Archive for November, 2010

Oh Dear… Disease Outbreaks

November 30, 2010

Rather worryingly following on from Cholera and Measles we have two new disease outbreaks in Kunene.

Meningitis

3 confirmed cases all from the same family. One child came into hospital and when Meningitis was discovered a team went to the village where they discovered the other two children of the family were sick (and subsequently tested positive).

We’re now waiting with bated breath to see how this develops.

H1N1 – Swine Flu

Outjo district had an outbreak of flu symptoms at one of the schools. An outreach team visited and screened 250 students of which 53 had flu symptoms. Three specimens were randomly taken and all three are positive for H1N1.

We will now be also visiting the surrounding community to try and identify any other cases.

Hopes remain that this mini-epedemic will burn itself out as H1N1 vaccinations were included for vulnerable groups and health workers.

An Expensive Lunch

November 30, 2010

With one of the spare tyres blown after our trip to Epupa and some upcoming road trips I decided it would be best to head to our tyre shop and see what the damage was.

When we got the spare wheel out of the back, stuck a new valve in and blew it up there was just a small hole so it looked repairable. Feeling pleased I asked them to also look at another tyre that had a slow puncture and retired to the coffee shop for a celebratory lunch.

The guy came to find me – bad news. The blown spare was very damaged inside (unrepairable) and the slow puncture was air leaking out from damage at the rim (unrepairable). N$ 800 per tyre but a small discount for two. Told him to go ahead.

I’d also just noticed my road licence was up tomorrow and in town anyway popped over to NaTIS. N$ 504 to continue being legal after tomorrow.

Back at the tyre shop I tried to pay using a UK card as it was a fair whack. Declined suspiciously quickly (i.e. not quick enough to have actually “talked” to the UK). Second UK card, declined.

Went to the FNB ATM and tried my UK cards – “sorry your bank has refused the funds”. Tried Bank Windhoek “we cannot process your request at this time”. All far too fast for it to actually get to the Co-Op. So the wet string linking to Europe’s banks seems to have failed. Again.

Bank Windhoek wouldn’t let me withdraw that much and of course it was now 1.10pm so the bank is naturally shut for lunch. Back to the coffee shop for a coffee this time and to read my book until 2.

Over to Bank Windhoek and emptied my Nam account of everything which just covered the tyres.

Tyres N$ 1540, Road Licence N$ 504, Lunch N$ 80, Drinks Waiting for Bank N$ 20 = N$ 2144.

All in all an expensive lunch.

Of course being a trusting sort of fellow I asked to take the old tyres away. On inspection the spare one does indeed have a massive chunk of rubber missing inside and the other one though I can’t see anything wrong on the rim particularly had no tread at all in parts, flaking in parts and has massive burns. The joy of MoT free motoring!

It’s On

November 26, 2010

Polling has started for the local and regional elections. All’s been quiet since the nastiness last week.

Even the Peace Corps haven’t been told to stay home or form “clusters” in preparation for the helicopters as happened last year. So I think everyone expects a peaceful time.

Since VSO banned me from running for office I find it hard to be that interested.

But being Friday night I hope it doesn’t get in the way of an all-night shebeen crawl.

Disjointed Thinking

November 26, 2010

It’s that time again when we have to submit our quarterly reports within the region and then compile an uber-report to go up to national level.

Sadly this time a combination of choosing the wrong seat at a meeting and Anika‘s total failure to jump right up and volunteer (she is normally a joiner in, unlike me) meant I am now part of the national report compilation team. Joy.

Of course I had completed my report, it just consists of a single side of A4 with the words “fixed some computers, innit”, a smiley face and a crudely drawn phallus.

Other divisions and services though, what with actual busy-busy work and critical other stuff to do, haven’t completed theirs. So I now assume the roll of the nagmaster general making myself even more unpopular in the office (and indeed who would have thought that was possible) by chasing up outstanding reports.

And then of course there is the other small problem.

In an attempt to build a streamlined, monitored and efficient management structure the Ministry has previously embarked on a process of implementing the dreaded balanced scorecard at all levels. For anyone not familiar with this it’s a management tool designed to help you identify important stuff, target it, plan to accomplish those targets and then monitor ongoing performance. Blah blah blah.

Correctly done, like a lot of tools, it can be a powerful way of identifying what is important to your service/business and provide easy evaluation.

Our implementation of it consisted of a very highly paid external consultant coming down for a week and basically playing buzzword bingo until my ears were bleeding. I won’t dwell on the minutiae but suffice to say there was a lot of what he was saying as apparent “standard practice” with scorecards that was news to me and didn’t make much sense (to me). He was probably right of course as why else would we be paying him a small fortune?

Anyhow the outcome of this was a number of these wonderful scorecards which in many cases didn’t really align to what we’re doing.

Some central Ministry objectives were stated and all ours had to fit into theirs. Even if they didn’t, in which case they couldn’t be listed. Some could be got round with careful use of English but others had to fall by the side.

Then we were told all that matters is your scorecard. All activities etc should be aligned entirely to the scorecard and only those activities should be done.

If as was also planned the ongoing day-to-day management was to be based upon these scorecards this would have been quite a scary outcome. Luckily of course no-one pays attention to them, except for quarterly reports.

For quarterly reports we’ve been told we must report using our scorecard. Simples.

Yet no. A large part of the very important stuff people (not me) have been doing doesn’t fit on the scorecard and even if it does… National level have a template of some bastard off-spring of their scorecard which is what we must actually submit.

AND NONE OF THE OBJECTIVES/MEASURES MATCH.

So step one is nag for everyone to complete their scorecard. Step two go through these in laborious detail trying to tie stuff up with the national one. Step three is identify a whole load of indicators and measures not yet reported by services. Step four is to fight with each of these services as to who should provide the data. Step five chase for this data. Step six compile nationals submission.

In step seven you just hope national level pay great attention to it. I reckon there might well be yet another reporting structure up there though which, at a guess, doesn’t fit the report we’ve submitted to them.

Joined-up thinking and ensuring the golden thread (both terms used by our consultant in entirely inappropriate and seemingly random contexts) it is not.

END OF RANT

Off now to continue the great compilation.

Oh Dear… Election Violence in Opuwo

November 23, 2010

I was away at the weekend with some friends and the subject of the upcoming regional and local elections came up.

Having been in-country for the previous national elections I mentioned that there had been some violent clashes around the country (including Oshakati where two of my friends are living) but that Opuwo was safe.

Prophetically I said something like “Opuwo is a nice sleepy town, the rest of the country may be in uproar but Opuwo will just carry on more concerned with cattle than politics so unless a cow runs for office all should be fine”. Turns out almost as I was saying this there was political trouble brewing in the town proving the adage that if Dave says it then it automatically becomes false.

Very unfortunately there was some violence between supporters of two major parties.

From the New Era:

OPUWO – A fight between DTA and Swapo supporters left two Swapo members with severe injuries. Five other people received minor cuts and bruises.

Full story can be found here on newera.com.na (warning: contains an image of one of the casualties)

Apparently there was then a crowd outside the police station protesting the arrests but I didn’t see anything.

On Monday they appeared in court. Again from the New Era:

OPUWO – Three men who were arrested in connection with the violent clashes between DTA and Swapo supporters appeared in the Opuwo Magistrate’s Court yesterday morning, in the presence of a large crowd that had gathered since early morning to hear the court proceedings.

Full story again can be found here on newera.com.na

The opinion of my local colleagues seems to be that this was an unfortunate incident that got out of hand and not a sign of things to come. The elections will be held this coming Friday and Saturday so let’s hope they pass off as peacefully as last years presidential ones.

Eight Go Mad in Epupa

November 23, 2010

Some time ago the idea was mooted of a Boy’s Own Adventure in which me, Mike and Matt would head out into the wilds of Kunene (at the very least to Purros but probably into Marienfluss) and live out under the stars doing manly things like belching, scratching ourselves and talking about girls. It was to be christened Operation Brokeback Monkey.

However as these things have a habit of doing the idea morphed from an extreme lads survivalist outing to a much more genteel co-ed trip to Epupa owing to time constraints and other considerations.

The roster now consisted of me, Mike, Cynthia, Julia, Ant, Matt, Lindsay and Brian. Six VSO, one Peace Corps and one non-volunteer with an actual job and everything.

By the time I got back from the bush Mike, Cynthia, Julia and Ant had arrived from Otjiwarongo (in Cynthia’s car as Mike’s was unwell and down in Windhoek being witchdoctored). Text reports came in from Matt who was also having car trouble that he was on his way but would be getting into Opuwo quite late.

My excellent new neighbour Erwin though away at VSO training had offered his house so nobody needed to camp in my front yard. We sat around with a beer or six swapping stories of daring do and Matt made it shortly after nine.

Mike, bless his cotton socks, believes in early starts to “maximise the day”. In the end we managed to compromise on going to the shops for supplies at 8.30am before shooting up to Epupa falls for the night.

At 8.30 (somewhat bleary eyed myself) we found that there was no bread or sausages or much of anything in the supermarket. Eventually we tracked down some meat in the butchery and even though there was no bread in the bakery either Brian used some sort of voodo magic and came out with two loaves.

So we set off in two cars – the Otjiwarongo contingent back in Cynthia’s condor (of the four-wheel drive variety with all mod cons) and four of us in my mighty condor.

Having just come back from a wet and wild few days in the bush I thought we may well find some difficult bits and flowing rivers on the way but the road was good as ever with just a few patches of mud and the rivers mere streams.

A few miles from Epupa there was a big rock in the road which I tried to have pass under the right-hand side of the car (thus missing the petrol tank on the left and the diff in the middle). I almost managed it but hit the rear wheel resulting in a massive bang, a quick jump and a very flat tyre.

The team sprung into action and we jacked (with the excellent bottle jacks that came with the car thanks to Alice and Mark), swapped the wheel and then inflated the new one (having sat in the back for close on a year it was totally down).

Off again and into Epupa just after 11.30.

Camp setup we wandered to the falls and messed around on the rocks taking pictures and (in some people’s cases) casting glances at either the nubile Himba ladies wandering around or the naked buffed up Himba guys washing in the pools dependent on preference.

The wind built up and up with some spray being blown in making us keep thinking it was raining. Thunderstorms rattled away in Angola.

Earlier on when setting up I had mercilessly taken the piss out of Matt’s tent that needed pegs to even stand up. I never use pegs here, just weighing my tent down with my various precious things.

With the wind building and building Karma taught me a lesson as my tent (and all my precious things) started rolling away over the campsite (luckily away from the river). I grabbed it before it went too far and as everyone else laughed and took pictures Matt generously came over, helped me right it and then lent me some pegs and even hammered them in for me.

There may be a lesson there somewhere. But probably not.

Back to the bar we had some drinks, played some cards and planned the trip most of the others will be taking to Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique at Christmas. I was able to stand on the periphery tutting and interjecting loads of random stuff they really ought to buy like extra spare wheels. I was told to get lost and stop interfering in my condescending way a few times but not physically barred from making input.

Dinner of sausages with Brai relish (whatever that may be) and then back to the bar. Most people played Boggle while me and Matt watched the rugby on the TV (big plasma screen at the Epupa bar which was a bit freaky). I can’t play Boggle owing to flashbacks to being forced to happily playing it with my mum who always thrashed me without mercy.

On the wildlife front there were several massive (four foot long) lizards that kept wandering around and were very interested in Mike’s tent. There was also a dog with a worm hanging out of its arse and wriggling around. Nice.

Sunday we drove back to Opuwo. About halfway home my rev counter and temperature gauge (and I discovered later some of the warning lights) stopped working but we had no more tyre dramas, just a near miss of going off the road to our deaths. Oh and after a bit of rain the roof started leaking on Brian as well.

Lunch at the Opuwo coffee shop and then everyone headed off home. Lindsay managed to steal my sleeping bag but as a consolation left me Matt’s tent.

In summary: a good time was had by all. By which I mean by me.

It turned out the gauge issue was just a fuse (well I hope it’s just the fuse not something bad causing the fuse to go). Of course you can’t get fuses in Opuwo so I’m just back from a 1000km (600 mile) round trip to get a 15A automotive fuse and have full dashboard functionality.

Now just to get the silicone sealant out and find the hole water is getting in. Then again I never sit in the back so it doesn’t affect me very much… But maybe I should pay attention to my Karma lesson before it’s too late!

Malaria Vector Control: Spraying Programme

November 23, 2010

Each year at this time the Ministry of Health and Social Services’ Environmental Health Division run a three-month long Malaria Vector Control program. This involves teams travelling all over the malarial areas of Namibia and spraying residences with DDT.

Sadly one of the drivers had a death in their family last week and had to travel to the funeral. In dire straights they searched high and low for a suitable replacement driver for a few days and when none could be found I was volunteered. My feeble attempts to get out of driving and camping deep in the bush during the rainy season came to nothing and with my work actually up-to-date and no training sessions on those days I had no excuses.

Ministry of Health and Social Services Muddy Malaria Control

Wednesday

With the car loaded up with chemicals, my camping gear and some of the team we headed out 14km on tar and then off into the bush for another 140km.

The rains have well and truly started now in Opuwo and the road which was fine last time I was along it (4 weeks ago) had changed from being fairly good dirt and gravel into long stretches of quagmire, gulleys filled with water and in some places had disappeared entirely.

Though the morning started out clear by the time we were well on our way to link up with the existing team the heavens opened with a torrential downpour.

I’ve done a few river and swamp crossings during my time here (and thank my lucky stars for the Swamp Driving Adventure Weekend experience in Caprivi – hi Vivien!) but that was different; either fords through a river with solid gravel (or even concrete) underneath or swampy pools you could pretty much judge the depth of. These however were raging torrents of brown water appearing seemingly from nowhere and just cutting through the road.

As well as the detritus flowing along them there was no clue as to the depth or what might lay on the bottom.

Needless to say I used a combination of pressing all the off-road buttons in the car, flooring it and screaming. We had a couple of close calls where we entered to the left of the road and by the time we had crossed and juddered up the other side were almost off the right-hand side.

The trusty Mazda did well though and with brown water flowing over the bonnet and bits of tree shooting past found enough traction to always pull us through. Only once did members of the team try and abandon ship by bailing out but were too paralysed by fear to work the windows.

Eventually we found the team in the field, packed up their camp and headed back (now with a trailer on for added drag through the rivers) to a new campsite nearer to Opuwo (the new site being near Mashamba’s Gap a place named after our erstwhile Control Health Inspector who once spent three days there waiting for waters to subside and get home).

Unfortunately the rains continued all afternoon. Although the spraying can theoretically be done in the rain people have to leave their houses for 30 minutes which they are understandably reluctant to do during heavy downpours. So we were forced to wait the rain out (strangely reminiscent of DoorCan days).

Rain Near Orumana

By the time the weather broke it was getting late and we just pitched camp and did some of the local area.

In the cool evening a fire was built and we sat around waffling to each other. In addition to two good friends of mine who it turned out were with us all the sprayers were a great bunch who made an effort to include me (and translate for me some of the dirtier jokes made in Otjiherero) with the standard questions as to how well I knew David Beckham and how many cows I had at home.

Thursday

Around eight we were off with my car filled with spraying gear and seven spraypeople (four on the back seat and two on the front passenger seat).

DDT Malaria Vector Control Spray Gear

With no rain after 6pm the night before and now a bright blue sky and hot sun the raging torrents had for the most part vanished leaving wide mud-filled ravines or massive standing puddles (more like lakes).

Again the Mazda even with my feckless driving managed to get us through these muddy abysses with the new added bonus that the oversized “knobbly” (technical term) wheels then threw great clods of mud up and over the car landing on the bonnet, roof or through the drivers window.

We were soon off the “main” road and bumping along goat tracks through the scrub finding small villages and dropping spraypeople off. On a few occasions even my trusty navigational team got lost or found our route blocked by a newly formed ditch that was impassable.

With the low-speed high-revs driving of getting into the foothills of some mountains and through swampy bits the car started to overheat. At one point we stopped in a village and you could hear the radiator boiling. It was just on the point of boiling over with some coolant coming out of the overflow but cooled off soon enough.

Investigating (and worried I had broken something in one of the more energetic obstacle crossings) it turned out there were a lot of seeds in the radiator, a common hazard. They had certainly been there since the dry season but at speed enough air was forced through to keep everything cool. We decided to crack on and just keep an eye on it.

Dropping off part of the team at a larger settlement we headed “to the other side of the mountain” up and over some steep passes and through lots of standing water.

It was then disaster struck.

We came to a shallow mud-filled depression about 20 feet or so across. Owing to some trees in the way I couldn’t just plough through with a fair speed in a straight line, we would have go through slowly and turn as we went. No problem there had been plenty of similar ones before.

Yet again engaging all the 4wd low range and diff-lock goodness we ploughed in, churning up mud in impressive fountains and sinking deeper until we stuck about halfway through with the wheels spinning but going nowhere. Tried a little bit of rocking and a higher gear for less torque without effect.

So standard procedure – back out and try again.

Into reverse and we went back a foot or so before coming to a stop again. Inch forwards and then backwards with plenty of power.

Yet again we were stuck and I kept the power on hoping the wheels would bite on something.

Suddenly they did and we jumped back but not in a straight line, the rear slewed to the right and just as I stamped on the brake a tree branch met the rear canopy window.

Smash.

“Fiddlesticks” (though I may have used a stronger word or words).

So not only were we still stuck but we now had a smashed rear canopy. The branch hadn’t actually come in, just tapped the rear window and shattered it.

Stuck in the Mud

Note the above picture actually shows us part way through the recovery – at the main stuck point we were axle-deep in the mud. Which was fun.

With nothing for it we clambered out to inspect the damage and try to find a way out. At this point I fell over in the mud much to the amusement of the other people in the car.

We had a plan though and some people were dispatched to find branches while I scraped as much mud as possible off the tyres to expose some of the tread.

With branches under the wheels and along the escape route with the car lined up correctly I floored it and after a sickening moment of wheels zipping around got up the side and out of the depression. Home free. We then broke off the rest of the glass from the canopy to avoid the sharp shards that were all around the window.

Muddy Leg After Falling Over

Onwards we continued to the settlements “behind the mountain” and sprayed lots of houses. We had to cross the same point another three times but this time picked a route we could go at straight and with enough speed.

Eventually finished there we ground back through the foothills to recover the people dropped off at the large settlement and make our way back.

They were nowhere to be found.

Communication with the people living there gave a number of different versions on where they had gone and we spent quite a while circling around trying to find them. In the end some guys at a shebeen said the other car had picked them up and been last seen heading out to the area we had been in.

We waited on the road and talked to a few locals but without any more positive sightings. The idea to go and look for them in the bush was dropped as it was now getting dark and in the myriad of roads we could pass each other and not know it.

Luckily the other car turned up and did indeed have our spray people onboard. They had gone to look for us thinking the worst with our overheating problem.

Though we were fine and back out it was great of the other car to go looking to rescue us in those conditions.

On the way back we came upon a (new) massive but slow-moving river (no doubt the run off from the hills we’d been up on during the day). Crossing this was a bit harrowing as the bottom suddenly fell away and the surface level was up to our windows – luckily momentum, a bow wave (to keep the water below the air intake) and plenty of power in low-range kept the engine going and we made it out the other side before it quit on us.

A few spluttering restarts and then a minute or so revving wildly to dry it out and all was well again.

Back to camp for tea and medals.

Friday

Dismantled the camp and packed everything up into both cars and the trailer. The weather was still on our side with lovely blue skies and no rain.

The trailer was held together and closed with bits of wire which were none to clever and with our back window out I drove as convoy leader so the car behind could pull us over when something snapped and stuff was in danger of coming out.

When the trailer needed re-closing everyone piled on top to keep the lid down so the wire could be wrapped tightly on the catch.

Malaria Vector Control Convoy Closing Trailer Lid

We did some more large settlements and then with business concluded for the week came back to Opuwo through the mud and rivers then eventually back on the tar road (yippee!) in time to unload and for me to present myself at the Regional Office with head held in shame and own up to the canopy.

The logistics staff took one look at me, mud-caked and with a haunted 1000 yard stare and said “Good God, what happened?”.

They were really good about the damage saying “these things happen in the rains”, assuring me the Malaria team had already damaged three vehicles more seriously and that the replacement canopy would be quite cheap. I think as usual they were amazed with my poor driving skills we had made it back at all.

Got home to find some friends had arrived for our planned weekend away at Epupa and after a hot shower and a cold beer felt almost quarter human again.

Lessons Learnt

  • ARRRRGH! The mud! The water! The raging brown torrents of filth! NEVER AGAIN.
  • My Caprivi adventure in the floods and in the swampy gamepark though unsuccessful on the elephant front was a vital learning experience
  • Those Malaria Control Teams; boy they work hard and in terrible conditions
  • The Mazda; she good
  • If you can go around an obstacle then do but if you can’t then pray to Zeus and hang on
  • They’re really not joking about this rainy season treacherous travel business. No Siree

Water

November 16, 2010

My Dearest Water,

A long time has passed since I wrote to you last. Back then, when I implored you to move in with me permanently I promised that I would stop taking you for granted and let you know every day how cherished and important you were to me.

I like to think that I did. Our relationship from that point on grew stronger and more stable. Of course there was always the occasional night you would stay away or the odd morning you would come over all inconsistent splashing me one minute and just gurgling the next. But this is just part of the ride and made me love you even more.

Sadly I recently feel we have grown ever more distant; we don’t communicate and your absences have grown longer and longer.

Foolishly I ignored this. I assumed it was just a temporary glitch, nothing to worry about or just one of your moods.

I was wrong.

So now all I can say to you is this:

I am sorry. So sorry. I have failed you my darling. As time has gone on I have broken my most basic of promises and again taken you for granted.

In my stupidity I came to think of you as a simple resource, something always there, something I could access with an action as simple as twisting a tap.

But in truth you were never simple and I failed to realise the undisputable fact, I literally cannot live without you.

I was blind and foolish. I just assumed that the mere act of living together, sharing time, sharing showers and frolicking in the heat was enough. But it was not. Nothing can ever be enough or good enough for you my sweet sweet di-hydride oxygen.

It comes therefore to this; once again I am prostrated at your feet begging for forgiveness. Come back to me, please. To me you are the very essence of life.

This time there will be no mistake. Each and every day I will live in homage to your greatness and in wonder at your beauty.

I beg you my darling, come back to me before it is too late.

Yours in grimy love,

Dave.

The Mefloquiz

November 15, 2010

Calling all Larium-loving volunteers in malarial areas. Take the highly un-scientific and completely meaningless Mefloquiz to see how Larium-addled or just plain crazy you are.

http://www.purplepixie.org/webapps/mefloquiz/

Yes that’s what I did on a Sunday night to have a play with dynamic creation and deletion of DOM elements. That’s just how I roll. Paaaaaarty!

 

Rain

November 14, 2010

Rain-related messages keep coming in. Here is a list of places where it is currently raining or has recently rained:

  • Khorixas
  • Outjo
  • Windhoek
  • Katima Mulilo
  • Otjiwarongo
  • Oshakati
  • Kaoko Otavi
  • Okahandja
  • My Heart

Here is a list of places that have had no rain at all:

  • Opuwo

Come on Mr Rain where are you? If you carry on like this I’ll have to do my naked rain dance and nobody wants to see that!

Update: The threat worked! Heavens opened about 11pm last night for a good two hours and poured down. Sweet. Somewhat confused Mr Cat though who obviously can’t remember water falling from the skies. Happy rainy days.

Let’s hope we can still make it to Epupa this weekend though.