Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Satellite Fundi

Fundi is a Swahili word for "skilled person." I've worked with the bike fundi, the solar fundi, and Surya likes to joke that he is the computer fundi.

This is Ramadhandi in action,
the satellite fundi.

I wish you all could see the excitement that the Intaneti is generating at the school and in the community!

Satellite, Solar, National Flag

A rare sight at a secondary school in Tanzania.

Justine Joseph
Headmaster (right)

Meshack Myinga
Assistant Headmaster (left)

Making their first Skype call.

They are talking to Anand Sethupathy in New York city, the Powering Potential advisor and donor whose idea it was to bring Internet access to the students at Banjika and whose money paid for the equipment and monthly service.

Surya (right) and Mr. Minja,
our Go To Guy in Karatu for all hardware needs.

Mr. Minja met Surya and his wife in Oct. 2008 while they were spending their honeymoon teaching at Banjika.

They had a very happy reunion in front of Mr. Minja's store.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Moving Right Along

Thursday Sept. 16

Drive to airport

Flight from Dar to Arusha

Meeting with volunteer coordinator of Noonkodin school

Meeting with two Tanzanian network engineers who are available to help with the computer installation at the Noonkodin Secondary School in Monduli. One of them teaches Linux administration at a college here and the other was his student. Powering Potential's computers are Linux-based.

Lunch with Susan Rickert, the woman who was the driving force behind the building of the Banjika school

Hot, dusty, bumpy drive to Karatu with Susan (and her guide)

Shower and dress for dinner

Dinner with Susan at Ngorongoro Farmhouse

Asked to speak about Powering Potential to a table of 20 people

Phone calls and text messages regarding customs clearance of the computers and to arrange the installation for Oct. 2

Collapse into bed

Friday, Sept. 17

Banjika Graduation Ceremony - all day

The Administrative Officer from the District Commissioner's office and the District Education Officer were there – important local government people and both invited me to their offices to discuss the work of Powering Potential and how they might support us.

I have videos of the event (including my speech) ... am eager to share them with you online..might have to wait until I get home though...the Internet is slower here.

The solar technicians were working at the school all day expanding the solar energy system to accommodate the satellite Internet dish which takes an additional 80 watts.

Surya Ganguly arrives into Arusha tonight, he is one of Powering Potential's technical gurus. He's coming to help with the installation of the satellite Internet dish which is happening tomorrow and Sunday, and to set up the computers for safe, efficient access to the Internet.

If you've been wondering about the computers intended for the Noonkodin school in Monduli... they were finally cleared from customs on Thursday Sept. 16 (we were expecting them to be cleared on Aug. 27). Albin, our person here in Tanzania (I need to find a title for him :) any suggestions? will bring the computers by bus from Dar to Arusha on Oct. 1 and we will begin the installation the next day. Albin is in college in Dar until Sept. 30 and I had to leave Dar on Thursday to be at Banjika by Friday and the computers weren't cleared yet... thus the wait.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Local Tranportation

Without a car of one's own, there are three vehicular options for getting around Dar es Salaam - Taxi, Bajaj, and Dalla Dalla.

I want to give you a flavor of each.


Bajaj (my favorite)

Dalla Dalla

Dalla Dalla Posta station in the city center

The ride by taxi from my hotel into the city center takes about 15 minutes with no traffic. The cost? Taxi: $6.60, Bajaj: $3.30, Dalla Dalla: 16 cents

Frugality is a hallmark of Powering Potential so now that I've learned the system, I take the Dalla Dalla unless I'm dressed up for a business meeting, under time constraints, or running out of patience :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Merry Modems

I am feeling SO happy about modems at the moment! Particularly the one in this photo.

Many Tanzanians have spent long hours helping me find a modem that would work with the Linux-based Powering Potential computers.

Today we crossed the finish line :) and I am a happy camper!

Mtituh, Chief Manager Hardware & Data Communications at Tanzania Postal Bank, has been generously offering his advice. I met him months ago on, an online forum for Tanzanian technology professionals (I was invited to join). Last week he asked me to come to his office so he could demonstrate a solution. I have a laptop similar to the Powering Potential computers so we could test the solution. He plugged a Zain modem (Internet router actually) into my laptop and bingo it WORKED! no configuration, no frustration, it just worked....truly plug and play....I was off and running around the Internet.

As soon as I left his office I went to the Zain shop to buy one; I tested it again in their shop and bingo it WORKED again. My spirits are starting to soar...two tests, two successes. However I didn't have enough money to pay for it - having my ATM cards stolen has put a crimp in my financial flexibility so I couldn't go to an ATM to get the money. My sister sent me money through Western Union and today I bought the modem. I had tested it twice so I didn't bring my computer with me (always a risk of it being stolen) to test the modem a third time; I just bought it, came home, plugged it in and bingo, it DIDN'T work!

OK...I thought...I KNOW this thing works. So I went to the Zain headquarters to visit my new best friend Jean Paul, Zain's technical guru, and he figured it out (he's been helping me with many of my Tanzanian communication problems :) The problem was that the SIM card wasn't configured to accept Internet data....just voice and SMS. He reconfigured the card and I'm experiencing the Joys of Technology again!

This modem/router works with Ethernet and USB cables and wirelessly. My original reason for wanting a modem was to get online with my own computer and not be dependent on undependable hotel and Internet cafe services. With my own modem I can compute to my heart's content while in Tanzania. And now that I have a working modem we can try it at the schools to determine it's viability for use there.

Happy Days are here again!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Q Bar and Guest House

When I was searching for a place to stay in Dar es Salaam I depended on the Lonely Planet guidebook. The Q Bar and Guest House: "Huge, spotless mid-range rooms. Food is served downstairs and there's also a popular bar with live music on Friday evening." It's going to be noisy I said to myself...I checked out their website and emailed back and forth...was reassured that they had quiet rooms on the top floors in the back...$55/night. OK....I knew it was in a safe, pleasant neighborhood so I booked it.

When I got there at midnight on Tuesday looked nothing like their website...oh well....the room was big and spotless. The next night...the bar was full of people....and the women were dressed like no other women I've ever seen before in first thought: "I guess this is the way Tanzanian women dress in the big city" then I quickly realized.... noooo....they were dressed that way to improve their economic prospects :)

I was focused on meetings at the Embassy, the Ministry of Education, with Accenture, NGOs, company CEOs, technicians, etc. too busy to even think about trying to find another place to stay. Ohhh and by the way...the music was not just Fridays, also Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. And to top it off...the rooms in the back which were supposed to be quiet were facing the newly opened Maisha Club....a nightclub with blaring music until 5am except Mondays and Tuesdays.

I met some interesting people American who owns mines in the Congo, China and other places around the Australian who explores for oil in Mogadishu, has a home in Tanzania and lives in Thailand...two medical students from Holland. There were upsides to the situation I found myself in and the laundry was free :) Some of these people had stayed at the Q Bar many times over the years. I asked around, "Have you ever had anything stolen?" No was the answer....the noise was getting to me though and the Ladies of the Night were making friends with me.

I started asking around for other places in the area to stay. Then on Sunday, Hilda, another Q Bar guest had money stolen from her room. I stepped up my efforts to find another place. And yesterday evening as Lance (the Australian) and I were walking to the Italian restaurant three blocks away, a car drove up beside us and suddenly the shoulder strap on my purse was cut and it was being pulled away...a tug of war ensued and I lost. cellphone, three credit cards, two ATM cards, my favorite purse, but only $35. My passport and the rest of my cash were safely hidden away.

So....I've moved. I'm paying more than twice what I was at the Q Bar and I feel infinitely more safe and comfortable.

Ministry of Education and Vocational Training

The other day I met with an economist from the Department of Policy and Planning at the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training. I was referred to him by the First Secretary of the Tanzanian Permanent Mission to the UN in New York. After a short talk with this economist he introduced me to the head of Monitoring and Evaluation...had a long, very interesting conversation with him. He gave me a booklet of Tanzania's Technology Education Policy and asked me to return to meet with the Director of Policy and Planning and possibly the Permanent Secretary of the Education Ministry. He recommended that Powering Potential concentrate our work for now in one District, which would be Karatu. He also recommended meeting the local education government officials and suggested I look into working at a particular school of interest to him. Albin, Powering Potential's person in Tanzania, explained the local education government structure to me and his father works in education in the Karatu district so he is going to get me the names of these local officials.

Tanzania is very eager to get technology into their schools and they seem very grateful for all that we are doing. I want Powering Potential to work in harmony with the Ministry of Education. Stay tuned....

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

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 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 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 ( 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 ( 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.