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Saturday, March 31, 2012

People need a license to drive like this?

I didn't know if William would get us home from Bissau yesterday.

He drove us to Bissau in his Nissan SUV. It's a pretty big vehicle, for Guinea-Bissau, plus it has a chrome bumper guard added on that you often see used on vehicles that might run into big animals or other immovable objects. The purpose is to protect the nose of the car from serious damage. This bumper guard sticks up as well as extends wider than the SUV.

I'm generally pretty tolerant of another person's driving style. I don't normally gasp or cringe like some passengers I know.

That has to be true even more so when you're driving in countries like Kenya, Papua New Guinea and now Guinea-Bissau. Even if there are lines defining lanes, they are suggestions at best. A two lane road can quickly become a three or four lane road. There are lots of people walking, crossing, bicycling, motorcycling. There are also many chickens, pigs, cows and donkeys along or crossing the road.

And that's even before we got deep into Bissau with vehicles double-parked on narrow roads and streets congested with people, some with carts and wheelbarrows overloaded amazingly creatively.


Here's a series of pictures of one intersection when a taxi broke down and was not pushed out of the way.  The taxis driving down our right side are basically driving on the "sidewalk" (where people walk).

William scares me. He drove in this wide SUV like he was an aggressive taxi driver. I saw people jump out of the way. One lady was crossing a divided road against a traffic light, carrying a loaded basket on top of her head. She never should have tried crossing but, once she began moving, she did not have too many options on stopping. William laid on the horn, startling the lady. He then swerved left into the left turn lane to pass behind her. Swiftly done but nerve wracking to at least the woman and to me.

I truly thought we were going to clip at least a dozen people yesterday and maybe squash one small chicken and one pig. 

And they require a drivers' license to be able to drive like this?

And when we stopped for petrol (and an ice cream bar), William's battery was too weak to start the SUV.  We needed help from four others to push so he could pop the clutch and get us going again.

I can't wait to get home.

Yesterday was another really hot day. It reached just over 100 degrees. Most of our work in Bissau involved spending time outdoors in the hot sun. Neither Corey nor I brought our hats. Corey has less hair than me and spent more time outdoors so he got some serious color up top. I think I did fine as I finished connecting the cables we ran in the trench on Thursday to the National Council's office and then strung the cable for our guest apartment up the outside wall, along the roof line, around the corner and into a hole into the apartment. I'll finish this job on our next trip to Bissau Tuesday or Wednesday.

The director of the National Church has been wanting internet access for his office for quite a while. Estevao had agreed to provide one connection off of our network but had stipulated that it should be only used by one computer at a time (to limit how big a drain would be placed on our slow internet connection). The director pressed me about wanting more than one connection and is still asking me to add a hub to multiply the number of computers he can use. I've declined citing Estevao's policy.

Aha! We have Internet access at last?  Let's watch a video!
Still, no sooner did I make the internet connection in the National Council's office live than a couple of his staff jumped onto a computer and began watching a video online, an event that will slow everyone else down. Estevao knows he'll have to deal with this problem in the future.
Today is Saturday but it's pretty much a work day for Estevao (who had a morning meeting and will be meeting with us for a project review) and Corey and me. We are reviewing our plan for next week and catching up on documentation.

We've also already had several people bring us computer problems here in Lendem. William just sold his older, normal sized laptop computer to a friend in Bissau who in turn sold William a netbook (very small, light computer) that was supposed to be new. Out of the box, it won't boot up because of bad installation of Microsoft Windows. I have tried to get around the problem but have told William there is nothing I can do here. How disappointing for him.

On the other hand, a Guinea-Bissau women who has been here for the OneStory workshop brought us 3 USB drives, claiming that they had a virus. Corey and I tested each one and found no viruses but that some virus had taken all her files and had hidden them and made them hard to restore. Fortunately, we were able to run a command that restored all her files (about 5 GB of documents and pictures), both for work and personal. We returned them to her just before she left Lendem to return home.

We're now two thirds through our time here in Guinea-Bissau. 

  • I should experience my first Guinea-Bissau church experience here tomorrow
  • Perhaps travel one day to one or two other SIL locations here in Guinea-Bissau (mostly to let Corey evaluate what can be done to provide power)
  • Two work days in Bissau to finish jobs there
  • And the rest will be here in Lendem
We fly from Bissau next Saturday morning at 2:20 am (!!) and, Lord willing, will be home around that same day around midnight (!!).

Please continue to pray for Estevao. While the symptoms for malaria are less right now, he is still experiencing frequent pain from the pinched nerve in his spine.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Now that's a scary thought!

I wasn't sure how today was going to turn out.

Corey and I were dropped off at the Bissau Center by Estevao where I was expecting to be busy extending our network into the national church council's offices. At the last minute yesterday, Estevao decided that we should also run a cable to a guest apartment about 250' away so that guests could have good internet connectivity during their visit. His last minute additions to our workload is a trademark of his and, while not really convenient, has become expected.

Boards for cars to drive over
A couple of men from the national council (including the director) had dug most of the trench yesterday. Because of adding the guest apartment cable to the project, these workers and I spent most of the morning waiting for someone from the translation office to purchase network cable that I would need. It was a slow morning. Most everything in Africa is slow.  The whole morning wasn't a loss because Corey finished upgrading the power system with new monitoring capabilities and spent time training a Guinea-Bissau man.

We finally had all the parts on hand so we laid the PVC pipe in the trench, ran a pair of network cables through it, drilled holes through the cement walls in both offices and were able to finish running wires from outside to the network gear. It was really dirty work and everything I was wearing will be washed tomorrow. I used my screwdriver to scrape off the moist red soil clogging my sneakers before I could walk inside or get into the car for the return trip. I wasn't even ready to be seen in a local place to eat dinner.

We finished the day around 7 pm. I will return to Bissau tomorrow and finish mounting a network plug (port) in the council's office and then finish running the other cable around the back of the same building to where our guest apartment is.

I had mentioned before that Estevao has been not feeling well. Initially diagnosed with kidney stones, he returned to Bissau a couple of days later for more testing and got a new diagnosis of colon problems. He had a fever through last night so decided to see the doctor (or maybe a different one) today. When he and Gloria picked us up around 8 pm, the new diagnosis is colon problems PLUS malaria. Wow! Since he was not well, we didn't have supper until we got back to Lendem where Gloria cooked a simple meal of scrambled eggs plus fruit. You can sure pray for this couple. They aren't sleeping well. Estevao needs to rest/sleep though he's in great demand.

Estevao made a statement about us driving ourselves to Bissau tomorrow morning. Corey looked over at me and asked how I felt about driving to Bissau.

Now that's a scary thought!  While driving is on the correct (right) side of the road and I have confidence I know which fork to take at various points along the way, I'd be concerned first because of all the pedestrian and taxi/van activity clogging the roads and second because I don't have an international license. 

Other than that... no worries. :^)

So William has been asked to take Corey and me to Bissau tomorrow morning. Aren't you relieved?

Remember, pray for Estevao and Gloria.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Urban Bissau

I was in Bissau today working on networking issues while Corey spent the day with his head in the clouds. Actually, it was our first cloudy day since arriving, at least until after lunch when the sky cleared. And actually, Corey was working in a small room on the 2nd floor of a tower (which held the water tank on the roof) which had been set aside to hold the 24 batteries and the charging equipment from the solar panels.

It was quite a change from yesterday where I had a quiet day in Lendem. The Bissau translation office is on a very busy street so most windows that face the street are closed to shut out the noise. This picture of the street may look like it is just lined with parked cars but these are actually vehicles trying to make a three lane road out of a two lane one, complete with extra pedestrians, motorbikes and animals.

Click to enlarge

What's even more impressive is Bissau when the day ends.  As we traveled to a place to grab a pizza, the main thoroughfares were crammed with people many times denser than I've ever seen in NYC or any other major city.  This place comes to life at dusk!  While we've not heard of any disruption because of political unrest, I can certainly see how things could ignite in such an environment.

One of today's projects was to visit the local Internet service provider's (ISP) office and learn what my options were to install the specialized network box (firewall, content filtering, power data collection system) in the office and keep it on line. During my mostly successful attempt Monday, I learned that the ISP was rejecting talking to our box anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days.

What a blessing for me to discover that the man I met with spoke excellent English, making the meeting very productive and relatively short. The center will need to make an upgrade decision in order for us to provide every feature that we desire but, in the meantime, we can provide at least 85% of our plan. I returned to the translation office and reconfigured the network so that our network device will remain online.

The grounds that the translation center is on is co-habited with a couple of other Christian organizations. One is the national council of churches in Guinea-Bissau. They don't have Internet access; the translation office does. The national council approached Estevao about getting a connection to our network from their office on the other side of a courtyard. Estavao agreed to it on several conditions: that the national council purchase all the required parts, that the cable be run in PVC pipe underground (to avoid lightning strikes), and that the council limit their usage to two computers (so that their office didn't overwhelm our Internet capacity).

While Corey went with Francisco to do some electrical shopping, I was asked to go with one of the national council workers to help buy network cable. It was my first experience out on the busy road and using one of the many, many taxis (which are all beat up Mercedes Benz). We could have as many as five passengers crammed in.

Considering how slowly things can happen in Africa, I was really, really surprised to observe them not only buy the cable, but also to PVC pipe and have the 1' deep trench 90% dug by the time I left the center tonight. Now I know what my main project tomorrow is going to be.

Which brings me to an observation about Guinea-Bissau people, and probably most of Africa and other parts of the world. I remember the advertising campaign when I was a little tot to motivate people to not toss trash out their car windows. Any of you remember the image of an American Indian standing along a highway observing trash blowing around and a tear runs down his face?

Everywhere I travel in this country, I find trash surrounding every house, along every road. I was even more surprised with I shared a granola bar Sunday with William while fishing from the bridge. A few minutes later I noticed the wrapper drifting with the tide 30 feet below me.

And while the grounds that the Bissau translation is on is much better than just outside their walls, I am shocked at how much garbage and scrap parts are just laying around.

This lack of care for making things look nice hit me in another way too. The path that the national council workers were going to dig the trench passed through a small grassy area next to a walkway. Earlier today I notice that, apparently years ago, someone planted low shrubs in a way that spelled "Guinea-Bissau". It had not been well cared for since but you could still make out the letters.

Now you see them (the letters "G", "U", "I", "N")

Now you don't
Well, the guys dug the trench straight through this shrubbery bed, tearing up some of the "letters". What a shame, I thought. Did they not see what had been done? Even if not, did they even take a moment to consider how to not impact the effort to beautify the center?

Adam and Eve tended the Garden of Eden. And then came the fall.

Here's an example of "dustification"  (see two postings ago)  This was a car I found on the translation center's compound.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Unjoined at the Hip

The car going to Bissau can hold five people. I found out last night that six people (including me) wanted or needed to go. In the final analysis, I could find work to do here in Lendem so I volunteered to stay behind.   For the first time, Corey and I aren't working together.

I spent most of the day creating documents Lendem needed to have on hand to perform certain tasks as well as updating reference files our IT department keeps online so that anyone can retrieve information about the work done here and to provide accurate remote support.

It's also natural that the other missionaries that are here for the OneStory workshop would grab me to deal with problems on their laptops. I spent about 5 hours today looking at a national worker's small laptop trying to understand why it was starting up with some odd messages and then calling the manufacturer to identify some solutions.  I used my MagicJack to make that call over the Internet back to the US for free.  What a handy device!

Frankly, I didn't get any good information from the support technician that will solve the problem. I also found that, though the computer physically had a wireless network card inside (is this getting too deep? Hmmm... ), the computer itself didn't think it did. Unfortunately I also found a third software-related problem, know what needs to be done but don't know how to do it.

So I had to report to the worker that it would require manufacture repair to fix it. Since it was purchased by an American and given to her here in Africa, is over 2 years old and out of warranty, and would cost more than she can afford to fix. it's probably a goner. That is a real shame but one of the other US missionaries is going to try to find a source for another computer.

I was wondering why the people in Bissau hadn't gotten back at the normal time. They finally rolled in and I discovered that the car had overheated, causing a delay of at least 30 minutes, and then needed to have the clutch popped to start the car (a weak battery). Sure glad I wasn't out there on the road in the heat.

It was such a long day for Estevao (the director) and his wife that they went to bed almost as soon as they got home. His kidney stones are not traveling through his system as fast as he and the doctor had hoped and these long days traveling to/from Bissau are really hard on him.

If your prayer list isn't too long, add Estevao to the list as well as reliable and safe transport between here and Bissau the rest of the week.

I have some tricky technical issues to discuss with the Bissau Internet provider tomorrow before I can be sure that my network equipment in Bissau will stay on line. I will need a good translator to help convey my English into their Portuguese. Pray for someone to be in Bissau that can help me and pray that the Internet provider is willing to accommodate my needs.

Corey has been collecting parts some major work on the power systems in Bissau. He's hand manufactured some modules that he will begin installing tomorrow. Where he's working can be hot, dirty and sometimes risky/dangerous. Pray for his safety and productivity.

If I'm counting correctly, we have 10 more full days in Guinea-Bissau... almost half way.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pre-Dustination / Dustification

No posting yesterday because not a lot happened. Corey and I did go to the Bible study where 7 men and a couple of women listened to a study about living a pure life in their village language. Our missionary friend from Brazil, William, had given us each a Kriol Bible (not just the New Testament) and we were able to understand where the Scripture reference was coming from and I was then able to look it up in my Bible to understand what the passage was talking about.

After the study, William took us and a very nice young man a mile up the road to a bridge over a salt-water river/inlet for a couple hours of fishing. Fishermen had their dugout log boats nearby and their wives were laying out the fish in roadside stalls. Turns out that, while each of the four of us caught one or two fish, I snagged the biggest.

It's pretty ugly, looking something like a catfish.  It did give me a good fight though.  I gave it to the young man to enjoy for dinner.

We left about 7:30 am today for our first full day in Bissau, working at the center there. We hauled a bunch of hardware and tools with us and worked from around 9 am until 6 pm with only about 20 minutes for a lunch of trail mix, water and snack bars. Corey spent all his time evaluating the electrical system, uncovering reasons why the batteries that should power the center for half the day were not doing so. For example, he found the generator that would run the first half of the day was only running at 40 Hz, not the 50 Hz it should and needs to. As a result, the device that would accept this power and charge the batteries was rejecting the generated electricity. Thus, the batteries were only being charged by the solar panels which are so covered with dust that a full charge could not be reached.

Speaking of dust in Bissau (which I also did last week), we found that every item, every surface, every breath of air seems to have been installed at the beginning of time with dust already included. We decided to give this phenomenon a spiritual term, since we're missionaries. We're calling this either pre-dustination or dustification.

Overall I had a very successful day, although I had a few temporary setbacks that I hope are temporary. The #1 goal was to overcome a problem installing a network device on the center network that would provide security (called a firewall), block users from accessing inappropriate content (even accidentally) and to collect data from our power system and upload it daily to technical team back at JAARS for evaluation. For the last year we'd heard that several attempts had been made by local people to do this so.  What the solution might be was pretty much a mystery. After last week's quick visit to the internet provider here in Bissau, I thought we had a resonably good chance (I do believe in predestination) of succeeding.

By the end of the day we were able to accomplish this goal though there were one or two times when accessing the internet seemed to hiccup. I will stop by the vendor's office Wednesday to ask a couple of questions and hopefully tune the system for faster internet access than I experienced today. I also hope Wednesday to provide access to a laser printer for the office users and finish securing a new wireless system in the office. (The office is on a main street with lots of small shops and probably a hundred people within 50 yards at any time. We have to prevent unauthorized use of our system so that internet speed remains good for our workers.)

We had dinner at a local restaurant where I ordered a 4-cheese pizza. Being in Guinea-Bissau, the menu was in Portuguese and I think I knew in advance which four cheeses. Still, at least two of them were very pungent and a bit overpowering.

By the time we began the trip home, it was 7:45 pm and dark. Once we left the capital, we began long stretches of open road with small bushes and lots of tall, dry grasses growing right up to the edge of the two-car-wide road. (Notice I didn't say "two lanes". Except in the city, there are no lanes.) We were moving along at 90 km/hr (~55 mph), coming across nationals (who are black, often in dark clothing), walking along the side or riding bikes. Add a few bends in the road and you never know how quickly you need to react. We had two small townsvillage centers to pass through where night life was still active (people, kids, animals of all kinds) and you simply need to move slowly and honk about every 20 seconds to let people know you don't think they are moving out of the way quickly enough.

Well, we made it home about 9 pm. With the progress made today plus some preparations before the next trip to Bissau, I think I'll be staying in Lendem, catching up on documentation and doing some other research.

God has blessed us much these past 10 days. He is a faithful God and, having been reading James for devotions, hope I can rest in His faithfulness in the trials that we can expect.

Thanks for following this journey and following it up with prayer.