Archive for October, 2010

BBC Radio 4; the world’s best radio

October 26, 2010

BBC Radio 4 LogoI love BBC Radio 4. For a long time it’s been the background noise of my life. Waking up and commuting (when I used to do that) to Today, relaxing after work with the 6.30 comedy slot, falling asleep to Today in Parliament or just driving around at the weekend to GQT. It kept me both informed and entertained (if not sometimes also a little angry after listening to Today).

When I came to Africa I was certain my beloved R4 would be lost to me but to keep in touch with the motherland I brought a shortwave radio for the world service (thanks mum).

Of course it turned out that Opuwo was pretty much in a world service blackspot – equally poorly served by the transmitters on Ascension Island and in Lesotho.

As you tune through the various bands past bursts of Swahili and random bantu languages it is sometimes possible (if the ionosphere is with you, your Heath-Robinson aerial extension is correctly aligned and, most critically, you are yourself touching the aerial in the right place) to hear Blighty through the static:

“her Majesty the Queen today…” [pop] “… dissolution of parliament …” [whistle] “… martial law in place …” [phut] [screech] “… new commissar Sir Jimmy Saville …” [whine] “… army retreats from Liverpool …”.

And then it will fade out totally.

But, glorious wonders of wonders, it turns out I have pretty amazing internet access here which means that, in addition to the critical duty of writing this ‘ere blog, I can download radio 4 podcasts.

Magic. With a capital M. In fact capital A, G, I and C as well: MAGIC.

So not only can I now download hours and hours of quality BBC R4 to fill the tedium of journeys here (everything is very far apart) but sometimes this adds a degree of surrealism to the exercise. A few weeks back I was listening to the Archers when I had to stop for an elephant in the road. It is very odd to be listening to Eddy Grundy talk about sheep shearing while a big bull elephant wanders around in front of you.

It’s also given me the opportunity to introduce my local colleagues to the wonders of the BBC. Generally they like FOOC, Excess Baggage and sometimes the R4 Choice. I only torture them with the Archers on rare occasions.

Recently, bringing up a Canadian fellow VSO, I had the opportunity to listen to some choice CBC podcasts. Rather than, as I would expect, being all about Elk or Moose they seemed to consist of some guy pronouncing everything in an overly thespian way telling a story about some guy called Dave (no relation) and his shoelaces (sorry Jo but you know it’s true). This reinforced how good BBC R4 was and even she had to admit, grudgingly, that More or Less was pretty cool.

Sadly though, owing no doubt to production agreements, actually only a small selection of Radio 4 programs are available for podcast. Friday night comedy is (which is of course the best night) but not the other four nights. Only the highlights of Today (8 minutes of a 3 hour slot) are available.

Come on BBC, bite the bullet, pay the cash and make everything available for download. If necessary use threats of violence against production companies, I give you permission.

I’ve also started to try and get into streaming audio when my home WiFi is working. The World Service is available (on my phone no less) and works pretty well. Unfortunately BBC R4 is now only available from the BBC via the iPlayer which, even in so-called “low bandwidth”, is not low bandwidth enough for my wet-string based internet connection and keeps breaking up (also you can’t manually set a bigger buffer anywhere I can find which usually helps on other services – again take note BBC).

However I’ve now also found a service called YourMuze which, no doubt with questionable legality, encode the BBC stream into a few different quality real media streams. With them I can now listen to Radio 4 at will, albeit sounding tinny and as if it’s transmitted by yak. Given that I’m several thousand miles away and using an internet connection made of wet string it’s pretty good.

Brochens, Tornados and a Rescue Mission

October 16, 2010

Friday was Namibia Handwashing Day 2010 and this year, following on from our Cholera problems, the commemoration event was held in the Great Kunene at Opuwo Stadium.

In the run-up we (well I say we, I mainly mean other people) were busy with Social Mobilization and arranging the event. On the day we bussed hundreds of school kids in and had a big commemoration at the Opuwo stadium presided over by our Regional Director for Health and Social Services.

Namibia Handwashing Day 2010 Banner and School Kids

Brochens

Brochens, for those who don’t know, are bread rolls of an oval style. Part of any commemoration here, as important as the T-shirts and much more important than the speeches, is giving food to those who attend. This was especially key this time round as we had brought hundreds of kids on the back of lorries from miles around that we definitely needed to feed.

Once I’d finished running around a bit in the morning I popped into the hospital kitchen to see what was going on. I found a scene of frantic work, with piles of Brochens, meat, apples and cool drinks all around. We had decided to cater for 2,500 people. 2,500 is a lot of Brochens.

Foolishly I volunteered my help and so was roped into the least skilled job (the only one I could be trusted with) of slicing open brochens to be passed to the next step of the assembly line. Even then I managed to slice some too open (so they fell apart) or not enough. But these mistakes were tolerated for the most part.

In the end everything did come together and everyone, eventually, was fed. I never got to eat the spoils of my labour though as I had a VIP invite to the lunch at the country lodge (yes I know, it amazed me as well).

Tornados

After the event had finished we faced the logistical problem of returning the kids to their schools. The more distant ones were going back on the lorries they had come on (loaded up it was quite a sight but unfortunately I didn’t get a picture).

Some of the smaller cars (bakkies and combis) took kids to the Alpha School which is just 14km out of Opuwo. On my way there with kids stuffed in the load area and six or so fitting on the rear seat we met with a dust tornado just outside of town.

These vary in strength and are not uncommon this time of year. When they go through the town they pick up rubbish and bags etc but out here “in da bush” they are just columns of swirling dust stretching into the sky. Commonly the base is 6 to 12 feet across and other than a bit of grit in your eyes are harmless.

The one we met, 10 feet off the road, had a base only a foot wide at touchdown and was faster, taller and more dense than any I had ever seen. I knew it must be an usual one as even the kids fell silent as we passed, with the car rocking from side to side. Luckily we made it through alive.

“That was very big twister, sir, we are very lucky” one of the kids said to me when we were safe mirroring my exact thoughts. On further questioning none of them had seen anything quite as solid or forceful as that, just the usual rubbish-swirls. We stopped to look back and see if it would capsize one of the combi busses following but it moved away from the road. Bad luck for any errant goats wandering I think.

Over the next 24 hours I saw a few more of these monsters wandering around but didn’t get as close to one.

A Rescue Mission

Once the kids were returned to schools I went back to the stadium to help with the collection of our stuff and was told the Patient Bus (which comes back from Windhoek every Friday) had broken down about 120km outside of Opuwo. Apparently by a process I never did understand I was the only person suitable or free to go and rescue the bus.

I found it pretty quickly only 95km out of town – the radiator had totally blown (a previous RadWeld job giving up the ghost) and wouldn’t hold any fluid at all.

Bus driver, nurse, four patients, two accompanying children, axle for a trailer, two spools of wire, urgent mails, a bag of oranges and much baggage loaded up we messaged the news of success back to base and headed back to Opuwo. 10km in we realised the bus wasn’t locked and returned. Made it back to Opuwo about 6.30pm to be met (in my mind anyway) with thunderous applause and praise.

As well as keeping me sweet with the transport and logistics people it turned out one of the patients was Paulina from my very first “Introduction to Computers” course with her now quite big boy that I had looked after to free her to play with a mouse (and who had dribbled all over me, bless).

Crowd at Namibia Handwashing Day 2010

Handwashing in Action

All in all a successful day and hopefully lessons learned on hygiene. Fingers crossed for another cholera free year.

Etosha Weekend

October 12, 2010

Last weekend I set off with a group of Peace Corps friends (John, Emily, Ann and Patty) to the Etosha National Game park for fun and frollicks.

I took Friday off mainly to clean out the car (I even washed it, sort of) and then set off with John and Ann to Outapi and Emily’s homestead (she lives with an Otjiwambo family deep in the bush). We met her “host family” who were very friendly (even to me), ate some traditional food, drank a little Tafel and chatted the night away.

Her homestead is in the middle of nowhere (makes Opuwo look like a city) with no electric lights for a few kilos around (which comes in handy later on).

In the morning I was up at 6.30 and feeling very tired. I’m sure the mass of empty bottles I had to wade through outside my tent had nothing to do with it. Soon we were on the road (well, the track) then onto the main road and picked up Patty near Outapi.

Stocked up on supplies in Oshakati and headed a few hundred km to the north gate for the park. Separate to any camping fees you pay a park entrance which comes in 24-hour blocks. Though we were only staying the one night because it was only 11.30am when we entered (and we get the local Namibian resident rate N$30 about £3 rather than N$80) we went mad and bought a 48 hour pass so we could leave at our leisure on Sunday.

After finding nothing as usual at the Stinkwater hole (will I never learn not to love that name enough to drive and find… nothing) the next waterhole provided some giraffes and bock various.

Etosha Waterhole Scene

Onwards through Namatoni for refreshments and ice we started hitting the big concentration of waterholes along the southern end. Eletastic with big groups standing around. Naturally I got a few bottom shots.

Elephants at Etosha

The rest of the day we meandered around, seeing more eles, giraffe and bock-various. Having set our tents up at Hallali we ventured out onto the pan (vast expansive salt pan in the middle of the park) and then retired to the campsite for Emily’s sausage brochens with mayo and other stuff. Most good.

After sunset we got to the waterhole (which is lit at night) in time to see a family of Rhino wandering about which vindicated my decision we should stay in Hallali rather than the more popular Oka-whatsit. Victory was mine.

Rhino Family at Hallali Waterhole Etosha

After the Rhino had wandered off we waited, and waited, and waited. Eventually after nothing else appeared I headed off to bed.

In the morning I was up around 6 to see the sunrise at the waterhole and the inevitable animal carnival. There was nothing. After a while I went back to bed for a nap.

We took full advantage of the 48-hour pass lack of pressure by lazing around, napping, showering (wonderful as I hadn’t had water in Opuwo for the previous two days) and bickering.

Camp dismantled and loaded up with cool drink, John was dispatched into the reception to find out where the lions were. This time round in Africa I have seen no lions. This was my third trip to Etosha and I even went to Chobe in Botswana earlier in the year. No lions.

Of course everyone else finds endless lions. New VSO intake go to Etosha, wham, 30 lions juggling flaming clubs. Driver goes to Kamanjab early in the morning, bam, lions crossing the road near Werda. But so far I was the anti-lion.

However all that was set to change and following the directions of the staff we drove out to a waterhole near the pan to find… LIONS. For a moment we weren’t sure, there had been so many false sightings of lionesque bushes and a hyena on the road looking cunningly lionly but there they finally were – a pride of six at least.

Lion Pride at Etosha

Lion at Etosha

We sat and watched the lions for a loooong time. It was excellent. At one point a massive herd (several hundred) of Springbock came toward the water and we waited with bated breath for some lion-on-bock action. Sadly they paused and even though a solitary bock (we named him Brave Bob though I think maybe Blind Bob might be nearer the truth) kept coming he suddenly stopped, probably after he saw the bloody lions.

The lions had their eyes locked onto the herd but sadly didn’t chase down a free lunch.

Eventually we decided that the lions weren’t going to do anything other than laze in the sun (and who can blame them?) so bid adieu. On the way out we had some more Ele action and then another apparently solitary lion at the very last waterhole before the gate.

Stopping in Oshakati I was introduced to the wonders of SOS pizza which was fantabulastic. We then dropped Patty off at her homestead gate and managed to find our way back to the main road.

Emily’s homestead, easy enough to find in the daytime if not a bit remote, turned out to be near impossible to find at night (for us palefaced devils anyway). We spent an hour or so circling round dirt tracks which all looked alike. Eventually Emily managed to get through to her Host Mother who (and this is where we thank the gods for the lack of electric light out there) could see our headlights and proceeded to talk us in. Even with this we still struggled and in the end were only rescued by two of her host sisters walking out and flashing torches. Victory.

Because someone was locked out of John’s house, me having to work the next day and foolish bravado we decided to get back on the main road and go to Opuwo that night rather than staying over. We were confident we could at the very least find our way back, especially with the instructions we now had.

No.

Instead we ended up even more lost in the bush. Finally using a combination of my GPS (though obviously none of the tracks are on it) and the notoriously useless dashboard compass we drove by-bearing cross country and after only a moderate amount of sobbing and recrimination FOUND A MAJOR GRAVEL ROAD.

After that it was simple to get into Outapi and pick up the main road arriving back to Opuwo in one piece around 1.30am.

So in summary a successful weekend with much fun and japes. AND LIONS OF COURSE! No longer the anti-lion. I just hope my lion-powers now don’t make them come and visit me at home.