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Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Different Day

It's Saturday and most people are not working ... but, since we have limited time here in Guinea-Bissau, Corey and I are taking advantage of every moment.

Estevao has been dealing with kidney stones since he has been a young man, sometimes several times a year. He started having another bout 3 days ago and has been dealing with the pain as best he could, hoping it would pass. (Was that a pun?)  Both he and his wife (Gloria) have not been sleeping well the past several days and decided it was time to go the hospital in the capital. They left about 9 am and returned about 4 pm. We are praising God that the doctors found the several kidney stones already beginning to move out of his system. With medication and one or two days, Estevao hopes to be well again.

- The other five missionaries took off for a regional prayer meeting, also returning late afternoon. They were concerned Corey and I would be alone at the center so left a cell phone with us that had phone numbers of the rest of the team, just in case an emergency occurred.

Estevao's right hand man (pronounced toolima) was also gone for a funeral. I think I saw a handful of local people walk by/through the center... that's all.

Corey tweaked the solar/generator/battery system through much of the day, continuing to evaluate the efficiency and capacity of the entire system. He finally got it all put back together and operating normally about 6:30 pm. He asked me to help at the end because he needed someone to help at a point where serious sparking might happen when reconnecting some cables. I guess he thinks I'm expendable. (Just kidding, Corey.)

When Estevao and Gloria returned to Lendem, she met with several deaf children, teaching them sign language.  Her heart is to learn/teach sign language and also to record Bible stories in sign language to distribute to those who can't hear God's word spoken out loud.

I completed three tasks today:


  • First: I finished mounting the exterior wireless system on the end of the main building, aiming it towards the apartments. Besides these being at a distance, there are several trees in the way, killing the signal more that I'd like. Still, this will help visitors be able to check email and update their computers from where they're staying.

  • Second, I finished wiring the new internet room in the men's dorm/classroom that Guinea-Bissau nationals will be able to use when here for training and workshops. There are now 12 stations where they can connect into the internet for email and to access translation resources. I'm glad I got this done today because the week-long OneStory workshop starts Monday.

  • Third, I ran network cable in the main office so that a new laser printer located in the hallway can be printed to by any of the staff from their individual offices. I first drilled a whole through the hallway ceiling and then got to crawl into the attick through a hole designed for a small Africa. Ceilings are mostly made with chicken-wire with plaster/concrete stuck to it so I had to carefully walk on only the top of the concrete walls or on the 3" wide palm beams that spanned these walls. Once In located the drilled hole, I could poke the cable down in the hallway and back in the network room. The printer is easy to set up, though I still need to write up the step-by-step instructions. The printer even has it's own web page for status and control that can be displayed in Portuguese.

The OneStory staff arrived today. They invited Corey and I to join them for homemade pizza, salad and homemade cookies. There were 12 of us in all, most from the US but one Australia and one from Brazil. We began eating outside (no mosquitos!! so no malaria threat) under a mango tree. While that sounds ideal, several of the others described the disadvantage of having such a tree next to your (tin-roofed) house. When the fruit starts dropping, "thwaaaaak" any time of the day, including at night. Talk about a rude awakening.

Tomorrow is Sunday and we might have gone to a church just a mile or so down the road. I hear, though, that the small building will be full of both the normal 100 plus 100 women here for a women's conference (duh).  William, a Portuguese staffer, has invited Corey and me to join him for a Bible study he teaches closer to Bissau and then spend an hour or two fishing.  The study will almost certainly be in "Kriol", a Portuguese-based criol dialect so I don't think much will be clear to me.  Still, he's been nice to offer and it will be a different part of Guinea-Bissau than what we've seen.

It's that or hang around the center where the rest of the missionaries will probably hold their own service (in English).

Friday, March 23, 2012

Can you say "thirty"?

Yesterday was a full day, getting to bed some time after 12:30 am.

Which reminds me of the fun we're having with Estevao, the director, whose heart language is Portuguese. As I'd mentioned, he and his wife have done a great job with their English to communicate with us. Of course there are words in English that they mis-pronounce; it's just to be expected. Some are quite funny. One that gets us all laughing is words that start with "th", for example saying 8:30 (as in AM/PM). Estevao just can't get it out and we have a lot of fun with it. In fact, Corey was trying to pronounce a Portuguese word that Estavao used at dinner, stumbled over it four times, and then said "thirty" instead. Estevao roared.

So, because we were so tired after yesterday (plus Corey woke up in the night, unable to get back to sleep), we took the day to work on minor projects or "housekeeping" tasks. I swapped out some defective hardware with new equipment that also had more capacity. Because lightning is quite frequent and very severe in Africa, much more than most places in the US, I also installed a lightning protection device for the external wireless device, connecting it to the ground rod in the.... ground... of course. This will help keep the wireless access to the internet working for those guests (translation consultants, teachers, etc) who stay in the small apartments.

And then, contrary to all previous days, we actually didn't work through the heat of the day but took an hour or so for a brief nap during the hottest part of the day. I later spent time installing network connections in a new "Internet Room" that is being prepared for nationals coming for training. It will offer power and internet for up to 10 people who wouldn't normally have access for email, updating their computers, or other common tasks that we just take for granted. I should finish this project tomorrow (yes, that's Saturday) and will include a picture of what the room and equipment looks like.

Tonight's brief project was to help Corey record voltages for the battery bank that is charged during the day by solar power and optionally by the generator and which then carries us through the night. Corey is concerned that some batteries are under-performing, causing the whole system to not run as efficiently/long as it should. He will decide if any of the batteries are too weak and should be removed/replaced.

So now it's 10 pm, perhaps not early by normal standards but a whole 2 hours earlier than I normally get this update prepared. Whoo Whee!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Africa and politics often don't go well together

Another full day in Lendem. I hadn't figured out where we were in Guinea-Bissau in relation to the capital (other than 63 km) and discovered yesterday that it's because mapping systems know Lendem as Lendene. So I found a map to show where I am.




The marker is Lendem.  Click for a larger view.


It's a very small and quiet place but it does seem to offer some ease of access for the various national translators to come for work and training. The OneStory actually starts Monday. Yesterday through tomorrow is actually training for 4 translation project groups.

One of the guys here at the center walked up with a fruit I had never seen before. Do you imagine what it is?



It's the fruit of a cashew tree. The fruit was very sweet and juicy somewhat acidic but, on the variety pictured here, you would not eat the nut (on top of the fruit). I discovered that it came from a very large tree on the property, closer to the road.

I finished getting the new wireless system installed in the building that is half the main office and half the director's home. He stopped by later in the afternoon and said how happy he was with the strong signal. At this point we have wireless to all the center's buildings. I've While I got up on the roof and removed the older, weaker wireless equipment and ran network cable from the network room to the location for the new outside wireless system, I have not finished mounting it high on the peak nor installed lightning protection equipment. (Africa is known for it's severe, severe lightning storms.)

The director informed Corey and me that, because of some serious political unrest because of probable presidential voting fraud, we will not be staying in Bissau at night from Monday through Friday. Instead we will leave Lendem at 7 am and get back here after 8 am. He says that the worst problems and conflicts would only happen in the capital and only after sunset. Knowing the director, a Brazilian so everything takes longer, we will get back even later. That is a concern since we have so much work to do in Bissau.

Anyways, there doesn't seem to be a chance to wind down early around here. Corey had some new instrumentation to install on the solar power/battery system to collect data and I helped and also acted as a safety watch while he worked on the raw power system. We finished that at 11 pm and talked over the plan for tomorrow.

It's just getting to midnight now. Corey's taking his shower first.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Grime and Dust, Grime and Dust

Today was our trip to the capital, Bissau, to scope out the work to be done at the translation center there. Actually, the center is used by two organizations, the national church council and SIL. That in itself adds complications on who decides what work gets done, how it gets paid for, and who decides how, in this specific instance, the network and power systems are managed.

We left at 9:30 am and drove just over an hour into the city. Most of the trip was on open road, periodically driving by a few mud brick homes (with thatch or tin roofs) and twice through small towns with many more people walking around.

We drove past the airport we had arrived at 3 am on Monday and I was now able to confirm how small and simple a building it is. We finally road on a 3-lane each way into the city but it shortly ended at a roundabout that then went down to a single lane each way (at best).

The bottom line is that, as we drove around with the director as he shopped for construction materials and for some repair parts that Corey needed, I got a big taste for what Bissau is like. I never, never saw the ocean, even though it is on the ocean. In fact, the closest I saw of salt water was a wide inlet from a toll bridge we drove across 17 km outside the city.

What the city was like, however, is dust. There is dust on the sides of the road. There is dust on the people walking or sitting along the roads. There is dust on all vehicles. There is dust in the air. And it was on me and in me. Mix that with the smell of diesel engines and burning whatever that you'll find foreign countries. Can you empathize? And then there is the constant noise of people talking and vehicles moving.

That all aside and in the past (because I took a shower after we got home at 10:15 pm and because this is the place where God wants me to be right now), God blessed us with much good news.

First, a network device (specifically a security firewall we call "IPCop"), which we had sent over last year but didn't get installed, seemed to have disappeared several months ago. Where was it? We found it sitting on the shelf in the Bissau office. Was it broken or working? We plugged it in, turned it on, and found that it was working just as we wanted it to.

The other major problem we'd had last year was working with the Internet company in Bissau, called "Orange". They had installed special equipment in the office a couple of years ago and no one last year seemed to be able to get our equipment to work with theirs. I was convinced I could get the answer if I could talk to their technical team.

God provided a person at the center who had spent two years in England learning English. We grabbed him and went to see Orange. The second blessing was that the technician (Herman), who had spoken Portuguese for the first 10 minutes, all of a sudden stopped talking to the other guy and began talking to me in English!! The bottom line is that we have enough detailed information, freely provided by Herman, two different ways we believe will get our IPCop onto the internet and function as designed.

Corey spent time looking over the power systems (both solar and generator) and, though there is lots of work yet to be done, believes he has enough time to get the work done. If my network jobs get done quickly, as I now hope will be the case, I can be Watson to his Sherlock.

Isn't God good? Actually, he's also great!

Now that we're back in Lendem, I will work to get the exterior wireless permanently mounted on the building and then install the final wireless device in the main office. Corey needs to abandon me (just kidding) and get on to his power projects here in Lendem.

Once again, it's midnight before we get to bed but are looking forward to tomorrow.

Are you?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Communicating in Guinea-Bissau

Today began when it was cooler, only 80 degrees.  Of course, it got into the 90s pretty quickly but, except for moving between the buildings here at the translation center, we were inside and had fans if needed.

On the work side, we got much of what we wanted/needed to get done in the building where a 3-day"OneStory" workshop will start tomorrow.  OneStory (onestory.org) works with mother-tongue speakers to develop and record chronological Bible “story sets” - typically 40 to 60 stories in a two-year period. Mother-tongue speakers spread the stories to others. These story sets form the beginnings of an “oral Bible” to be told and retold for generations.  Since the department Julie is part of focuses on oral and visual tools, Julie had taken OneStory training at JAARS in the past.


While the goal today was to install more computer connections near the classroom as well as install a wireless system to cover that building, Corey and I discovered that the fiber optic cables that were installed underground to connect all the buildings with a computer network two years ago (and which we thought were working) were down. 

After a couple of Skype calls to our co-workers at JAARS and getting some hardware documentation and great encouragement, we spent hours trying to determine if any of this network could be repaired.  While we didn't get the fiber optic equipment working, we did find that an extra standard (copper) network wire had also been run between the buildings.  It had never been terminated (sounds violent, doesn't it) so I finished the hookup and we were thrilled to have a working backup network connection to the classroom building.  I then finished the wireless installation and secured it so only the instructor could use it.

All of our meals have been eaten so far with the director and his wife.  They have been picking up English for a while and are making a wonderful gesture in both using what vocabulary they know and trying to teach some Portuguese words.  Corey, who has been here before plus seems to be really good at picking up new words, is able to interact with this couple (and others) well.  Me?  Well, not only do I have hearing problems but I can't roll an rrrrrr and am severley language-disabled.

So how does one communicate with someone in a language you (aka me) have no knowledge of?  I remember that in the original Star Trek series, Captain Kirk and Spock had hand-held universal translators.  Flash forward 30 or so years and what do we have?  We have Google Translate on the internet, accessed via a netbook (a really small laptop computer, probably 10" wide and weighing about 2 lbs).  Corey normally brings it to the meal table and is typing a Portuguese word just spoken by the Director so he knows what has been said and sometimes types a sentence in English so that the computer can tell him what words to speak in Portuguese.  Sometimes the director grabs the computer to do the reverse.

And this is how we're resolving problems and planning the next task.  I just sit back and think, "How cool!" 

(Actually, I was using Google Translate when sending emails to the director over the past several months. It would fun to share some of the odd results. Sometimes a hoot and sometimes a puzzler about what was meant.)

What was also interesting was to discover that the meat in the dish we were served (always with rice) was gazelle.  Find any of that in your local grocery store?

We started the day shortly after 8 am and worked until 7:30 pm, finally eating and talking until about 9:30 pm.  Tomorrow, after the OneStory class starts and we know the instructors are able to use the Internet, the director will take Corey and me to the capital, Bissau, on the coast for a little shopping for materials and repair parts plus a tour of the other translation center.  We return tomorrow late for several more days in Lendem.

Prayer and Praise:
- Praise that we've been able to overcome the surprises so far
- Praise that the entire center now has very good wireless Internet coverage
- Praise that we've not experienced any problems with food, water, heat or bugs
- Prayer for safety to/in/from Bissau.  The head of Guinea-Bissau intelligence was killed yesterday, the day after elections.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hit the ground good and..... tired

Corey and I arrived in Guinea-Bissau around 3 am on a pretty full plane. Would never have thought so many people would be going to Guinea-Bissau. Of course it was dark so a quick look around didn't reveal much. A step inside the terminal and things got interesting.

First, the man picking us spoke to an official who grabbed our passports, visa forms, and the $120/ea fee and had us through customs before anyone else. We found ourselves standing in a relatively large but empty one-room terminal waiting for our bags. I noticed at least one person leaning through the opening where bags would appear, seeming to ask the worker to pass his bags through first. I also noticed that there were two workers for each (huge) cart, pulling and pushing it from the plane to the unloading area.

We drove from the airport towards Lendem, where we have one of our Bible translation centers. Almost no lights as we drove (unless someone had solar-charged batteries, there was no other electricity), a number of serious speed bumps, and even a police checkpoint. We arrived "home" at around 4 am. We are staying in a guest bedroom of the director, whose concrete wall and tin roofed home consists of two bedrooms, a kitchen and open area, a cold-water only shower and a flush toilet. All in all, comfortable and welcome at that hour, though it was still warm both in and outside.

We agreed to sleep in and have breakfast at around 9. We woke up at 11 am! Whoops... and we hoped to get a jump on the work.

After a breakfast of bread, cheese, fruit drink and optional yogurt, I was given a tour of the site, making note of where the computer network components were. Corey had been here last year working on the electrical system so knew much more than I did and greeted many friends warmly.

Without going into great detail of the rest of the day, we were advised to adopt the local practice of not working from 1:30 to 3:30 pm because of the heat. Corey and I then proceeded to talk to the director through that time, planning our work for the rest of the day and tomorrow. We also talked about how to get work done and not interrupt any workshops.

Today's big project for me was to begin setting up an exterior heat and weatherproof wireless network that would reach from the main office building to 3 separate sets of guesthouses at least 100' away. (It can get to 115 degrees in the hot season and this device is good to 122 degrees.) I found myself walking and balancing as I walked the edge of the roof to where I hoped to swap out another wireless device installed several years ago that wasn't doing the job. Since there was fragile tin roof on one side and hard ground 20' below on the other side, I had just one thing to say to myself... "What is a 60+ man doing up here?"

Obviously I survived and am happy to report that the new system was sending out ~twice as strong a signal. Tomorrow's job will hopefully include another test to see if I can find a better/closer place to mount the wireless system to deliver an even stronger signal.

So day #1 ends at 11:30 pm (local time) with this update and appreciation for the many prayers for safety and the projects going well. There were many times when I thought there were major problems (like when I thought my wallet had been pick-pocketed yesterday or when I though I wouldn't get the wireless system back on line by tonight), but God has been walking ahead of Corey and me.

And I haven't seen a mosquito yet! God is good... all the time.

Blessings from Africa...
Jon