Jonathan Field - Maker of Random Stuff

My last full day in South Africa. Alan and Donna had asked me what I wanted to do, and I just wanted to keep on working just as we have been. So I guess that confirms that I have enjoyed my time here. We head out to a school in the morning; the smallest yet at only 70 students. I haven’t been there yet, and that gives a taste of the scope of their project; after all this I’ve still only seen around half the schools they work with, I think.

Similar to other schools, the lab has disintegrated some since their last visit. In fact, the school was apparently robbed and all the computers were stolen. However the police caught the criminals and returned the computers to the school. So it is decided that we need to put them in a more secure room. The only secured room on the premises is the principal’s office. It’s a classroom sized office, so she agrees to set the lab up right there.

Still, there’s lots of random storage in the room, so it is tight. We try to set up eight usable computers in the middle of the room. After trying a few things we come up with what turns out to be the most desk/space efficient layout we’ve ever had.

I’ve mentioned the funny little standard South African desks that all the schools use; probably 16″ deep and 48″ wide. Wooden tops, welded legs. I’m sure they’re adequate for their official purpose, but they make lousy computer desks: even with the tiny Mac SEs because they’re too shallow, leaving no room for the keyboard. We usually end up using two desks per computer, one for the machine and one for the keyboard and mouse, but that is really too much space. And it’s pretty wasteful considering the lack of desks and floorspace at most schools. That’s why Alan usually insists that people install proper countertops or something similar.

But today we put the desks together in little island groups of four, two desks back to back, and then two more as endcaps. This makes the four desks into a single large surface, and by having the computers arranged in a staggered fashion on each side, we can put them tightly together but leaving enough room to work. We achieved an unprecedented and ideal 1:1 desk to computer ratio!

I don’t know why this little triumph pleased me so. Perhaps that’s why I’m a happy guy.

I encourage Zenzo to run a class in Zulu, in front of Alan and Donna. I have told them that he does a good class and I don’t think they’ve seen it yet. The principal brings in some kids and Zenzo takes the lead. He does a good job, though the kids don’t respond as well as some of the other groups have. I think these kids at such a small school are even less tech savvy than most. Nonetheless, Alan and Donna seem pleased to see him doing such fine work; their protege, if you will.

We head home afterwards. Zenzo and I are in my car. As we approach Dundee, he says to me, “Jon, I want to thank you. You have been a very good influence for me.” “How so?” I ask. “You have really helped give me the confidence that I can do things. Especially, you have made me feel more comfortable with white people.” I laugh, “that’s great. But I think you’ve always had it in you.” “No,” he says, “before I would get very nervous around whites. I wouldn’t know what to say, or I would be afraid to say what I was thinking. But now having spent time with you, I feel comfortable speaking from my heart. So, thank you.”

Wow. That felt especially good.

“You’re very welcome,” I said, “I want to thank you too, for being so great during my visit here. Inviting me into your home and everything. I’ve had so much fun and learned so much.”

After a minute, “I’m sad to see you go,” he says, “but I hope you can help your mom.”

Back at the trailer Zenzo and I hang out while Donna and Alan run off to get some supplies for dinner. I’ve got my laptop and he’s got his. We’ve also got Alan’s USB floppy drive, which lets us transfer small files between machines. He has enjoyed the chess game, and he mentions that he wants to learn to type. So we find a simple typing program online using my computer, and transfer it over to his machine.

As he practices typing for a few rounds, I decide he should have a few more programs for his laptop. So I dig up Tetris and a Mario clone game. He finds this very exciting: many years ago he had played both on his sister’s Gameboy. He hasn’t seen either game in a long time, and experiences a mixture of high tech awe and classic video game nostalgia. We also download a strange little racing game. He thanks me several times.

Alan and Donna return and for some reason I find myself slightly embarrassed at having downloaded video games. Of course they don’t seem to care, but I still at 33 feel like a kid sometimes. We have a nice little dinner and chat before I drop Zenzo off at home and go to bed.

Oh: something Zenzo taught me today: when you’re still learning a foreign language, learn the colloquial term for “thingie” in that language. Then whenever you want something and you don’t know what to call it, you can gesture and say “Hand me that… thingie” and instantly your lack of knowledge sounds more like casual comfort. Use sparingly, of course.

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One Response to

  1. Unfortunately no. The party that was going to include Zulu beer was to be May 12th. I’ll get back there at some point. And I’ll get drunk. Maybe you can come with me next time?

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