First day, first gear; second day, second gear

(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.

2 Responses to “First day, first gear; second day, second gear”

  1. J. Brown Says:


    Keep up the good work! Maybe now you’ll have the time-wasting skills to qualify for a U.S. government job.

    By the way, if operating powerpoint counts as a computer expert over there let me know the next time a job opens up. I can also surf the web and check e-mail.
    Take care.

  2. Mom Says:

    Please show us some pictures of your office!


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