Jonathan Field - Maker of Random Stuff

Last night after I was into bed, a group of ladies came to stay at the backpackers. The were speaking a language I couldn’t identify; it reminded me of Zulu but I didn’t hear any clicks so perhaps it was some other African language. I was already tucked in so I didn’t go out to say hi. They seemed to be having a load of fun, chatting and laughing for about 30 minutes or so. Then they went to bed and I fell asleep.

I awoke this morning to the same sound of chatting and laughing. And again after about 30 minutes it stopped. I eventually dragged myself out of bed at around 10AM and nobody was around. The rooms were already cleaned, so I guess I’ll never know who they were. Seems like most people stay at this place for only one night. I’m here for two months straight, so now I see why Evan gave me a good deal.

I lounge for a bit and read on Wikipedia about the “one laptop per child” program (OLPC for short). I had heard of it before but hadn’t really thought about it or checked out the details. It’s an insanely ambitious project but reading it over it seems like they’re on the right track technically. What I’m not sure of is whether the knowledge of how to make use of the machines will spread properly. There are many more challenges than just getting computers to the people, as I’ve seen here.

I do think that the internet is so compelling and easy to use compared to traditional applications that people are more likely to bootstrap themselves into computer usage, as we’ve seen in the past decade in the US. That is already apparent here too with cell phones, which just about everyone knows how to use. But getting internet access out in the far reaches of the world is not so easy, and though the OLPC program has some clever tricks to make it possible, they’ve yet to be put to a practical test.

Nonetheless, I think it’s an great project and I wish them much luck. I learned from Alan last night that my 9 year old cousin has one of the prototypes and is testing it out at the moment. His father is from Kenya and currently a professor at Harvard. He knows a lot about technology in developing nations, and though he’s not part of the OLPC program, he is in contact with them and promoting it.

In the fridge I found a styrofoam take-out tray on it that had the date and the words “for anyone to eat! have it with your eggs! :)”. It had been left a few nights ago by some other people I never got to see. Inside was a half portion of steak, half a potato, and some onion rings. I decided there’s nothing bad about a free lunch, so even though I had no eggs to go with it, I heated it up in the toaster oven and enjoyed. It was quite tasty.

Oh: they don’t refrigerate eggs here. In the store they’re just stacked out in the aisles like you’d expect to find crates of apples. Alan says they do keep for about a week that way.

While I ate I looked through my South Africa guidebook to make some plans for Sophie’s visit. Looks like the two great nearby attractions are Drakensberg park to the west, a dramatic mountain range that borders the donut-hole country of Lesotho (leh-SOO-too), and to the east St. Lucia wetland park, which features lots of African wildlife. Both have B&B’s and other niceties.

The first week Sophie is here is actually a school vacation, so I think we can hit both of those attractions over the course of about four days before settling in Dundee and getting back to the schools and the local flavor. Should be fun.

As I am eating my brunch, I am reminded that the little table here in the common kitchen is broken. It’s a wooden folding table where the legs slide along tracks. One of the tracks has broken and so a corner of the table sags badly. I decide it would be a nice little afternoon project to fix the table.

But before that I go outside shirtless to get a touch of sun, and I stretch and do a little light exercise. It’s a lovely day out, sunny but not too hot. I lay down in the grass for a few minutes with one of Evan’s friendly dogs. Here’s a picture of the back yard of the backpackers place. Here’s a picture of the front yard. It’s a nice place. And only $10 per night! It’s more if you’re staying for a short visit, but still only about $16 for the room I’ve got.

Then I get up and walk over to the trailer. I also take a picture of the street that the backpackers place is on. That’s the main gate to the right.

Over at the trailer Alan and Donna are just having a bit of lunch. I’ve just eaten so I don’t have any. We chat about plans, for the schools this week and for Sophie’s visit in a few weeks. I ask Alan about tools for fixing the table and he gives me the necessary bits. We agree to meet for dinner at Spur’s at 6PM. It’s only 2:30 now, so I’ve got the afternoon.

Back at the backpackers, I check with Evan to make sure he’s okay with me messing about with the table. He says it’s fine. So I make use of the modest tools to fix up the broken leg joint on the table. I forget to take a picture beforehand, but here’s a closeup of the repair. The gray goop is fast-setting epoxy. You can tell pretty much where the wood had split. I also added the two screws on top (intentionally at an angle) to help hold things together. I wonder if this is better or worse than the repair in my arm.

Here’s the fixed table. I hope it lasts a while. I like that a little of my handiwork will be left behind here. I sit down at the table and write for a while. Then I call Thabani, who I’ve heard was trying to get in touch with me. I have spelled it without the “h” previously, which was incorrect. It is still pronounced with a hard “t”, though.

I tell him that we’ll probably wait until next week, during the first week of school holiday, to do the movie night. He’s been asking to bring over a female friend of his to watch a movie with us. I think he wants to impress her, which is fine with me. He also asks if he can get the ProVerb CD back. He happens to be in town and I agree to meet him at a nearby gas station to drop it off. I rip the CD first, then head over in the car.

He and a friend are sitting on a low concrete wall at the front edge of the station. He waves and I pull up alongside. I get out and he introduces me to his friend, who he works with in recording music. They have access to a computer somewhere that has reqording software, and they say that the sound quality is pretty good, but they need an engineer to mix things a bit better.

I ask what they’re up to and Thabani says “I’m just going back to the location”. As I’ve mentioned before, here they say “the location” where we would say “the hood”. Sibongile is the location. Even more cool is to call it “the loxion”, pronounced LOAK-shun.

It’s not terribly far, but it’s a pretty warm day. I offer a ride which they gladly accept. Thabani offers me some chocolate, he’s got a big Cadbury bar and I break a few squares off, softened and sticky from the heat. I thank him. I mention that I don’t necessarily know how to find my way back, but it turns out his friend lives in Dundee anyways so he can guide me back.

As we drive over to the location he says he has been caddying on the local golf course for the past four hours and is very tired. He’s just going to take a bath and go to sleep. I say it’s warm out, and they reply that it’s hot. I’d guess it’s only in the low 90′s. I tell them that back in Las Vegas that the temperature gets up to 120, but I’m not sure how to convert it to Celsius. I guess 40C, which they agree is very hot, but checking later it turns out that 120F is actually about 48C.

His friend says “I hear that people in Las Vegas don’t sleep”. I laugh and explain that they all sleep, just not all at the same time. So you can go out any time of day or night and there’s places open and people partying. They think this sounds pretty cool. I tell them that it gets tiring after a while.

I drop Thabani off, and then drive his friend back to Dundee center and return to backpackers. I seem to be sweating a bit today so I make sure I drink some cold water. Then I feel like a nap, so I take one.

I get up just before six and head over to Spur’s. Donna and Alan are there when I arrive. There’s also a scruffy middle aged guy who hangs around in the parking lot. He was there last time we came, on the day I arrived. As you pass him he tells you he’ll watch your car for you for a small fee or something… it’s hard to tell, his accent is pretty thick. We always just say “no thanks” and pass. Today he’s upped his act by wearing a reflective orange vest, like you might expect a traffic cop to wear. He’s busy bugging someone else as I pass, but Alan tells me he bugged them on the way in.

I get some chicken kabobs and a trip to the salad bar. The food is okay and reasonably priced. The waitstaff remembers us from last time because of the singing, and they come by smiling to say “hi”. But the place is a little more full tonight, and we don’t do any singing. The waitstaff seem a little disappointed. I suppose I am too. I tell Alan and Donna that they’ll have to teach me the Zulu song they usually do so I can join in next time.

After dinner we go outside in the kids area, and see that they have four PlayStation 2′s set up. We play with them for a moment, a racing game and something that looks like it’s based on the movie Madagascar, until a group of young girls come over and we hand the controls to them. Then we take off. The creepy guy is still hanging out in the parking lot bugging people. I later hear from Zenzo that this fellow is not just a scam artist but is actually hired by Spur to watch the lot, but I don’t know if they expect him to be asking for tips. My guess is that is his own improvisation.

Back at the backpacker’s place I turn in, but it’s early enough that I decide to watch a DVD that Zenzo lent me: Mama Jack, a South African comedy that he likes. I’m curious to see what it’s like — turns out to be a cross between the 80′s movie Soul Man and Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma’s House. The gist of the story is that a white Afrikaner, wanted for a crime he didn’t commit (vomiting on a Winona Ryder-esque American actress!), must hide out by posing as a black domestic helper, in the house of the very man who set him up. Hilarity ensues, including a scene where a man’s ball sack are sucked all the way up a vacuum machine hose. It’s all in good fun, and is much like an American screwball comedy, with just enough South African references to remind me that I’m not just watching a movie, I’m experiencing a new culture. No, really.

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