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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Farewell Bissau, for now

Today was Corey's and my last day in Bissau and it turned out to be long but not hard. Corey took care of some minor tasks, finishing connecting power to the guest apartment, testing and reviewing the battery system one last time, and training several of the national staff in the operation and maintenance of the power system. Oh, and Papa, the administrator, asked Corey to look at a solar powered lantern he'd purchased that wasn't working. You can always count on one more thing to be added to the list.

I finished fixing the new network cable to the wall in the guest house (added to the list after we got to Guinea-Bissau), installing a new network outlet in the administrative office for any visitors (added to the list just two days ago), and beginning to make sure that a spare piece of hardware exactly mirrors the setup of the one that is online right now. A pretty quiet day, capping off what we feel has been a very successful trip.

For the first time since beginning work in Bissau, Corey and I felt able to accept an offer to go to a late lunch (3 pm) with Sarah and Amy, two of the OneStory expats. We hopped into one of the many taxis (which are entirely and 100% made up of beat up Mercedes Benz painted blue with white tops) to get to the restaurant. Afterward we walked to a corner and began another not-to-be missed Bissau experience, riding a toca-toca (minivan outfitted with two benches running down the sides and able to normally carry12 people but sometimes crammed with 20). The taxi cost 800 cfa (local currency worth about $1.60). The toca-toca cost 600 cfa so the savings aren't the point. It's the fun cramming in with the locals and making frequent stops as the toca-toca tries to get more fares.

Estevao and Gloria picked Corey and me up quite late, after 7 pm. While Corey and I were still stuffed from the late lunch, there was no stopping Estevao from having dinner. All I had was a soda.

We ended up leaving Bissau at 8:30 pm so it was dark. The main road, 3 lanes in each direction, is swarming with people and therefore taxis and toca-tocas. And this major road is pitch black which surprises anyone who saw the road during the day. Every 20 yards or so is a lamppost with two lights each high and hanging over the road.  While some felt the lights were probably installed because the governor's mansion and other government buildings are located at points along this road, they think the city spent all the money buying and installing the lights but now can't afford to turn them on.

Which makes people all the harder to see when you're driving at 45-55 mph.

Another interesting observation is that there is never any activity (car, person, etc) at the “international airport” when we drive by it at 9 am every day. What is more notable is that there was not one single light on inside or outside the airport as we drove by it tonight at 9 pm. Very interesting considering that we'll be checking in at this same airport tomorrow at around that time.

So, Corey and I chatted for about 20 minutes tonight about lessons learned. On my part, much of the background about Lendem that I had been basing my plans on turned out to be wrong or incomplete. In Bissau, I had been concerned about being able to get a key network component in and interfacing with the Bissau Internet provider and overcoming a language barrier if/when I met with them. I thank God for the ability to adjust in Lendem and for quick progress in Bissau.

I am also tremendously thankful that, despite my inability to pick up the local language, God provided many people in Guinea-Bissau that extended much grace to me, and some nationals and expat missionaries who allowed their schedules to be interrupted to act as interpreters for me. I would have accomplished so much less and not enjoyed my time nearly as much.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

A change in plans

Today was supposed to be a day in Lendem, with tomorrow being our last day at the Bissau center. I had a healthy list of items to get done in Bissau and not much on today's Lendem agenda.
We normally have breakfast at 7:30 am. We have some kind of dry cereal (currently generic corn flakes), mixed with a flavored yogurt (banana today), some bread, and perhaps some fruit. We normally leave for Bissau (if we're going) as close to 8 am as possible. Estevao and Gloria have been going every day but Corey and I only went Tuesday and supposedly tomorrow.

It was 7:55 am when I got a bit nervous about leaving just one day for my Bissau to-do list. I suddenly decided to spend today as well as tomorrow in Bissau. Corey stayed behind (and found himself pretty busy most of the day).

My day was spent wrapping up my laser printer project (see yesterday's blog). In particular, rather than asking others including several national workers to try and follow my documented steps, I offered to make the change for them so that they could print directly over the network. I did this for about 7 computers. It was so cool and rewarding to see their expressions when they could simply print from their desk and then go pick up their printout on the other side of the room or even from another room. They had no idea this could be done.

I also installed a new network connection over by their copier so that the laser printer could sit on a proper table, freeing up floorspace in the crowded room. I finished the internet connection in the guest apartment, just needing to anchor the cable to the wall.

Because I was spreading one full days work over two days, I was able to catch an early ride back to Lendem with William, who was in Bissau picking up some construction materials. A Portuguese Christian who is part of another ministry was looking for a ride home so we detoured off our normal path, adding only about 20 extra minutes to the trip.

At one point we needed to slow down for one of the many speed bumps found in Guinea-Bissau. A number of children strategically positioned themselves there, hawking bags of roasted cashews. Here's a snapshot of their salesmanship as well as the product they were pushing.

Children selling roasted cashews
Said cashews... about $1 worth
I wouldn't like to be passed by us
At least half of this road home was dirt. We were kicking up quite a trail of dust behind us. Not bad for us (at least until we got caught behind another vehicle) but I did notice nationals riding bikes in the opposite direction that would cover their mouths and squint their eyes as they prepared to be assaulted by the dirt we were kicking up.

Devotions have been in 1 Peter. I was reading about Christ being the chief cornerstone. Some workers here at the Lendem center have been building a wall of cement blocks. I've been impressed on how straight it is, especially when all they do is by sight, no surveying equipment involved. I can only imagine how careful that first block must be laid, both in height and direction, for the rest of the wall to turn out true.  (The wall starts at the other end being 3 blocks high.  You can see what happens.)
Man's attempt to lay the cornerstone

And yet God was the perfect architect for our salvation, using the perfect cornerstone and placing it in exactly the right place at the right point of time and heading for the culmination of our salvation, the cross and the resurrection.

Sunday is Easter. Hallelujah! Christ died for me. His is risen!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Implementation and Impact (and one missed impact)

Just a few days before Corey and I leave Guinea-Bissau.  I had some major items to accomplish at the Bissau center, each with the potential of major consequences, supposedly good, hopefully not negative. Though I had thought through and made a list of what needed to be done, I was a bit nervous on how the day would end.
We drove to Bissau, arriving just after 9 am. The bottom line is that I blinked and it was 11 am. I blinked again and it was 3:30 pm. A final blink revealed it was 6:30 pm, time to pack our gear, grab dinner and head home. What a short long day.

A technician from the local Internet provider was supposed to come to the center and log into their equipment so that we could disable some of their features and change settings so that the team at JAARS could remotely support our equipment, troubleshooting and making changes to meet their needs. When no one showed by 10 am, we called their office, only to learn that the technician hadn't come to work that day. Our administrator applied pressure and a guy showed up about noon.

I suspect this technician was a newbie... at least I hope so cause I was not impressed. Once logged in, he started hunting and pecking all round the menus as if it was his first time doing so. When asked to make several changes, he spent 10 minutes before coming back and saying that he couldn't. I switched to plan B and got some of our needs met but was not able to create an environment that would let us remotely manage the Bissau network.

At one point, he made a change and then wasn't able to get back into the system to keep looking around. I was concerned that the system was either broken or he was locked out for good. For a moment I thought they would have to replace their hardware because of a mistake he made. Then, like a good IT guy, I suggested he cycle the power on and off for his gear. Don't know why he didn't think of this but it worked. Whew!

While this was a disappointment, I can't say I was surprised after several meetings with the Internet provider the past two weeks. I'm praising God and very thankful that this was the only disappointment of the day.

By the end of the day I was able to move everyone from a network that had no security onto the system we had designed last year, complete with a network firewall (block bad stuff coming in), content filtering (block deliberate or accidental access of inappropriate content) and a highly secure wireless network.
(In Bissau, if a relative or a friend asks a worker at the center for the password, the worker feels obligated to give the password. That means many people are jumping on our network from nearby without our knowing, slowing it down. Our new system is using a list of known and approved computers. If the computer is not on the list, it isn't connected.)

The literacy, translation and OneStory teams all shared one HP laser printer. If someone wanted to print, they left their desk, walked to and plugged into the printer, printed, and then returned to work. Then I was told that any computer with Windows 7 wouldn't work with this older printer. That meant half the people couldn't print anything.
I attached the laser printer to the network to eliminate them having to go to the printer to print. I also downloaded software and created documentation to let all computers, including Windows 7, use the printer.
So, three blinks and the day is done.  I hardly saw Corey all day.  Most of his day was spent running the new power line along a building and into our guest apartment.  Since Derek was going to be spending the night there, Corey made sure that Derek had power.
Not a quarter pounder of beef.  Not even an eigth pounder.
I ordered a hamburger, appropriate spelled a different way in Portuguese, but also because it was different. The bun had a layer of french fries on the bottom, a thin, thin meat patty that tasted close to American beef, topped with a fried egg. Add ketchup and it was actually pretty good.

It's normal that I rest and even half-doze on the way back to Lendem. As mentioned in earlier blogs, we're traveling down dark and narrow roads, often with people walking, standing, bike riding along the sites. The driver has to be alert and beep the horn often to give a heads up to anyone ahead of us.

Gloria was driving and I was almost in la-la land.  A truck was coming toward us with its high beams on, making it hard to see ahead of us with the glare. I had closed my eyes. Almost immediately our car swerved and I learned that a cow had been standing directly ahead of our car. God was with Gloria because, at 50 mph, she was able to jerk the car left and then right (narrowly missing the truck as it passed) to dodge the cow.
So our prayers before each trip to/from Bissau and your prayers for our safety have been heard by God and he has been so gracious to us in many ways.

Monday, April 02, 2012

A short day turns long

We had a 2 hour meeting with Estevao Saturday evening, laying out issues, the work that yet needed to be done in Lendem and Bissau, and what would be left undone. My list had very few items for Lendem and a long list for Bissau. True to form, Estevao added new items to the list that we feel we might be able to do.

The plan is to spend two days in Bissau, the first being Tuesday (tomorrow). That meant that, as long as I was prepared for hitting the ground running tomorrow, then today's workload should have been very light, almost to the point of my twiddling my thumbs.

That was not to be...

There was a network device called a switch that the director thought was partially defective. I had replaced it with a larger switch over a week ago but wanted to determine if I should bring it back to the US for warranty replacement or just toss it. As I tested it more, I found that nothing was broken so now it is sitting on the shelf as a spare.

And as I tested it, I found that the other three similar switches were not configured according to current documentation. I spent a couple of hours correcting this so that we should now be able to log into these from JAARS and change the network remotely without the time (which could be up to a year) and expense (thousands of dollars) of coming back to Lendem.

Access to our new wireless network was also causing some people problems, keeping them from connecting to the internet.  A workshop started today.  A consultant and several national workers were reading recently translated text and determining if it was accurate and understandable and wanted access to the internet. Unable to find the cause, I used a small device called MagicJack to make a call to a manufacturer's support team in California. It's always interesting to get a reaction when you start the call saying “I'm calling from west Africa.” With a couple of suggestions, I was able to work through the problems and get the workshop team back onto the internet.

Corey and I also spent time preparing to bring back items that are either no longer needed in Guinea-Bissau (because of upgrades) or need to be repaired back at JAARS. In my case, I'm bringing back relatively small components for the fiber optic system that isn't working and an outside wireless router that we've replaced. 
The black item is the inverter
Poor Corey, however, has to bring back an electrical device called an inverter (converts DC battery power to AC). It is shorter but wider than a sewing machine and weighs about 5 times as much. Since all we brought is soft-sided luggage, we have no idea how to get this home.

As I come closer to the end of this trip, my first to an area where English is hardly spoken and that reveals how bad I am learning a language, I read 1 Peter 1 in several versions the past two days. The Contemporary English Version says “To God's people who are scattered like foreigners in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.” The word “foreigners” struck a cord with me. Foreigners almost invariably talk, dress, act, and think differently. They stick out. That's certainly me.

As Christians, we are supposed to talk, dress, act and think differently. On the other hand, a foreigner usually works very hard to not look like a foreigner.

I could never blend into another culture (especially where skin color comes into play) except perhaps Canada.

I would pray, though, that I would never succeed or even try blending into the world so that they would never see Christ in me.