Pounding the Windhoek streets

A foreigner looking for a job in Namibia has a difficult task. It’s actually very easy to find a job, but to start legally working (i.e. getting paid for it) you’ve got to get a work visa. To get a work visa, you’ve got to somehow prove or explain why the job you want can’t be done by any Namibian, or for some reason no Namibian wants that job. Sometimes this can involve advertising the job in the newspaper and allowing 6 months for Namibians to respond to it.

Now, TIA (this is Africa), so of course there are other ways of getting a work visa, which (thank God that Namibia is pretty civilized) usually involves knowing the right person rather than bribing someone. But still you’ve got to almost follow all the rules. Math, IT, and science are fields that are pretty open to foreigners right now because there’s a shortage of well-trained Namibians. So the chances are that I could probably find a job in one of those fields legally, but if I wanted to be a cashier at Shop Rite, probably not.

In my last week of pounding the pavement in Windhoek and throwing out the network, I’ve met some really interesting people and places. BEN (Bicycling Empowerment Network Namibia) is an organization which collected donated bicycles from all over the world, fixes them up, and sells them at about half the local retail price. They’ve currently got an American volunteer who has been developing a bicycle ambulance project. The idea is that you attach a sort of wheeled stretcher (complete with awning) to your bicycle like a trailer, an injured person can be placed on that stretcher, and you peddle them out of the village to a place where better transport to a hospital or a clinic can be found.

There’s also SchoolNet Namibia, which has taken upon itself a huge set of tasks. Their primary goal is to empower rural schools and community centers with computers and internet access. Previous to a redundant-yet-stagnant government effort, they had been giving out labs of around 6 computers in a well-polished fashion, complete with tables and UPS’s. They even negociated great internet rates with the local telecom company (~ US$42 for an always on modem connection, which is 10% of one teacher’s monthly takehome salary) which the school can obviously divide up amongst the people who use it. SchoolNet has even made it possible for very rural schools to get on the internet. They’ve installed 23 completely solar-powered computer labs at schools where electricity isn’t available, and for those schools which are close enough to towns, radio modems rather than telephone modems. They are also the country’s stronghold for spreading the goodness of open-source software.

I also walked into a solar electricity store, as I had heard the prices on solar electricity have come down. Previously, I had spec’d and priced out a system according to what my local brother had told me about his system. I wanted to be able to use my computer at my village house (no electricity grid) for about 12 hours a day. Since it’s a laptop, I thought something like that should be small enough to keep costs down. I had priced the required elements of the system to something around US$500. When I walked into the store, I knew I was in the right place. They have everything related to solar electricity, and knew exactly how to put together a system to meet my electricity usage needs. Tremendously knowledgable and ready to put your request together on the spot. The only problem was that when they were finished, they handed me a quote for US$2400. I just sort of looked at it, and them, and wondered how they could possibly have any customers. For such a small system, certainly no Namibian, at least the village people I had lived with for 2 years, would ever think of paying that much for electricity! They tried to tell me that many villagers had purchased systems costing them US$900 which would be just enough to power two lightbulbs for about 4 hours a night, and I promptly informed them that their claim was preposterous. If my village house was on the grid, a monthly electricity bill for my computer usage would go for about US$14.50, which means their US$2400 system would be the equivalent of paying upfront for 165 months of electricity (more than 13 years). And they’re trying to tell me that people do it all the time. They later confessed that convincing people of the price is the hardest part. Consider the “village light” system for US$900. A candle in Namibia, which can be used for about two nights, sells for around US$0.145. Let’s say you use two of them to light up your house at night. That means your nightly cost of light is US$0.145 (because each candle lasts two nights). The cost of candles would catch up to the solar system in 6206 days, or 17 years. And they are trying to tell me that villagers are willing to pay for 17 years of electricity upfront. Ha!

Lastly, I’ve been pushing a proposal for the Ministry of Education. I’ve got an idea to analyze factors of learner’s home situations, teacher demographics, and school resources to see how they impact a school’s performance. It’s moving forward, and I’ve got the name of the right person to meet, but he’s been out of town all this week. So, next week, we’ll see if I can get an appointment with him and his stat team.

Leave a Reply

Javascript is required in order to leave a reply. If it is not currently enabled in your web browser, please enable it, and refresh this page before writing your reply. We are using wp-hashcash, a comment-spam prevention program which requires Javascript. The benefit is that you won't be reading comments about Viagra or other pharmaceuticals.