Today's first task is another lab upgrade, a potential can of headache-inducing worms. GHS (Government High School; PHS = Presbyterian High School) Mbengwi turns out to be a short commute but a long project, ~10 minutes from our main site and maybe 5 hours work all told. Other than the mandatory greeting from people who think they're important and expect your acknowledgement while you could care less about them, it's a great install. Problems as weird as yesterday arise, but we've got help from the local hacker who runs the lab. As all good geeks do, he's got the unkempt beard going. We probably double his computer knowledge over the course of the day; the lab's left in good hands. But maybe not so swell power: feeling something hot on my leg, I look down to see surge protector wire thin as a headphone cable carrying power to 4 of our computers. Working like the coils in a toaster, it's one of many examples of why a half-assed wiring job for our main lab will make it safer than most of the country.
The electricians are waiting for us upon our return to the main site, and they've actually brought equipment. It's but a third of what we need, so I'm a bit of an asshole in pressuring them. Most effective is getting the guy to pull out the actual parts list and acknowledge that what he's brought is incorrect. However justified this may make me feel about my frustration, it doesn't get our lab built. I take a taxi into Bamenda, supposed location of all the electrical supplies we could ever want, with the electricians.
In spite of a vehicle I'd bet is older than me and a backseat that's had its stuffing replaced with a board, my narcolepsy pays off and allows me to drool all over myself. I wake to find a weird full circle of technology fulfilled. Dr. Fonjweng and I had loaded the computers into a cargo shipping crate when the project began last year, and the electrician's shop is a crate so similar it might as well be the same container. Looking around, I find most of the "shops" in the shantytown I've awoken in are the same, no-frills, ready-to-ship-my-shop deals.
Equipment acquisition is a complicated process of underlings darting down the street and returning with random components; other than a trip to an area of the alley's main drag that serves as a very public and very "dual function" restroom, I pass my time reading "Freakonomics" by Dubner and Levitt (sp).
Although all too trenty and bestselling, it's a fun and interesting read. Dubbing Levit's studies too interesting to pass as economics, Dubner dubs his work the conveniently catchy field of freakonomics. I'd call studies examining topics like the relative danger to children of owning a handgun as compared to a swimming pool and why crack dealers live with their moms quantitative sociology, but the buzzword title doesn't detract from the book's fun. Geeky but true is that it makes me want to run regression analyses on some huge and offbeat set of data to find wacky correlations. Then I need a writer like Dubner to idolize my every achievement in well-written prose and, aside from my lack of brilliance and ability to do much more than spell "regression analysis," I should be set for my own hot book deal. Alternatively, I could stop my bitching and just appreciate Levitt's.
OK, so where am I? Cameroon, right. I get equipment much closer to what we actually need, utilize my superhuman napping to teleport through the cab ride back to Mbengwi, and head to a nearby place where we’re installing 2 computers to help Steve. Turns out that he’s doing a fine job of screwing things up, but we combine forces to do even better: I’m there maybe 20 minutes before I’ve overloaded the power so much that I’ve got the fluorescent lights flashing out. Take note, everybody who’s ever made fun of my miner fashion accessory of a headlight:)
Dinner is at Dr. Fonjweng’s sister’s house. A good meal’s great because I try 3 new Cameroonian beers. None are up to Yuengling Porter par, but the one with a name I can’t recall that sounds like it could be German for some household appliance is a passable imitation of Heineken. A chunk of the church choir’s there, so we’re treated to 2 songs saluting god but sounding good. Then, an older man starts a solo about how he wants to fly like a butterfly. Thinking he’s making fun of the little musical interlude, I laugh pretty loudly. Stupid American: he’s leading a short song with a chorus that’s something like “oh lord, I want to be a butterfly. I don’t want to be a caterpillar any more.”
I want to drink a lot more beer and not fix computers any more, but I do the latter anyways. Finishing touches on the lab, still sans some power cords promised by cargo crate electrician, bring the news that we’re working at the temporary site: the computers will soon be moved to a nearby building. Suddenly we’re all a lot less motivated and I find myself remembering that Trappist monks make some of the world’s best beers. Alas, the monks have been sleeping for 6+ hours by the time we return to our strange accommodations. Jet lag has an upside: I’m energized to stay up late in hopes of being as zoned out as possible for the opening ceremony bullshit tomorrow. I’m entirely comfortable with a chunk of Cameroon thinking Americans fall asleep during people’s speeches as a sign of deep respect.