Thursday, February 21, 2008

Worst Conclusion Ever

So far I've failed to mention that I've returned from The Gambia and have been in the States for about 5 days now. Right now it just feels extremely surreal to be here and not there. I'm still kind of going over the experience in my head and thinking "what was that?" Sometime when I get the itch I will write a more fitting conclusion and try to put some time into something meaningful, but here's the truth: this blog doesn't capture even 1% of my experiences, challenges, rewards, high points, low points, successes, failures, joys, sorrows, new normalities, and absurdities. More later.

Note: I realize the post before this has disappeared. I'll try to get it back up.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Research Projects

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mo Fiya (More Fire)!

My prophecies from my last post have already begun manifesting themselves. Today the computer lab was about 75 yards from burning down. The students have been discontent with school policies, especially about being required to go to night class, so they have turned to arson. Our school grounds have been the victim of five arson incidents in the past two weeks and two of those incidents have occurred within the past 12 hours. All of the incidents occurred during night classes except for the one today. None of the fires have posed any threat to any buildings until today because our school property contains several acres of land - most of the fires were started 200-300 yards away from any buildings. The incidents usually achieve the interruption of classes and students congregating a safe distance from the flames screaming "mo fiya! mo fiya (more fire)!" If the arsonist's goal was to generate international media attention, I suppose I helped him/her succeed - although they'll never know that because my students don't know about this blog.

Take note the side of the firetruck says "Avon County" - no, there's no Avon County in Africa that I'm aware of - possibly Avon, CO?? But is that in Avon County?

I'm surprised this picture turned out at all because I was shaking with uncontrollabe laughter. This fireman is running from bees. Several of them were running from bees - dressed in full fireman attire. The tree that caught on fire was the home to hundreds of them. They were extremely pissed off. I couldn't stop laughing until they came after me, but I ran away zig zagging and juking like Barry Sanders and shook them off - on second thought I think you're supposed to run away zig zagging from either bears or crocodiles. Afterwards I felt kinda bad because a couple of the firemen were laying in the grass in agony because they were stung a few times. The lab is actually on lockdown right now because the bees have advanced their assault to the classrooms.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Visions of Upcountry IT Apocalyptic Mayhem

If I ever wrote a book about my experiences with IT here (which I won’t), I think I would title it Memoirs and Visions of Upcountry IT Apocalyptic Mayhem.

As the time for me to leave here draws nigh, I’m starting to imagine a horrible future for IT in Basse. In my nightmarish visions I see power supplies and monitors exploding every which way. I see Phillips-head screwdrivers jabbing violently into motherboards. I see one of my counterparts with the most sinister laughter, arms spread out at his sides – a box of matches in one hand and WD40 in the other hand - standing over a computer case that’s sparking and pulsating with plumes of fire. I see my other counterpart laughing like a hyena and scuffing his shoes on the carpet to build static electricity and then handling sticks of RAM. I also see the Brontok virus (a ridiculously annoying and widespread computer virus here - non-sexually transmitted through flash drives) mutating and going airborne and people uncontrollably defecating executable files disguised as folders (that’s what the virus does). I see infected zombie children tearing out all of the cat5 cable and then using it as jump ropes and donkey whips. I also see our school’s data entry clerks gathering all of the town’s keyboards and setting them below the only 3 story building in Basse, dousing them with gasoline, and then I see them carrying the Education Office’s $5000 heavy duty copy machine to the top of that 3 story building, setting it on fire, and then pushing it off of the building onto the keyboards. Just for good measure, the Four Horsemen will stop by and club people in the faces with swinging mice. When all is destroyed and the dust has settled, Basse will appear to have been bombed by

Just because I'm a Peace Corps volunteer I think I'm required to actually say I'm joking. The Thought Police are always reading these. There are actually people employed in Washington to read and monitor Peace Corps blogs and correct them if they see fit. It's probably for the best I suppose. I know some pretty deranged volunteers posting out there.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Life of Mammals

Lately I’ve been feeling a bit guilty about playing animal documentaries for my neighbors. The past week or so I’ve been playing a David Attenborough series called The Life of Mammals. Initially I thought “Yeah, this will be a good one to show them. None of that Hollywood crap. Educational…animals…David Attenborough at 70+ years old climbing trees and snorkling, yes, yes, yes.” I didn’t take into account that I might be destabilizing much of what they know and understand about the earth and the life inhabiting this planet. Everyone (especially the kids) was really excited to see all the animals, but for each animal the children would naturally ask their father what the animal was. He confidently told them the sloth was a monkey, the echidna and pica were rats, etc. By the time the duck-billed platypus came swimming around, it was obvious his confidence had been shaken.

When I play Hollywood films the people here just chalk it off as “Ohh look at what those crazy white people and Chinamen gone up and done again. That’s amazing. Boom! Kill those bad guys! Karate chop his face! Those people have enough money.” When it comes to the natural world I think a lot of the people here think they already know basically all there is to know because some of them spend almost every day out in the wilderness farming, collecting firewood, or maybe some will travel to see relatives or buy goods.

By the end of a few episodes the look on my neighbor’s face seemed to say “Maybe I really don’t know that much at all and I will probably never see any of these other places in the world.” Which is unfortunately for him true. 99% of the people here live in a world of about 50 square kilometres. In this country that is half the size of Vermont some might move as far as the coast. As far as other countries go some might travel to Senegal. .001% will walk on another continent and that’s the dream for 90% of the population.

In a similar incident I was at the neighborhood bar the other night, and the people there were watching an American show titled something like Daddy’s Spoiled Little Girl on satellite TV. It’s one of the only American TV shows I’ve seen on that channel. In this show the girl’s father took her to a car dealership and she was pissed off because her father wanted to buy her a silver $60,000 Mercedes sedan, and she already had a black $60,000 Mercedes sedan. She actually had her personal attorney come to the car dealership to argue her case. So he could keep his job, the attorney pleaded that she was promised the other car a few weeks ago. He lost, but maybe he kept his job. Later they went to check out a $1 million house for her, but she thought it was absolutely disgusting. The next morning this girl woke up at noon and started drinking in bed, and then three $1000 dresses came that she had delivered. Two of them were gross, but she picked out one for the day. Then her father called from the car dealership saying he had purchased the other car. She went to the dealership where her father was waiting, and then took the car without saying a word. People in other countries are watching this show that can't even afford a new donkey, goat, or chicken.

Be proud America. That is how people in other countries view you because you produce, watch, and support television shows like that every week. Did I mention the show was being broadcast on Arabic satellite television? I can’t seem to think why anyone would dislike us. Next time you're channel surfing try watching those ridiculous shows through the eyes of Third World farmers and goat herders!

Monday, December 31, 2007

Wet and Wild

Looky here! I've been working on a lesson plan to show students how dangerous drinking open-well water can be, and I was able to borrow a Dino Lite digital microscope, and this is what I was able to find in the open-well in my compound! I really had no idea what it was, but according to one of the Peace Corps doctors it is probably aedes aegypti mosquito larvae; which grows up to become the mosquito that transmits dengue fever, yellow fever, chikungunya, and others. It's probably not too harmful to drink, but it was enough for some of my students to vow to never drink open-well water without boiling it first. I shall continue to hunt for nastier and more malicious critters lurking beneath the water in my well.

The night sky was incredibly bright and celestial last night. If you live somewhere where you can see the sky or if you're planning on camping or traveling or going for a drive, I highly recommend downloading Stellarium from . It's planetarium software. You can simply put the time, date, and location in, and then it will show you the sky, stars, star clusters, constellations, constellation art, planets, etc. You can move forward and back in time and the sky will change accordingly, and you can also zoom in on clusters and planets. It's almost like Google Universe. Check it out.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Six to Eight Black Men

I just thought I should share this timely excerpt from an exceedingly hilarious and sidesplitting book I'm reading by David Sedaris (NPR, This American Life) called Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim:

While eight flying reindeer are a hard pill to swallow, our Christmas story remains relatively dull. Santa lives with his wife in a remote polar village and spends one night a year traveling around the world. If you're bad, he leaves you coal. If you're good and live in America, he'll give you just about anything you want. We tell our children to be good and send them off to bed, where they lie awake, anticipating their great bounty. A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, "Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before going to bed. The former bishop of Turkey will be coming tonight along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you into a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don't know for sure, but we want you to be prepared."

This is the reward for living in the Netherlands. As a child you get to hear this story, and as an adult you get to turn around and repeat it. As an added bonus, the government has thrown in legalized drugs and prostitution - so what's not to love about being Dutch?

Oscar finished his story just as we arrived at the station. He was an amiable guy - very good company - but when he offered to wait until my train arrived I begged off, claiming I had some calls to make. Sitting alone in the vast, vibrant terminal, surrounded by thousands of polite, seemingly interesting Dutch people, I couldn't help but feel second-rate. Yes, the Netherlands was a small country, but it had six to eight black men and a really good bedtime story. Being a fairly competitive person, I felt jealous, then bitter. I was edging toward hostile when I remembered the blind hunter tramping off alone into the Michigan forest...