Monday, October 11, 2010

Meat Grinding, Mouse Hunting...

I love tacos. Especially in Congo where Mexican food is a rare treat. This Saturday night I decided I wanted to make tacos for dinner. I had my imported spice pack of taco seasoning, a fresh avocado for guacamole, tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese (not cheddar, but one must not be too picky). All I needed to do was whip up some home made tortillas. Oh yes, and meat, I needed meat. Clara had gone to the market earlier and bought some lovely chunks of cow meat. But the best tacos are not made with chunks of cow meat, but with ground beef. Therefore, I endeavored to grind the meat myself. I went to the convent to borrow the sister’s meat grinder and cut up all the meat into reasonable sized chunks. I put the machine together and started grinding. Well, grinding meat is hard. I didn’t get too far by myself. As is turns out it is VERY important to remove every bit of non-meat (fatty stuff) from the beef in order for the grinder to grind smoothly. I had about ¼ inch of ground beef and was struggling for more when Matteo came in offering to help. As much as I wanted to grind beef all by myself, I didn’t put up much of a fight and he took over. Well, Matteo was not afraid of the fatty stuff slowing the machine down, oh no, he just powered right on through. Do you know what happens when you power through with the meat grinder? A cow explodes in you kitchen. I mean, cow blood everywhere. All over the floor, the table, everywhere. It was awesome. All the carnage was worth it in the end when we had delicous tacos for dinner.

After Saturday came Sunday. We eat breakfast a little later on Sunday mornings (I enjoy sleeping, others go the early mass or do other stuff that I don’t know about because I’m sleeping). We all gathered for breakfast and were having a pleasant time when something ran across the oven and behind the cabinet. A mouse!! **Side note: we had seen this mouse before but had been unable to catch it. You might wonder why we didn’t put our cat Etienne on the job. As it turns out, in Congo the cats are afraid of mice. Furthermore, our dog is terrified of our cats.** Matteo, who loves mouse hunting (it seems Matteo enjoys the nastier parts of Congo life) sprung into action with the broom and Clara followed closely with a shoe ready to spring. They chased the mouse around the room a bit and finally succeeded in stunning it into oblivion. Matteo then gave it to Etienne who devoured it with joy (He’s not afraid to eat it if it’s already dead). It was really lovely entertainment for Sunday morning breakfast. So you can get in idea of what a Congolese mouse looks like, I will leave you with a picture of Sr. Angela with a mouse:

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cyber Days

So what is running a Cyber CafĂ© in Africa like? Now that I work at Cyber 3 mornings and several afternoons a week, I’ve learned a lot about the Cyber business. My first observation is that things usually don’t run as smoothly as they do in your typical Cyber in America, but we muddle through somehow and the Cyber often does a brisk business of Internet, printing, scanning, photocopying, typing, and various other computer related things.

First the set up: We have 2 computers for internet and 2-3ish computers for other business such as typing, scanning, printing and such. We have one color printer/copier/scanner and two black and white printer/copiers. However, one of these has been out of toner for over 1 month and the other refuses to talk to computers. So in reality we have only one black and white copier. *Update: We got a new printer/copier/scanner. **Update: We got the toner for the copier. Now we have something like 4 machines for doing various jobs usually done at Kinkos (or is it Fedex office now?) Here is the main room of the Cyber:

During the morning when the generator on, there is another room of desktop computers for people to use for individual work as well as for classes. The Cyber offers classes in basic computer skills, Word, and internet navigation and is also used by the local schools for a computer class. Here is the back room (I took this picture when we were already closed for the day so the computers have been tucked into their blankets for the night):

Now, onto our services. First, of course (because it’s called the Cyber) is Internet. But sometimes (a lot) the Internet doesn’t work. This is because it isn’t catching the signal, or it’s expired, or it’s cloudy, or it’s sunny, or it’s daytime, or it’s a day that ends in y. However, when the internet does work, both computers are often in use and sometimes there is even a line of 2 or 3 people. The line might not get so long if it didn’t take 20 minutes to merely sign into email, never mind actually read or send an email. I always feel bad that most of the time the customers pay for is them waiting for the internet to work and not actually using it.  

One of our most popular services is photocopying. We make lots of photocopies. As I mentioned there are two copiers, one for color and one black and white (and now 4! But the 2 new are redundant as they offer the same services and problems as the old). The color is very slow and the ink is expensive, so we can’t make more than a few copies. The black and white is big and can make lots of copies, but can only be operated when the generator is on. Thus, we can only make lots of copies in the morning. So when someone comes in asking for 5 copies of a 200 page book at 4 in the afternoon, we have to say, “sorry, come back tomorrow between 10 and noon.” Or if the copier is out of toner and we haven’t figured out how to use the other one, we have to say, “Sorry, come back in several months when we can get toner from Kampala.”

The last major service is my specialty: typing. I’m a lightning fast typer and can do pages and pages in a single day. This is why I went to college and spent hours hammering away at the keyboard. The first few weeks I was here I typed 3 English reports (those were easy) plus a bunch of different things in French (not so easy). I typed for hours each day, until my fingers were sore. I hope no one ever thinks that working with computers doesn’t involve hard labor; it was certainly hard labor for my fingers!

Some of our smaller services include scanning pictures or documents and emailing, charging telephones, printing documents, and searching the internet. The other day I attempted to search for information on Congolese contract law. Searching in French on a subject that would be difficult to understand in English…that went well.

When explaining the Cyber it is very important to mention the difficulties of power. Computers need electricity. So do printers and copiers. Electricity is therefore essential to running a Cyber. Electricity is a bit of a problem in Africa. For 2 hours in the morning we have generator power, but we operate for another 4 hours each day without the generator. That’s where the sun comes in handy. There’s a lovely solar panel on the Cyber roof powering all our electronics when the generator isn’t on. However, the sun is unable to power more than 2 laptops and 1 small printer at a time, which means we are constantly taking turns running down the battery for the different laptops. And you can imagine what happens when there isn’t any sun for several days. 

As it happens, Cyber is a bit of a misnomer. Now you can see a better name is “Place where there are computers and related equipment that sometimes works.” But I’m not sure that would bring in customers. At lease with the name Cyber we can bring in customers, even if we have to turn them away when they want something that doesn’t work at the moment.  

I think with all this computer experience I might just try to get a job at Geek Squad when I return home!