July 26, 2010

The Electrics

As you would expect, voltage is different here. All outlets are 240 volts. Given how careful I am at home with my one 220V outlet for the stove, having 240V outlets everywhere is downright scary. The professor warned I should be incredibly careful – a misstep with a 240V outlet could take off a finger or two. Actually, his statement was, “be sure you don’t get a finger under there or you could lose it just like that – kerplat! and it will be gone!” Given that my heart might stop in the midst of such a misstep, fingers evaporated off my lifeless corpse might be the least of my worries.

We’re living at what is called Poly Heights on the Polytechnic campus. It’s a 12-story apartment building right inside the main gate. Each flat (apartment) has its own breaker box. I became acquainted with ours when all the electricity to the flat went out shortly after we moved in. Building maintenance sent a gentleman over to turn it back on. I watched in case I had to know this stuff.

First, you turn the switches off for the lights, the plugs, the stove, and the geyser. Then you turn the heavy duty main switch back on.

If nothing sparks at that point, you turn the lights, plugs, stove, and geyser back on.

Good thing I memorized that procedure. More blackouts followed.

Not until the toaster actually sparked did we deduce it was the culprit causing the blackouts. During the blackouts we became comfortable with managing the breaker box. Somehow the straightforward switches in the breaker box seem less threatening than the actual outlets in the flat.

These little babies actually have switches on them to turn on and off the flow of electricity. These are worrisome outlets since those holes are exactly the size of a toddler’s fingers. I’ve yet to see a fingerless toddler so there must be some mega-sturdy baby-proofing systems out there. Even the husky constitution of the plugs gives you pause for thought.

They wouldn’t make them that substantial if they didn’t have to carry so much voltage. According to the professor, the correct finger-sparing procedure should be: turn off the switch, plug everything in, then turn on the flow of electricity with the switch. This also doubles as the cell phone and laptop-sparing procedure, so you can bet I follow it.

There is only one outlet per room so it seems to be commonplace to use multi-outlet extension cords. This is the one that came with the kitchen.

It has the microwave, stove hood, and new toaster plugged into it. I finger-sparingly unplug the toaster to plug in the washer.

It worries me a bit to have so many things plugged into the multi-plug extension cords. However, once we replaced the toaster, it does seem our system easily handles all the stuff that’s plugged in throughout the flat. We’re counting on that now that we’ve added a new iPod player to the electric mix. Just working on our laptops at the flat can make it pretty quiet in here. It’s good to have some musical company.

Oh, yes….you wanted to know what the geyser is.
Simple–it’s the electric hot water heater that is mounted against the wall just above the refrigerator.

If the geyser ever leaks onto the 240 volt refrigerator outlet, caution against finger loss becomes a superfluous consideration.

July 25, 2010

Newly smart, but still working on my herbal wellbeing

It’s been fascinating to study the package labeling on the products we’re buying. African labeling demonstrates far more regard for one’s self esteem than American labeling and I find myself strangely seduced by those little psychological boosts! For example, take clothes washing detergent.

This sunny, floral-decorated package practically compels you to choose it from the grocery shelf. It was only when I got it home, I realized the more profound personality benefits that accrue from my choice.

I’ve never been called a smart sista before but I’m thrilled to know by virtue of my washing powder choice, I’m now among the ranks of countless other fellow smart sistas. I think I’ll go get a cup of coffee and have some time for myself to contemplate that. After all, I have permission from the smart sistahood to do so.

I wonder if the sistahood would be offended if I pointed out the usage rules for it’s. Probably. I think I’ll wait until I’ve bought a few more packages of Sunlight 2 in 1 and my sista credentials are a little less tenuous before I attempt that.

On the other hand, while I may be smart, apparently, I haven’t achieved herbal well being just yet. Here’s the liquid hand wash I bought for the bathroom.

I chose it because it works with the color scheme, but when I got it home, like my choice of washing powder, it too, can confer benefits beyond removing germs from one’s hands.

As I meander through my hand washing with this product, it ostensibly aids in my herbal wellbeing. I’m all for that. After all, I once lived in Santa Fe. I fully understand how important herbal wellbeing can be.

In addition to a self-esteem boost, some products educate as well. Here’s what I learned yesterday from the ketchup bottle.

Hope these little ketchup factoids come in handy for dinner party conversations this weekend.

This is the label from our milk carton. Come Sunday, if you’re bored with the New York Times crossword puzzle, here’s a fun (subjectively speaking) problem to work out over morning coffee: Determine how many calories are contained in a 100 ml serving of this milk. (HINT: kJ = kilojoule) So, there you go – off to Wikipedia with you!

As for me, I’m putting on another load of washing and re-uniting with my sistahood while I let the washer do it’s (AARGH) thing.

Night and Day

You’ve heard it before —“it’s like night and day, it’s so different” —except that we’re really living it. Just before the sun’s up at about 6AM, you start to hear the first of the traffic rush downtown. By 7:30 AM or so, it’s really moving with the streets full of commuters and hooting taxis (that’s honking in US English). There are lots of folks on the sidewalks rushing to their destinations as well.

By noon, things have settled down. Though there is still traffic, it’s much less than the morning push. The sidewalks stay consistently busy.

Everything holds at that level most of the day. The only loud sounds are the trains moving through town less than a block from us. For some reason, the trains are exceptionally loud, as though they are really having to work at generating propulsion.

By 5PM, stores are closing, folks are headed home. The rush picks up again with the sounds of the taxis, and the drone of steady traffic.

The grocery stores are the last to close at about 6:30PM. Restaurants and bars stay open later, but many restaurants have closed for the night by 9PM.

By and large, by 6PM, it has settled down to a fairly quiet level. While most of the traffic has moved out of the city center, some students have arrived by car and taxi for evening classes.

Once classes are over around 9PM, within a scant half hour, the streets are abandoned except for the occasional car moving through a well-lighted nightscape.

Taxis moving through the streets at night rarely hoot. It stays that way all night until the sun comes up again the next morning and the day cycle commences. Coming out of sleep, the first sound I usually recognize is a taxi hooting and the drone of city traffic.

On Saturday, stores are only open until about 2PM so there is traffic that morning, but less than the weekdays.

Since only grocery stores and restaurants are open on Sunday, the town is pretty quiet most all day. It’s easy to spot clotheslines weighed down with a week’s worth of clothes hanging to dry on Sunday afternoons. Because it’s never (ever!) cloudy or too cold to dry clothes, it must be easy to count on Sunday being a good day for laundry.

July 19, 2010

Arrived, and still getting settled

Internet access has been intermittent to non-existent during our first 13 days here. That, in addition to trying to get job and home established, hasn’t afforded us much time to really sit down and compile our thoughts into a lively first post from Africa. There is still too much to talk about in one post but to quickly bring you up to date while we’re able to get internet access….
Since we have been gone,
We traded New Mexico summer for Namibian winter - mild as winters go – the lowest low is probably in the low 30’s but stays above freezing. However, our flat is unheated so come sundown at about 5:20PM and with a cloudless sky, it starts to get cold inside as well as out. Thankfully the bed has a fluffy duvet so retiring early is the surest way to stave off the cold.

The days are wonderfully sunny which literally means not a cloud in the sky all day long, not even a whisper − full sun from sunrise to sunset. Here’s a little photo essay from my kitchen window on the state of the sky over the past thirteen days:

I intended to take 13 different photos but eventually realized it was useless to do so since it looks this way every single day all day long. The only change is the angle of the sun as the day evolves. I feel like I’m living in a computer animation drawing, waiting until the animator learns to draw clouds. Someone really should look at solar power in a big way here in Namibia.
We have become accustomed to walking to the grocery store and city center mall which are about 1/4 mile away and making multiple trips to procure everything we need to outfit the flat. About 125 (non-recyclable) plastic shopping bags later, we pretty much have the flat outfitted.

We’ve mastered an entirely new approach to laundry and gratefully have
both a washer,

and a dryer.

Despite it being very different from home, we’re having a great time. The professor attended a meeting with the Polytechnic Rector and other dignitaries on the first day of classes during which the Rector said it was really cold that day because every winter, “we get these winds that shoot straight up from Antarctica”. Now, that’s a phrase we’re not ever going to hear in New Mexico!