiterate: The views expressed are my own and not necessarily those of VSO.

For example; I don’t think we should drown all kittens at birth or torture monkeys for fun on a Friday afternoon. It’s not a religious objection or anything – just ethical.

In fact I go further in my full disclaimer in which I explain that these views might not even be my own let alone those of VSO or the MoHSS.  Assume it’s all a work of fiction (in other words lies). You can see my brief disclaimer at the top right of the main page or in full on its very own page.

The Saga of the Keys

So then, as promised, for those still awake who have made it this far the saga of the keys.

Background: We have a digital video conferencing (DVC) room which has burglar bars on it and hence has been chosen as the main point for any network equipment to go into. A while ago we lost the padlock (seriously) and we only had one key to the main door.

Until recently this didn’t really matter as the “networking equipment” in the room consisted of an ADSL modem/router, a wireless access point, a switch and (recently) an unimportant little Linux desktop acting as a backup DNS server. I only needed to go in maybe once every couple of weeks and even then it didn’t matter if I couldn’t get in straight away.

Developments: Because this room had been chosen as the site for our new shiny network equipment and server I decided that we should (a) replace the padlock and secure the room better and (b) get some more copies of the keys so enough people held them immediate access could be gained. Luckily I had a spare padlock and was also able to get more door keys cut in Otjiwarongo.

Cabling: So… Some cabling contractors turn up who are to put in a fibre-optic link down the length of the hospital and some additional local network points. To do this they need access to the DVC room. For the first couple of days they were there I simply opened up and locked up for them (advantage of living close by) but then I had to go to Windhoek so, foolishly in hindsight, gave them my keys.

To be fair they also had numerous other keys for offices and blocks in the hospital so were to give all the keys back to someone (they had a few contact numbers) and all would be well.

My Return: When I returned from Windhoek I tried to locate my keys to no immediate avail. This didn’t worry me too much as a couple of the nominated key holders were not around. I messaged the cabling guys who assured me they had handed my keys over.

Saga: Over the next few days the saga unfolded as follows…

Cabling guy (CG) said he had given my keys to A. A said she had given them to R. R had received keys from A, just not mine. CG now said he had given them to M. M denied all knowledge.

At this point CG told me he had given them to “that girl”. On further questioning this turned into “you know, that girl”. Sadly no, I did not know “that girl”. I could understand if there was one particular girl maybe standing around juggling tiger cubs or breathing fire, you know, that girl. But no.

So I started randomly canvassing around the hospital. R said she had heard that R2 had received some keys but R2 was now on holiday. CR said that he thought R2 had given the keys to Sr. M.

Sr. M did indeed get keys from R2. Many keys. But not mine.

(This is a much condensed version – by now several days had gone by).

Disaster: Then the next installment of IT people, this time consultants for the MoHSS and a couple of MoHSS head office IT people turned up to install the server, some new computers and commission the network link. The link inside the DVC room.

As I still didn’t have my keys I went to see the other DVC key holder. It turned out the day before she had lent her keys to another lady in the office who had taken the home and was now on leave “back in the village”. With no cellphone coverage. Or indeed any clear idea about which village she was in.

So with our guests standing around looking at a locked gate shielding a locked door I began yet another quest for my keys, this time with more urgency.

R2 had now returned from holiday (woo hoo) and confirmed she had been given keys by CG (woo double hoo) just not mine (boo hoo).

Then as I was standing around talking to R2, R and C about this a passing nurse butted in “are you looking for keys?”. “Yes, yes I am”.

And she produced my keys from a pocket. She was, you know, that girl.

Apparently on night duty some days before some guy (CG we presume) had insisted she take the set of keys.

Success: So I was now able to return to the office and open up the DVC room providing access after only about an hours delay (so pretty good by normal Opuwo standards).

Of course it then turned out some of the cabling hadn’t been done to where they wanted and some more that had, it seemed, been agreed to be done already by the Regional IT Advisor (some cowboy) also hadn’t been done (ahem) so a crazy 48 hour wall drilling and cabling fest then took place.

Blog Apathy No More…

So I will now try and overcome my natural apathy, award-winning slackness and general uselessness and post more often. Seriously recently I have been doing all sorts of fun stuff including playing with One-Laptop-Per-Childs, driving through swamps, making Linux based wireless access points and I have even found a coffee club in the regional office that have taken pity on me and let me join.