OLPCorps Tulane University & UC Davis – Sierra Leone

48 Hours of Pure Adrenaline by Katie R
August 7, 2009, 1:11 pm
Filed under: Logistics, OLPCorps

There are a number of cliché idioms that might be used to describe the past week or so here in Kenema, and specifically the 48 hours of pure adrenaline that made up last week’s Sunday through Tuesday.  For example:

When it rains, it pours.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Get  the ball rolling.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

When in Rome…  (“That expression doesn’t really apply to what I’m talking about.”  “I still don’t understand what it means.”  First person to name that movie gets a prize.)

After a month and a half of contemplating the futility of our roles in this program, at the brink of utter frustration and despair caused by our apparent customs-and-internet-problem-solving impotence (see XO’s Please Continued)… something happened.  Things started moving, things started going right.

Banie and Katie M with 20 boxes of XOs, transport bus in the background

Banie and Katie M with 20 boxes of XOs, transport bus in the background

On Sunday, July 26th at around 1:30 in the afternoon (start clock- 0hrs 00min), our shipment of brand new, bright green XO laptop computers finally, finally, FINALLY arrived at Defence for Children International’s Kenema office.  Well, 99% of them arrived, but that is enough for us to start the program, anyway.  We worked all afternoon to get them unpacked, numbered on the side with a Sharpie, serial numbers recorded, and NANDBlasted (software updated).  NANDBlasting went pretty well, although the copies that we made of the USB stick that Reuben gave us in Kigali did not work for whatever reason, so we made due with just the one original stick.

Though we had enough work to keep us at the DCI office until late into that night, a prior engagement brought us back to the Pastoral Center (our home away from home) on Sunday evening (clock- 3hrs 19min).  We had planned a big, huge birthday party for all the kids that live nearby and their families, to celebrate all of the birthdays that will happen in the next year when we’re not around.  We first met this group of kids around the Pastoral Center last summer, and they have proved to be not only great friends who kept tenaciously in touch with us over the past year, but also “cultural brokers” to help guide us as we stumble awkwardly through the inevitable cultural mishaps of international travel.  They are a wonderful group, curious and so smart, aged from 2 to 20.  Meeting them was one of my favorite things about coming to Sierra Leone last year, and the eagerness and potential I saw in their bright eyes was certainly one of the main inspirations in applying for the OLPCorps grant in the first place.

Pinata at the Pastoral Center birthday party, pre-riots

Pinata at the Pastoral Center birthday party, pre-riots

Having the birthday party on Sunday seemed like a good idea when we thought the laptops were going to be there Saturday, but both events on the same day was, well, hectic to say the least.  The party was certainly a success, though it started out a bit awkward with the parents and then almost turned into a riot at the end.  The party really got started with a dance competition (which was awesome), judged by the parents and separated by the youngest, middle, and oldest kids- we have some great video of that.  Next, we all went out to whack at (or flog, as the kids say) the piñata that Jamie and Chelsea had constructed out of palm fronds, cardboard, duct tape, stickers, and colorful plastic bags… which turned into an absolute, fist-throwing riot when the candy finally spilled.  It was actually kind of terrifying, and I was afraid that some kid was going to get trampled or smothered to death, or at the very least that the parents would all yell at us for endangering their children’s lives… but everyone survived and they actually all seemed to love the whole piñata ordeal.  We finished off the evening (clock- 7hrs 51min) with a veritable birthday cake, icing and sprinkles and all (it was even baked, Emily).

Eastern Radio had us as guest speakers on 2 of its hour long radio shows

Eastern Radio had us as guest speakers on 2 of its hour long radio shows

Bright and early on Monday morning, Jamie, Banie and I took a trip up Freedom Mountain to Eastern Radio 101.9 Kenema, the voice of justice and development (clock- 17hrs 07min).  We were the live guests on the hour-long morning show, which focused mainly on the long-awaited commencement of our project, telling the entire Eastern Region the benefits of these laptops for kids, and answering questions from callers.  Then we signed autographs for all the fans that lined up outside the radio studio after the show… ah, just kidding- we’re not that cool yet.  It was a pretty fun way to publicize, and the radio show host and callers had some great questions.  Check out an audio clip of the program below (sound quality isn’t too great, we’ll try and improve it when we can)… ok nevermind, internet connection is a bit slow.


Simultaneously, as the radio waves soared invisibly through town, Katie M and Chelsea headed off to the DCI office to set up for the first real day of the program- meeting with the parents and assigning computers.  We had all the kids (95!) and all their parents come to the office for a presentation on the class and responsibilities of the parents (clock- 18hrs 30min).  We had the kids sign up for class times, and then we handed out the computers (95!!) so that kids could put their names on them and decorate them with the formidable leftover sticker collection of Katie M’s childhood.  We’re keeping 5 of the computers as spares, and our own computers will go to the class teachers.  It was a bit chaotic at first- there were plenty of children who were not on DCI’s list who appeared and asked for computers.  For those who were on the list, when it came time to hand out the XOs, the message that we have a computer for each child on the list, it’s not first come first served, was drowned by the clamoring mass (kids and parents) that pushed, shoved, and scrambled to get their computers before the others.  Overall though, parents were receptive and eager, kids were thrilled, the entire region was notified, and the program was finally launched.  All by 11 am last Monday morning (clock- 22hrs 30min).

As if this wasn’t enough for one 24 hour period, Monday afternoon brought another advance in the battle against powerlessness.  We FINALLY got a successful internet connection at the DCI office- not a wireless one (yet!), but a genuine, real-life internet connection.  We had been working on this for the past month, as well, battling/getting the run-around from one piece-of-crap communications company who sold us a modem and service for a modem that just does NOT work in Kenema (it works in Freetown, yes. Kenema, no- they just don’t get it).  If any of you faithful readers are in the market for a modem that functions outside of Freetown, or at the very least a communications company that has any idea how to operate the products that it sells, I would not recommend SierraTel.

The previous week, with the finality of a very strongly worded letter delivered to the heads of the main office in Freetown, we had finally given up on SierraTel, resigned to the fact that we would probably just have to eat the money and time we wasted on their modem.  However, inspired by the working internet on our trip to Sahn Malen and not giving up on the idea of internet yet, we had another communications company, Zain, come out to the DCI office on Monday afternoon to set up their modem… and it worked.  Almost instantly.  It was amazing.  We checked email right there (clock- 26hrs 11min).

Tuesday the actual class started with the kids (more on that soon), though I didn’t get to see it because Jamie and I caught the early bus to Freetown (clock- 38hrs 13min) to drop him off for his flight home.  Not ones to waste a trip to Freetown, we walked straight from the bus station in Freetown to SierraTel with our worthless, poor excuse for a modem and copies of both our receipt and our strongly-worded letter to demand, even though it was probably hopeless, a full refund.  And it worked.  Almost instantly.  It was amazing. (Clock stop- 48hrs 00min).

Whew!  These 48 hours brought about the conclusion- in our favor- to several of the battles we’re been fighting since we arrived here.

Just to re-cap, in 48 hours:

  1. Computers arrived
  2. Unpack, number, record, NANDBlast
  3. Birthday party and piñata riot
  4. Eastern Radio
  5. Parent Meeting and XO assignment
  6. Zain modem and working internet
  7. Travel to Freetown
  8. First day of class with the kids
  9. Full Refund from SierraTel
  10. Jamie back to the U.S.

The rest of the week was still busy, but in a controlled, manageable way.  Faaez, from the other OLPCorps team in Sierra Leone, came to the rescue on Thursday like a wireless internet super hero, tights and all.  Thanks to his magic touch and the sweet Linux nothings he whispered to our server’s ear, we are now broadcasting the signal of our functioning Zain modem through the server and the wireless access points.  We have the first wireless internet spot in all of Kenema and probably the whole Eastern region.

Photo taken by one of the students on his XO in the first week of class

Photo taken by one of the students on his XO in the first week of class

The first week of class was great.  We’re still trying with our teachers to find the right balance between instruction and constructionism, but the kids are so smart and so eager, they learn so fast.  We have uploaded several pictures form the first week on our Flickr page that I would highly recommend.


The Most Productive One-Day Trip EVER by Katie McCarthy
August 6, 2009, 9:49 am
Filed under: OLPCorps, Technology

In an attempt to catch our faithful readers up with our continually chaotic lives post-XOs, here is a blog about our life pre-XOs.

You know when you are waiting for an important call – a call from the doctor, or from a job interview, or from Cox Communications – and you have been waiting all day? And, after waiting hours next to the phone, you decide to run to the bathroom because you have been waiting all day next to the phone. And, just when you sit down on the toilet, the phone rings. That’s what our trip to Sahn Malen was like.

As you know, we had been waiting weeks for customs to release our laptops. Being incredibly bored and not having anything else to do until our laptops arrived, we decided it was the perfect time to go visit the other SL OLPC team. Katie and I met two of their teammates when we were in Rwanda and they were pretty awesome. Although the morning started out with bad luck for me (freezing cold showers with no electricity and the water running out do not bode well for the start of the trip), the trip was uneventful. Upon leaving Kenema, we first took a taxi to Bo (the 4 of us with 6 of our closest friends – we were in a 5 passenger car – about an hour away). Once in Bo, we found another taxi to take us to Pujehun town. The road to Pujehun is about 30 miles paved and 12 miles unpaved – about 2 hours. We shared the taxi with our closest 9 friends (again, 5 passenger). When we arrived in Pujehun, we found that most of the motor bikers had been arrested the day before because they did not have licenses. We had planned on taking a motor bike to Sahn Malen… we finally found two bikers and ended up riding 3 to a bike with several backpacks. I’m still sore from trying to hold onto the bike with my legs and trying to keep my back straight (and not fall off the bike) with my stomach muscles. Excellent workout! It took us about 30 minutes by bike to get to Sahn Malen. The Hondas knew exactly where to take us because our friends were the only poo-mwis there. In fact, people in Bo even knew who we were going to visit (one of the Sahn Malen team members has dread locks, an unusual hairstyle for men in Sierra Leone, so they know who he is).

Thomas, our Honda driver

Thomas, our Honda driver

The village, Sahn Malen, is really rural and the team has one of the few generators in town. They get many of their supplies from Bo (which is 2-4 hours away, depending on the type of transportation). We got there in the mid-afternoon and went to see the other team’s set-up (very low tech but good). They power the laptops with the combination of a generator, individual solar panels, and a battery (powered by solar panels). They were building off of a previous deployment in December, working with peer educators and two local schools to provide XOs to all children in Class 5 (roughly, fifth grade). After observing their setup, we headed out to a “nearby” village (1 hour’s walk away) with another team member who was following up on mosquito net distribution project.

Scenic view along the way to Sahn Malen

Scenic view along the way to Sahn Malen

On our walk, however, Chelsea kept getting flashed on her cell phone by two of our DCI colleagues. (BTW, the term “flashing” refers to when people call your cell phone quickly, so you know they called, but not so you have enough time to actually pick up the phone. Because most people pay for their cell phones by the minute, calling people, especially when they have a different provider, can be expensive.) They kept calling but, of course, we had no signal because we’re in the middle of nowhere – literally. We were between two extremely isolated villages. We finally found a place where there were two bars but we had no units. So, we flashed them back. See the pictures below for a visual representation of how the call went.

Jamie, receiving the fateful call

Jamie, receiving the fateful call

Taking a picture of what might be a photo-worthy call

Taking a picture of what might be a photo-worthy call

Do we have laptops? Thumbs up? Thumbs down?

Do we have laptops? Thumbs up? Thumbs down?

Looks like a thumbs up... :)

Looks like a thumbs up... 🙂

Yay!! We got our laptops!!

Yay!! We got our laptops!!

Luckily our DCI friends called back to tell us our laptops had been freed from customs! Unfortunately, DHL was saying they couldn’t bring them to Kenema. (This was after we were assured by two reps in Freetown and 3 reps from the international office that they would be brought to Kenema.) After frantically returning to Sahn Malen, buying units and finding the best spot to make calls (stradling a gutter, interestingly enough), we called the OLPC rep in Boston and Emily, our amazing team member in Buffalo. We left a voice message for the OLPC rep (I think, a barely coherent message) and talked to Emily, who kept calling us back on Skype when we lost signal. I sat in a crouching position for about 15 minutes and in the middle of a puddle while we spoke. Then we called the DHL Freetown rep, who told us he would call back once he figured out the additional fee to transport the laptops toKenema (because they hadn’t figured that out before… ?). We thought they were trying to get more money out of us, but it turns out not to be so. Or at least, the charges were somewhat legit.

”]Katie, Katie, Jamie and Carlos [making a coconut whistle]
Captured Bush Baby

Captured Bush Baby

Back to Sahn Malen – we spent the rest of the evening eating pineapple and coconut, hanging out with Carlos and Faaez, meeting their team, setting up internet, and seeing what we later determined was a bush baby (thank you Wikipedia).

We stayed the night in Sahn Malen and departed early in the morning to head back to Kenema and get our laptops. We spent less than 24 hours in Sahn Malen, and it was the first day we had all been out of Kenema since we arrived. Too bad we didn’t leave earlier – we may have received our laptops earlier!

XOs! by Katie R
July 26, 2009, 11:42 am
Filed under: OLPCorps, Team Info

We received our laptops today!

Well, 99% of them anyway… we were missing one. More updates about that later.

“XO’s Please” Continued by Chelsea Rue
July 25, 2009, 1:46 pm
Filed under: Logistics, OLPCorps, Rants and Raves, Technology

The battle to get the laptops continues…

Inefficiency.  Lies.  Suspicions.

Do we have your attention International DHL PR staff person?  We certainly hope so.

Our laptops were freed from Customs on Wednesday (to our great relef and joy).  However, another struggle has presented itself.  Despite repeated assurances from the DHL Sierra Leone office that we would be receiving the laptops by Friday, at the latest Saturday at 1 pm, we are now sitting here at 6:40 pm posting this blog with nary an XO in sight.

Here is what we find troubling about this situation and the reasons we were given for the delay:

  1. DHL SL did not deliver on the day that they assured us (several times) that they would deliver.  This will delay the start date of our program once again, to the disappointment of 100 of the most vulnerable children in Kenema.
  2. DHL claimed that our shipment was delayed because it rained yesterday.  This is absurd.  It’s the rainy season.
  3. DHL SL is using a commercial bus to send our valuable shipment unaccompanied across the country, instead of using secure DHL vehicles.
  4. Not only did DHL SL use alternate transport for our shipment, upon our calls to DHL SL agents this morning, they were completely unaware of the shipment’s status or location.
  5. DHL SL gave several conflicting reasons why our shipment did not come as promised. First, they cannot deliver in the rain. Second, the vans had technical problems. Third, the van was full. If there was a problem with our shipment the night before, we should have been notified immediately.

    We look forward to Sunday where we will either be presented with our laptops (as most recently promised) or with ever more creative excuses.

    We welcome a response from any DHL staff who should happen across this post.

    Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth’s project in Kenema by Katie R
    July 20, 2009, 10:27 am
    Filed under: In the News, OLPCorps

    This project is a marathon, not a sprint. And during a marathon, there are times when things get slower, right? In the middle of the race, when the adrenaline from starting has worn off and the adrenaline of finishing has not kicked in, things slow down. Well, that’s where we are now. We’re in the middle of the race, coming up against several large hills. We’ve blogged quite extensively about the hills: our internet access and connectivity, and the ever present and mercilessly steep mountain of customs. But now, we’d like to provide an update of the long marathon, the part after we “Hit the Ground Running.”

    Since we have had so much time without the laptops, and we have been unable to begin the children’s classes, we’ve been everything we can think of to prepare for everything else.

    We finished a very thorough and very successful teacher training more than a week ago using our own personal XOs instead of waiting for our shipment of 100 to come in.  It lasted about twice as long as we expected it to – we had training all day, every day for about 2 weeks straight!  Our teachers and volunteers were so interested in learning, even when we said we were done, they stayed to explore, read and learn.  We try to look at this as one positive thing that came out of our quarantined laptops: if we had had them at our site sooner, the teacher training probably would not have gone on as long as it did before the classes started.  So, at least this way we know that our teachers and volunteers really have a good handle on the laptops.

    Throughout the training people would come and go throughout the day; but, for the most part, many of the teachers and volunteers came everyday and stayed for several hours, if not the whole time.  We had our DCI teachers, plus a volunteer or two from each of the organizations who contributed to the selection-of-children process and some representatives from the Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) in the four communities targeted by DCI. Additionally, some of the other DCI volunteers would drop in between the young adult computer classes that they teach in an adjoining room and some of our friends from last year that would just drop in to say hi and eventually end up in from of an XO for a little while…  In total, about 15 adults were exposed to the XO training in some form and about eight had extensive training. We set up a post-training evaluation on the server for them to access on the last day. We’ll include some updates on the evaluations once we’ve been able to look at them thoroughly.


    Barrie, Vanday, Banie, Katie and Katie during our Training of Trainers

    These teachers and volunteers will act in several capacities. First, those from the CWCs and the partner organizations will act as satellite troubleshooters, child protection advocates and XO community advocates. They will be able to communicate with the DCI staff in case of any problems and they are familiar faces for the kids.  If only we had some kids for our teachers to teach…

    Actually, we do have kids for the teachers to teach.  DCI has finalized a list of about 80 kids for the classes, with the option of adding more depending on if any of the 100 XOs are broken beyond repair when they arrive.  Since our project is more of a community center set-up instead of school set-up, DCI collaborated with some of the other child protection organizations in town to include kids within our age range from their programs.  We’ve had a lot of time to think about the schedule and outline of teaching for the kids.

    The schedule for the classes, because it is summer vacation for most of the kids, is pretty flexible.  We tried to break it down so that we can balance between not having too many kids at once and having kids for a long enough period of time so that they can leave with a fully or almost fully charged battery.  There are three class session times (morning, mid-day, afternoon), with two classes of 12-15 kids during each session.  Each child will have the opportunity to come a half hour before or after their class session to charge their laptops.  If only we had the laptops so we could bring in the kids…

    The curriculum is also slowly coming to fruition. Paul and Barrie, our DCI teachers, having spent some time mastering the XOs, are putting the finishing touches on our curriculum.  We brainstormed a bit last week about material beyond computer skills, resulting in a curriculum cocktail of DCI’s mission (protecting the rights of children) and the background of four-fifths of our OLPCorps team (international public health) as material for the classes.  We decided use the XOs (supplemented by e- texts, internet research, and guest speakers) as a tool to educate our young pupils on important public health and human rights topics, teaching them computer skills along the way.   We’ll split up the weeks among small learning projects on malaria, recognizing basic symptoms of illness (headache, stomach ache, etc.), hygiene, the international rights and responsibilities of the child, as well as local laws in Sierra Leone that protect children.  Guest speakers, friends of ours from the Kenema Government Hospital and Eastern Polytechnical College, will come in provide talk about some of diseases and hygiene, while DCI staff will cover the human rights arena.  Kids can use this info as the starting point for some of their learning projects, and can research more information as their interest dictates.  An cool example that Banie (one of the DCI staff) gave… after a some basic info on malaria, kids can use Wikipedia to look up additional information on it, can go online and find a picture of a mosquito to see what it looks like, use paint to draw their own mosquito, and use Scratch to make an animation showing the mosquito biting a person and transmitting malaria into their bloodstream.  We thought that was cool, anyway.

    Another great resource that we’ll incorporate into our lesson plans (thank you, Emily!) and make available to our pupils and, possibly just as importantly, their parents and families is an electronic version of a book called Where There Are No Doctors.  It is handbook written for anyone who wants to do something about his or her own and other people’s health.  Even where there are doctors and medical centers nearby, it is a great resource with guidelines on how to recognize common health problems, what to do about them, and when to go to for help.  If only we had our laptops so we can start classes…

    Still waiting for our laptops on the new benches...

    Still waiting for our laptops on the new benches...

    We also have the part of the DCI offices all ready to be our classrooms.  We’ve commissioned and received tables and benches for the children to work on and oriented them in several different configurations- they’re currently empty and lonely in the main classroom instead of supporting the weight of little bodies and eager minds…

    We built a shelf for the server and access points; figured out where plugs are and where power strips should go so that each child can be plugged in while in class, we even (almost) have internet set up (more on that later).  We successfully Nandblasted one of our own XOs to make sure it would work (it did).

    Stickers and Buttons

    Stickers and Buttons

    We brought T-shirts for our teachers and our volunteers, to be handed out at the opening ceremony, along with some beautiful certificates of appreciation.  We even have little XO buttons for each child and stickers for kids when they master an activity.  If only we had classes to use them in…

    We have met with staff from the DCI Headquarters office in Freetown, with the Deputy Director of Education in Kenema, c

    ity council members in charge of education, etc. to explain the project and ask for their blessing.   We even had a spot on the radio this week about the project, or at least, Mary, Margaret, and Elizabeth did…  The radio journalist didn’t catch our real names, so he just made some up.  Either way, it was about our laptop project, and people in town heard and they are excited.

    We are excited too… and we are running out of ideas on things we can do to prepare…

    T shirts close up

    OLPC Kenema T-shirts

    If only we had our laptops.

    OLPCorps Redeemed by Katie R
    June 18, 2009, 12:49 pm
    Filed under: OLPCorps

    Training in Kigali has come to an end. As various teams depart, and we prepare for our last day in Kigali and our flights to Freetown, we’ve come to several conclusions about OLPC, the Corps, our time in Rwanda, and the purpose of our project.

    The past 10 days have been full of highs and lows, as mentioned in previous posts (see “The OLPC Roller Coaster”). But several important points come to mind as well as some things we would like to emphasize. This experience has greatly exceeded our expectations. The training, especially the technical sessions, were well thought out and designed. They were informative, helpful, and encouraging. Even when they went poorly (some of the teacher training sessions), the lessons to be learned were emphasized and provided excellent learning experiences. And, in reference to the teacher training sessions, they renewed our resolve to continue working in developing countries and underserved areas.

    While we had doubts about OLPCorps, we are extremely supportive of it coming out of these 10 days in Kigali. The program gives us tons of flexibility at our sites, but also tons of responsibility in making it work. And, we truly do think that college students are the right implementers of such a problem (or at least, not the wrong ones). The OLPCorps teams (and staff!) we have met here have enormous drive, initiative, enthusiasm, fresh ideas, and diverse experience.  Additionally, the networking that OLPCorps created between teams was invaluable for exchanging ideas, cooperating and learning about other cultures and customs.

    Our immensely positive experience in Kigali would not have been possible without the OLPCorps staff – Brian(s), Paul, Reuben, Nia, Lynn, David, and others. They did an excellent job in organizing a vast group of students, all with different skill and experience levels.  They covered pretty much everything that we wanted to cover so that we feel very prepared for our project.  They also addressed issues as they arose and planned the conference/training sessions very well.

    For example, after the formal conference with Negroponte, Kagame, and other government officials, in which Negroponte made several off-putting comments (see “Caught in a Ponzi Scheme”), several teams felt discouraged or overwhelmed by what Negroponte said the stated objectives of OLPCorps were. The OLPCorps staff responded to the raised concerns and provided excellent feedback about what they saw as the intended objectives of the Corps and what realistic expectations of our projects should be. While there seemed to be a disconnect between what the OLPCorps staff and Negroponte said, it was reassuring to hear that this project was worth our time and money to bring this project to various sites in Africa.  Maybe, for those of you with an M&E background, Negroponte was describing impacts of the project while OLPCorps staff was focusing on the outcomes. Here are some of the objectives and advice the OLPCorps staff provided for us:

    • “Create excitement around the XO” – If you do this, governments will take notice; but you don’t need to go through the government.
    • OLPCorps teams to connect with each other to create a network of empowered and enthusiastic young people. (If young people won’t do this, who will?)
    • “Create quality learning experiences for 300,000 kids”
    • On sustainability
      • Identify who will continue the project. The best thing to do is to find a few people like ourselves who are excited about education, excited about the XOs, etc. They can be from the NGO, government, or citizens.
      • Keep fundraising

    We really felt that the OLPCorps staff and the training here in Rwanda redeemed the mission of OLPCorps in our eyes, especially after the off-putting remarks of Negroponte last week, and re-confirmed to us that our project and OLPCorps as a whole is truly worth our time, and worth the investment that OLPC is putting into it.  And, the XO is a valuable learning tool. It made us excited to arrive at our site and get working.

    With this in mind, we came up with a specific goal for our project: to reach out to vulnerable children in the community to encourage learning and empowerment… because a big part of it is doing something special for kids without parents or kids effected by the conflict.

    The OLPC Roller Coaster by Katie McCarthy
    June 16, 2009, 4:21 am
    Filed under: OLPCorps, Rants and Raves

    For those of you from the Pennsylvania area, or those who have visited – this week has been like the Batman ride at Dorney Park – zero to sixty miles per hour in three seconds, with several loops following.

    roller coasterI (Katie M) haven’t had much time to reflect on this week’s events. It seems we are shuttled around, constantly going, with little time for introspection or reflection. And, as those of you who know me well, this does not make me a pleasant person to be around (Katie R disagrees- she thinks Katie M was still pleasant this week). So, now I plan on taking the time to reflect and hopefully gain some insights and resolutions. On that note, please bear with me as I take you on the roller coaster that has been the last seven days.

    Day 1 – Saturday, June 6

    Left for Rwanda today – Also on the agenda, a phone interview with a CDC office in Tanzania about the fellowship I applied for and driving into the Bronx to visit my great aunt and aunt. Doesn’t make for the best mental stability (or stomach), but somehow almost everything went off without a hitch. I arrived in Brussels early, met Katie R, and got through security without problem.

    Day 2 – Sunday, June 7

    In Brussels, Katie R and I navigated the airport with skill and grace… we follow signs to gate T69 (note: there is no T terminal – it’s actually a part of the A terminal but they make you go through additional passport and visa screening for those travelling to Africa). We discovered wireless internet costs 20 Euro for 4 hours and, without 4 hours to spare or 20 Euro, we passed on the internet and prepared for our next flight by trying to figure out whom else waiting for the plane might be a part of OLPC and comparing notes on our mental images of OLPC people. Our BRU-KGL flight also passed without problems, with all of our luggage arriving in a timely fashion, passing through the easiest entry procedures I’ve encountered, and meeting up with our OLPC bus once in Kigali. The rest is mainly a blur of people, places, and smells – but Kigali made an impression. As Sierra Leone (and Freetown, in particular) is my only source of African country comparison, Kigali is incredibly developed. The roads are smooth with clear signs, markings and pedestrian crossings; there is extensive landscaping; and there is relatively consistent electricity. These ideas made it through my jetlagged mind before I passed out for the night.

    Saturday and Sunday were the 0à60 mph part of the roller coaster.

    Days 3-6 – Monday, June 8 – Thursday, June 11

    Let the loops begin! Monday passed through a series of highs and lows – breakfast was wonderful; meeting people from all over the world continues to be incredible; but listening to endless lectures about OLPC with poor sound systems. In addition to the long day of lectures, introductions and technical sessions (the latter of which actually were helpful), we attended a “happy hour.” Now, I’ve nothing against happy hours, but by this time, I was exhausted and desperately looking forward to passing out on my bed.

    Tuesday came much too early, as our Guest of Honor (Paul Kagame) required intensive security procedures prior to beginning the sessions, requiring us to get up at 5am. “Jet lag” and “5am” should never be in the same thoughts. Look to our other post for more information about Tuesday. In addition, Katie and I were accosted by a misogynistic politician, who upon refusing to shake our hands or look at us, proceeded to tell us (and the other Sierra Leonean team, males) of our project’s ultimate failure.  Katie R had to leave the immediate area in order to avoid instigating physical confrontation.  Wednesday and Thursday continued in a reflection of Monday, with a little more constructionist teaching but much less structure. The highs included learning how to take the laptops apart and collaborating with other teams; the lows included long sessions, unconstructive teamwork and dashed hopes of sustainability (see: Caught in a Ponzi scheme).

    For details on Friday, see “Spinning Cats and Petites Histoires.”

    Day 7 – Saturday, June 13

    Saturday dawned bright and early! The day began with a beautiful trip to the southern part of Rwanda to visit the King’s Palace (an amazingly detailed, handcrafted hut and a Belgium-bribe house) and a trip to the National Institutes of Museums of Rwanda (I think that was the title). The King’s Palace was very interesting, as we learned about Rwandan culture, history, and hairstyles. However, the National Institutes only concerned the history of Rwanda until 1987, when the facility was built, and carried a disclaimer about the authenticity. The afternoon continued with a full lunch, people jumping in the hotel pool (not our hotel) and a poorly organized technical session. I was a little disappointed by the technical session, considering it was one in which I was most interested. The day ended with late night plans for Sunday (another post later).