The Joys of Technology

Sept. 1, 11pm
Last evening Albin and I met with Mtituh. He is an experienced network technician here in Dar es Salaam and was telling me about various Internet possibilities in Tanzania (CDMA, GSM, EDGE, HSDPA, GPRS, EVDO) “Albin are you understanding this?” “No.” Am I? Somewhat. It’s not the first time I’ve heard these acronyms but this is where the Carry On part of my “Be Calm and Carry On” strategy is put it play 🙂 Zain, Zantel, TTCL, Sastel, Vodacom…OK….Carry On….
After two hours of discussing options, he called a colleague, a former employee of TTCL, who confirmed that TTCL (Tanzanian Telephone Company Limited) had a high speed modem (EVDO) which would give us speeds of 512kbps in Karatu which is much faster than what we will be getting with the satellite dish (128kbps). “This is worth checking out,” I said to myself. “This would be a MUCH better solution….faster and less expensive than the satellite connection.”

So as he suggested, I went to the TTCL office in the Sayansi area. Spoke to an account executive who talked to two different TTCL engineers and she confirmed for me that Yes the EVDO modem did work with the Linux operating system, which is what we have at Banjika, but that No we wouldn’t get speeds of 512kbps. Hmmm…..conflicting information…who to trust??? The great dilemma of life.

Technology is an exciting field to be in (at least that is one way of thinking about it) because things are always changing. What was true last week may not be true next week. What was applicable yesterday may not be viable tomorrow.

The only way to know for sure is to test it yourself. “I’m going to buy the modem and test it out.” I had a Linux netbook so I asked if I could test the modem before buying it. “No.” then “Just wait here for a moment.”

At this point, I’ve been in the TTCL office for 2 hours …an exercise in patience. The final word was No I couldn’t test it before I bought it and if I bought it and it didn’t work, MAYBE I could return it. OK…I bought it.. $66.

“It’s easy…it is plug and play.” Well I plugged it in and it didn’t play…surprise surprise. After another hour with Mr. Elaise trying to get it to work and three phone calls with Abdul, another TTCL engineer…I was requested to bring my netbook and the modem to the TTCL CITY office where Abdul was so he could fix it hands-on. OK. If you like traffic jams you’ll LOVE Dar es Salaam. It’s now 4pm and I knew the traffic going into the city wouldn’t be bad so I take a Bajaj (mini-taxi) down to the city centre. I find the TTCL office and then Abdul. Guess what…he couldn’t get it to work either. I’ve now spent four hours on this project. “OK…I’ll just take my money back.” “Hamnashida (no problem) but you have to go back to the Sayansi office to get your money back…our office here is already closed.” Then it dawned on me that I now needed to head OUT of the city during the height of rush hour.

How have I lasted 23 years in the technology business??? This story is about the frustrations of technology…not necessarily about the frustrations of technology in Tanzania although here there is an added spice 🙂 but everyone has been more than willing to help me find practical solutions.

I am still going to follow every lead in the hope of finding a faster, less expensive alternative to satellite for Internet access in the rural areas. Am I tilting at windmills?

Meetings Meetings Meetings

We didn’t have electricity for a few days so I was unable to get online.

Took a long, hot, dusty, crowded ride in a dalla dalla (local bus) out to Ubungo to meet with the head of Ensol, a solar company with a branch in Karatu near Banjika. We worked out the specs for expanding the solar energy system. Albin, Powering Potential’s point person in Tanzania came with me.

I met with SimbaNet, our satellite Internet provider. We worked out the details of the installation which is happening Sept. 18.

Also met with two Tanzanian Linux computer technicians. They are available to help with the computer installation at the Noonkodin school. I’m working out the best option for local technical help.

Two blocks from where I am staying is an NGO specializing in solar energy. I had a very useful meeting with the head of that NGO (solar-aid.org). He gave me some good solar training materials and I have a much better understanding now of how to ensure the long life of the solar energy system at Banjika. I got a lot of very useful information from him.

Also met with another Tanzanian computer network engineer who is very knowledgeable about the various technology options here in Tanzania. I had met him online months ago (ethinktanktz.org) when I was researching Internet options for Banjika.

I met with the head of Tanzania Beyond Tomorrow, which is Accenture’s ADP project to increase education in Tanzania. He took me to lunch at the Sea Cliff hotel and it is aptly named. A luxury hotel on the tip of the Msasani Peninsula with high cliffs and crashing waves; I felt like a character in Wuthering Heights. It was so windy, as I poured milk into my tea it splattered across the table.

Because of the electrical outage, we didn’t have any water in the morning for a few days. Fortunately I had bottled water (for drinking) so I was able to brush my teeth and wash my face. The water and electricity are both back on. These are some of the fun things one gets to deal with in Tanzania 🙂 I love it!

Since I’ve been in Tanzania, we have received two more contributions, $750 and $5,000. And shortly before I left New York we received a $5,000 grant from the Oswald Family Foundation. I’m deeply touched by all of the support which is being given to Powering Potential.

First Day in Dar

The US Embassy is about a 10 minute car ride from my lodgings. I went by there today just to make sure I knew where I was going tomorrow. I spoke to a contact at the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training and we are going to try and meet on Friday. Also will be meeting on Friday with our sales rep from SimbaNet, the company we bought the satellite dish from. Spoke to the guy from Accenture…we have plans to meet Thursday evening. Albin Mathias, Powering Potential’s point person in Tanzania is coming over today at 5pm to meet with me. He’s going to college in Dar…getting a Bachelor of Engineering in Network Design and System Integration.

More later….

Arrived Safe and Sound

Just arrived at my lodgings in Dar es Salaam, the Q Bar and Guest House (it’s not what I imagined from their website 🙂 room is nice though, clean and big…….it’s midnight here….after 17 hours of flying and 4 hours of layovers…I’m tired…am going to bed.

“Be Calm” put to the test

Well the “Be Calm” part of my strategy has already been put to the test 🙂

There was an accident on the way to the airport….traffic was held up for an hour…I got to the terminal one hour before the flight instead of two….I had to ask people to let me go to the front of the security line in order to make my plane….ahhhh…nothing like rushing through an airport to catch an international flight…I just kept repeating….be calm….be calm….be calm…

I’m at the airport in Amsterdam…it’s 9am here…the plane to Dar es Salaam leaves in 2 hours.

Be Calm and Carry On

That’s my motto for this trip 🙂

Well…my bags are packed and I’m ready to go… as the song sings…My flight leaves today (Monday 8/23) at 6:30pm EDT and arrives in Dar es Salaam at 10:30pm Tuesday evening.

Thursday is my meeting with the Community Grants Manager at the US Embassy.

I’ll be in touch….stay tuned.

Janice

Hello again from Peaceful Tanzania,

Thank you all for your emails. I love hearing from you. I will definitely pass along all of your greetings to our mutual friends here in Tanzania.

In two hours I will be on my way to Karatu. Bayo (another beloved safari guide) is picking me up and taking me there.

My friends here are very interested in the American presidential race. They love Obama (his father was Kenyan) and are also impressed that a woman is being seriously considered for President of the United States. News here is that President Bush is visiting Tanzania this month.

From what I have heard the violence from Kenya is only affecting Tanzania in that Kenyans who have relatives in Tanzania are coming here to stay with their relatives.

I have been spending a lot of time (every day) at the cell phone company (Celtel). I want to provide internet access to the teachers at Banjika so they can email and I need to buy a modem for that purpose. There is a Celtel technician in Karatu and he has been asked by the office in Arusha to go to the school to test the strength of the internet signal. I don’t want to spend $168 on a modem if the cell signal is too weak to transmit internet data.

The technician’s car broke down; today he told me his car has finally been fixed and he will go to the school this afternoon. Unfortunately the Celtel office is closed today (Sunday) so I made arrangements with the computer technician who is installing the computers to pick up the modem Monday morning on his way to Karatu…assuming the cell signal is strong enough…if indeed the car gets fixed and if indeed the technician makes it to the school. What fun working out all of these details!

I must sign off now….more later.

Amani,
(Peace)

Janice

Greetings from Peaceful Tanzania

Hello Everyone,

I arrived safely in Arusha Wednesday night. Thursday morning I discovered the cell phone company closed my account because of inactivity for over 3 months so I have a new Tanzanian phone number: 255 (0) 783 372 184. Depending on your long distance carrier, you may or may not need to dial the 0. 255 is the Tanzanian country code. Hint: I LOVE getting calls from friends in America!

At the airport, after the plane landed and I retrieved my luggage I walked out and standing there to greet me was Julius! To those of you who weren’t on the safari with me in 2006, Julius was our beloved group leader. He was picking up some clients at the airport. It was such a treat to see him! He and I will meet up again in Karatu.

On Sunday I will go to Karatu and on Monday will be at Banjika. I have business to attend to in Arusha today and am very busy.

That is all for now….more later.

Janice

Fortuitous Fortune

The other day I was waiting at Cafe La Fortuna for the Swahili Meetup (www.meetup.com) members to arrive so we could practice Swahili and swap stories of East Africa. In walked a man who noticed my Swahili dictionary and Tanzania guide book so I asked if he was here for the Swahili Meetup. He wasn’t, but we engaged in conversation — he had been to Uganda — and when the other Meetup members did arrive we included him in our Meetup conversation. He asked for some information via email about Powering Potential which I sent him. I had made it clear that Powering Potential is not a 501 (c) 3 organization. Today we received a check from him for $1,000 !!!

Cafe La Fortuna is truly fortuitous!

And another Patron was talking about Powering Potential to her friend and she donated a laptop and a check to Banjika!

The vision of young people in Tanzania using computers to enhance their education and improve economic opportunities after school is being realized…thanks to all of the Powering Potential Patrons.

Wisdom, Peace and Love,
(Tanzanian National Anthem)

Powering Potential

Well, I just set up the Powering Potential blog with the help of Anand Sethupathy. Thanks Anand!

My friend Steve Newman is hosting a private fundraiser for Powering Potential on Sept. 27. Thanks Steve!

The school needs electricity before I can bring more computers. So I’m saving and raising money for a solar energy system.

For those of you who are just now coming into this story. Powering Potential is a project started by Janice Lathen to enhance educational experiences for students in Karatu, Tanzania, specifically at the Banjika Secondary School. As of Sept. 14 with the help of 59 Patrons, Powering Potential has provided two laptops (with long-life batteries), 14 bicycles, and 2 hours time at an Internet cafe for each teacher and 1 hours time for each Form 3 student. Fifty Banjika students walk from 7 to 11 miles a day to attend school. Form 3 is equivalent to the US 10th grade and is currently the highest grade level at Banjika.