Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Africa So Far

OK, I've not been able to update my blog as often as I expected to. I thought I had everything planned - I knew I would have wifi for my first two days in Nairobi, and then either i would buy a USB 3G modem in Rwanda or I would use my blackberry.

The Nairobi part worked, but only barely. Kenya's problem at the moment is that they have no high speed internet connections out of the country except for satellite, which is slow and expensive compared to cables. The good news is that Kenya is getting two fiber-optic backbones into the country this summer, which should make their technology market explode. But for now guys like me have to do what we can on a slow connection, which for me meant staying caught up on emails but no time for blogging.

In Rwanda all I've had is my semi-trusty Blackberry 8830. It's working great, the problem is me: I was so smart, I knew we would be spending days in areas with no electricity so I brought only my USB cable (figuring i could charge up from my notebook when we had power) and my car charger (knowing we'd mostly be in vehicles), plus I bought a fancy solar charger too. Of course the solar charger is sitting on my desk at home, so that's no help. And I didn't want to risk bringing my notebook on the 2 weeks in Congo, so I left it at a friend's house. That leaves the car charger, and there are two problems with it. First, many of the cars here are so old and heavily used that either they long ago used the fuse for the car's cigarette lighter for something else, or they have been rewired so many times that whatever voltage is coming from the car is too bizarre or weak to charge the phone.

The second problem is that our plans have gone awry. The short summary is, the Congo threw us out. Literally! A squad of police "escorted" our luggage onto the border crossing bridge over the Rusizi river. We don't know why, but there qre many theories. We thought for a while that a friend of mine had betrayed us, but today I think this is less likely. But since 95% of our work was in Congo, and the rest is a full days drive away, we're hesitant to drive away while we're still appealing to the UN and DRC gov't to help us find out why we were kicked out and to get us back in.

So for now I beg the nuns at our Catholic guest house to plug my phone into their computer, and they always happily oblige, but then they bring it back a few minutes later thinking it's done. The bottom line is, the blackberry is working fine but I haven't had the battery charged over 5% in at least a week.

Otherwise things are good. The team, who I met for the first time here are truly wonderful people and we get along great. Languages are a challenge- of the 9 of us two speak only German, four speak German and some english (two of those also know a little french and swahili), one speaks only kiswahili, kinyarwandan, kifree, and some french, I speak only english with a little french, and Nelson speaks everything but German. It can be frustrating when we have team discussions and you want to ask a question but you have to wait through two translations, then ask the question and have it translated twice. It takes a while! But it can also be funny, when Nelson (who has great talents for language otherwise) gets confused and translates English to English (e.g. "Ask Isaac what he thinks about that idea", "OK, he wants to know what you think of that idea.", "Nelson that was English", "oh, sorry, kwa m'tana....."

But for now we mostly sit and fill our time with planning and meetings.

I'll update more when I can, and when I can find an english keyboard. Right now I'm at an internet café in Kamembe after ,aking photocopies of the letter we're sending to the UN plus six Congolese government agencies asking for help. I was proud that I managed to tell the taxi driver to bring me here so I can work and pleqse come back for me in two hours, in french. At least I think that's what I said. I guess the proof will be 1 hour and 20 minutes from now!

Also I have hundreds of photos and videos so far, but no way to upload them. I am updating my Facebook status with news as I can, because I can do that quickly and then turn the phone off to save the battery.

So: things are good, albeit frustrating, and everyone is fine. More to come later.


John Samson said...

Yes you can follow Kenya's move into internet at

Harrybbbb (Harry Brelsford, CEO, SMB Nation) said...

Good on you Chip!

I was in South Africa the first two weeks of March spreading the good word about SBS 2008. Wish I had known you were in Africa - perhaps we could have caught up. :)