Monthly Archives: April 2009

Update on What I am Actually Doing

Ok, so remember way back when I asked people to tell me things to write about? Maybe not. But I did, and still do. If you have a topic you want me to explore a little more, go ahead and ask, and I will write about it. The following if fulfilling a request from mum to basically give an update on what I have actual ly been doing, because, even when I read my blog I get the impression I am not doing much. I’ll just give you some info and let you all decide. I will try to break it up as much as possible into discrete topics.

Training

Training was a lot of… time spent in Nairobi. I don’t care how many people at PCHQ/Kenya read this blog, but come on!, did you really expect we would think training was all fun? However, one of the best parts of training was that us ICT (Information and Communication Tech) volutneers finally got some sector-specific attention. I know it’s hard to budget for only three people, but it was a nice gesture that I really appreciate.

Our special attention came in the form of a certain Mr. Tom Omamo, who basically turned into our ICT in Kenya Safari Tour Guide. While the SED people were out on business tours or in more lectures, and the teachers were continuing to learn how to teach (I think that’s what they were doing anyway…) we were on a whirlwind tour of anything and everything ICT. Our first stop was to sit in on a presentation being given to Safaricom preferred dealers on ICT in the business, as well as interpersonal business skills and whatnot. It was a good presentation given by Tom’s co worker, and the mzungu got to speak up and answer some questions as well.

Our second stop was Tom’s current place of employment as a professor of the Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technical College. We got to see how some university computer labs functioned, talked about class structure, learned how the university also operates as a pseudo enterprise, selling technical consulting (such as the Safaricom presentation…) and acting as a custom software shop. In the end we came to the conclusion that completely modern ICT infrastructure exists at the top, so how do we get it down to the bottom?

Then it was off to shopping in Nairobi. Tom took us to all the off-street computer dealers, the low cost guys, the refurbishers and maintainers. Good practical knowledge that we can share with PCVs and organizations alike. It’s always good in Kenya to know where to go to buy at the best price. More so than in America where fixed-price purchasing is a given. Kenya is very much a bargaining society.

On Monday, it was off to Google Nairobi HQ where we met with the local Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialists. It turns out there is a Returned PCV (RPCV) who works for google and set up this little meeting. Thanks by the way! We got to learn how the Google Maps API works and are trying to see where we can fit it into life as a PCV. PS, anyone want to donate a GPS unit. All I need is latitude and longitude. No fancy maps or anything. And I am being completely serious! Admittedly, I am not 100% sold on the maps as effective at the lowest level of development, due to a lack of internet infrastructure, but I can certainly see niches it could fill in other areas. And I hopefully will get to go back and meet the localization guys as well. Not holding my breath, but it would be nice.

The final afternoon (these were all afternoon sessions by the way) was spent at University of Nairobi, Kenya’s premier CS/IT/IS university. Saw more facilities, talked with some students, and talked to Tom about the university system in general in kenya. That’s a blog post for another day. Was hoping to meet the head of the department, but scheduling got in the way. Just save it for another trip I guess.

So that was training. Now back to life in general:

NYS

Remember these guys? These are the guys who got my in the first place, pay my rent, provide me with housing, and have asked me to be a teacher. That’s still what I am doing primarily here, though we have been on holiday for April. Teaching will start again next week and I am hoping to have a stronger performance than first semester. I am working on a few new angles, trying to get the new lab/classroom opened, and even trying to get other teachers to assign computer-based homework. We will see how it goes. But if all fails, I still have plenty of secondary projects to fall back on.

Voice of Africa

Voices of Africa is an NGO started by an American who is now living in Likoni (the home of “The Ferry!”). Basically she is teaching computers and trying to find out more to do with tech in the likoni area. Which is perfect for me. Together we annoy the guys over at Camarra, which is another NGO (Irish) teaching computers and refurbishing computers, and using linux and being all geeky. There are also tentative plans right now for a tuk tuk mobile information center. More on that as it develops.

NYOTA

Another NGO, also in Likoni. These guys are helping young musicians get produced, and hopefully heard. I am helping with tech support, and trying to get these guys switched over to Free and Open Source Software. I am also a general ideas guy with some different thinking and trying to make contacts. By the way, anyone in the States interested in helping out some musicians? And I am not talking money. Anyone know anyone with even amateur computer music production skills or anything of that sort. Preferably hip-hop (these guys aren’t into rock, and the producing is a bit different I think…), but I am not picky and neither are they. In fact, money wouldn’t help at all at this point. They just need ideas and some sharing of experience if possible.

Traveling Tech Support

I am also a traveling tech guy for other Peace Corps Volunteer projects. I am working on a website for a coffe co-op at the moment, and have helped with a computer lab, and offer other volunteers tech advice on a fairly regular basis. I am also working on a tech manual for all PCVs in Kenya, and hope to be running a new session at training in June about personal tech in kenya, and the general ICT scene here. Hopefully. If all pans out. My bosses seemed interested in the idea, though it wasn’t mine. A fellow ICT Volunteer, David, saw it at a conference in Lesotho, and thought we should bring it here.

So yeah. That’s where I am at right now. I know it sounds like a lot, but it comes in spurts and then fades and then comes back. Admittedly it’s only been 4 months, not really enough time to figure it all out and get a pattern. Some contacts turn into projects, some don’t. Some projects turn into full efforts and some fizzle. That’s why I haven’t been writing about things. It’s hard to say what’s concrete and what’s not. But mum was concerned that I am not actually doing anything over here, and I am, just not all the time. Which itself is another trick to being a PCV. Handling these intense times with a lot of work followed by complete dry spells.

Also updated with pictures, so check those out. Pictures of the solifugae are up, as well as some baby elephants and my new bicycle!

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On a seperate note

This really only applies to mac users. Recently eBooks have been getting a lot of attention, mostly because of the nice, eye-friendly eReaders coming out from various companies. But for those who still need to read an awful lot on their screens, I have just today found a solution I am happy with. It’s a little, free, app called Tofu. It is a text reformatter, which reformats many text formats into a column-based horizontal scrolling interface. Believe it or not, this makes reading so much more pleasant, at least for me. Combine this with gutenberg and I am one happy panda. Cheers!

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Life Update: List Format

Ok, so I know I have been absent for a while here. I was in Nairobi, where believe it or not, for reasons including scheduling and sessions and a ill-thought-out conference location, had slightly less access to the internet, or rather, at least not access conducive to blog writing. So here are some updates on life in Kenya, list formatted of course abating the need for transitions and eliminating any preconceived sense of implied relationship between the various thoughts with two exceptions: many of them came to me today while gardening; some of the thoughts may be listed in such a chronological order that a subtle wittiness would be derived… hopefully. Enjoy!

  • Kenyan gardening is quite the different experience from what I was raised to perceive as gardening. It involves significantly more sweeping of dirt.
  • I spent today sweeping dirt. Admittedly it makes the dirt look nicer, and admittedly the actual action was undertaken as a form of raking to filter out leafy particulates from dusty particulates, but honestly it was still sweeping dirt.
  • Kenyans have a fear of snakes. A deeply rooted fear. I don’t know if it’s a “Satan came in the form of a snake,” fear, or a, “Snakes are poisonous and kill children,” fear, or the much more pressing, “Kenyans get taken up into trees by snakes,” fear, but no matter the case, there must be at least two feet of dirt between a house and the nearest grass. The dirt must be swept. I have the cleanest looking snake moat in kenya.
  • I am coming more and more to the understanding that Peace Corps is all about you being happy with yourself for two years in a foreign country. End of story. You don’t need to save the world. You don’t need to build an orphanage or a library. You don’t need to miraculously solve a country’s rampant corruption. You just need to be happy.
  • If having a Super Nintendo emulator and compatible game controllers for my computer makes me happy so be it. I don’t need to justify it to anyone. So there 😛
  • I like to read, a lot. Even more than I thought, and I already knew I liked to read.
  • Project Gutenberg is my new friend.
  • I think Corporate-Social responsibility is critical to making humanity better. I don’t care if it’s kenya, or america or the moon, we need to realign our thinking on a grand scale. Capitalism doesn’t need to die, but it certainly needs to evolve and the evolution doesn’t need to include government control.
  • Development work is tricky. I don’t want to say it doesn’t work, but I am not going to say it’s working either. It needs to evolve as well.
  • After four months of conforming to Kenyan propriety standards, I still feel most comfortable wearing shorts and a t-shirt in this weather. I would even say it puts me in a better mental state, and thus makes me more productive.
  • I wear bright pink flip flops. So do about 7 out 10 other Kenyans. The other kenyans wear either bright green, orange or blue flip flops. To answer your question, no, they don’t really come in different colours.
  • I also have a hideously colored plaid umbrella. Guess what it goes really well with (hint: see above).
  • I also have a pair of the bright green flip flops. I am trying to break them in and make them as comfortable as my pink ones. But honestly, there’s no rush.
  • Have I already mentioned I am trying to amass Kenya’s largest Hawaiian Shirt wardrobe? Combine that with the past three or four statements. Did I blow your mind, or create a mental image you just can’t get out of your head?
  • I am slowly trying to show my neighbors I am not lazy.
  • My neighbors have every reason to think I am lazy. Mostly because I have been the laziest I have ever been in my life, and am out of shape, and tire even more easily than I ever have before.
  • I played with a wind scorpion today. Don’t worry, I was wearing gloves.
  • I think I may have witnessed millipede intercourse. For ten minutes. All I have to say is that it adds a whole new level to the concept of “mounting.” One millipede rode around on top of the other for the entire time I was watching it.
  • Yes, my life is boring enough that the previous statement is completely true.
  • The past three statements are continuing testament to the fact that I am becoming an amateur entomologist.
  • I also spent about five minutes attempting to explain in simplified english the concept of scientific naming of insects, all so that I could tell David my neighbor that the wind scorpions fear light and that this distinguishing trait is even its scientific classification: solifugae.
  • The weather in mombasa is getting simply quite pleasant. Humidity is going down a bit in the afternoons, and the temperature is coming down as well. Every day I believe more and more that the next few months really will be nice.
  • I was with what can only be described as the most violent lufa ever: a natural fiber sponge. I found it just a few weeks ago. May have mentioned it. It does wonders for the skin after a day out in Mombasa.
  • I also “clean” my feet using a pumice stone. I don’t know what is harder: the soles of my feet or the pumice stone.

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OMG

Ginnie is having her first burger in SIX YEARS!!

WOWEEEE!!!

[Note: post written to spite a fellow volunteer]

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We don’t have money trees…

… but we have alcohol trees.  Note, I have not tried this product.  It causes many social problems in Kenya actually, providing extremely inexpensive access to potent alcohol.

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Nairobi hawkers

Things being sold on the side of the road by hawkers today: peanuts, oranges, empty cd spools, plastic inflatable chairs and etch a sketch. Oh Nairobi. This place is funny.

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I am a nerd, I know

I know, you all think that living in Africa I must have seen all sorts of cool things. Lions, elephants, Maasai warriors and the like. And it’s true, I have seen those things, and they are certainly really cool, but by far, the coolest thing I have seen to date is this ship, which is currently docked in Mombasa Harbor. The Tyco Resolute, a Reliance-Class Sea Cabling ship, is part of what I believe is a two ship team currently laying high speed backbone fiber cable all along the east coast of Africa. The Resolute laid the final stretch from the cable into the harbor, and we got connected on April 3rd. It was all very exciting, and though I got an invite to the ceremony from a friend of mine working with IT in Mombasa, I didn’t get a chance to go. But I have gotten the chance to see this beauty of a ship, and hopefully when I cross on the ferry today I will snap some photos with my camera. It’s one big, pretty ship.

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