Archive for April, 2009

facilities for programming class

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

I have been teaching programming to a group of teachers. Lycee Technique offered us the use of a small computer lab (6 computers).  The room is closed by a metal gate, but there are no screens or windows, so dust from the nearby carpentry and masonry workshops float in and wreak havoc.  The school claimed to not have resources to by some cloth to cover and protect the computers, so I made my students contribute themselves.

One computer was attacked by viruses (brought in by USB thumb drives; there is no internet connection) and stopped working.  Another had a hardware failure.  The administration again said there was no money to repair the machines.  So we were down to 4 computers.  Then one computer was stolen.  I don’t know who is suspected or if the school is doing much to find out.
Luckily, the minister of education sent a letter recently to the school saying that they should make an effort to teach computer skills to their business students.  This seemed to inspire the school, and they dusted off the 20 computers they recieved from a partner school in France but have been sitting in a closet for 2 years and set them up in a computer lab.

I went to the new lab yesterday to see if the we could recommence our programming class.  There were not enough electrical outlets for over half of the computers. And still no glass on the windows or clothes on the computers to protect them from dust.

this is an example of how the problems I encounter here often seem fundamental.  Yet there is a lack of willpower to fix things, or even to prevent further problems.   I just keep pushing and insisting and needling and annoying people until hopefully things will work and be somewhat efficient.

In the meantime, we will restart the programming class.  This week’s topic; SELECT statements in SQL.

dog kabob

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

I was sitting with two friends under a mango tree drinking tchouk (millet beer).  A middle aged man approached us in a manner both shy and sly.  “Bonsoir”, he said to each of us individually, studying our faces.  We responded in kind, waiting to see what was going to happen next.  “I have some parasutemal.” (something like aspirin) and he pulled out what looked like a greasy pizza box.  “A-haaa”, my friends said in delight, “That is just the ticket”.  I remained baffled even as the man opened the box to display several meat kebabs.  My friends pulled out their money in a flash, and then turned to me.  “You are going to try some, right?” Something in their voice warned me that it wasn’t goat, and they confirmed that it was in fact, delicious dog meat.
Apparently, not everyone likes to eat dog, especially Muslims.  Hence, the vendor’s cautious approach. But those who like it really find it a treat.  I made barking noises as my friends ate their skewers, just to see if it would turn them off at all, but they love viande de chien.  Their lip smacking did not convince me to try even a bite, but I wondered to myself if I would have been able to convince them to eat sushi.

thank you for camp help

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Wow, Thank you all so much for contributing to the Camp Informatique project. I can’t believe we reached our goal so quickly. My co-directors here are thrilled and excited to move on to planning the camp.
I really appreciate every penny that was donated. It is incredibly kind of you to reach out across continents and oceans to give an unknown child a chance to learn how to use computers, especially in this time of financial uncertainty. In this shrinking world we need to reach out to others more than ever, and your individual gift is one of many important acts of kindness and hope.
If you did not get a chance to give to the camp, there are other great Peace Corps Partnership Projects that need funding. I encourage you to browse the site.
All Peace Corps Partnerships come from real community need, have no overhead, and are supported by a community contribution of at least 25%. Most projects, like camps that increase knowledge, confidence, and healthy lifestyles, are rarely done by other aid organizations, and allow Peace Corps volunteers to address real needs that are not being met elsewhere.

Camp Informatique

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

So much infrastructure are poor oe non-existant, including a frustrating lack of information. We (in the USA) are used to vast amounts of information at our fingertips. If we don’t know something we just turn to the nearest high speed connected recent model computer – never far away- and look it the answers.

Here in Togo, knowledge is passed slowly and deliberately. Books aren’t readily available, and knowledge is passed from teacher to student and generation-to-generation as if it is written in stone. How can improvements be implemented if no one knows about them?

But lots of information is out there, online, for free. Computers (old) and an internet connection (slow as molasses) are available at cyber cafes, but people just don’t know how to use them. This means that people can’t find the information that would really help them (water sanitation, improved latrine design, cooking with solar, or even scholarships to study at a university) because they don’t know how to use a mouse and keyboard.

So my job here is to be a small bridge to the world of information and communication technologies. I work with schools and businesses to teach computer skills. This ranges from using a mouse to computer programming. I’ve built web sites with students, taught teachers to use a word processor, and worked on moving business records to spreadsheets.

One project last year was a Computer Camp, in which we introduced basic computer skills to the top 36 students in the region. Many students came to the camp having never sat in front of a computer before; they all left having knowing how to type documents do academic searches on the internet.

( More at )

We would like to do the camp again this year, but we need to pay for it somehow. So, here is your chance to help bridge the digital divide. $75 pays for one student to come to the camp. (But a bigger donation is also accepted).

If we don’t raise the full amount requested for the camp (3000), we don’t get to do it at all. The community is offering the computer hall for free, emergency health care for the campers, notebooks, pens, and helping with other costs. Any help you can give will stay in the community and will be used in the most cost effective manner possible.

going to the seamstress

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

I love having clothes made here.  I have limit myself to one outfit a month, so as to not overspend.  I’ve never been a clothes hog, but here I can choose the material, pick the style, and have it made exactly to my measurements.  What fun.

Of course, most of the material and styles are a little bright and frilly for American tastes.  The skirts are ankle length and the tops are full of bows, frills, and other exciting options.  The typical cloth, pagne, is generally bright loud patterns of multiple colors.  Still, it is fun to have stuff made to wear here.  People love it, and even are shocked to learn that I might not ba able to wear a bright pink, blue and yellow floor length outfit with satin trim to work in America. (An american once told me that outfit made him dizzy!)

There are differences in what is considered modest as well.  All skirts must be past the knees.  Pants are considered sexier than skirts.  Showing cleavage is fine.

In any case, I love the feeling of anticipation after I drop of the cloth at the seamstress and pick a style.  A week later, I go back and see if it worked, if the style looks good on me, and if the seamstress understood what I asked for.  Naturally, there are winner outfits and losers, but at a couple bucks a pop, it is worth the try.