Tag Archives: computers

Let me tell you a story

On the way to expat American Thanksgiving in Choma last Friday, my ride picked up two of my sort-of neighbors, Vita and Fanny. (I found this enlightening, because it explained why they’re my sort-of neighbors, and also what they actually do, neither of which I’d managed to figure out on my own. Also, Fanny’s name. They both live in Choma, but stay here in Macha during the week. Fanny is a co-headmistress, or assistant headmistress, or something to that effect, at the MICS school, and Vita is an assistant teacher (explaining why she seems to be a teacher, but doesn’t keep teacher hours). Since Vita stays with Clare while she’s here, she’s a very close sort-of neighbor, and it’s nice to have a better understanding of the situation.

Also, Fanny told us a story.

Why the cow does not get out of the road

There was a cow, a goat, and a dog who were traveling. To get to where they were going, they hiked*. When the cow got to where it was going, it paid in full, which is why it is not afraid of the vehicles that pass. When the goat got to where it was going, it just jumped off and ran away, so it always runs. The dog paid, and there was change due, but the driver did not provide it, which is why the dog always chases after cars.

*That is, hitch-hiked. Walking is ‘footing it,’ or sometimes just walking.


Expat American Thanksgiving was very nice. Everyone seemed very excited about “meeting fellow Americans,” which prospect did not particularly excite me; I could meet Americans in the US without coming all the way to Zambia, and in general there is a much better selection over there (not that I’m complaining about the expats I’ve met here; they’re all very nice). This is just as well, as it turns out that I was the only person present who had met all of the attendees before that evening. And I always like holidays that involve hanging out and eating good food, especially since we stayed the night and I had the opportunity to take a hot bath.

There was no turkey, but there was pretty much everything else that one thinks of at Thanksgiving — the only staples I might have included were green bean casserole, sweetcorn, and Grandma H’s cranberry relish. AND we had chicken, duck, guineafowl, and bushpig. The guineafowl was very nice: good flavor, moist, more substantive than chicken at home, but not as much as village chicken here. Bushpig is rather generically pork-ish and somewhat dry. I don’t feel any need to have bushpig again. But I would eat more guineafowl.

We played a game that I thought was a nice acknowledgement of the origins of the holiday. Everyone was given an illustrated nametag incorporating their initials to create a “Native American style” name, and we were informed that this was the name out parents had given us when we were small, and that by dessert we should share with the group the story we had been told as children about how we got out name. Mine was Rising Moon, so of course I told the tale of how, when I was born, I was given one of those stupid names that babies get, like Ichabod or something, but that it was quickly changed when my parents realized that my sleep schedule was lunar, rather than solar. We also heard how Matt played with mountain lions when he was two or three years old; how Erma was discovered on a small hill covered in elk; how grownup-Chris’s mother had to slaughter a cow all by herself; how SALT-Chris’s parents drove the car into a ditch so that he was born in a canyon; the story of the nasty Shetland pony that Greg’s family had when he was a kid, which made his first date with his future wife a complete failure; and a few others. I thought it was lots of fun.

And I already mentioned the hot bath. I was really decadent this morning and heated water to add to my bathwater, so I washed my hair in hot water this morning, too, although out of a bucket.


I’ve been tutoring a woman in computer science material I was never taught, which is interesting. I read the (really poorly designed in all sorts of ways) book and then explain it to her. cmoore calls it “knowledge translation.” In addition to meaning that I spend more evenings away from home than I do at home, I’m getting chances to eat more Zambian food, and also to experience a little bit of the daily household interactions that I miss out on through not living with a host family. I like Monica and her family a lot, and hanging out with them is definitely worth tromping over to the hospital-area several evenings a week. I’m learning things too, which is always fun, and her husband and two youngest kids and I had a hymn sing Saturday night while we waited for supper to be ready, which was absolutely marvelous. I like the music here, and people in general sing really well, but hymns in Tonga aren’t quite the same as hymns in English, and half the music is praise songs in Tonga, which is much harder, because then I haven’t got written words (though it’s really exciting when, on the second or third pass, I can figure out not only what the words are but what they mean, which is happening more and more frequently). So it was very nice to sit down and sing Amazing Grace and gobs of old familiar hymns, and a few new-to-me old hymns. Yesterday Monica and I were talking about binary numbers, and decimal-to-binary conversion, and binary-to-octal conversion, and I could see that she was getting it, which was really marvelous, especially since I knew that she would not have understood it from just reading the book.

I’m also doing some tutoring with the boarding kids at MICS, due to not having enough work to do at work, which is fun, but also challenging, because I never know from day to day which kids I’ll be working with (and I have yet to see any of them twice, although I think that will change if I keep doing tutoring through next year), or whether they’ll have homework or I’m just supposed to come up with something on my own, or even what grade they’ll be in. 24 is my favorite game right now, although it takes a good bit of work to create cards easy enough for their maths skills that are still challenging.


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Hold on and pretend this was your decision

Life is going, here in Macha. The electricity has behaved admirably well since Tuesday night; it’s water that we ran out of for the past three nights, instead. People here are accustomed to that, so there are buckets sitting around for just such an eventuality, but I do hope this isn’t a permanent feature of hot season, because I do like having running water later than fourteen or fifteen hours.

I haven’t seen any rats for a while, but I suspect that is because Claire and her infant son have moved in, along with a number of people who I think don’t actually live in her room, but are around all the time, thereby more than doubling the ambient number of people present in The Wooden House 3. It keeps things lively and increases the amount of Tonga being spoken in my immediate environment, which I think is all to the good, just as soon as I figure out who all these people are.

I had supper Monday night with the pilot and his wife and their three children (all under the age of five). It was an interesting meal, including this highlight:
“L, Auntie Miriam is new here, and doesn’t know everyone. Will you pray that she gets settled in?”
“Dear God, help Auntie Miriam meet a nice man . . . that she wants to be friends with, and some people to give lettuce to.”

I really don’t know where that came from, especially the lettuce.

And last night I had supper with the boarding kids at MICS, the innovative school right across the street from The Wooden House. If I go back it certainly won’t be for the food, which made college dining halls look like the height of style, but it was fun after the kids warmed up to me a bit.

Today’s big news is that I started teaching the International Computer Driver’s License class. I’d been told that I would start teaching it on Monday, and sit in today (I sat in on Wednesday, too), but it got to 40 minutes after the time for class to start, and there was still no sign of a teacher, so when it came to a choice between me teaching the class or there being no class, I taught the class. They’re doing Microsoft Word right now. Even if it is Office 2007, how hard can it be?

I think it went decently. I was, unsurprisingly, horribly unprepared, but I know my way around a computer pretty well, and it helped to have the textbook sitting in front of me. Eviis (Avis?), the actual teacher, showed up about halfway through and sat through the rest of it watching me teach. She told me afterwards that I’m a good teacher. I don’t know if I would go that far. We’re still having accent difficulties, so about half the time I need to repeat myself twice before I’m understood, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I also have some tendency to assume a higher level of basic computer literacy than some of the students actually have (Yeah, I’ve taught grownups who know NOTHING about computers, to whom you need to explain the concept of double-click, but mostly just one-on-one, where it’s easier to tell when you’re losing the student. I’m not accustomed to a group of people my own age who need to be told to highlight text before you try to change its formatting. One of the guys is still having trouble just with mouse navigation). But I draw pictures of the icons on the board, and walk around a lot to see that everybody is more-or-less on the same page.

We start Mail Merge next week, which I don’t know how to use, but hey, I have the textbook all weekend, and maybe when I copy sample letters and mailing lists to each of the computers, I can fix the display settings so that none of them have that ridiculous running horse, which is really too big to be practical when trying to navigate ribbons in Office. I think I’ll need to emulate smb and start carrying around my own tea towel or washcloth for the board, because not only is chalk dust and computers a TERRIBLE mixture, the eraser provided is several eons beyond being on its last legs.

This afternoon I’ll be sitting in on the A+ engineer training class. Just as long as they don’t want me to teach that one, because while I have a general understanding of the material covered, I certainly don’t know it well enough to be able to stand up and teach it on the fly.

I do seem to recall saying that it would be very nice if someone gave me some work to do.


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A check-in

To catch people up on computer issues, while I have a working computer, we couldn’t recover my data. So I’ve lost a month of pictures and have no music anymore. That’s pretty much the worst of it. And Pandora apparently does not work in Spain. Which is really too bad (any suggestions for free, not-illegal music sources? I like classical and folk and musicals and gospel and hymns and traditional ethnic and it doesn’t have to be in English or even have words).

I haven’t been doing enough interesting things lately to give a play-by-play recap, so I’ll just ramble about stuff as it occurs to me.

My host mother had decided that I don’t like sweets. I don’t know how to tell her than no, I have a huge sweet tooth, I’m just a whole lot pickier about sweets than about regular food. (I guess that it makes sense that I have higher standards for something that I’m eating specifically because I like it rather than something I’m eating because I’m hungry and need nurishment.) I did sort-of try to explain that it’s not that I don’t like chocolate, but rather that I don’t unilaterally like chocolate; this chocolate may have too much sugar in it, or I may not like the flavor of that one . . . but I think that that only reinforced her impression that I’m not a big fan of sugar. And while I can think of another way to try to explain it, telling her that I only like chocolate that I consider to be good seems very rude, since it implies that the chocolate she’s tried to feed me is bad chocolate. She also doesn’t seem to understand that in my house, a croissant is a dulce. And while I did try to tell her that it’s not that I don’t like sugar, it’s just that sugar is a food which has a high potential for me to dislike it if it’s not to suit my exacting standards, I don’t think that I’m explaining very well in English, so I don’t see why she would understand in Spanish.
Of course, the fact that I don’t like several of the options for sweet food is probably a good thing; it means that I’m not going to eat any of it. I don’t like the cordoveses because they have too much confectioner’s sugar and not enough flavor, and I don’t really like the stuff that’s like filo dough with crema inside because of what I guess is a texture thing; it sticks to the roof of my mouth in a funny way that’s unpleasant enough to make the so-so flavor entirely not worth the trouble. And hey, the croissants continue to be quite good to excellent.
Perhaps another factor is milk. I’m accustomed to eating my sweets with milk, and while I don’t dislike the milk here so much that I won’t drink it, it just doesn’t taste right. I have yet to decide if sweets without milk or sweets with odd milk are preferable. (And I can’t get over the fact that it doesn’t need to be refrigerated! It’s just weird to me that milk can sit out of the fridge like cans of fruit juice before it’s opened. Of course, they seem to be more lax about refrigeration here – or maybe it’s just Pepi. At any rate, she’ll make my lunch in the morning before she goes to work and then leave it sitting out on the counter all day. I usually stick it in the fridge when I get up, and then microwave it thoroughly. I have yet to figure out how this behavior can be compatible with the amount of mayonnaise that’s used here. Maybe the mayonnaise is different, too. Luckily Pepi seems to have decided that I don’t like mayonnaise, either. While this isn’t actually true, I do feel that mayonnaise is a condiment – to be used sparingly on a limited number of foods – rather than an ingredient to be applied with the same enthusiasm that Isaac uses for ketchup.

We played fútbol (and a bit of ultimate frisbee) on Friday night and had lots of fun. While I can’t even remember the last time I touched a soccer ball, most of the other participants seemed to have a similar level of skill. I, at least, had the advantage of four years of field hockey, which utilizes a similar set of team skills, if not ball skills (which while usually useful, also meant that I occasionally found myself in exactly the right place and still unable to actually perform the required action). It sounded like we may continue to have similar games; if that’s the case I will perhaps look into acquiring a cheap pair of sneakers.

Let’s see . . . we went out for ice cream yesterday. Instead of paying for overpriced ice cream in a cone, a bunch of us got two cheap containers of ice cream. While the ice cream wasn’t as good as it would have been from one of the artisan places, it was cheaper, and it was a nice group-excursion thing. You definitely feel closer to people when sharing communal ice cream than when each person has her own cone.

I’ve done a lot of walking of late. But I got plenty of sleep last night, and didn’t wake up with sore feet or feeling tense all over (my analysis: only-barely enough sleep coupled with computer worry and lots of walking/soccer). So that’s a good thing.

I should get around to doing homework at some point today. Also to downloading TeX or OpenOffice so that I can write papers when it’s next required of me.


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Saved once again by the kindness of strangers

(and also the fact that Mac, for a giant company, is unusually buena gente.)

So. Yesterday I was fiddling about with the internet, as per usual, and was suddenly ambushed with Rainbow Swirly of Death. Since there was clearly nothing going, I manually shut it down. When I turned it back on, I got a white screen and a faint hard drive noise, and nothing else. Several times.

I was kind of freaking out about this. While the logical part of me was saying, “It’s not the end of the world, it’s still under warrantee, the only thing you haven’t backed up are the pictures you’ve taken this month – and honestly, worst comes to worst, you can survive in Spain for three months without a computer! You’ll certainly learn more Spanish that way,” the rest of me was way too busy having an incipient panic attack to pay any attention. I borrowed somebody’s computer to look on apple help, with no result.

Pepi took me over to the computer store around the corner, where they told me that there’s a mac store in Plaza de Colon. This was a relief, since I was a little bit worried that I was the most mac-savvy person within a very large radius; everything seems to be Windows here.

This morning we had a group excursion to the art schools to check out the offerings (I want to take bookbinding), and then I headed over to the Plaza de Colon with my computer. The store was a very mac sort of place – white decor, snazy technology sitting around – and lacked the vague sketchiness that I have come to associate with computer-anything here. I told the guy behind the desk what happened when I turned it on, and showed him. We discussed the fact that my system disk was in the United States, and he got another guy from the back room who spoke excellent English (also, very, very British English – it took me at least ten minutes to figure out that he was a Spanish guy who spoke good English rather than a British guy who happened to be in Spain and spoke good Spanish), and we discussed the problem. He pulled out some external hard drives and a system disk, any my computer failed to be very cooperative. His preliminary analysis was that it was the motherboard – this got changed to, “No, your hard drive is very dead,” when we tried to use my hard drive as an external to get the data. Apparently it was probably a power surge (I didn’t have a surge protector. I’m going to fix this ASAP. It would already be fixed, but the mac place didn’t have any, and the other place they sent me had only the fanciest model left in stock – the one that would cost over 100 euros). So they replaced my hard drive, and are trying to get the data from my old one. I was also advised to take out my battery whenever I’m working with the computer plugged in and not charging it. I didn’t know this.

I have a working computer. This is a great relief.
Hopefully I won’t have lost anything important. And I can survive three months in Spain without Microsoft Office.
Mostly, I’m just really, really glad.

Oh, and for those of you who are following the saga of my internet – in the course of my running around, I got an ethernet cable and have it plugged in to the modem. My internet appears to be slower now than it was on the wireless.


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