Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Soweto Impressions, Kliptown Dreams, Beyond Poverty, First Sleepless Night, a Place of God, and Feeding the Village

DISCLAIMER: Upon beginning my written commentary on this blog for the first time, I heavily weighed the meaning, content, and direction this medium of communication ought to take. I realize it is being viewed by, what I hope is, hundreds of people and its material being—because of the nature of the details I have disclosed—judged both for journalistic ability, accuracy, and Western bias. My prerogative for this blog, after careful consideration, is to offer the reader an unbiased, unfiltered, unapologetic view of the thoughts, fears, emotions, and impressions that are formed inside my every fiber during this trip. Please understand that my philosophies are constantly evolving and the multi-dimensional view from my gaze indeed subjective; this blog is not an infallible encyclopedia of facts and figures. Instead, it is a crude documentary of what I’ve done and the way it’s affected me—as seen with my eyes, told in my words, laced with my personal descriptions. I apologize in advance if this blog has, in the past, offended anyone by misrepresenting people or inaccurately reporting facts, but this is not an immaculate authority or news piece; indeed, this collection of work includes opinion and editorializing actively working in tandem with empirical observation, reality, and highest above all, truth. And on a lighter note, as I try to vomit this information out as fast as technically possible, some grammar and spelling mistakes will inevitable accumulate. It should also be noted that very rarely do I proof-read my blog—a consequence of very little computer access, computer charging capabilities, electricity, and a lack of time in general—ultimately resulting in what may be constituted by some as run-on sentences and minor structural mistakes, a problem I leave your common sense to remedy. With that said, your comments, criticisms, and most of all, support—Lysexy, phoenixx, Rana, my parents, KKlingle, Mahoney, SoldaderaSenorita, and the OLPC Corps and Core team—and continued following are not only encouraged, but mandated for this writing to reach its literary potential and these two months to affect us a people.

Kliptown, Day 3, Sunday Afternoon, Calm Before the Storm

I am awoken this morning by the loud, raspy sounding voice of a man a couple yards away preaching to the people in a make-shift church; he sounds more like the Devil than a man of God.

We arrived into Jo’burg Thursday night to a spitting rain, a light wind, and world of difference. We were greeted by Xolani Madondo, who is the brother of Thulani Madondo, the noble young Director of the Kliptown Youth Program (KYP), the NGO we will work with for the next two months. Xolani also brought his friend and a member of the KYP, Daniel, to the airport to meet us, and, after withdrawing RAND (the South African currency), we jumped into a taxi full of men on our way to Kliptown, the oldest district of the Soweto (SOuth WEstern TOwnship) township, a place we, at that point, were not experienced enough to commit to calling home.

Driving through the vast and bustling metropolis that is Jo’burg was in stark contrast to the sleepy and underdeveloped village-town of Kigali. The highway stretched across the city like an overprotective octopus and the sprawling stamps of industrialization imprinted the city like birthmarks, from the giant Coca-cola billboards, to the chains of commercial warehouses and department stores, to the everlasting brand of neo-conservatism that can only be found in the twinkle in Ronald McDonald’s eye. And even out of this uniformity and structure, individual bush fires burned on the hills like fireflies.

Watching first the signs ‘Orlando’, ‘Soweto’, ‘Pimville’, and then ‘Kliptown’ disappear from my periphery and into the onyx night behind me, I found my body, half an hour after getting into that taxi, bouncing up and down as the vehicle tried to dodge pothole after pothole in an area that looked like a man-filled garbage heap. We had arrived. And I was no longer an outsider; this was my home too.

Only a few people were visible: all black, all poor, all walking somewhere with someone, keeping to them selves, not causing trouble. Watching out of the window, I saw a blaze out of the corner of my eye; it was a fire, with people huddled around to catch a heat wave. It is winter in South Africa, and it is cold. People wear warm clothes like winter jackets, wool hats, and mits, most of which are by now won and torn after being donated by American, Canadian, or European NGO’s long ago.

We arrived at the house of our host, Nomsa, shortly after and were pleasantly surprised to find it very large and inviting, a house bigger than Western middle class standards, both in furnishings and property size. We felt safe that night and decided we would indeed inhabit this home for the duration of our stay in South Africa.

Kliptown is a slum. The standard of living of the people is beyond poverty. Visually, looking at the squatter camp from above while crossing a bridge, you see tin shacks—very rarely brick or wood, sometimes adorned with flowers, other times drying clothes—piled one next to each other like a frayed puzzle with reis or large rocks atop the tin roof to keep from blowing away. On the ground and in the community, you walk through narrow passageways filled with rotting food scraps, piles of garbage, and streams of brown water, surrounded by shacks and shacks that extend north, west, east, and south, some covered with cheap aluminum barbed wires, but most adorned with small children playing, crying, running around, washing clothes, pushing a wheel barrow, or kicking around a decrepit soccer ball. The sounds are filled of laughter, shouting, and rarely, car exhaust. The people, although probably not happy to live in such an impoverished state, are a proud and dignified group living day to day in a maze of tin.

Xolani, who likes to go by X, explained to us that Kliptown has no electricity and, for a community of more than 45, 000 people, only has several water pumps and some three or four dozen portable bathrooms, which, according to X, are the only aspect of basic necessity that is ever attended to in Kliptown. Even so, X said, the only change that occurs is the company that administers sanitation in the community, not the service that is provided. The hardworking people of Kliptown live on sometimes only one meal per day, sleep on the floor, and have to support upwards of ten people in an area smaller than an average room by Western standards. The outhouses are changed only every decade, and those who have some expendable income—a small majority of the 40% of people employed in Kliptown—rely on an experienced local electricity thief to dig a hole under ground extending electrical wires from the power transformers to a plug within each ‘home’, and most people buy propane stoves to cook what little food they can afford to buy.

But across the train tracks, conveniently separating the local poor from the shopping and historical center that attracts some thousands of tourists every year, sits a developed slab of land whose yield of profits the people from across the vertical divide will never see. X and other locals congregating around the KYP all tell me how much they resent the erection of the multi-million dollar tourist center, known as Freedom Square, which includes a museum that holds the Freedom Charter, a document signed in 1955 that is integral to the anti-apartheid movement started by the African National Congress (ANC), a shopping district, and a Holiday Inn.

“This is how the government develops Kliptown,” the locals angrily and sarcastically proclaim. And this is also how the people of a poor slum steal electricity from a system which so selectively builds divisions among it’s own people, only a fraction of whom can afford to live on the other side of the tracks in the newly subsidized condominiums because thy have steady employment.

Adults are amazed at the color of my skin; children ecstatically amused.

“Do you know how to wash dishes like she does,” asks one patronizing 17-year-old as he passes me and Sopimwe, a local helping my host mother do dishes, outside this morning.

“Yeah, and I know how to cook, too,” I say in my defense making certain not err on the side of defiance.

“Then show me, prove it,” he continues to mock me as I refuse to appease him and he changes the subject to the local porridge, asking me if I’d ever had it.

Nearer to KYP, another man asks me to take a picture with him because I am a white girl and he wants to hang our picture on the wall.

“Do you have a camera,” I ask, knowing full well the negative answer before the words fly out of my mouth.

“No, we are beyond poverty here,” he says to me, his English not only good but articulate, his demeanor suspicious. He goes on to tell me that this is no environment for children to grow up, that this is not a home. “The man that brought water here, we though he was good,” he says, “until the pipes he installed to irrigate the water and reuse it ended up to be too small.” I want to continue talking to him about how neglected the ghetto is, but Thulani warns him in Zulu that he isn’t to talk to us without first consulting with him; my premonitions were correct. After Thulani leaves, the straggler comes back, this time with questions for me.

“Are you with a left-wing group or affiliated with the government?”

“No,” I say, “I’m just a writer,” as I dart my eyes away from him in hopes of dashing his curiosity. He disappears.

We woke up early Friday morning to go to KYP, our NGO and the afterschool program located in the heart of the Kliptown community, acting as a multi-dimensional lifeline to so many of it’s members. Enclosed in a colorfully painted brick semi-circle, KYP is a large space that is made of three or four concrete and wood structures that are made to act as a dance hall, a formal and informal office, (the latter of which is where the server and main computer are stored) and a storage area where children receive donated clothes every Friday, the casual day when members (as young as three and as old as 20) rehearse both traditional and untraditional dance routines. The nucleus of the space is divided into concrete and earth platforms, consisting of one basketball hoop, two soccer nets, and ample space for horseplay. But it’s as if every other sport ceases to exist in the daily regimen of South African and African youth; basketballs and courts are used for one thing and one thing only: soccer. The KYP field is brimming with soccer balls and future all-star athletes.

When we first walked in Friday morning, there were about a hundred frenzied toddlers running around at the daycare loosely affiliated with KYP on the other side of the fence. Anastasia and I, the other Ukrainian girl on my team, dove into the mass of children as if they were a pool a top which we would float; instead, they were more like venom-less vultures who swarmed us into submission. Captivated as much by our skin as we were by their happiness, the kids, both boys and girls, huddled around us and took us from place to place while Anastasia taught them duck-duck-goose and I showed them a reflection of themselves on my digital camera. The children, even as young as three, were very disciplined and well-behaved, all following directions and listening to their elders, a group predominately made of older women who tirelessly work for free and give their time to raise a conscientious and loved youth. We observed the kindergarteners consume a lunch of porridge and kids of up to 50 take a simultaneous nap on the floor underneath a wool mat before the afternoon sun shone at least 100 bright faces into the KYP gate.

These were the majority of the KYP members, aged 5-18, who chose, because of the consistent sense of community and security, to come back to the project that gives then clothing, a hearty meal of rice and beef (in some cases their only meal of the day) everyday, tutoring in science and math, and an opportunity to excel, to make friendships, and to feel a sense of belonging. As the evening progresses, the children all disperse to partake in their individual activities; some were playing soccer, others talking and laughing, and most others rehearsing their dance sequences, which, to my pleasant surprise, for the older kids, consisted of a choreographed number to a series of house and techno music.

The camaraderie was, for the most part, unrivaled. Absorbing the various goings on occurring around me like a dry sponge in the presence of water, I intuitively noticed a teenager who seemed to be a dance instructor, about 13, whip a younger boy—who was not slapping his rubber boots either hard or fast enough to produce the desired tone for the dance—in the face with a stick. The teenager saw the boy’s face begin to crumble and the tears being to swell in his eyes, but he remained undaunted, unflinching, menacingly stone-cold—until he caught me watching him. He quickly moved to another area of the dance troupe while I made my way to the injured boy whose face was now in his lap, along with a river of tears, on a nearby curb. I put my arm around his and held his cheek to mine as I fought back the waterfall of my own physical emotion and realized yet again how universal and unforgiving pain and suffering really is. As he began to control his sobbing and I my anger for the older boy, we both crutched our selves unto the other. Wiping his tears away with grimy fingers and consequently producing muddy tears that slowly streamed down his face in agony, he looked at me as if to say thank-you, and, after a forcibly contrived hug from me, he got up and left. When I watched his dance number a few minutes afterwards, our eyes remained locked and our bond impenetrable; I haven’t seen him since and don’t exactly remember what he looks like. The incident, although not high in severity and commonplace all over the world, gave me a footing from which to understand that a majority of the crimes in Kliptown, and on this planet, are done to our own people, whether they be black, white, male, female, or simply human.

After each of the age groups and sexes performed their respective dance numbers for us during a welcome ceremony and as the night began to descend on the blue sky and pushed the sun away, Thulani brought out a big bag of white Reebok sneakers that were donated by a member of the Boston Celtics after one his children was brought by Peter Johanssen, a teacher at Meadowbrook elementary school in Boston, to Kliptown as part of a yearly tour. This particular Celtic remains unnamed. In fact, much of the funding that KYP receives comes from private individuals with ties to the Boston area whose hearts have been warmed and uplifted by the miraculous work they see being done at KYP. Aside from the electricity—which has been rerouted illegally to light KYP, surely in an act of God—all the new wood structures, internet connection, and of course, the laptops, have been made possible by philanthropic contribution. As Thulani distributed some dozen sneakers to the most committed members of KYP—soccer leaders, dedicated tutors, dance instructors, and altruistic group leaders—an eager, not envious, crowd of more than 100 happy faces watched and clapped with glee while the campfire smoke—or the energy of the selfless goodwill encircling us—watered our eyes. And after an evening prayer, they all were gone; after all, it is not wise to walk around in Kliptown late at night.

As the children ran around, behind, and in front of us in an effort to scurry home before blackness hit, John, an atheist man and my group member, somehow managed to articulate something we had all felt yet couldn’t verbalize.

“If God’s work is done, it is not in a church,” he said in an uncharacteristically tender tone. “This is a place of God.”

That night, Friday night, a female KYP member, Supimwe, slept with Darion and I in a queen size bed; it would be the first out of two very long weekend nights for me and my team, as, in the celebratory spirit and a communal mindset, we bought enough food to feed at least 15 people, some of whom were adults not belonging to KYP, and overspent our budget. They stayed late into the night and forbade my body and mind to rest. Thulani told us the day before that no KYP child will ever beg for anything from us and that, despite the conditions in which they live, they are, from infancy, taught, if not by their parents, then by Thulani, that dignity is the soul of a people and pride is the vehicle to achieve that underlying principle of man. Perhaps this is why it was so offensive when, after multiple discussions with Nomsa—hereafter referred to as “Momsa” after being cleverly coined as such by John—about sleepless nights and empty wallets, X was embarrassed and offended when she told him, Sunday night, that there was just not enough food for him and his boys, who, mind you, had been chaperoning us around throughout the, thus far, short duration of our stay in Kliptown. Although the situation is now resolved and a rift has not been sown, our relationship with our NGO could have begun to debilitate had issues of food, monetary responsibility, and communal sharing not been discussed at length.

Momsa’s house has no electricity. We sleep on the bed she forfeit to sleep on the floor. We excrete ourselves in the outhouse, light our curiosity—books, movies, baths—by paraffin lamps, and wash ourselves with cold water heated warm on the propane stove, the same way we prepare meals. We pay Momsa’s female friends—older women who have no job, but skills—to handwash our clothes in the hopes that our 100 rand somehow benefit the community in which we live and have come to not only appreciate, but care for and respect.

Speaking to some of the local female members and employees of KYP about the sanitation and living conditions in Kliptown, they told me that despite the ANC government’s ministry of Waste Management sending a waste truck to pick up the tons of garbage dropped off in an allocated area each day, the locals are careless and choose to throw their garbage in any stream, corner, or cranny they can find. The litter is so vast that is certainly translates into perilous health concerns for children and the elderly; some parts of Kliptown literally are, complete with filthy pigs, a human wasteland. Whether or not this local complacency that acts to the detriment of the sanitation in Kliptown is an angry retaliation at a system which has—despite the end of apartheid and the simultaneous election of the ANC to the Presidency in 1994—neglected, stunted, and enslaved a very African people for nearly 350 years since the coming of the Dutch to the Cape of Good Hope in the 1600’s, or simply a tired, lazy routine of a hopeless people, aesthetically, Kliptown is not a pretty place and it is easy to justify racist stereotypes at first glance.

When asked how the 60% of the community that is unemployed find money to buy food, the answers very varying. Some clean houses or wash clothes, others sell traditional jewelry or vegetables in Freedom Square, while still others do not work—simply because they refuse to or because they are tired of looking for work in what is still a very segregated and racist country—and either collect unemployment or continue to have children to so they can receive child support.

Proud and respectful, most of the people who inhabit this dense community are not complaining; rather, after informally talking with then, they admit to having come to accept the neglected state in which Kliptown now finds it self in.

“Nothing ever changes,” says a man whose name I don’t remember. “But we at least expect the area to be electrified.”

Wednesday Morning, Before Day 2 of Teacher Training at Lilydale

Indeed, in Gauteng, the area that encompasses Pretoria, Soweto, (comprised of millions of people in which Kliptown manages to carve a black hole) and the surrounding suburbs, the lights that fill the star-struck sky seem curiously to ignore the 50,000 people Kliptown in it holds.

But X remains optimistic.

“We can’t expect the government (the ANC) to enact change in the 15 years of its history,” X said, perhaps indirectly explaining why South Africans awarded Jacob Zuma, a charismatic, eccentric Zulu the ANC Presidency in large numbers this May. “I still have hope things will change.”

On Saturday we went to a soccer tournament with the Kliptown boys. They won both first and second place and it was a shining moment for the poorest team on the field, the mental recognition far outweighing the material reward—soccer balls, jersey’s, ect.—although pride comes in many forms, especially for males. The boys sang Afrikaans—one of the eleven official languages in South Africa (English, Zulu, and Afrikaans)—and Zulu songs all the way home. When the bus dropped us back off in Kliptown, the team walked a little taller into the KYP—past the mud puddles, (so as not to tarnish their cleats) sitting infants, and barbed wire—as the entire mass of youngsters within KYP took notice and applauded the winners.

Yesterday we had teacher training at Lilydale and today we have the same. Will write more on that tomorrow, as well as give a brief history lesson based on ‘Long Walk to Freedom.’

I have not yet been to Jo’burg, save the taxi ride into Kliptown the day of our arrival, but heading to the soccer game, we passed Pretoria and witnessed the affluence and luxury in which a minority of Africans and the majority of whites live; the social and economic inequality offers a glimpse into 1950’s apartheid whilst simultaneously providing a semblance of opportunity.

Finally, in terms of security, I have never felt safer. I am more at ease here than some parts of Boston. Although trouble can easily be found for those in search of it, we’ve been following the rules and staying home at night. I do not fear when biology strikes and I have to go to the outhouse to relieve myself. The nights are quiet and peaceful, the days bring us warm welcomes from the locals, and the KYP members who act as our chaperones have only our best interests at heart. The community here, as I’ve said, is a dignified and communal place. Unlike other Westerners, or whites, we do not come to praise their toil and trouble before we leave to our plush existence at night. No, we live here—and for that, we are granted security and a reciprocated respect. No longer will I be ‘Sleepless in Soweto.’

Soweto, Soccer, and Dlamini

Children walking arm in arm in Dlamini, a large plot of private property comprised of brick-housing, electricity, and a hopeful future for those who live a 20 minutes walk away in Kliptown, where less than a 1/5 of housing is brick and only a number of residents have a yard big enough to cultivate.
The 2 Kliptown soccer teams that ended up winning both gold and silver in a soccer championship near Pretoria on Saturday. While only a contemplation, it is curious that the poorest bunch is either the most hard-working or diligent of athletes, adolescents; luck had nothing to do with it.
Playing against your neighbor. Number 10, on the right, was the shortest kid to compete in the entire tournament of 50 kids under the age of 13. His ball-handling, speed, and unrivaled might earned him the MVP, a piggyback ride, and a cheering applause from his proud and elated team mates at the awards ceremony following the game.
Jo'burg skyline---a world of difference from the shacks in Kliptown; a contradictory mirror-image of the two Africa's I've seen.


Monday, June 22, 2009

More to Come...

More Kliptown pics--highly indicative of the reality in which I live--and commentary to come tomorrow.

Kliptown #1

Committed KYP members receiving Reebok shoes that were donated from a Boston Celtic.
Xolani, or X, goofing around with a Superman costume that he found in the donation box.
My group members, John and Anastasia, with two KYP members on their laps while watching dance performances the first night of our arrival.
Excited kindergartners the first morning of out arrival.

John walking around the KYP premises the morning of Day 1.

Last of Rwanda

Watching the soccer game at the National Stadium.
Adetola (Nigeria) and I at the Hilltop two nights before the departure of the teams.
Eddy Mintela Winnie and I that same night.

Playing soccer with the locals.

The names of a quarter of a million people, out of a total of a million dead in the genocide, whose skull and bones have been properly identified engraved in a plaque that stretches 20 feet in the Kigali Genocide Museum's garden.

Second Last Batch of Kigali Pics

The staple housing found in Rwanda. Although this may look sub-standard to a Western audience, brick housing is a luxury in poverty-prone areas and are an envious rarity to those who live alongside us in Kliptown in tin shacks and filthy environments.
A fire forever burning in the memory of the million deceased in the 1994 genocide at the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
After a day at some historical museums and the King's huts in Southern Rwanda, we all dunked ourselves in the pool to cool off from the scorching heat and engaged in some fierce chicken fights.
Outside the King's main hut.

Men carrying potatoes on their head. They often travel very long distances and begin this training at an early age. Boys and girls, as young as 4, are made assets of the family at an early age; boys plough land and transport goods while girls cook, and clean, and sometimes produce traditional jewelry for sale.

More Rwandan Pics

View of countryside. Rwanda is a jewel in the heart of Africa known as the land of a thousand hills. It's plush vegetation and heavenly climate make it a tourist favorite and cure even the darkest of psychological blues.
All the OLPC Corps teams at a technical training workshop at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST).
Me and my group members and an OLPC Corps Chicago member on the KIST balcony at lunch. From left to right: Cory, Olesia, John, and Anastasia (being deviant).
Tiffany and Maria from Berkeley University--they are deploying to Uganda (I think).

Coy (from Colorado and deploying in Rwanda) successfully taking apart an XO during yet another a technical workshop.

Select Pictures from Kigali

Above is an image of a home in rural Rwanda from my window.
Traditional Rwandan dancers at the launch of the OLPC Center for Laptops and Learning in Kigali.
More dancers--this time ladies.
The view from my window next to the Hilltop Country Club. A very clean street, much like all others in the capital and the rest of this very proud country. At an unemployment rate of 60%, those who can find employment often work--doing what is much more rigorous than menial labor--cleaning the streets and clearing land ample for agriculture in a country that is still highly agrarian.

Me and my new OLPC Corps friends. Above me is Hassan and Adeola from Nigeria, next to me is a Corps member from Ethiopia or Eritrea, and others are unidentifiable, but only by me.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Me and Kliptown Child-Soweto Day 1

Taken this morning. Second time 'Kigali Kids' soccer video encountered an error. Internet connection here is faster but also unstable and though I highly doubt any video uploads will appear on the blog at all for the entire trip, I will relentlessly continue to try because the content is exceptional. More pictures coming soon. Kids all around, inspiration abound.

Teaching Workshop with Kids, Soccer with Locals, AIDS Tests in Africa, Regional Politics, and Being Called ‘Mazunga’

Writing in the hostel before supper about my day and the things that I’ve forgotten to write since day 1.

Today was productive. We went back to the school we visited on Friday where we taught the teachers how to work the laptops. We arrived at the school early today and had the children’s eyes flock to us at the speed of light. They were excited to see us and greeted us with ‘Good morning, visitors.’ The teacher told us that this was the first time the kids had used their computers in class and that she didn’t want to use the ‘tops until after the end of the lesson.

However, the two hours we were there proved to be effective and the teacher, to her surprise, saw the value of the laptops after we used the wireless-free Wikipedia application, where the students answered how many people reside in Kigali, who the president of Rwanda is, and even how the RPT (Rwandan Patriotic Front) stopped the genocide. As in every classroom setting, (ours was grade 6, although you can tell some of the kids were a lot older because they were either drop-outs or never went to school to begin with) there are slow kids, bright kids, and absolute geniuses. Kigali is no different. We walked into Social Studies class and despite initial obstacles of teaching the children computer skills, we used write to establish what the class knew about city trademarks and the wikipedia maps of Africa and Rwandan facts. By the end of the two hours, it was very rewarding seeing the kids using something so foreign to them and being so interactive with the teacher and eager to learn.

Apart from learning, the kids were mesmerized with my hair and origin. In their absolute glee, they kept calling me ‘mazunga,’ which, from conflicting translations, either means ‘white person’ or ‘rich person’. Either way, in their eyes, and relatively speaking, I was both.

Last week I went with a friend to the Kigali Hospital because she wanted an AIDS test after receiving some devastating news from home.

Continued June 18, 3 PM, from Nairobi Airport waiting for Jo’burg flight.

Although the experience was foreign to me until that moment and continues to be so because I was not the subject, it altered, moved, and surprised me; I got to witness the stigma associated with AIDS in Africa—from a Caucasian perspective. Getting to the hospital was easy; it is located near the US embassy and, like a puzzle piece out of place, despite its relative proximity to other institutional buildings, it is surrounded by concrete homes ranging from humble dwellings with people peeling banana stock, to big, five-room homes that probably house diplomats, to affordable apartment buildings that foreigners—such as the OLPC ‘core’ team—rent out. As soon as we stepped out of the car that took us to the hospital, we were starkly greeted with the shocking vision of people gathered around a woman lying on the floor on her side. Upon closer examination once we approached the entrance that her extended body blocked, we saw she was bleeding from the head, face, legs, and side. The cause was most probably not internal, as I saw cuts on her flesh resembling trauma that could have been a fall. After a few minutes, she was tended to in not a hurry; it was surprising.

Registering with the hospital was not hard, and despite the English barrier, most administrative officials at the hospital did speak in a communicable English tongue. Their records were all digitized, although when we went to pay for $120 USD for the pap smear, HIV test, and Heb B and C blood tests, we could not pay in credit; only cash. Logistically speaking, the waits were hours shorter than in any Western hospital I’ve ever been to and the entire bureaucratic system was very efficient. The hard part was the doctor and the stereotypes we encountered from angry and judging eyes.

To have AIDS in Africa is common. To treat AIDS in Africa with Western medicine is taboo. To be a foreigner getting an AIDS test in Africa—or at least Kigali—was traumatizing.

I followed her into the doctor’s office, an area where patients open the door to see the professional; our stay was interrupted more than once due to this flexible and informal practice, something that made me feel more comfortable than insulted. He spoke good English and his big belly welcomed us into this unknown, foreign sphere that decides the fate of many in a single day.

He made chit-chat, even asked me if I was Polish because after looking at my name, he realized it was similar to one he had seen a few hours earlier, a fellow Slav. Then he asked why my friend was there; at that point the skies shifted and we were treated like prisoners of our own imagination.

“You think you have AIDS,” he asked in an air of disbelief mixed with anger.

“I don’t know, I might,” she said, tears streaming down her face at the realization that she is expressing her deepest fear to a complete stranger. She later told me how offended she felt at the doctor’s demeanor towards her, as if she knew nothing about the epidemic and how dare she, a privileged white girl, think she could possibly have AIDS, a disease that kills so many of his patients each year, and mock the severity of the problem.

He then asked her to un-button her shirt and unzip her pants as his hand moved below her waist in examination for protruding elements under her skin, a move that exacerbated her anxiety.

“Stop crying,” he said, this time a little more sensitive to her genuine fear. “Does your vagina feel different than normal?”

She shook her head.

“Unusual discharge, stomach pains, headache?”

The answer was no, no, and no.

“Why do you want to know now,” he asked, “It is not imperative to find out immediately.”

“But in the West,” I shot back in her powerless defense, “We are told that early diagnosis is key—you should know immediately so you can go on anti-virals and so that you don’t infect anybody else.”

He looked at me as though I knew too much or I was just regurgitating propaganda—I couldn’t tell. “Are you prepared for the result, whether it be yes or no?”

“Yes,” she said after a simultaneously mental and verbal hesitation.

Go to the room down the hall, he directed, and you will get a test. Then go to the lab to get your pap smear.

And so we did.

The HIV test, which signifies a positive with two lines instead of one, consisted of a single prick of the finger. The results, a relieving single vertical line, were instantaneous. My intrusive peak into the strip beside hers proved also to be good news, but with millions of people on the continent infected and infecting their offspring, the sigh of relief was relative.

The pap smear was, surprisingly, a better—and the results equally as pleasing—experience, as two male gynecologists—a daunting reality before the calmness of one of their voice’s penetrated our fears—administered the test in haste, professionalism, and a sophisticated tool.

“I came here completely inexperienced with African men, and I walk away with not one but two, having seen me vagina,” she said in jest. We both laughed the experience away.

Rwandans are very friendly, talkative, and giving people. The sight of foreigners attracts them to act compassionately, either because they are naturally good people with big hearts or because they want to project a united Rwanda, a loving Rwanda, to the rest of the world. In my opinion, it is both. After the workshop with the children on Monday, I rallied troops—the Corps members who came from their school early (my team), the ones who were feeling sick and took the day off, and those who simply didn’t bother with the activity—to play soccer. Where would we play, we asked the receptionist. At the national stadium across the street, she replied. Yes, for free, yes, now. The walk there was hot. Upon arrival, we realized the stadium was being utilized for ‘Armed Forces, Sports, and Culture’ week—yes, we too saw the interdisciplinary nature of each separate department .

There would be a game played there after President Kagame, followed by a government Minister, spoke at length about one people, one country--a united Rwanda that wants regional integration with the rest of Africa. In addition to the numerous genocide memorials across the country and educating youth about the true history of the genocide, the country is actively pursuing reconciliation as a people, both in media, in education, and in the pursuit of justice (thinking of you, Pam). Although only 18 out of 81 people charged as the principal engineers of the genocide have been indicted in Arusha, the Truth Commission—‘Rwanda-Never Again’—and the transparency of the last two decades in the country, at least to me, seem to be the cohesive agents of unity needed to bring about healing and a lasting peace. But by an American NGO Director living in Rwanda, I am told Hutu’s and Tutsi’s still avoid each other and the tensions—this time from the efforts to bring about a systematic obliteration of a people—simmer beneath passionate and vehement speeches of national pride.

After getting a nut seller dressed in drabs to direct us to a vacant field and buying his good as a show of gratitude, we approached a group of 30 locals playing soccer with a decent ball that could use pumping. Whether it was the buoyancy of our newly purchased soccer ball (thanks Eli!) or the fact that we were courageous enough to find the hidden field solely for the love of the game that charmed the locals into letting us play, play we did. For three hours.

Impressed with the skill, health, athletic ability and warmth of the men and dripping in sweat and covered in red earth, we retreated back to the stadium to watch Uganda play against Rwanda, where I watched a young boy who was intrigued by me pick his bare foot with a safety pin. Although he was probably a well-behaved orphan who never stole and who was probably not a foot soldier for an orphan-keeper who, in many developing countries uses the innocence of children to distract foreigners and steal from them, I am shamed to admit that I kept checking my camera to be where I left it.

On Tuesday, we had another tech session at KIST, where we discussed access points (A.K.A. routers or linksys) and mesh network (the network that connects five XO’s without a server or access points) capabilities. But before that, we were told by one of the OLPC core members that after visiting some blogs and overhearing team discussions, he wanted to dispel rumors that the OLPC Corps are salesmen and ‘guinea pigs.’ Instead, he reassured, we were chosen because we are a talented and conscientious group of students who are here to network and help children who don’t have access to technology.

“You also aren’t here to sell these laptops to governments, although government participation is key for the sustainability of your individual projects,” he continued.

“But isn’t that exactly what Negroponte said we are here to do,” asked Ian, an evolutionary biologist by philosophy going to Uganda to work alongside his mother, the Director of an NGO.

“Well, yes, I guess,” the core member replied, a little flushed and speechless. “But that’s not the case.”

As you can imagine, we moved faster than lightning from that topic and onto OLPC News, the independent watchdog of the OLPC organization. We were told that we might be interested in posting our summer experiences—critical or not—on the official OLPC page so that our words are not ‘manipulated’ on the omnipresent world-wide-web.

“But we are still encouraged to post—uncensored—on our blogs, right,” I shouted from the audience. Of course, I was told.

Random facts: The clubs in Kigali are few, but the music seductively addictive, the locals beautiful and warm. I am repeatedly told (Skiiills) the best music and nightlife is in Nigeria, and I learn to believe it. Rwandan tea is heavenly. A mixture of whole cream and the local herbs, it is a light and comforting way to begin your day. There are no McDonalds’ in Rwanda; capitalism’s best trick has proved literally invisible in the heart of Africa. One of the Ghanaian team members arranged for a church service at our hostel after trying to convince, or fundamentally-indoctrinate in John’s words, John that there is a God, and his name is Jesus Christ.

One of the most special people I met in Kigali—all of whom it was emotional to leave this morning and last night—is Eddy Mintela, a bright Congolese man whose grandfather was President of then-Zaire and who wishes to follow in his footsteps to be a leader for the people. My hopeful instinct tells me that in 20 years, he will be the Democratic Republic of Congo’s head of state and in 40 years a living legend. Although never finished, we began a fascinating conversation about the history of the one of the most volatile and war-torn states on the continent, after which I learned of the C.I.A. inextricable link to the instability of the country and the region. By replacing one bad dictator (NAME) with a democratically-elected and charismatic (NAME) Kabila, who years after the coup turned into a shadow of his former self because of his nationalistic tendencies, the CIA was instrumental in leaving Kabila no choice but to give ‘a call to arms’ to the Congolese people in order to fend off troops from neighboring Uganda and Rwanda, who wanted to depose Kabila after he had them thrown from his country following his inauguration because he accused them of pillaging the country. As a result, thousands of children were trained as killers and whose bodies are today either scattered around rural Congo or drifting aimlessly in search of food and shelter, forever changed. Eddy’s groups XO project is aimed at improving the mental health of these children and turning them into future leaders. This is the same man who taught himself English and won the national essay competition on development; the same man who, despite his brilliance, cannot attend post secondary in the US or Canada because he the African educational system from which he graduated is so unaligned to Western standards that there is no possibility of a transfer of credits of course equivalency.

We have about one hour until we arrive in Jo’burg and the tangerine sunset out of my cabin window has just elicited a split-second lag in the response, “that’s beautiful.” My computer battery is at 16% and I don’t know when I’ll have internet connection to post. A few things that have went wrong in regards to our deployment: the teachers in Kliptown, or maybe Soweto as a whole, are on strike. We have had no formal communication with the school since three weeks ago and the instability of the consistency of life—and education—in Africa may jeopardize our plans, but only momentarily. More of a pressing concern at this point is the lack of accommodation for the rest of the trip in Soweto, including tonight. After offering us lodging at a local woman’s house, the Director of our NGO has abruptly pulled that invitation and instead suggested we stay at a hostel nearby. We will most likely surely rent a car tomorrow morning and look for apartments before spending the rest of our weekend talking deployment, making lesson plans, and hopefully visiting beasts at the renowned Kruger National Park, where two of my team-mates, Anastasia and John, plan to have a ceremonial wedding.

Coming to this unknown continent has enriched my mind and ignited my senses. This is a continent rich in history, littered with death heroes and stories on imperial conquest. It is a continent marred with prejudice yet cleansed with the resiliency and self-sustenance of the people. This is Africa.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rwandan Genocide, Happy Boy with One Arm, Taxi Kidnappings, and Meeting the Head of State—A Week In the Life

Written Sunday night

I’m going to try and sum up what has been happening since I arrived in Kigali. Side note-watching a riveting documentary right now on Burkina Faso at my new hostel, the Hilltop country club. As I type, everyone else is watching the Confed Cup, drinking beers.

So I arrived in Kigali exactly one week ago today. We arrived at dusk, but even then the hills, valleys, and mountains of this breathtakingly beautiful country were evident thanks to the lights that illuminated their peaks. I smell diesel and campfire, where locals burn charcoal to cook peeled corn and banana, a fruit Kigali’s eat more like a vegetable staple. But we (at the hostels) get beef.

As I type, the internet connection is very shoddy and I have difficulty accessing Gmail and YouTube; also had to hang up on a Skype conversation with my dad because of the instability of the wireless. This is to say that I am aware the video tease of the youths playing soccer was nothing more. Indeed, after over an hour and a half of waiting for the clip to download, the page froze. Trying to re-scale the image in Final Cut to a smaller resolution was also fruitless. It is a pity I cannot—yet—share the beauty of the OLPC project, the country, and the youth with you.

Other memorable aspects of the first night is the abundance of motos, or cheap dirt bikes that act as registered taxis and zip around the city with local human cargo, and as of late, many of the OLPC corps members. The price of the motos is 400 Franks instead of about 1,500 for a regular taxi, one of which had a driver that locked the doors to our taxi and began to drive off after we refused to give him the absurb 3,000 Franks he incoherently demanded. Luckily, my male group member John opened his door before the driver locked ours and we were able to leave the car in one piece. That happened 2 days ago. Excuse the lack of fluidity in this blog, as I’m trying to recall the events of the last 7 days from a discombobulated set of memories in my mind.

My room was comprised of a bed, a desk, and a bathroom. The bathroom has a regular toilet and an enclosed area comprised of a ridge to prevent water from spilling out on the floor from the showerhead, which only works when it wants.

For me, Sunday night ends around 12 30 AM when the dogs, wolves, or coyotes bark at the full moon and Monday morning begins around 3 AM when the rooster begins his relentless cock-a-doodle-doo.

Monday through Friday went by fast, as we were so busy working at the Kigali Institute for Science and Technology (KIST) on configuring our servers, taking apart our XO’s, getting to know each other, and eating up the words of Nicolas Negroponte, the CEO of OLPC who spoke during the gala events with government officials commemorating the Rwandan government for their multi-million dollar commitment to laptops. Since 2005, the Rwandan government has purchased millions of laptops and hope, by 2020, to achieve literally one laptop per child in the country, a strategic move aimed at jump-starting the Rwandan economy by making it IT, intelligence, and knowledge-centric and by investing in the densest human capital of the country: the children, a demographic that makes up an astonishing 66% of the country, that figure partly being aided by the thousands of orphaned children left behind after genocide. The events of were meant to celebrate the opening of the tentatively-named ‘Center for Laptops and Learning’ at the KIST and the continuation of OLPC in Rwanda.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame was there. I met him. He’s an articulate, serious, warm, and sophisticated man who was the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front that fought the Rwandan military death squad during the civil warm in 1990-1994 before the April genocide.

After the event, we watched a traditional dance and some of use spoke candidly and under the influence about the ‘constructivist’ OLPC philosophy that Negroponte so fervently preached: give each child a laptop so they can teach themselves how to learn, revolutionize the way learning is taught. Although we know we are lucky to be given such a tremendous opportunity, we also realize that we are a trial, a group of guinea pigs, the workers who teach after Negroponte preaches that education in Africa—and the rest of the developing world—is fundamentally flawed. Despite the colonial parallel, this program is miraculous. Free laptops to children in rural areas and a focus on acquiring internet allows means that students work with local NGO’s to establish electricity and internet connectivity in these areas, as well as work on basic needs such as plumbing and irrigation. In some small and are developing Africa.

A few days ago I went with other students to a school here in Africa that has had laptops for a year but has had little success in integrating them into the school system. We went as a trial run for our individual country deployments and also to re-train the teachers with the laptops so they can use them in class. This is challenging and rewarding. Upon arrival, I noticed the blackboards were full of English-language lessons, from how to be a disciplined brother or sister to how to protect the environment, to paying taxes as a good citizen. The schools introduced English only last year from the Ikinirwandan ethnic tongue (the only in the country—a lonely statistic in the rest of the continent) and French, which the teachers speak fluently (Belgium colonized the country after Germany until independence in 1961) but the children do not. We had to speak very slowly.

After the workshop, where I taught the teachers, aged 22-46, how to use the mesh network, record and video functions, and chat, I couldn’t resist playing ball with the kids outside, who were so sweet and welcoming, despite our conversation being lost in translation. That is the video I am still trying to upload. One of the children wh was running around with a smile from ear to ear had no arm. I didn’t ask. Another local passing by on his bike with donuts spoke to me in broken English. He had to peddle 5 more hours to his destination. These people are so resilient.

Yesterday we went to a few museums, the exiled King’s hut, and to a restaurant where we ate traditional food and played chicken fights in the swimming pool after a Ghanaian was the first to jump in. It was a lot of fun. During the drive, we got to see rural Rwanda, a country with a 60% unemployment rate, more people on the street than in cars, women carrying products on their heads, and very traditional clothes still adorning people who are most likely very poor. Aesthetically, the country is marvelous and plush, the people warm and welcoming.

Today was the genocide museum in Kigali and a ride by Hotel Rwanda, which is the hotel that the Hollywood blockbuster was made in honor of, but doesn’t actually go by that name. The museum experience was so evocative. Commemorating the one million Tutsi Rwandans and moderate Hutu’s who were slashed, murdered, raped, and piled atop each other in ditches and mass graves like in Nazi Germany, the museum sits atop graves of a quarter million of those people, surrounded by a garden so beautiful and vivacious that it’s hard to imagine how many skulls lie beneath.

There was a childrens room that had about 60 case studies of infants and children who were killed during the genocide. That, along with the bones room, was one of the most difficult parts of the museum tour because it had the child’s favorite food, most prominent characteristic, age, and cause of death, which acted as a gruesome juxtaposition to the sweet facts.

The rest of the museum was broken up into subsections of the history of Rwanda, how the Belgians separated the Tuti and Hutu and created the legacy of hate, segregation, and ethnic tensions in the country beginning in the 1920’s. Many of the other examples we saw of genocide in that museum (such as the Germans in the last part of the 19th century in Namibia) were also a consequence of ‘the white man.’ The most frustrating part was obviously the West’s complicity with evil: the Rwandan genocide. France’s involvement of supplying arms and training to the radical Rwandan militias was also appalling. But most of all, the blatant ignorance of a chilling warning cable sent to the UN by Canada’s UN armed forces General Romeo Dellaire with knowledge of the genocide thanks to an informant days before the atrocities is most despicable. He deserves a Nobel Peace Prize of his compassion for humanity and the psychological torment he now suffers because of his 'responsibility to protect'. Seeing a memorandum of the Cambodian, Yugoslav, and as recently as Rwandan genocides was evidence to the fact that all people came behave like animals, and even worse; what kind of animal species tries to obliterate their own race? It is also depressing that despite all the ‘Never Agains’ uttered by Kofi Annan and Madeline Albright, a genocide is happening right now in Darfur, with only recently the name of the Sudanese President being cited for crimes of genocide. Until very recently, Sudan continued to hold a deceptive and offensive seat in the UN.

Moments of goodness came with moderate Hutu’s who sheltered as many as 100 Tutsis from slaughter and the brave and resilient Paul Kagame.

It is now Monday morning. Half of the Africans on the corps team have malaria and combat fever and chills for days on end.

The group of students from all over the world—Quebec, US, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Namibia, Tanzania, Senegal, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Europe, Madagascar—is phenomenal and the people I've met along the way, Rwandan and other--you know who you are--are remarkable and have left an everlasting tattoo on my persona. Thank-you. This is just the beginning.

Today I go to teach the kids. Will write more tomorrow.



Friday, June 12, 2009

What to Expect when You're Expecting (a Blog Post)

Happy Friday.

Just cracked the first Primus Rwandan beer in the last few days. Ahhh.


I don't get internet connection at my hostel. I only have internet for a half hour in the morning (when we get breakfast at the other hostel where there is wireless internet, which, aside from being very slow, has only two working power strips) and at supper time. So even if you get to be one of the lucky two to use, the connection speed is caterpillar-like and uploading pictures and video is nearly impossible. With that said, I have collected a lot of amazing videos and pics that I'd obviously love to share BEFORE I get back to Boston, lol. 

With that said, this is what you should expect in the next few weeks: written post everyday (written on word without internet connection and then pasted into blog once we get wireless), and hopefully, maybe, probably, pictures every week. Once we get to Soweto, the internet situation should be better, the security situation worse; good substitute, right? So, at the end of my deployment, or when I have 67 hours of energy to spare uploading all of the best pics and video I've taken (I have a FliP camera that saves in .mp4 instead of .avi so must find converter first), you will visually witness the beauty, diversity, and reality that is Kigali and South Africa.

I also have a YouTube account now (TheOle1984), where you can find all my video. In order to try to please the consumer, I picked the most recent and most emotive video to publish first (but hopefully not last). This is a short video of eight 6-11 year old boys that were playing soccer with a ball made of spun together plastic bags in an extremely uneven and potholed compact earth outside of a school in Kigali, Rwanda. And they were happy. Very few of them spoke English, and the ones that did were shy. Yet, despite that fact, I was able to have the boys choose captains and then teams, after which we played ball. One of the boys--the one who spoke English the best--managed to be outstanding in a phenomenal group of soccer talent. 

They were even sweeter and more content than I had imagined upon approaching them, officially making my trip thus far. That was my favorite part of the day, the rest of which was spent teaching teachers how to use the XO, a machine they've had access to for a year but have not used because of the difficulty of integrating the laptops into their lesson plan and a bad experience with porn-surfing while connected to the internet at the nearby Kigali International Airport. Hence, the laptops have been essentially under-utilized and ignored.

More on that later. This 45 second clip takes 1 hour and 45 minutes to download. 12 minutes left!


Because this is taking so long, it may be the only sampling ya'll will get, other than my words, so enjoy this. I will paste in exactly one hour and 12 minutes unless the file is not compatible with YouTube, at which point I will erupt.


This is Africa (T.I.A.)

Written Thurs, June 11, 8 AM—On bus full of OLPC group members heading to the KIST (Kigali Institute of Science and Technology) for another IT seminar. Driving through the heart (but not the downtown) of this unbelievable city with a dark and unassuming history. 

I’m alive and well. Thanks for everyone’s patience and support. It’s been a long few days here in Kigali with, ironically, very little Internet access. I want to thank everyone who has held me in their prayers over the last few very difficult days—both in regards to Africa and in regards to Edmonton. We can only do this as a family, together, with justice, love—and forgiveness. From now on, though, I will not mention anything about the incident, other than to say that I am deeply heartbroken and amiss. This has changed me forever but the value of life has not only been preserved, it has been strengthened. Please smile a little longer today.

 Africa. Kigali. Rwanda. Beauty. Despair. Compassion. Change. Development. These are all simultaneously occurring realities in this country. But before that, let’s talk logistics.

 The 15-hour flight from Boston to Jo’burg was turbulent. I fear flying, although at this point I don’t know exactly how much I fear. It was a long flight, throughout the night, with decent food but little shut-eye. There were many interesting people on the flight: some Americans who were on a medical mission going to Durban, others who were Caucasian South Africans going back to SA, and other Indian SA citizens (when the Brits colonized India, they sent laborers to SA, their other lucrative colony. As a result, Indians are a significant minority in South Africa and have mated with both whites and blacks to create a sort of mestizo race of people living in the country, wealthier and usually higher in rank than the majority of SA-in blacks.) Others on board were there either to watch or play in what is most likely a preliminary round of matches for the SA 2010 World Cup, known as the Confederation Cup. It’s held in Jo’burg and surrounding area from June 14-24. There are some all-star players arriving for the matches, and I’ll be sure to take pics when I watch a match in the coming week. I leave here on the 18th and my deployment begins the day after for two months in Soweto.

We landed in Jo’burg right on time. Initial aerial view of the city was reminiscent of Edmonton: hills, flatlands, agricultural land. Once in the Jo’burg airport, we got our first taste of SA. The airport is so beautiful—very vast and modern. Maegan, you will appreciate the aesthetic simplicity and conservation of the design of the air conditioners: they protruded from the pillars in the airport like bubbles. I don’t have a picture, though. Sorry love.

 We arrived at the Jo’burg airport on the 6th, and, my, oh my, what a luxurious place. We were going to stay at the InterContinental (practically physically attached to the airport) but it was close to 3,000 Rand (SA currency, approx. 8:1 Rand to American conversion) per night for one room, to be shared among my two group members, the couple John and Anastasia. We instead took a shuttle to the Sun Sunrise hotel that was equally prestigious (far from searching for luxury, we were very tired and didn’t want to travel far—esp. not into the crime-ridden city center—because we had a flight to catch to Kigali through Nairobi the next afternoon). Needless to say, the shower was nice, the bed plush, and the food plentiful and Western. Initial reactions of SA-ans is warm, yet we were there for such a short time I cannot truly say. The airport had a Muslim prayer room in it and people seemed to look less exhausted than Americans. God knows what many of the have been through, though. I want to move ahead in the blog so very badly but there is so much to say that I will keep it in order…and speed it up.

 I read the English-language newspaper at breakfast and the Confed Cup was all over the news; Also news of ANC rivalry with another political party or a branch of the bureaucracy. The newspaper is wider than Western papers. I miss the newspaper—both in anticipation of it’s possible demise and the literal lack of having read anything recent in the last little while, other than Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom,’ which is a fascinating and simple read.

The flight was from Jo’burg to Nairobi was very smooth and we were fed multiple times as well as offered unlimited alcohol, something in which I did not indulge—until Nairobi, where I tasted my first African style lager; T’was nice.

I am continuing to write now but I want to get something up on the blog so stay tuned.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Last American Post


My parents are back from Australia today; SO good to see them. My wisdom teeth--or the gap where they used to exist, shall I say--don't hurt that bad anymore. Pam got me 'Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent' by Eduardo Galeano today. She said it was good despite his being a liberal. Oh, commies, how I love thee. Things coming together. Some checklist items I thought I'd share.

Polio shot? Check
Yellow Fever for Rwanda shot? Check
Hep A shot? Check
Meningitis shot? Check
Typhoid shot? Check
One more I don't remember? Check

Oxycodone oral ingestibles for pain? Check
Extra Strength Tylenol? Check
Malaria, Amodium, and Cypro orals? Check

Not one but TWO cans of pepper spray? CH-check

Head on straight? Check check check.

And now....why I wanted to be a part of OLPC:

This opportunity spoke to me like writing on the wall.
To be an agent of change within myself and others around me seemed too good to be true. To get a stipend while doing it was even better. To go to a continent plagued with history and scars seemed like a test--a test of time, character, and strength. I think we all wanted to feel a little more alive. For me, personally, I am going to learn so much when I go there, that to sit here and write some pseudo intellectual reflective piece on why I wanted to be a part of the project would be pure lies and ego. So there. I am excited. I am eager. I am inexperienced--in technology, rigorous travel in a developing continent, and in the art of teaching. But I am a survivor and I know how to listen. I am going to give myself and my mind wholly to this project and those kids, and I am going to be a changed person because of it. Anything that allows me this opportunity to step outside of my skin in this way must be grasped, held, embraced, and analyzed. For this I am grateful to everyone responsible for the OLPC mission.

Some very memorable quotes from some very special people in my life about this trip:

"Nicolas Negroponte has brought the price of computers and education down so much--that enough warrants him the Nobel Prize, in my opinion." Larry Webber on Nic Negroponte.

"What, do you want to live your life in a closet forever and just do the motions? So do it--you'll be joined by a million other people who are waiting to die." Nancy on being afraid of SA.

"Pepper spray? You need an AK." A drunk friend.

"When I first heard about this trip I was terrified, but the more I think about it, the more proud of you I am." My brother.

Going to bed. Will make next post in Kigali, in about 3 days, after about 40 hours of flight and in-airport sleep.

1 day until the beginning of an unforgettable summer.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wow. So Soon.

                      3       days.


                                     two plus 

Ps. That's supposed to be a visual three. Got two wisdom teeth pulled today. Must sleep. Tomorrow's post will focus on why I decided to invest in this project and what drew me to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to its mission.

These Questions Should Have Been Asked Long Ago--Welcome to the Life of an OLPC Non-Techie!

--first of all, what is the mesh network? that allows all the XO users to have access to information on each and every computer, right?
-second, since the XO has no hard drive, the storage capacity is on the SERVER  (which is the large server with 1GhZ processor, right?) and 1 gig USB's, although we won't be purchasing those for each student because we have the server. how many gigs can the server store? 
-moreover, for fully simultaneous info sharing between 100 computers, we are told to get 2 access points (AP's) and one server, meaning the mesh can handle 30 XO's, the AP's can handle another 30 each, and the server can only handle 10? is this right?
-also, our NGO already has a server from previous deployments, and because of this, they already have 300 XO's, meaning another server (for more storage capacity) would be nice. can we still take the server that is going to be allotted to our team in Kigali knowing there is already one at the NGO?
-these access points--should we purchase them in the US? what are the costs, what do they look like, what properties should they have, ect?
-some more stupid questions: what does the generator do? it charges the laptops, right? how much petrol do we need for 2 months of charging? do the chargers work in SA? if not, where could we purchase *converters* and how costly would these be, and do we need EU or US or African ones? are these converters the same as the plug in/outlet adapters, or are they entirely different? if so, what are those?
-also, where can we purchase power adapters and power strips, and how many of each do we need? these are for charging mass amounts of laptops at one time, right?
-our NGO already has internet...this means they have the vsat modem, too, and we don't need to purchase it, right?
-it is up to us to buy solar batteries, right? how much are they and where can they be purchased?
-last but not least, where do we purchase the 2 network cards for the server?

Monday, June 1, 2009