Where’d he go?

August 18th, 2007 :: 8:35pm

I’m back in the States for a not-so-whirlwind trip of visiting the family and friends. I’ve been here since the 11th of July when I surprised my parents and attended the wedding of two really good friends.

My site was down for a week or two because I was upgrading the hardware it runs on, and then I went out to visit my sister in CA before I finished the upgrade process.

Nearby? Let’s get together! 1-518-256-0420


June 29th, 2007 :: 3:25am

Still here, still struggling. The lack of updates is indicative of the lack of major steps forward in the pursuit of finding a job.

Here’s what’s good: That job I found before at the Ministry of Education is still a good job, and the boss still thinks I’m a good candidate. I’ve also found another job that will provide a work visa immediately. It’s at SchoolNet, an organization that puts computers into rural schools and provides tech support when needed via an 800 number (which is pretty-much unheard of in Namibia).

Here’s what’s new: I met with an American who was in similar circumstances when he finished his Peace Corps service – that being “How do I stay in Namibia and legally get work?” He outlined the process of what needs to happen in order for me to get that position. First, my boss-to-be needs to check with the Permanent Secretary if the position needs to be re-advertised. This is because it has been advertised for the last three years, but not during 2007. If it does need to be re-advertised, all Namibians applying will need to be interviewed and if anyone meets the qualifications, they win. If everyone applying doesn’t meet the qualifications, or if the position doesn’t need to be re-advertised, then I can be interviewed. If that goes well, my boss-to-be checks with his boss if he can hire a foreigner. If she is amenable, then she checks with her boss, the Permanent Secretary. If he is also amenable, then he’ll write a letter to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs (the work permit/visa people) and plead to give me a work permit for a year (the maximum duration for a work permit). And finally, if the work permit is issued, then I win.

Let’s say I win – I get the work permit, and I start work. Doing my job well means training people I work with to do what I do – that being working with databases – and therefore I’ll have worked myself out of a job, because now there are qualified Namibians for the post. Excellent! So if I want to stay around next year, I’ll have to go through the process all over again. That’s not all that bad, because I’ll never get board at work if the location keeps changing!

Here’s what’s ugly: As you’ve probably guessed, all that stuff takes time. We might be looking at three months. Or six months! Who really knows. Also, that other job that can hire me right now, which is good because I’ll get a work visa right now, will pay me zero, feed me nothing, and house me nowhere. But I probably will have to do that for a few months just to stay legally in the country while I’m waiting for a paying job to come through.

So in the last month, all that’s really happened is that I’ve met a bunch of interesting and helpful people, and I’ve become more acquainted with how government works. I’m pretty sure that such procedures would even be true for US government jobs as well, so it’s good to know that the Namibian Government is going through the proper procedures.

Job Hunting

June 6th, 2007 :: 9:13am

I finally had a meeting today with Raimo Dengeinge, head of the Planning and Statistics division of the Ministry of Basic Education, Sport, and Culture. I introduced myself and my proposal of additional statistics to collect and how they could be related to school and learner performance, thereby indicating which factors are important and which factors aren’t.

I handed him a copy of the proposal, he looked it over briefly, and said that several questions I posed had been provisioned to be answered in the educational census for this year, but his team would look it over and add anything they found useful. Feeling like the meeting was about to come to an end, I handed him a copy of my resume, told him my story, that I wanted to stay in Namibia for a couple more years, and if there were any projects he thought needed work, he could give me a call. As I was about to stand up, he told me about a post he’s been trying to fill for three years now – it’s for a computer scientist with a teaching background. He said that several teachers had applied for it, but not one could properly execute an SQL “SELECT” statement. How about that – a computer scientist with a teaching background. Hard to find in Namibia for sure. Have I found the perfect-fitting job? He scolded me for not being around last year when they contracted out a job to a private company, which made me smile.

We’ll see how it goes. Can’t get the expectations up, because as I’ve learned the hard way, that’s how you feel really bad when things don’t work out. But I’m pumped anyway!

Becoming a man

June 2nd, 2007 :: 3:09am

I thought I had come of age before I left the States, if not the first time, at least the second time. But here in Namibia, manhood is judged differently. First: How old are you? If I’m older, I can tell you what to do. Second: Are you married? And that goes right along with the third factor: How many people are you reponsible for? (got kids?).

During my Peace Corps service, I thought I was super high in the respect category. I went to work every day, I always had my lesson plans ready, and best of all, I was never drunk in class. I thought that by being a good role model, I deserved respect.

Respect for a person in this culture is often shown in greetings by simple things. One, people will insert the word Tate (father) or Meme (mother) into greetings. Two, people can shake hands, and to add extra respect, people will put their left hand under their right elbow while shaking. Women can further the show of respect by bending their knees slightly at the beginning of the shake, and men can nod their head.

I often found myself during greetings without receiving these forms of respect, and I would mumble under my breath in the local language to ti Tate! (you say Tate!). Because I was such a good role model (of course, in my foreign opinion), I subconsciously desired/demanded this repect.

[Here’s a small tangent about non-platonic relationships in village life in Namibia.] It is very frowned upon to show affection, or even signs that a relationship might exist, in public. There’s no hugging, kissing, touching, or even blowing kisses. This causes people to repress their feelings, or at least become more creative in the courting process. If you want to see relationships in village life, you’ve got to look for fleeting signs: someone giving someone a special look, a brief seemingly accidental brush of the hand, or other things (get creative yourselves…). In this slightly repressed culture, rumors absolutely flourish. Since you’re in the village, and there’s not much else to do, gossiping is all the rage! And if it’s true according to gossip, it’s absolutely certain in most people’s minds.

Upon my second return to village life in Namibia, my involvement with a local girl, indeed my girlfriend, has become part of the town gossip. Sometimes we walk together in town, but the give away is when villagers see me walking the 3 hours to her house. “White man, where are you going?” they ask. “I’m going to visit my friend.” “How far is it?” “I’m going to Onakankuzi.” “Oh, you’re going to visit Helena?!” “Yes, indeed.” “That’s good that you have that with her.” [Note: since relationshis are slightly repressed, using direct words to describe them are also frowned upon. A question like “Did you have sex?” could typically be asked as “Did you do something?” or by the more modern, “Did you use a condom?”]

Being part of swirling town gossip doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Before I had a girlfriend, just being white was enough to be constantly stared at. My friend Cicy describes it as being a T.V. – everybody’s just watching you. Helena, my girlfriend, hasn’t taken too kindly to being a T.V., and even complains about people looking at her when she’s alone. But the good part of this whole thing is that as soon at our relationship was in the gossip wind, I became Tate, and she became Meme! Suddenly, greetings show more respect – respect which I thought I deserved a long time ago, but which has come now for (according to my opinion) frivolous reasons. I can finally say I’ve come of age in Namibia!

Pounding the Windhoek streets

June 2nd, 2007 :: 3:08am

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.

Settling down?

May 19th, 2007 :: 3:04am

For the last month I’ve been travelling around Namibia visiting old friends and meeting new ones. I’ve reconnected with a lot of friends and met new Peace Corps volunteers. Namibia is a beautiful country with good people, and it has caught my attention again – I’m looking into staying around for a while.

The family where I stayed during Peace Corps service has welcomed me to stay with them again, and I’m finishing a room in an unfinished group of rooms in which to stay. This time it won’t be too Peace Corps-esque – I’m going to tile the floor, get a nice work desk, and install a solar system including panel, regulator, battery, inverter and lights. It’ll be all I need to get a solid 8 hours of internet work done every day. Of course, we can’t go too overboard – bathing will still be done with a bucket, washing by hand, bathroom by hole, and food of the traditional nature. But it’ll be enough.

I’ve also reconnected with my old girlfriend Helena. We’re currently visiting the capital, as previous to this trip she hadn’t been outside of 150 km from her house before. So the world of buildings with multiple floors, elevators, escalators, and movie theaters is all brand new for her, and thats made it a really fun week.

I’ll be looking for a job in Windhoek soon – and I am currently working on a proposal for the Ministry of Basic Educadtion to do statistical analysis of the current state of the education system – from learner’s grades to school, learner, family and teacher demographics. The results will tell what is working in the education system, and what isn’t. It’ll also be able to show where more money needs to be invested, and where some can be pulled from.

In terms of internet access, Namibia has it, but it’s comparatively expensive. You pay for the amount of information transferred, not for the time connected (except at internet cafés, of course). One thing it does have is 3G. 3G is internet via your mobile phone through which I’ve seen a max burst throughput of 46KB/s, with a commly sustained connection at 15KB/s (compared to 7KB/s and 5.5KB/s on GPRS). Needless to say, that is sufficient for my purposes, though I won’t be downloading any episodes of Lost 🙁 any time soon. Currently, 3G is available only in big towns, but they say by the end of May (which means in about 6 months) it’ll be available everywhere your mobile works.

Life goes on! If anyone wants to visit over here, you’re more than welcome. It’s peaceful and beautiful!

Back on the homestead

April 23rd, 2007 :: 1:59am

After 5 days in Windhoek, I came back up to Omuthiya where I was a Peace Corps volunteer. I was impressed at how the place had changed. When I left, Omuthiya had been slated by the government to become a town, which means it needs to look the part. Now, instead of a tire- road straight through town, a few tire-track spurs leading away from it in various directions, and a couple hundred small cuca shops (bars made of corrugated irons, most around 9×9′ or less), the town looks as if it has been planned. Gravel roads now outline what will become Omuthiya town. They look a little silly because many cuca shops were moved to accomplish this task, and now it looks as if the roads go nowhere, turn without reason, and outline nothing. I suppose with time, offices and stores will fill it up.

With the development work happening, I was quite surprised to see that the people haven’t changed at all! Every teacher I was teaching with at school is still there, save for one. Some have bought new cars, some have painted their houses, and some have moved into new flats. Everyone remembers me and I was given a very warm welcome.

I went to visit the family I stayed with while I was a teacher here. Upon arrival we did the run to eachother and hug thing, which was welcoming. The baby I knew now speaks and has manners, the unfinished building now has a roof and one finished room, and there’s a new building with a sitting room/kitchen. They served me ontaku and immediately prepared a room for me. *WOW, a warm welcome indeed*. Its nice to be back here, although I miss my bike – it’s a 40 minute walk to the village where everything happens. If anyone’s interested in Google Earthing my homestead, the coordinates are 18.37807° S lat, 16.59070° E long.

While I’m in town I’ll be rehabilitating the computer lab – while I was gone somehow most of the keyboard’s and mice’s plug pins were destroyed, and can’t be repaired. So I’ll work on getting new parts for that, and also creating a system to prevent users from destroying their own desktops. Hopefully it’ll last until the end of the year.

Hello Namibia

April 16th, 2007 :: 12:32am

I arrived in Namibia via plane. It was cheaper than the train plus a bus, and anyways I can travel through South Africa later when I’ve unloaded my bag a little.

Upon arrival, I was directed into the red customs line, and some Ghanaian fabrics I had upset the customs officer. He really wanted me to tell him they were gifts for people (taxable), but instead I told him I was going to have shirts made out of them, and wear them home (not taxable). After leaving the customs area, I was expecting the standard harrassment for ridiculously overpriced taxis, but instead I was greeted with a shuttle service with a standard price for transportation into the city. Nice work, Namibia.

I’ve been staying in Windhoek since Thursday, and on the first day I found two Peace Corps volunteers, one of whom I’m staying with now. I’ve got a cell phone – the number is +264-81-328-8852. We’re working on a quick project – PCV Connections – which will allow volunteers send emails to any other volunteer who might be interested. Volunteers can also register to recieve any emails sent whose subjects fall in selected categories.

I think around Tuesday I’ll be headed up to the North of Namibia to see my old family and friends, and I really look forward to that. It’ll be a homecoming of sorts.

Flying to Windhoek today

April 12th, 2007 :: 12:41am

I’m flying from Jo’burg to Windhoek today. My bags are too heavy to carry across South Africa, and the plane is cheaper than the train/bus combination I was planning. I’ll be able to travel through South Africa after Namibia, when my bags are lighter. See the contact page for contact information.

Goodbye Ghana

April 1st, 2007 :: 4:12pm

You were a wonderful escape from Francophone Africa. You were half the price of any neighboring country. You were very friendly and helpful when I needed it, except when one of your people stole my iPod. But other than that, very friendly and helpful.

I’ll miss the nomadic salesmen in the towns: the shoe repair men that carry around wooden boxes of shoe repair stuff, and hit them with shining brushes, earning the nickname “town drummers”, and the seamsters who carry around hand-powered sewing machines who charge a modest US$0.20 to sew up a tear. I’ll miss the eager salespeople who walk through lines of cars in traffic with goods on their heads – anything could be there – water in bags, ice cream long since melted, meat pies, shower sponges, leather belts, Tampico (like Sunny D), sunglasses, basically whatever’s fresh off the cargo ships that month. I’ll miss all the good people I met, and I thank them for sharing their culture and time with me.

I won’t miss the cockroaches in my room the last week, or the power outages (which now occur for 12 hour spans every 60 hours) but that’s about it (need that computer!). Ghana gets most of its electricity from a hydroelectric dam on their large Lake Volta, but this year, water in the dam has been very low, so the whole country shares power, with certain places on and certain places off all the time.

It’s good news then that the rainy season is almost here. It rained for some hours last week, and it just started to pour again right now. Rain in Africa is great – when it rains, it really freaking pours! And not just for 10 minutes, but 3-4 hours! If you’re living as I did in Peace Corps in a room with a corrugated-zinc-rooved building, it’s loud! Louder than the generator which is running right outside my door right now! But the sound is strangely comforting too. The day after a heavy rain, things spring to life. Trees and plants start to flower. The ground which was cracked and dry yesterday has frogs croaking and seedlings growing from it today. All because of the saying which is so popular in Africa, “Water = Life.” Lots of people who can’t speak English can at least say this. Or maybe they’ll wear a t-shirt with it. And soon enough, maybe the electricity sharing schedule will be brought to a halt soon.

So, I’ll miss Ghana, but I recommend anyone to visit it. It’s probably the best place to start in Africa if you’re going to try Africa. It’s modern enough when you need it, traditional enough when you want it, and the missionaries really did a bang-up job here, so everyone here loves Jesus more than you would like to find unconditional happiness. (Consider “Christ Cares Bread Shop” or “Jesus Saves Cellphone Store” or “Unless God” [interpretted: we couldn’t be here unless God let us] or “Odo Rice, Motto: God gives us the power”, and this list could go on forever…) If you don’t love Jesus (or Allah, or God, or whatever) this much, or you aren’t ready to denounce evolution, you might have a couple uncomfortable/interesting conversations.

Tomorrow, to South Africa. Winter approaches. Good thing that I packed for all seasons! Bad thing that it made my bag really heavy.