Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Video Game Violence

Meaning to read this... then maybe I'll write something about it, maybe not. Yep, I'm still alive if anybody is reading ;-) Life in Africa is good... no video game violence that I've seen, and plenty of confusion over how the Virginia Tech shootings could have happened - at least for people at work understanding both the size of the campus and U.S. gun laws given their impression of how regular such random acts of violence are is rather hard. Think I've said it before, but it is worth saying again - people here are concerned when relatives are in the States because they think it is dangerous in a similar way to people at home thinking there is nothing but wars on in Africa. Ok, I really gotta sleep now. 'Night.


Monday, July 10, 2006

Sex Tourism

Take a look at this article: http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article1168172.ece

What is described in that article is exactly what happens 5 minutes walk (and closer) from my door.  It is the reason why I don't like spending much time on the beach, and the bane of many volunteers because of the droves of young men looking for a score.  The word used to describe the men here is "bumster", but isn't restricted to only the sex trade.  Bumsters engage in many other activities too, as hinted in the article, such as tourist guides for all sorts of illicit (and not) pleasures.  It is hard to avoid them, and they're incredibly annoying when you aren't interested in what they're offering.  They're also often people who've done better in school, the improved english skills from doing so are a plus on the job.

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

One Year In

So it is hard to believe it but I've now been here a whole year... and new group of trainees is in and Zac and Colleen are busy training them up (corrupting their minds I'm sure - see their blogs).  The traditional dinner out with them will happen tonight, so I'll get a chance to how they're doing and re-remember how completely confused I was and how big everything seemed to me at the time.  At trip from the training center to the beach seemed miles... and now it is a fraction of my daily commute.  And I couldn't figure out why the kids only wanted mints... (the word "minty" here means candy).

I've definitely learned a lot of useful skills, a lot of rather useless ones too in the larger context.  I don't think I'll need to know the proper protocol for paying a man who has just slaughtered a goat in the States, but hey, you never know.  But I certainly am glad to have learned all the electrical stuff, how to ground a house is a fun skill, as well as wiring up solar and running your houses power off car batteries (okay, so that might not exactly be useful in the States).  And certainly learning how to deal with all the new situations and constantly interacting with a different culture shown me some useful things about people and myself.  More than anything else I'm left with massive respect for people who have to move to a new land and start a new home all over again - how difficult for them that must be and how much courage daily life must require even after it has all become routine.  I know I get to leave after 2 years, but if you didn't know that... if you had to start yourself over again with people who don't speak your language, understand your gestures, and respect the way you do things - especially little things like how to get on a bus or buy some fruit... I can now imagine a bit better how difficult that would be.  It's hard even when people are nice (and here they usually are nice), let alone when they aren't.

But now a year is up and I'm realizing I have to start thinking about what will happen one more year down the road, when I need a new job and all of that stuff.  Thinking about how to wrap up projects here so that they hopefully continue okay after I'm gone and maintain contact with friends here.

Invariably, cuz it is me, Role Playing Games, are the answer in my head as to what to do socially.  I'll be trying to get a group started with some people in a few months... see how that goes.  There are a number of people I know here who are into that type of stuff, but modern geek culture is a pretty new thing here, so it is time for me to help it along :-)

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Falling Fruit

It's that time of year again.  There's a crash like a bomb dropping or maybe it's just one of the neighborhood cats in heat... nope, it's a falling mango!  You can tell by the distinctive roll down the tin, followed by a >thunk<.  By and large this is a good thing.  It means at almost any time of day, and especially after rain storms, you can walk outside and grab a grapefruit or mango.  My personal favorite is the grapefruit.  I pretty well mango'd myself out last year.  But the mango still tastes good.  The only down side is the high possibility of being killed by falling fruit every time you walk out the door.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

American 2004 Election Fraud?

Here's the article in Rolling Stone: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/10432334/was_the_2004_election_stolen/1

From article:

''When you look at the numbers, there is a tremendous amount of datathat supports the supposition of election fraud,'' concludes Freeman.''The discrepancies are higher in battleground states, higher wherethere were Republican governors, higher in states with greaterproportions of African-American communities and higher in states wherethere were the most Election Day complaints. All these are strongindicators of fraud -- and yet this supposition has been utterlyignored by the press and, oddly, by the Democratic Party.''

And for all of that it is so apparent to me from here that the U.S. system works better than most... for instance I feel free to type this.  I wonder with Bush's popularity so low right now whether these types of arguments will finally be able to make some headway.

Here's an upcoming book mentioned in the article with more detail that is supposed to come out soon (or maybe already did):

Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count by Freeman

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

The rains have come...

So, the rainy season is now upon us.  The reasons I know this is that:

  • The roof leaks in two places, luckily not above the batteries (zap!).
  • Colleen's back fence blew down (check her blog when she gets around to it).
  • The lock on our door froze up because of the wood expansion, so when I got home me and the neighbors had to break our way into the house. This involved a very heavy steel ladder, and cutting of screen.  Luckily once I took the lock apart I was able to find the problem, it'd been a bit sticky anyway.
  • My counterpart got his car stuck in a muddy puddle on the way to work.
  • Most of the roads have large holes running down the middle of them where streams have formed (you say - I know dirt roads... but in many places the holes form on the sides, here they are in the middle because the drainage isn't setup correctly).
  • Most of all: my umbrella no longer seems like such a silly thing sitting there in the corner.
Side note: I just got a new web browser, flock that makes it pretty easy to blog.  So maybe I'll get better... probably not though.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Where is The Gambia?

Here are a selection of maps showing where The Gambia is.

Where The Gambia is in Africa.

The Gambia

All maps courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin and are in the Public Domain.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Long lost me!

So, I’ve gotten a little bit lax on the blog updates…

What’s been happening here… well, there was the attempted coup, the African Union meeting is coming up, and I’ve been putting in my time as a commuter. Our house has evolved a few “versions” as us geeks like to say, and now we’re at v2.1. Amongst the highlights, we’ve grounded the power (2 independent poles in the ground connected to the mains), installed a generator (3rd tier backup solution), and thrown a party for the most recent group of Volunteers. Next step will be getting better surge protection in place, apparently the Rainy Season (just around the corner) brings in plenty of lightning strikes.

Life here continues to be interesting, busy, and at times frustrating. But on the whole I’m feeling like I’m seeing this place more and more like home. This week I’ll be starting to do advanced computer skill workshops at work, which will hopefully be good, and there’s a new training center for employees coming online that’ll probably keep me busy. This is really great because really the only way to keep things moving here is to develop local skills, and local computer skills are a major need. I know that sounds strange sometimes from America, where most of the news we get about Africa involves starvation, wars, and disease. But many of the systems the world uses to efficiently deal with these problems rely on computers very heavily now, and so it is difficult to find local people to manage these issues if few people have computer skills. More importantly, from what I’ve seen, people with advanced computer and engineering skills are desperately needed to help provide locally appropriate solutions to problems. After being here a year I’m kind of able to see such solutions, but not nearly as well as people who’ve lived here there whole lives.

Month’s big adventure: Fixing the city power connection for our local DVD rental store. Turned out to be a broken part in the mains <-> generator switch.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Developmental Dog Food


So I'm sitting around at my place waiting for the latest batch in what I think is giardia to "pass" and listening to and reading world news. What do I stumble upon? Dog Food for Kenya amongst the many other interesting stories of the day. But this one just strikes me, because the other day I was listening to a BBC correspondent grill a Kenyan MP about why he wasn't interested in receiving this wonderful offer of aid. Her questions were implying, if not exactly stating, things like "how can't you take this wonderful offer of aid when your people are starving?" And he was often reduced to spluttering "but it is DOG FOOD". I mean, I've eaten some Alpo on a dare before, but come on, feeding a country with the stuff? More importantly, as this MP pointed out, it isn't that Kenya doesn't have the food, it is that it needs help buying it from one group of farmers and shipping it to another group who hasn't had good harvests this year for various reasons, including drought. From my experience here and elsewhere I've come to realize how intense the pressure of foreign agencies (developmental and otherwise) like the World Health Organization, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, and the World Food Programme can be, often pushing and pulling in different directions, and backing random individuals, many of whom act a lot more qualified than they are. These organizations put a ton of pressure for their own little projects, to save their own little people, on these governments and usually it is for the right reasons. But since there isn't really any overarching organization it just makes for a schizophrenic mess often enough. Maybe the Millennium Development Goals are changing this, but it is happening slowly, and on the ground not a lot of money is being put into recurrent expenses, often the thing that is hardest for local governments to deal with. Especially when a lot of money is going towards single purchases that then need support to continue but don't necessarily immediately raise government profits from taxes, etc. This is just a guess with Kenya, but I'm betting that they've been strongly encouraged to adopt free market reforms, including removing subsidies to farmers (subsidies the rich world does have). That Kenyan MP was just saying that all that is needed are subsidies to buy and move the food. Yet at the same time Kenya is being blamed for corruption, etc. - well it is corrupt, but that doesn't mean that the corruption is really the problem. Many governments are corrupt and actually work, many are clean and don't work, you can't isolate corruption as the root cause of all. But if it is the case that Kenya has been encouraged to remove protections and subsidies for farmers, then you can say that in some way world development organizations have been involved in creating a situation that they need to support. If they're really serious
about creating a viable free market in Kenya, then it does make more sense to support it by buying up local stocks, which is often what the best organizations, like Oxfam, actually do. But it doesn't make sense to send a dog food derivative, and maybe not any other food, because the food is most likely there already and shipping it in just undermines local markets. A fact about famine that is usually the case, and often overlooked.

One other anecdote about development that I've noticed a lot since coming here. I've been doing a lot of work fulfilling donor agency requirements for reporting education statistics, this being a large use of Information Technology. What I've noticed is how often my work laying down the systems needed to fulfill one donor's requirement has been hurt by another donor coming in and requiring some other piece of information. Since all of these donors are "important" (e.g. they've got money that is needed) there is a tendency to allow them to take priority, even when they shouldn't have priority. I just ran into a quote from a World Bank President, Jim Wolfensohn, in "The End of Poverty" by Jeffrey Sachs. Jim Wolfensohn says:

"I think that we are now in a situation where everybody recognizes that to have countries burdened with innumerable visits from good-hearted people like us and all the bilateral donors, and innumerable reports that they have to complete quarterly and little coordination in terms of some of the mechanics of the implementation, that there is a large pick-up to be had in just coordinating and better implementing what the development community are doing already."

While I've seen many instances of corruption since coming here, I wouldn't say that it has been any larger a headache to me and the people I work with than these constant interruptions. In fact, I'm one of these interruptions, but that is a slightly different topic. My point is, that offers of dog food aren't the best way to go, but when you have to file a quarterly report on whether or not the dog food was received by each child then it stops being stupid, and can start being down right destructive.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Me Reading

Figured I'd throw a picture of myself up here. I know I've got that rather unflattering one up below, but I like this one better. Colleen took it while I was at her place - notice the decorative* socket, there are light sockets & bulbs to go with it.

* Decorative in the sense that she doesn't have power. Used to be power there, but no longer, the town generator kicked.