29 May, 2008
Monday I spent the day preparing materials and scripts for the dedication activities for the Internet Library. With one glaring exception, the room is almost ready for the event. As you probaly can see, it is still devoid of computers – they still sit in the container at the port awaiting final processing of VAT exceptions by the Treasurer. These materials all come duty free, but the actual process is complex and L..O…N….G. The government goes through an intense valuation of these donated goods, comes up with a theoretical tax, sends the paperwork to Treasury for review, they write a theoretical check in that amount, and only then can you go get the container (which may then have its own paperwork issues.)
The length of the process is unpredictable but we now know we won’t have them this week so we will have to go to Plan B of a temporary installation of items that will then have to be pulled out. This is a process we do not look forward to. On top of that we are incurring port fees at the rate of about $100 a day. Needless to say, nothing about this situation is appreciated.
Tudesday we did training for the Lab Managers by Uncle Bill. These are our first line of support in the schools. Their task is to do routine monitoring and maintenance to keep the labs in working condition and free of problems. We do not expect them to do any serious repair, but keep problems to a minimum by following simple daily and weekly procedures.
Wednesday he took his team to Pommerin. They have a new headmaster and a new lab manager this year. Both are Global Outreach ‘alums’ in that Lab Manager Spora Sanga was one of my original teacher-students in 1998, and Headmaster Patrick Auko was the first user of learning CD’s from Saint Stephen’s. The Pommerin program lost its leadership position under the previous administration, but with Spora and Patrick we are optimistic of a quick restoration. In addition, one of the Tumaini IT students will be resident in July and August on an internship to provide additional assistance.
Lucas and I stayed in town Wednesday and did our first set of interviews for a country coordinator with Miraji now on educaitonal leave. We are first looking at the new crop of graduates from Tumaini to fill this post.
26 May, 2008
Our tech team is here and hard at work – as well as other activities. Bill Lloyd, Global Outreach Director and President of Research Technology Associates, is making his third trip to Iringa. His companions, Jarod Harris who works at the Census Bureau with him, and Lindell Bridges who is one of his PGCC students, will do the technical work for the Internet Library and a host of other projects during their two weeks in the country. We are blessed to have Bill, not only a committed humanitarian, but probably the smartest technical guru I have ever met.
Sunday morning was the biggest church service I have ever seen. It was first communion day and there must have been 4000 people in attendance. You literally could not move. The service lasted three hours and was followed by a procession which went to a local primary school for an outdoor ceremony and then return to the church. I lasted the service, but contented myself with a photo of the procession fading into the distance to end the day. Angelina, who is an elder of the church, lasted the whole 5+ hours. She will get to heaven a couple hours ahead of me I guess.
And now for some Sunday diversion, Where’s Waldo Stanley?
24 May, 2008
Thursday began with a work session with Mrs. Kyando, the Geography teacher at Mawelewele. She will be one of 3 teachers demonstrating how she might use the Internet Library to the Minister of Education when he visits in June. Her enthusiasm and amazement of the variety of things she can access is wonderful to watch. There is no question that this project will take a long time to bear the fruits it can, but it is going to definitely stir the creativity and excitement of dedicated teachers and the fortunate students who they will impact.
Later in the day I put my fate in the hands of Mama Premji to try to restore my appearance to one of civility. Another Tanzanian first.
On Friday, Monica Mbega, the Iringa MP who has been so supportive of our work here, visited for a walk-through of the schedule for the visit by the Minister of Education. While we were at Kichangani we dropped in to the site of the new office to discover that work was well underway. I was quite surprised – maybe this will be the project that moves at a more familiar pace. (Please don’t let that line jinx things!) Monica is quite amazing. She is constantly travelling between Dar es Salaam (de facto capital), Dodoma (parliament), Iringa (her constituency), and Songea (where she is the Regional Commissioner for Ruvuma). Friday she had left Dar in the morning, stopped to spend a couple hours with me, then back on the road to Mbeya before anyone knew she was around and could descend on her.
Late Friday night Uncle Bill Lloyd arrived with his two companions Lindell and Jarod. They were completing their safari from the DC area that began with a late night flight on Wednesday. They reduced the travel time by going straight from the airport to the bus station. (Still think a trip to Iringa sounds like a romantic getaway?) We had a near tragedy right off the bat when Lindell, not attuned to the Iringa public works standards, walked off the bus in the dark and stepped right into one of the ditches that line the streets. About 4 feet deep, they are pretty imposing. Fortunately this one had earth (not concrete) at the bottom, and he appeared to be not hurt badly. But watching him disappear from sight as we all yelled “No” was pretty scary. Polle sana.
21 May, 2008
My ability to spin this blog to look like things do not move at a snail’s pace here is waning. What you must be able to do at all times in Tanzania is WAIT. African time is not just an expression – it is truly a way of life. People do what is in front of them and if they are late (or VERY late) for their planned activities, Hakuna Matata. (Yes, that really is a proper Swahili expression and it speaks volumes.) That’s a reality in an environment where your time does not really have value. Quite a difference from our country where we value our time so dearly, and choreograph our lives in a manner that illustrates the point.
The last few days have been laden with wait time, and I am eager for my teammates from the US to arrive so I can get some good old American ratrace pace back into my life.
I did have meetings with the architect and builder to get the construction of the new office moving. My hope is at minimum to have the partitions erected before I leave so that I know the basic layout is correct. It is a perfect space and will allow room for the basic office-reception area, a private office, a workshop for computer repair and software installation, a good size storage room for equipment, and a very large conference room. I continue to be delighted with the relationship with the Catholic diocese.
19 May, 2008
I really need a BIG pooper scooper.
Winter has arrived. Temperatures have dropped and the famous Iringa wind is in force. Time for the woolies.
Friday early morning there was a big fire in downtown Iringa in a roughly one-half acre community of shops and homes adjacent to the big bus depot. It apparently started from a pot of beans that was forgotten and left on for hours. Over 100 people were affected by the fire.
Over the weekend we finished carpetting the Internet Library. It was a redo since the first fundi’s (technical expert) idea of laying a carpet was to throw it on the floor and overlap where necessary, then curl up along the walls to handle the excess. One is constantly being surprised by things like this. Your staff might never have seen wall-to-wall carpet so they have no idea what to expect. And it is impossible to be clever enough to anticipate every potential snafu.
Saturday night I had dinner with the Tumaini IT dean and his wife. They are from Finland and here for one to two years to establish the new department (him) and help in the library (her.) They face the same challenge that most westerners face here, that there is very little social activity for them. There is not much to do in Iringa, which greatly exacerbates the problem. It is really refreshing to work with young people so committed and dedicated.
16 May, 2008
A dearth of photo ops the last couple days so I am inserting some of the charmers from my apartment complex.
The Internet Library is taking shape. The tables/counters have been completed and the internet (Iringa version of DSL) line has been installed. The carpet was delivered and will be installed Friday. Chairs have been delivered from Dar es Salaam. Our major concern continues to be arrival of the computers and networking materials. The container is in port, but per usual we are encountering numerous problems in the clearance. A cynic would conclude that developing nations almost go out of their way to discourage those who want to help (I guess we are seeing that in Mynamar as I write.)
I had a good planning session with the dean of the IT program at Tumaini University. We constructed some very positive partnership plans. His students badly need practical activities, and my schools really need technical support. In effect his teachers and students can become a volunteer community for our program, and obtain the practical experience they want. We are both excited with this relationship.
13 May, 2008
Monday we visited Mawelewele, one of our newest schools. They are struggling because they have insufficient funds to run the school, and they have no one trained in computers. The man they hired for the program left because he wasn’t being paid (can’t imagine why that bothered him.) They apparently had some problems late last year with the previous headmaster disappearing – hard to get the full story. They really want to make the computer program work, and Mama Zenda at Iringa Girls’ has offered to make her well qualified technical lead Emanuel Kuchibanda available for consultation and assistance. But this school will be a challenge for the short term. The commitment of the current staff is the upside and what is keeping us from pulling the equipment until they are really ready for the program. We will make the hard decisions before I leave next month.
In the afternoon I visited my friends Victoria and Richard Phillips at their dairy spread Kibebe Farms. It is a lovely setting and I always enjoy my walks trhrough the extensive and varied surroundings. Afternoon tea amongst the flowers and trees is particularly relaxing. I could use a few more of these respites.
The trip had an exciting sidelight in that I drove there myself, my first test of soloing on true Tanzanian roads. My prayers of no punctures or other breakdowns were answered, but I’m not sure I want to put myself in harm’s way too often.