Jan 24, 2008

Weeks 30-32

First of all, thanks Lily, Sarah, Rocco, Anne, and Cameron for the packages!  Hope you all are doing well!

Week 30

We spent New Year's Eve in Agou Akoumawou with the family that hosted us during our pre-service training.  We had a BLAST!  Nadia and I cooked up a yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  We ate fufu, sauce, and cake for lunch.  Then Nadia and I made hot dogs and koliko for dinner.  We all stayed up talking and hanging out until about 10:00pm.  Then most people went out dancing or went to bed.  Nadia, our host mom, and I watched a New Year's Eve event on TV until midnight.  Unfortunately, the people on TV literally prayed for an hour straight from 11:00 to midnight.  This is a great practice and a great way to bring in the New Year, but it is impossible to stay awake while watching someone pray on television for an hour.  We nodded off again and again, and when we hit 12:00, we cheered and immediately headed to bed.

The next day, we ate ablo and sauce and headed back to Kpalimé.  It was really nice hanging out with our host family.  I didn't properly get to say goodbye to my host brother when we left in August, and things had been a little tense with everyone near the end of our training.  This was a nice relaxed atmosphere, and we got to hear about the new volunteers that just finished their training.  It really was a good New Years Day.  I'm glad to get back into the swing of things later this week, though.

Week 31

 Nothing interesting happened.  :)  Actually, I just realized I'm missing an entry for this week, but I'm sitting at the cyber café and the internet is working for the first time in a week, so we'll just pretend I wrote something interesting and insightful...

Week 32

We're in Lomé again for a few days.  Nadia is helping with PACA PDM training at the end of the month, so she's meeting with our Assistant Peace Corps Director and our Volunteer Liason to put together the curriculum.  I decided to tag along to talk to local computer hardware vendors about prices for workstations and switches.

As I've mentioned before, I'm helping a microfinance institution in Kpalimé automate some of their tasks to increase efficiency.  They already have a two computers running Windows XP, one computer running Windows 2000, and one running Windows 98.  Right now, they create reports by hand in Excel and Quickbooks, and use a handful of random spreadsheets to track data, though most stuff is still paper-based.  I'm working on coming up with a series of shared spreadsheets and maybe a simple Access database to computerize all their records, while still allowing them to function when the power goes out.  I know this would help the accountant and several other employees a lot.  Anyway, they're hoping to buy a switch and maybe one or two workstations.  I told the director I'd check out pricing for hardware while I'm in the capital. 

I found six different shops just by walking down the main road in Lomé.  I got a pretty good representation of pricing.  Things here cost anywhere from 10-50% more here than in the US due to shipping fees and import fees.  One business suggested that we consider an Officestation, which is a thin client computer terminal ( http://www.compucon.com.au/officestation/officestation.htm).  Essentially it is a network terminal that remoted desktop from a host PC.  This could be a decent investment, since the maintenance is much lighter that for an actual workstation.  I think at least one of the organization's existing PC's is powerful enough to host at least one or two clients.

That got me thinking about thin clients, though, and I discovered a few open source software solutions (http://thinstation.sourceforge.net and http://www.2x.com) that could let me turn the organization's old Pentium 1 machine into a smart terminal that could run Office 2003 under Windows XP.  If we can get our hands on at least one other old machine here in Kpalimé (and I know they're out there), we could have two terminals hosted off of one or two of the newer boxes.  There are obvious problems with this solution.  It could seriously slow down the host PC, and if that machine breaks down, the terminals will be down as well.  Also, the solution may not be sustainable if most of the configuration files and documentation for thin client software are written in English, not in French.  I'm definitely going to explore this option, though.

On a slightly darker note, we had our first scary experience with the Gendarmes (sort of a cross between the military and the police).  Nadia, I, and two other volunteers were walking back to the Peace Corps bureau in Lomé on Sunday at around 9:00pm.  It was dark, and When were about one block from the bureau, I saw someone wave a flashlight in front of us.  I walked right past the man with the flashlight, and I didn't catch what he said.  Then he started yelling and we that it was four Gendarmes, one of whom was pointing a gun at us.  They asked for our ID's.  PCV's are advised not to carry our passports with us, since they could be easily lost or stolen.  Two of us had our laissez-passé, which allows for free travel throughout the country.  I only had my Peace Corps ID, and another volunteer didn't have any ID.  The Gendarmes told those with laissez-passé's that they needed to have their passports (not true, according to the embassy security staff), but they'd let it slide.  They said that the volunteer without ID would not be able to leave without paying them a bribe.  They kept saying we must give them "café".  After I insisting several times that we had no coffee, they started saying "piece".  We said we had no money and eventually they let us go.  During the entire event, one officer spoke calmly, one yelled while pointing his rifle, and one paced around us menacingly while whipping around a thick piece of rope.  I was pretty freaked out when it was over.

What really bothered me was that this could have been anyone.  I don't really believe that a Gendarme would shoot an American, but this could have been a group of muggers with knives and machetés.  It was dark, and I didn't see the four armed men standing in the street.  And we were only one block from the Peace Corps bureau, where there are three or four guards (who I'm not even sure are armed).  I plan to talk to the Safety and Security officer about the incident.  The men didn't really do anything illegal, but I want to make sure this isn't a reoccuring event.  I really don't like Lomé.

Anyway, we're finally leaving the capital on Wednesday, and we're going to stop at another volunteer's village in Agou Avedjé for a night on our way back to Kpalimé.  That should be a nice break from this dirty, sandy, overly busy city.

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