Friday, February 18, 2011

Have You Seen Any Mosquitoes In Ghana?

They are everywhere. One of the absolute worst sounds is hearing that high-pitched and piercing whine of the little wings beating one thousand times a minute next to your ear. It is just calling out to you, "I am going to land on you and dip my proboscis into your skin for a drink."

For the most part they come out at dusk and start to buzz around me or the computers in mini-swarms. Three or four at a time will circle around looking for breakfast. I don't know what it is about the computers, but they seem to think something smells like flesh so they dart back and forth near the vents and monitors finding little success. Should I want to kill them, and I cannot begin to express my desire to kill them all here, I have to be fast. They are super quick and quirky. Their zigs and zags mean that if you can track them for more than four or five seconds you are dealing with a terminally slow and lethargic creature. They often fly so erratically that they disappear from view in less than two seconds. But like a shark fin that dips below the surface, you know that the insect is still buzzing around.

My method is to just give a good hand clap in the air and hope that I accidentally caught the sucker between my palms. One loud clap and if I don't see a squashed body stuck fast to my thumb pad, then I can be sure that the mosquito is now lost again somewhere in the room. If I look down and see the flattened creature on my hands, the joy and pride is immeasurable. "I got you!"

For the record, the mosquito is the only thing that I seek out to destroy here in Ghana. I even was kind enough to save and release a medium-sized cockroach that crawled out of my bedroom late one night in the dark. I am not bloodthirsty by nature, but I can make an exception for the one who is actually bloodthirsty for me. In hindsight I should have created a spreadsheet for a tally of "squashes" had in Ghana. Sadly, I will just keep track day by day. So far today I have two kills, but my success rate is no more than 5% of possible squashes. I hope to get better before I leave.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

And The Days Roll By

Students will be returning to the campus sometime around March 7th, and my hope is that we can get started right away with more software instruction and computer time for the young men and women. In the time that is leading up to their return, I have had to do my best to keep my mind focused on a few things.

One thing is the computer lab itself. I am not worried that the repairs and changes that are being made will be done on time; it already seems as though we are ahead of schedule and I am duly impressed by all the resources that have been spent on the lab and the building where the lab resides. It will look great once it is finished. However, what does concern me is the fact that we still have 16 machines that need repairing that are brand new, and a few more old machines that won't start. With all the equipment sequestered away for the time being, I am not working on fixing anything at the moment, and that makes me think that at the last minute I will be accepting my first class after the break ends with less than a full ensemble of machines. That will be the bigger challenge before the month of February is up.

Second, I still have yet to do any mastery of the language here. As someone pointed out to me, if I feel like I don't have a good handle on things by the one-year mark, I am going to be seriously tempted to just give up outright and get ready to head back home to America. There are a few things that I can do right now to practice my language, and one of them is to study more books that I have on the subject as well as use more Ewe when walking around and chatting with people. Lately, I have found that I don't ask personal questions at all when I speak to someone, which leaves me with emptying my reservoir of greetings and then awkwardly becoming silent as they Ghanaian looks at me. Even just a simple, "Where did you come from," or "Are you closed from work?" would be terrific. Small gains will keep me trying, and that is what I have been aiming for over the past three or four days.

Lastly, I will be ramping up on a few small projects that I hope to get moving when students return. I wish to start up the ICT Club, a place for students to get further material and education related to all things "communication", and create a night-class for teachers on campus to spur interest in a few things tech-related. Both of those are on the radar, but I will see if there is genuine interest in either once classes start anew.

These are the main things on my mind as of late. Further updates to come of course.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Surprise Visitor From Three Days Ago

Paint fumes have filled the computer lab as of late. The workers in charge of painting the walls a new color made quick work of most of the space over two days, and had put down a nice new coat of blue-gray by Friday of last week, but today was the day that I had to move a few things around in the lab, and I prepared myself by going into the small back room which typically houses most of our least-used equipment. That room, however, was virtually empty. No computers. No boxes full of cables and cobwebs. Nothing of the sort.

Save for two visitors. One was a common housefly that had landed on the still-wet paint. It was stuck pretty good there on the top shelf and I can only figure it had about an hour's worth of flapping before it succumbed to exhaustion and its fate.

Our second visitor met the same demise apparently. A poor hapless gecko wandered from the window onto the surface of the same wooden shelf (maybe in an effort to track down the flapping fly?) and expired right where he stepped. I felt bad for both of them, but more for the gecko. I then felt very bad for me.

I had a broom in my hand, one made from palm fronds that is wrapped into a bundle that will fit nicely into the palm of your hand. There is no broom handle so it is just the wisps of fronds that does the work for you. I took that and figured it was better to use it than my hand to push the gecko off the shelf. It was stuck there for a reason though, and he or she had been in place for a good few days unfortunately. My initial swipe at the creature resulted in about 60% of it coming off the shelf - mostly the front and upper half of it, plus the tail.

Oh did I see and smell the error of my ways. I had just planted an odor bomb in a very small room where I was going to be placing most of the lab's equipment inside. It was not the most carefully planned of missions.

After keeping my wits and my lunch, I decided on letting the remnants stay on the shelf to desiccate a bit and make a straight line out the door with the half that I did manage to dislodge all the while keeping my breath held tightly inside. The room still smells terrible, but the computers and monitors are safely stored in the back room away from the sanding that is going to be occurring tomorrow. You live and learn in Ghana.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Just A Moment To Reflect

This post was meant to go up yesterday, but I was a stuck in the house all day with the flu bug carefully lodged in my gastrointestinal tract. I am better today, so it was just a 24 hour flu.

Many years back my dad and I went out to the old Ford LTD and found a pool of fluid under the hood and on the driveway. Seemed that something was dripping out of the car and the likely suspect was the power steering pump. First, it was covered in fluid, and second the color of the fluid would match that purpose unlike black oil or something green like antifreeze from the radiator. It seemed to Dad that this would be a good excuse to go out to the junkyard and possibly hunt down a replacement.

Off to the junkyard where we asked the fellow in the office how much a power steering pump would cost. Something like twenty dollars was what he said, and we were off to go traipsing out into the field to find a suitable replacement. We stumbled upon a station wagon that was also a Ford LTD (to which I was not even aware that Ford made such a beast) and our guess was this might be a good candidate. Up went the hood and then lo and behold, there was a power steering pump that looked identical to what ours looked like, though not covered in fluid. Dad grabbed his small toolkit which had a few choice items and got out the socket and ratchet wrench to start removing the bolts.

Now a thing to note about where the power steering pump is located. It is close to the radiator at the front of the engine compartment. Being expertly designed, it fit into this space with a few inches of room between it and the frame that held the radiator in place. This is important to remember.

When he got the wrench on the bolt he started to work the bolts off. The first one or two came off without an issue. So easy in fact, that we both didn't quite pay attention to the one bolt that was being backed out from its hole towards the radiator. We must have been remarking on the luck we had in finding this pump in the first place. Oops.

The ratchet wrench allows you to loosen or tighten a bolt without having to constantly fit an open-ended wrench onto the bolt, turn, and then pull the wrench off the bolt and get it back on. The ratchet mechanism allows you to keep the wrench in place and just move the handle back and forth. The interchangeable sockets just fits right over the bolt, but it will extend the wrench's height by an inch or two, depending on the size of the socket. The means to reverse the procedure is controlled by a dial on the back of the wrench. Now, as Dad kept turning the wrench to loosen the bolt, it moved further and further away from the power steering pump, and closer and closer to the radiator.

And now the predicament. The wrench on its tenth turn or so was about 1/8th of an inch from the radiator. Too little space to set the ratchet back to the tighten mode, and thereby reverse its direction. The bolt was still not out nor was it going to come out. My dad and I had just succeeded in impinging the wrench into the radiator with no means to undo what was done. Nor did we have enough tools to remove any other part from the engine block to save the wrench. We also did not have a power steering pump, our main mission in coming.

Along walked a friend that my dad knew from work and we were in luck; he had his full tool set in his car which he kindly got for us. About thirty or forty minutes later, enough parts came off the engine that allowed us to get the wrench back, and then the remaining bolts on the pump. Finally success, but with some mild embarrassment.

Which brings us back to the driveway and the power steering pump. We removed the bad one in the car and knew very well not to use the ratchet wrench to finish the one bolt, and then installed the new pump, and lastly we connected the hoses to the pump and poured in the power steering fluid. Dad told me to hop in and get the car started which I did dutifully. He then told me to crank the steering wheel to give the system a test while idling. The hood was open and he was standing right near the pump when I cranked the wheel, and out shot a spurt of fresh power steering fluid. It might have even hit the house it went streaming out so violently.

I stopped the car and looked at my dad's face to figure out what was wrong. Unfortunately, we never checked to see that the leak was not coming from the power steering pump unit - it was from the hose that connected to it which apparently had a very minute crack. We laughed at the whole episode and made plans to get a replacement hose and fix the car the right way, though if we had done it the 'right' way to start we would not have had this fun story to tell.

So, this is a great memory I have of my father. He died five years ago on the 6th of February. I still miss him a great deal but you hold on to the memories of someone you love for a very long time. I felt like this was a good time to share just one of them.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Rain As Archetypal Hero

There were about eight or nine days where I felt like the weather was breaching the point of verbal complaint – it was getting so hot that the nighttime temperatures were not dropping low enough for a comfortable sleep. It was hot but not muggy, yet that is little consolation when your room is still near 80. I was looking for a hero or savior from the oppression, and lo and behold there it was: the afternoon thunderstorm.

Now, there are conflicting reports on whether these few cloud bursts are here to stay or if this is just a signal of the even hotter weather to come. I hope that it won't get hotter, but given the my location I really should not be feigning surprise at warm weather.

So while I don't know if the worst is yet to come, I do know to give thanks where thanks are in order. This past Tuesday came a power outage just before 2PM and I decided that I might as well go home and get some reading done with the afternoon sun waning before darkness set in. Normally the power comes back on before dusk, but that day it stayed off until just after 9PM for some reason. At 5 the ominous, billowing dark clouds were forming and the air began to whip through the tall trees, dead leaves rustling over the ground (trees still shed their leaves according to the season and with the arid weather of late, some species are practically bare). I pulled a plastic chair onto the front porch and decided to watch the show. Nature really knows show business. The storm rolled in and dropped bucket after bucket of much needed water to the ground. I had to move inside after the rains came crashing down just to avoid the soaking myself.

That was Tuesday, but each day since Monday we have been blessed with rains in the afternoon which has dropped temperatures by at least 10 degrees each time, probably more like 15 to 20 and the moisture has really cut down on all the dust in the air which is a plus. Hence the rains are playing the hero-role here in the Volta region. Long may they reign!