Tuesday, February 27, 2007
In Loving Memory
My grandfather died tonight. He'll be buried on Saturday, I'll have to rush from the airport to the church.
I feel depressed...
Friday, February 23, 2007
I discovered a cockroach this morning. Actually, discovered is not the right word because I simply couldn’t miss it. It was big, in fact it was huge. It was so big that it would qualify as ‘medium-sized pet’ or ‘small breed of livestock’ rather than ‘small vermin’.
I didn’t want to step on it, because the whole sole of my shoe would have been covered in yellow mucus. Besides, I’d probably hurt my foot. Or maybe it would charge and bite me to death. You never know with African wildlife. I heard that even lions leave cockroaches this big alone. I’m not going to take any chances here, so I decided on a friendly approach. I named it ‘Harry’.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Highway Through Hell
We drove from Niamey, Niger's capital, to Maradi on Tuesday, where our partner organisation has a second office. Although it was a ten hour drive, it wasn't as bad as I suspected. The road between these two main commercial centres is quite good, although some stretches are pock-marked with pits and cracks in the road. Our jeep has a good air-conditioning, so the heath was bearable through most of the journey. And I managed to keep the sludge in my intestines and out of my pants, thanks to an overdose of Imodium. For the same reason I politely refused the lunch I was offered halfway in a rather dubious restaurant where 'hygiene' and 'fresh' were stuffed with other garbage in the back of the filthy toilet in the back of the garden.
Despite the importance of this trade route, which branches out to neighbouring Nigeria and Cameroun, there wasn't a lot of traffic. But when we met vehicles, they were impressive. Trucks are chronically overcharged here. There loads balloon out and over the whole vehicle. Not surprising then that there is a huge number of them that literally breaks down. I gave up counting the number of trucks that had lost their wheels or that had come to a scraping stand-still when one of their axes broke. All in days work for a Nigerian truck driver.
Some 150km out of Maradi we got a call from a delegation of another partner NGO that was also underway to Maradi to meet us there. Their car had broken down too, and they were stuck in the middle of nowhere. We found them with a burned-out engine. Nothing we could do there, so we asked the very friendly people of the nearby village if we could store the wreck in their compound. We left it there under the loving care of their goats and set off. We crammed eight people and a baby into a jeep with four seats, which meant that a couple of us had to sit on the luggage in the back. Road safety is a flexible term in this part of the world.
With some delay we arrived in Maradi, where I've been working like a horse ever since. For me it's a very interesting time, but I'd probably bore your pants of if I'd go into detail about that. So I won't.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Africans don't travel. They mass-evacuate. You won't believe how much luggage they take with them on the plane. I saw two women with huge television screens and a guy with an enormous plastic wrap that could only contain a cow's hind quarter.
And then there's the bartering. You can only take 46kg per person on the plane, so if they suspect you've got less you'll get an endless stream of people asking if you want to take part of their luggage with you. That's a definite no from me. In these times of drug trafficking and exploding terrorist devices, I'm not going to take some stranger's luggage with my on the plane.
Air France staff didn't help either, they are so slow that glaciers go 'Wiiiiiiiiiiiieee!!!' and overtake them.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
See You Soon
Tomorrow, at the diabolical hour of 5.20 AM, I will be leaving for Niger. I've been running around all day like a madman to do last-minute and very-last-minute preparations. It’s 10pm now and I’m still packing.
Faithful readers will know that during my trips abroad, I can’t post. However any noteworthy facts will be recorded in the comments to this post, if and when I can find an internet connection and provided I didn’t melt. It should be somewhere between 30 and 35°C in the shade – if I will be so lucky to find any shade that is. But then again, I shouldn’t be pessimistic, there’s a good chance for a couple of sandstorms. Anyway, I’ll be back on the 3rd of March, so you won’t have to miss me for too long.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I got a phone call today from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where I applied for a new job. They invited me for an interview on the 1st of March. I’m in Niger until the 3rd of March.
Frustration, because these egg-heads organise all their interviews on just one day, regardless of whether the candidates are able to make it or not. Not very professional if you ask me, if you want people with experience you have to understand that not everyone can be summoned to your office exactly on the day and hour of your liking. Especially if you don’t mention the selection date well in advance. People who already have a job can’t just drop everything, leave in the middle of important meetings or cancel business trips.
But try to explain that to a public servant!
I was rather interested in that job, and the reaction of the lady on the other side told me they were very interested in my CV. But she said they can’t make an exception just for one person.
So tonight I will mainly be sulking.
Monday, February 12, 2007
Clinging On To The Edge Of Life
We went to Bruges last weekend, to visit the in-laws and load up my wife’s old desk that she wants to use for her new office. My mother-in-law and her scandalously younger boy-friend had invited us to participate in a quiz organised by the local district committee. The two of them and myself managed not to get utterly defeated by the other 19 teams, while Mrs. B. slept almost through the entire thing as she was exhausted from working all week and being pregnant all the time.
On Sunday we visited Mrs. B’s grandmother, who has suffered a stroke a couple of weeks ago. She’s been in hospital ever since, in the geriatric department. She’s in her mid eighties, and although she was getting less lucid lately she managed rather well, although with full-time assistance from her daughters. But after that stroke she’s half paralyzed and unable to speak or to express herself in any other meaningful way. It was sad to see her like this, although Mrs. B. kept up a brave and smiling face and entertained her grandmother until we had to leave. I, on the other hand, didn’t manage much of a conversation. But then again, grandmother seems always very amused by my face, ever since we met for the first time. So she observed me a lot while I pretended to observe the television or a couple of women’s magazines.
My own grandfather is in pretty much the same state as Mrs. B’s grandmother. He’s been moving in and out of hospitals for the last couple of years with an ever increasing rate. A couple of weeks ago he was admitted after a cardiac arrest, and the doctors told my mother and my uncles and aunts to say goodbye. But the old man clung to life with surprising tenacity. His body, that is, because his mind is tugging to leave. One of the few things he still reacts to is my sister’s name. Somehow he remembers that she recently gave birth to a girl, his first grandchild. My mother suspects that he wants to see little Hebe before he dies. Unfortunately, Hebe is not strong enough yet to risk her bringing into a hospital.
Friday, February 09, 2007
Do Until objReader = acBored
It’s been quiet on this blog lately, I know. That’s because next Friday I will be leaving for Niger again. And before I can leave my monitoring software has to be ready. It’s almost ready, which is more frustrating than you’d imagine because of this endless stream of small issues and bigger problems that keep popping up at the last moment. Despite rigorous testing there’s always some bug that only appears at very specific circumstances, for which you of course didn’t test. In the best case, this means adding or removing a few lines of code. In the worst case I get stuck for days on end, slamming hundreds of lines of code out of my keyboard, only to find out after many gruelling hours that there was this silly little thing blocking the whole shabamble (official computer term). Take it away and the problem is gone. Oh, and you can also dispose of these thousands of lines of code you wrote in a desperate attempt to find a workaround.
Add to this mixture Murphy’s law, and you’ll know how many times I deal with a ‘best case’ and how many times with a ‘worst case’.
Physically, I’m turning into the hunchback of the Notre Dame. When I am working on my computer in utter concentration and under full steam, my posture is a disaster. So my shoulders ache and my neck hurts. I can also feel the tendons in my arms and fingers ‘freeze’, and my wrists feel as if they’re bloating. So you can understand that I wasn’t in the mood for getting behind the computer after work.
I had RSI or Repetitive Strain Injury a couple of years ago precisely from working on the computer, tapping away at high velocity for hours on end and that over a period of several months. I neglected my body’s warning signs, until I could type no more and had to rest. Surprisingly, the world didn’t end because of it. But I know it will if I don’t finish this in time.
The first time I had RSI was in my teens. Strangely enough I didn’t type that much back then. I wonder what other repetitive movement I could have done for months on end as a teenage boy…
Monday, February 05, 2007
‘There, did you feel it ?’
‘Mmmmh… I think I did, very gently so.’
‘It’s not kicking very hard now. Last night it was kicking much harder, but I didn’t want to wake you up.’
Friday, February 02, 2007
It All Adds Up
When I made my website, I looked around for a counter which not only offered some decent statistics, but which also allowed me to manipulate its colours because I wanted to embed it into a picture. The result is the ‘Mirror Mirror On The Wall’ counter on the be.bart page (which is desperately in need of an update, I know). Needless to say, it had to be for free too.
That’s how I ended up with CountStats.net. In the beginning, I was quite pleased with my counter. But after a while I noticed it had some quirks. For instance, every year in the beginning of the year CountStats throws away the statistics of the previous year. They don’t just throw away the numbers that are older than twelve months, they just throw away the previous year, apart from the total number of visits and page views.
When they do that, their whole system gets screwed up for a couple of weeks. So for days on end, your counter won’t move, or some statistics won’t be available. Some statistics never worked anymore at all since the first time they did this to me.
But even at the best of times, their counters can be very sluggish, to the point where your web browser just gives up and goes for a cup of coffee. So I started to suspect that the number of hits that my blog gets might be higher than they proclaim it is. To check this, I installed another counter and you can see the result at the bottom of the right column. Since January 10th the difference between the SiteMeter counter and the CountStats counter grew to more than 240 visits. According to CountStats, I had on average 22 people per day visiting my weblog, while SiteMeter says that it is almost twice as much (40 per day). CountStats says I had 25 page views in the last month, SiteMeter claims that I had 50 per day during the last month. On top of this, SiteMeter doesn’t count my own visits, while CountStats doesn’t have this option and includes them into its statistics.
To be fair, I did put the code for the SiteMeter code in front of a bunch of other things that link to external servers, while the CountStats thingy has to wait until all the others load before it can add to its stats. I don’t know if this can have an influence or not, so if there are any web wizards out there – your feedback is welcome.