Archive for November, 2008

Third week, third gear

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Hey kids,

Here’s another long-delayed post. This one will have pictures of my office, pictures of my flat, tell you what I’ve been up to since I’ve been here, and give you a better idea of my job.

(Click the photo for more inner-office photos.)

But I’d like to start out with what the several people have commented on from the previous post–that being my desire to paint my office walls. It was the thing most people responded on. I’ve been told to drop it, wash the walls, and I’ve been described as potentially “presumptuous.” I wasn’t being totally serious about needing it painted, but would you really want to be in that dirty office for two years? I had to empty it, I had to remove a year of dust which had settled on everything – even inside the cupboards, so I kind of have a desire to start fresh from square one. I guess I didn’t clarify the reasons for painting those walls, so let me take this opportunity to do so now:
1. The walls need painting. Sticky tack has been left on the walls for years, and I had to pry it off with a knife. There are black dots all over the place where a few bulletin boards could have gone. Imagine you move in to a new apartment and the previous tenant had a bike which seemed to be used to ride up and down the walls. Shouldn’t’ve the landlord scrubbed that crap off for you?
2. That being said, why not change the color? Why not yellow? If every office is painted baby-blue-gray, a little should brighten it up!

(Click the photo for more flat photos.)

Now onto the flat I’m currently in. I moved in here because the landlord didn’t need a long-term contract signed and it was about half-price as backpackers in the area. The flat has three bedrooms, each with it’s own bathroom. We three share a kitchen. It’s a nice place with nice people, but I need something bigger in the long run. On top of that, the landlord has presented me with a 12 month contract, using language from three languages, which clearly outlines that she can do no wrong, and I can have no recourse if she does things in a “reasonable” amount of time. Riiight. So I have yet to sign that. Oops, one of the clauses in that contract is that I’m not allowed to talk about it, unless you’re my lawyer. So today, please be my lawyer. Anyway, I am looking for a bigger place, so this contract isn’t something to worry about (or sign).

Work is still somehow. The boss is still out more than he is in, and my talents aren’t being utilized. Either my value hasn’t been made clear, or nobody really cares – both of which are possible! I don’t see enough for two years here. Actually, the project I was supposed to be working on was completed last year without anyone telling me. And the boss has said for additional programming projects “as long as there is a donor to fund a project, we’ll just subcontract the work out.” So what the hell am I for then? Well currently we have 20 people from various regions entering in data from databooks that were filled in by principals from Namibia’s ~1700 schools. Every databook has several mistakes, requiring phone calls to principals to correct them before they can be completed entered into the computer. As you can imagine, this is a slow process. And to add Namibia’s humor factor, each government employee who has a telephone is limited to a certain maximum phone bill each month. And after a few days, I’ve reached my maximum. So I can’t do any calling until next month (December). Maybe that’s why people sleep during the day.

Click for more photos of our most recent Hash

Finally, I’d like to report on my activities every Sunday starting at 15:30. I participate in a “hash,” which is an international group of people who get together to do something. We hike. Well, it’s a drinking club with a hiking problem as they like to say. Anyway, it’s a bunch of foreigners and a bit of cool locals that make a nice mix and good times. We hike a trail, a different one every week, and each hike is followed by formalities which cannot really be explained, just accepted. Everyone gets a chance to drink their drink from a baby toilet. Please no questions now-I have no idea. Check out the pictures.

OK, this post has been long overdue! Sorry for that.

The simple life

The important things

First day, first gear; second day, second gear

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

(Click the photo for more office photos.)

Here’s a long-overdue update on my new job in the Ministry of Education in Namibia. I started on Monday, arriving at 8 o’clock. My boss, well actually I now have 4 bosses, so to be more specific my second boss up the chain, the one who will be doing most of the directing, is in Botswana for the week. Botswana, for those who don’t know, is a different country, and so that make giving directions a little difficult. Orders were left with a co-worker (we don’t use that word here, we much prefer “colleague”) to give introductions get me started. Apparently those orders didn’t reach him, and quite soon it was clear that there was nothing really to do.

I was assigned an office the week previous, so I spent two hours collecting the 3 cabinets full of paper and transporting them into a store room because the person who previously occupied this office didn’t move his stuff out. The next 6 hours were pretty boring. Government work, as I am learning, actually really matches what you hear – inefficient, bureaucratic, and wasteful at times.

The second day, my job was to choose furniture to put in the office. Furniture is ordered from the Government Store, which is then back-ordered to the companies which produce it, and with luck, 6 months later your furniture will arrive. Is there any way to speed this up? Well, if you bike the 2km down to the Government Store Warehouse and only choose items that are there waiting to be chosen, the back-order doesn’t need to happen and you get the furniture fairly quickly–provided your supervisor, his/her supervisor, and his/her supervisor all agree that you need/can purchase said furniture with Ministry money.

Failing to find the furniture you want at the Government Store is not the end of the world, but it then does imply you’ve got a lot of leg-work to do. You are allowed to find a particular item at three different stores, get quotations, and then the Ministry will issue a purchase order for that item (provided all the signatures can be obtained), and then you can go get it. You might already see the problem coming if you remember that after my first 2 years in Namibia, it took me a full month to visit the grocery store because of all that darned selection. Those choices! What I mean is this: when you want into a store in Namibia looking for an item, that store typically doesn’t have much of a selection. If you want a desk, they’ve got desk. If you want a computer, they’ve got computer. Oh, but wait, you wanted the computer with this option and this other special thing? No, we’ve got computer, but it doesn’t have that extra stuff. You want a desk with 4 drawers down the right side? No, our desk doesn’t have that. OK, so in the country capital, Windhoek, it’s really not as bad as I make it out to be. But there really are 3 office furniture stores in the country, and the chances they all carry the same item that I want (in order to get the 3 quotations) is pretty slim… So you eventually learn to break it down by function, not stock number. For example, on the quote form, you’d write: “desk: N$5,600.25,” not “IKEA desk: Svën: N$4025.28.” So it’s manageable, just a lot of leg-work.

Day three was spent actually doing some work. The colleague who was given authority to get me started was traveling to “The North” (an area of relatively high population occupied by one “tribe”, where my Peace Corps service was) to give a presentation of the educational status of the schools in that region (think “state”). So I helped extract slides from a slideshow that were relevant to his presentation and put them in a new one. Hey, they don’t call me a computer expert for nothin’. I earn this, people. Anyway, 11:00 came around and he left for the 7 hour drive. So that left me with 6 hours to kill. I started to work on my work permit application form (which takes between 1-3 months to approve, so you’ve got to have a work visa to cover you while you wait for the work permit to get approved.) At the end of the day, I revisited the Government Store in order to verify the numbers I had corresponded to the furniture I desired, and I also checked out the smaller things, like waste baskets, desk-top files, scissors, bostik/prestik/sticky-tak or whatever-you-call-it.

The big uproar at work is that the new guy wants to paint the office. The new guy is me, and the office is dirty and needs painting. In order to do this, I needed permission from 3 people: my Directorate Director, the Maintenance Deputy Director, and the Maintenance Control Works Inspector. Then we needed to fill out some paperwork and send it over to the Ministry of Works, who could quite possibly take several months to come over and paint this small room. OK, so I’ll do it myself, right? OK, but we still need all that permission. And heaven forbid if I want to change the color… (which I do).

Can’t say too much about the actual work I’ll be doing, because I really have no idea. Here is my official job description:

Post: Programmer/Application Developer
Supervisor: Senior Database Administrator – EMIS [Education Management Information Systems]

The EMIS Division serves management and planning in the Ministry by providing information to support the effective and efficient operation of the Ministry. The Division provides analytical information on the operations of the Ministry, which is required by various components of the Ministry and external organizations and individuals. It supports the Ministry in respect of monitoring and evaluation of its activities.

The Database Management and Administration Subdivision is an Information Communication Technology arm of the EMIS division and is tasked to take a complete care of the EMIS database, with its general functions outlined below. He or she will assist the DBA [DataBase Administrator] in the following general functions:


  • Physical Design and Creation of the Database
  • Production Support
  • Performance Tuning
  • Access Privileges
  • Backup/Recovery
  • Programming Guidelines
  • Upgrades


  • Ensure that all tuning of applications are accomplished as expected
  • Assign user roles and provide security for applications
  • Develop and review programming guidelines to allow the most efficient development of applications
  • Create and maintain production, test and development database environments for EMIS
  • Provide advice to application programmers in the effective use of database languages
  • Provide training to beginners and advanced users and other key personnel
  • Work on routine assignments applicable to the system
  • Attend and participate in seminars or workshops to remain current with information technology and especially those pertaining to education
  • Develop data capturing programs
  • Design alternative databases for capturing, storage and processing of information to be acquired (ad hoc surveys)
  • Maintain and update the EMIS software and hardware systems
  • Develop the electronic information distribution systems and ways to maintain them
  • Update the policy frameworks with the latest data by manipulating the database
  • Constantly review and update the data capturing programs
  • Assist in maintaining the servers and the server room
  • Train regional officers on minor database administration issues
  • Decentralization of EMIS activites to the regions to enable speedy data capturing and reports
  • Maintain a web-based system to enable the decentralization function to take off the ground and monitor its growth and enable data capturing at the lowest possible point in Education
  • Set up dedicated EMIS service in the regional offices to enable the regional staff to do data entry, cleaning and report building, yet connected to the main server in the head office.