So it seems that often when one volunteers to help, the specifics of the helping tend not to be so dramatic and glamorous. Like the Korean lady Grace that I met on the 22nd: she left behind a career in bioengineering to wash dishes and run bible study at a South African mission. The things that need doing are often fairly mundane. In that vein, I spend all day in my room fixing PCs.
Of course I’m not giving up a bioengineering career, but hey, it’s a sacrifice to give up my ten hours per day of pointless internet surfing back home!
My room here is tiny; just enough for a bunk bed and a bit of floor to stand on while getting in and out. There are now three computers, two printers, and a monitor stacked in the corner, and I need some room to work. I take the bottom mattress off the bunk and stow it behind the bed, leaving a low particleboard bench for me to set up on. I put a folded blanket on the floor to soften the tiles, and slide my legs under the bed. I doubt it would pass OSHA standards, but it works.
After today I am fast becoming an expert in breaking into PC’s. The Department of Education machines have a password on both the BIOS and Windows Administrator, so you can’t really do anything. They don’t give anyone at the school the passwords, and there’s no service provided, so when something goes wrong, there’s no way to fix it.
With my internet connection and Google, however, I manage to find instructions on bypassing these security measures: the motherboard has a “reset” jumper that I use to clear that password, then I can boot from a custom Linux CD that allows me to blank the Windows Administrator password. This is more computer cracking than I’ve ever done before, and it’s damn fun. Maybe I’m breaking the rules, but it’s for a good cause. Isn’t that what they all say?
Once in, I can install new virus software and repair damaged system files. Over the course of the day I get all three machines back in working order. Such success requires a reward! And a reward I shall have: I call Alan and we plan a braai tonight.
Ah, the braai — the ritual South African barbecue that many here do multiple times per week. We cast around and find that Simangaliso is free, so we invite him over as well. Donna brings some pumpkin curry, Simangaliso makes some stiff pap, a traditional maize-meal staple that’s a bit like polenta, and Alan and I try to get the grill going for some prime rib and marinated chicken we bought at Pick-n-Pay. We meet up at the backpacker’s and use circular stone the picnic table in the yard.
As seems to be the case whenever so-called smart people try to get a barbecue going without their familiar tools — like a chimney starter — we fail.
The backpacker’s had a bag of charcoal and a couple of starter bricks, but even when Simangaliso finds a plastic cutting board to fan the coals, we can’t seem to get them to really take. There’s bits of glowing red, but not enough to warm my hand, let alone cook a steak. Eventually we realize by looking a little more closely at the charcoal bag that it must have got wet at some point, so I run out and get a new bag.
Once those fresh coals hit the fire, we’re off! Sizzling abounds. The food is good, the night is cool and calm, and there are very few bugs. We even share a little red wine and some banana bread for dessert. It’s a very good evening in South Africa.
Afterwards I drive Simangaliso home, to The Location. As he’s saying goodbye, he instructs me not to stop at the stop sign on the way back to town because there have been carjackings. Then he calls me a few minutes later when I get home to make sure I made it alright.
It’s still a very good evening in South Africa.