Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Wow, it’s been two almost months since my last post… it has definitely felt like two months but I just haven’t had enough time or Internet access to write. I am finally starting to take it easy at work so I set this morning aside just for this (it took but one sentence before someone came into my office and asked for something). Where to start?
In the last week of July, myself and nine other volunteers from all over the country (together with our Tanzanian counterparts) went to an ICT conference hosted by Peace Corps Washington. It took place in Moshi, about one hour from where I live. We stayed in town the whole week and shared our experiences about computers and technology at our sites. During the week, we also did a field trip to visit Marangu TC (my site) and Mboni Secondary School (Clarissa’s site) to see the work we’re doing. While the content of the conference was a little to high level, big-money focused, it was extremely helpful to just sit down with other volunteers and their counterparts to discuss problems and solutions we’re facing/using at our schools.
Over the course of the week, it became obvious that the schools with better computer programs and a better chance of those programs’ survival were those with good leadership and a supportive administration. I am lucky to have both at my teachers college. The best part of the conference came when we were visiting Clarissa’s school and she had one of her Form 3 students (about the same as grade 8/9 at home) come in and talk about the computers at the school and how much he was learning. He did the whole thing in English and he demonstrated how much Clarissa had taught him in the past two years – everyone was really impressed with him. At my school, people from secondary schools were in awe at the sheer number of computers we have (other teacher colleges have about the same amount) and I was particularly proud of our new storage and repair room that was finished just prior to their coming.
Last week, I went to our education group’s Close of Service Conference in Arusha National Park. The purpose of the C.O.S. conference is to prepare volunteers for their departure from Tanzania and return to the United States. We stayed at the Momella Wildlife Lodge, site of the 1962 John Wayne film “Hatari!” (Hatari means “danger” in Swahili.) Not much has been done with the place since 1962, but it had hot showers, good food and a swimming pool (despite the freezing cold temperatures while we were there). We shared stories about our sites, our work and our experiences from the last two years. Of the 37 people who originally arrived in our group, we are finishing with 33 – this number is pretty impressive, considering the percentage of early terminations of service worldwide. That was the last time all 33 of us will be together – two people left immediately thereafter and a few more of us are going next month so everyone’s departure will be on different days.
I now have to write a description of my Peace Corps service (incorporating everything that I have done here) that will go into my permanent government file – it will be reviewed if I ever apply for a Federal job. I also need to update my resume and start applying for jobs. I am looking for six to nine months of contract work in Northern California while Clarissa finds out which grad school she’ll be going to next year. If anybody has an interesting lead, please let me know.
With just under seven weeks left at my site, I have a lot of things to finish, but as long as I stick to a schedule, I’ll easily complete everything I need to do. The first thing on my list (which I’m now almost finished with) is to create documentation for setting up our computers. Another important one is finish training my counterparts in the following areas: internet safety and filtering, basic networking and network troubleshooting, lab management, software installation theory and what little I know about the Solaris thin client system. I am phasing out the complicated Windows server that I installed because there is nobody here who can maintain it (we have only six computers left that rely on that system and we’re changing them over in the next two weeks).
I am told that next week, we are hosting a Cisco IT Essentials training (a widely known computer accreditation) here, so my counterpart and I have only two days to set up a special lab for them to use. At least this time we have two days to prepare– for the last event that the project hosted here, we (instructor included) had exactly one day’s advance notice for a 28-day course. I am hoping that this will be less disruptive, given that they’ll have their own room set aside for them.That's all for now. I will make another post in the next few days... hopefully. I hope everyone is well.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Peace Corps is hosting an ICT conference in Moshi, two weeks from now, and we are doing a field trip to mine and Clarissa’s sites. I am trying to get ready now for it by finishing some things that I’ve been putting off. Early next week, we are going to put a single coat of paint on the partition in the Windows lab to get it ready for a mural. The mural was Clarissa’s idea – we are going to have a contest among the students to see who can come up with the best design for the wall. It will be covered in technology-related images. Also, now that we have a ton of equipment to take care / keep track of, my counterpart and I are going through the whole college and taking an inventory of every computer, spare part and tool kit at the college. This will probably take the better part of two whole days, considering how much stuff we have. Lastly, since the semester is just starting, the students have paid tuition and there is money available for projects (like shelving in the new repair room and tables for the two new labs) – I’m going to work with my counterparts to write proposals and estimates for everything we need.
My work at the hospital is continuing, albeit slowly. Most of the networking cable that we were provided and spent three days to install is of very poor quality (counterfeit from China) and keeps having problems. We are also waiting for money from Norway to buy power protection equipment and spare parts before the rest of the computers can be upgraded. Once we get things and all of the computers are in place, I’m going to leave the project as quickly as I can. I have simplified the maintenance of the computers to rely on a simple set of CDs that most people are capable of running. My goal is to be finished there by mid-September to allow time to finish my projects at the college and at Clarissa’s school.
The battle with Western Union finally ended last weekend when I refused to leave their Moshi office without my money (for my plane ticket home). They had previously told me that it would be impossible to find with out a special control number, known only to the sender. I returned with the control number only to have them tell me that they still couldn’t find it. I informed them that my 20+ hours spent waiting in their office (over a series of days) would not be in vain – two hours later (they made the mistake of letting me in the back office) I left, victorious. Clarissa and I had a dinner celebration in the name of mediocrity. In two short years, I’ve had my laptop, camera, and identity stolen and my bank account frozen for eight months (which resulted in my taxes being paid late) but nothing was as frustrating as this.
*** July25: I haven’t updated this in a week, so I’m just going to post it. More soon. -AM
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
The United States Geological Survey has a good website (that's where I found the above magnitudes). They wrote the following about this event:
"The sequence of earthquakes that has been occurring in northern Tanzania since July 14, 2007 (SIC), represents a seismic phenomenon known as a seismic "swarm"-- an episode of high earthquake activity in which the largest earthquake does not occur at the beginning of the episode and in which the largest earthquake is not substantially larger than other earthquakes of the episode. Worldwide, earthquake swarm activity is commonly associated with tectonic regions in which both strike-slip fault and normal faulting occur and where magmatic activity occurs at shallow depths in the earth's crust.(Source: U.S. Geological Survey, http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/recenteqsww/Quakes/us2007exbe.php#summary)
"The earthquake swarm is situated close to the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano, an active volcano in the Gregory Rift of the East African rift system. Although volcanic eruptions are often preceded and accompanied by earthquake swarms, most earthquake swarms are not associated with volcanic eruptions. Information recorded at the U. S. Geological Survey/National Earthquake Information Center is not sufficient to determine if the current Tanzania swarm activity reflects a geologic process that might lead to a change in the eruptive behavior of Ol Doinyo Lengai.
"The East African rift system is a diffuse zone of crustal extension that passes through eastern Africa from Djibouti and Eritrea on the north to Malawi and Mozambique on the south and that constitutes the boundary between the Africa plate on the west and the Somalia plate on the east. At the earthquake?s latitude, the Africa and Somalia plates are spreading apart at a rate of several millimeters per year. The largest earthquake to have occurred in the rift system since 1900 had a magnitude of about 7.6. Earthquakes within the East African rift system occur as the result of both normal faulting and strike-slip faulting."
Following is the accompanying map that they posted to their site (note: this is up-to-date, so it might not show any earthquakes now):
(Source: U.S. Geological Survey, http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/recenteqsww/Maps/10/35_-5.php)
Monday, July 16, 2007
Dad went to bed almost as soon as we arrived at my house and I set to work making one of the many boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese that Mom sent over with him. Nothing says home like a bag of processed, powdered cheese. Minutes later, the power went out and I heard Dad’s sleep apnea machine switch off – I went into his room and welcomed him to Tanzania. He slept late the next day (until 12:30pm) and after we had breakfast, Dad washed his dirty clothes by hand. He also experienced the shower in my house that produces hot water only when the electricity and water supply are perfectly in tune. We went up to the college and walked around a lot. We talked to some of the workers and the two students who are helping with the Internet café. I showed him the lab, all of the grounds and then the adjoining hospital where I work.
On Wednesday, we went into Moshi with the college car – actually, we went up to the college at 9am and waited because the car was leaving “soon” and we finally departed at about noon. After reading my story about the daladala, Dad was content to wait a few hours for the LandCruiser rather than try his luck with a minibus. We got dropped off at a craft market near town where I helped Dad buy some things to take home. We then walked the rest of the way into the town center and went into the Western Union to try my luck at getting my money from their coffers… my luck was not with us and there the money remains (more on this in another entry). After lunch at a pizza place, we went shopping for food for the week. Fortunately, when it was time to return home, we got seats on a coaster (30-passenger bus) that was headed towards my site. Though infinitely more comfortable than a daladala, the coaster trip assured me that we would not be taking a dala at any point during my father’s stay.
We spent more time at the college on Thursday. As the students were away, (this will come as a surprise to his other offspring) I had time to help Dad open an email account and send a few emails. We went to the market in the afternoon and then took a taxi (because it was cold and rainy) to Clarissa’s site where we spent the night. The three of us walked back to my site on Friday afternoon, just in time to have a snack and then go to my friend’s hotel for dinner (he had met Dad on Wednesday and invited us upon learning that he was my father). After eating, he started the Tanzanian tradition of offering us drinks until we couldn’t consume any more – Dad managed three Sprites and I four beers before we could leave. Since Dad only had three drinks, the hotel owner insisted on sending us home with a can of something. When we arrived at my house, we went downstairs to visit my neighbor, Mama Mchome, who didn’t get home from her grading work until 11pm. She offered us some soda or tea. We politely declined. She gave us each a bottle of water to take home. It was almost midnight by the time we got home.
The following morning, we got up early to try to catch the coaster into town… minutes before we were ready, the coaster passed by my house and continued on without us. We waited for the second one but discovered that it was full by the time it reached Marangu, so we took a taxi into town instead. (That was exactly the second time I’ve ever ridden in a taxi all the way to Moshi.) We stayed in Moshi for only a few minutes and then boarded a coaster to Arusha. We spent the rest of the day walking around Arusha, finalizing our safari arrangements and bargaining for trinkets for Dad to take home. In the fifteen minutes that Clarissa and I left him alone (while he went back to the hotel, we went to the market), Dad managed to injure himself by cutting the top of his head on the edge of a corrugated steel roof. Fortunately, the damage was nothing a bottle of alcohol hand sanitizer couldn’t take care of.
We got up early the next morning so that Dad could go to a Swahili mass while Clarissa and I finished up preparations for the safari. After a couple of delays, our safari got underway at about 9:30 and we proceeded towards Lake Manyara National Park. It took about three hours for us to get to the park and we had a picnic lunch before we started our first game drive (see pictures). Within the first half hour, we saw a leopard sleeping in a tree, which is very rare (not many cats stay in Manyara and it was one of the first things we encountered). At 5pm, we returned to our campsite for the night. (We camped in tents for the whole safari.) Our cook made a great dinner and we went to bed early. On Monday morning, before heading out to the Serengeti, we saw a group of safari drivers and cooks gathering around a tree near the campsite’s parking lot. When we walked up, we saw a small snake slithering around on the ground near the tree – eventually, we found out that it was a black spitting cobra. Our guide warned the others that baby snakes are more dangerous than adults because they inject a lethal amount of poison, as they can’t control its release. Normally, an adult would release 3cc of poison to paralyze the victim whereas the younger snakes release all of it (up to 30cc) out of fear and ultimately kill the victim from poison alone. Our interest in the subject did not bring us nearer than 20 feet to the snake.
It took us five or six hours to drive out to Serengeti National Park. The road was paved all the way up to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area where it turned to dirt and then got steadily worse. We went on for three hours until we reached the Serengeti and the road improved quite a bit. We had a picnic lunch and then proceeded into the park. We drove for a couple more hours and went directly into a game drive where we spotted a serval (rare, see pictures) heading into tall grass, a sleeping leopard with a dead impala and a lion eating a zebra. We headed to our campsite in the evening as it was starting to get cold and cloudy. Our cook made a delicious dinner and we went to sleep shortly after dark.
We got up early the next day and went on a game drive before breakfast. We saw lots of animals – hippos, giraffes, zebras, elephants, gazelles, buffalo, lions, wildebeest, vultures, birds, baboons and others. I shot a good video of vultures eating a recently killed zebra and another of us in the middle of a herd of wildebeest (see videos). We went back to the campsite for brunch and then headed towards Ngorongoro Crater. “Bad” is an understatement for the road between Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area – the driver explained that they replace the tires on their vehicles once every ten safaris. We reached Ngorongoro in the late afternoon and set up our tents and took showers. It was pretty cold there when we arrived and it got steadily colder through the evening. Our cook made really good soup for dinner and it helped to warm us up. Dad went to bed early and Clarissa and I went to mooch off of another group’s fire – they were sixteen people doing an overland trip though Tanzania and Zambia. We talked with them for a while and finally went to bed at about midnight.
On Wednesday morning, we drove down into Ngorongoro Crater for our final game drive. We added hyenas, foxes and jackals to our list of animals. For the second time on the safari (the first was in Serengeti), we saw hippos out of the water – they don’t come out often because the sun easily burns their skin. As we were preparing to drive out of the crater, our driver spotted something very, very far off in the distance. After a few minutes of explaining where it was, our driver helped us find a black rhino almost a mile away from our car. They’re generally hard to find anyway but it was windy and cold, so it was staying near a forest, far from the safari track. We ascended out of the crater, had lunch at our campsite and then returned to Arusha in time for Dad to catch his flight home.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Step 1 (planned): Have money transferred via Western Union. This was pretty easy - my brother sent the money over when I asked him to and it was "available" here within a few minutes.
Step 2 (unplanned): Learn that some in the travel industry have trouble with email. At this point, the money was available for me to collect in Moshi after which I would deliver it to the travel agent (refer to the simple plan above). I sent an email to the travel agent for a final confirmation of the price - which she did not answer for almost three weeks - and finally, when her answer came, she said that I would have to wait for a new price because British Airways was increasing fares. (This is a situation I already knew about and which I tried to prevent by sending the first email before the fare increase... to no avail.) When confirmation of the fare finally arrived, I made plans to collect the money and proceed with the purchase post haste.
Step 3 (unplanned): Learn that Friday is payday at the Postal Bank that houses the Western Union office. Last Friday morning, I went to Moshi with Clarissa to visit Western Union and take the money to the travel agent. We walked into a cramped room with nearly 50 people inside, filling out forms and collecting money. Most were not Western Union customers so I didn't expect there would be a long wait. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Literally four (four, 4, FOUR!) hours later, I began to recognize some potential flaws in the many yellow and black "Money in Minutes" signs that adorned the office.
Step 4 (unplanned): Learn that the Western Union employee training program does not include the boolean search technique . When I was finally served, in every sense of the word, it came to light that I did not have a money control number by which to find my money. No worries, because I knew the names of the sender/receiver and had identification. I also knew the answer to the secret question. Unfortunately, the computer network was down, so the search for money had to be conducted over the phone. As it turns out, "Murch" is not a Swahili name and the efforts of the people in the office to describe the spelling were laughable at best. Another hour. No money. There was no record of any money transfer so, in short, without the control number, there was no way to get the money. With the sender in Japan, there was no way to get the control number.
Step 5 (not surprising but still, unplanned): Borrow a bunch of money from Mom and Dad. Following a very expensive call home to see if there was any way to get the control number from the sender - there wasn't - my parents offered to loan me the money for the ticket. They sent it and it was to be, again, available in "minutes" because this time I had the control number. I proceeded to Arusha where I would completed steps 2 and 3 of my original plan on the following morning.
Step 6 (unplanned): Learn, only by asking, that the Western Union post office locations are closed on Saturday. 9am, Saturday morning, I waited for the post office to open then followed the cute, little black and white Western Union feet that were affixed to the floor to the head of the line... where I stood for 15 minutes waiting for one of the many employees in the post office to deliver me from my burdensome task. In the end, they did not. Instead, they did nothing except to acknowledge my presence occasionally and answer "no" when I finally asked if Western Union would be opening that day. The answer that I received and the posted schedule did not agree. Beneath flags bearing a myriad of Western Union slogans, I retreated from the post office in search of another Western Union location.
Step 7 (unplanned): Learn yet again, that I am simply unlucky. I found, near the post office, another Western Union that happened to be across the street from the travel agent. What luck. I went in, there was absolutely no line! I proceeded to the counter where, as I was told, for the first time in a year, their Western Union computer was having trouble and they couldn't authorize by phone. Would I wait? Of course - I didn't want to miss my chance to get a cheap fare.
Step 8 (planned): Collect money from Western Union. Two hours later, the transaction went through and I had 30 minutes to simply cross the street.
Step 9 (unplanned): Learn that my travel agent is as well-versed in missionary fares as she is in email. After crossing the street to the agent's Arusha location, I went in and sat down with one of the agents there. After some searching, she located my reservation which turned out to be $400 more than the rate I was quoted. After some checking, we discovered that these fares could only be paid for in Dar. This was not a huge problem, I could pay there and the ticket would be issued later. Finally, I could get rid of this money.
Step 10 (not surprising): Realize that I still suffer from dyslexia. I pulled the exact amount of the second money transfer out of my pocket and proceeded to count. Thereupon, I realized that I had transposed two very important digits when I was on the phone with my mom. I was about $100 short. I walked to my bank, on the other side of town, to draw the remaining amount (more than 1/2 of my monthly living allowance) from my bank account.
Step 11 (planned): Deliver money to travel agent. When I finally returned to the agent's office, they were very close to finishing the process of closing... whether I was coming back or not. I paid the remainder of the balance and got a receipt. Still no ticket because they're only available in Dar.
Step 12 (unplanned): Hope that agent finishes transaction and issues ticket. You might be reading more in my next journal entry about this.