Friday, December 31, 2010

Asus Eee PC 1015. Notepad++, Dropbox, and iDrive.

My laptop is still in Eastern Congo. I left it in Bukavu with my counterpart. Thus a new one was bought when I arrived in the Netherlands (I can't do a day without), and I installed all the necessary documents and programs yesterday. The laptop is an Asus Eee PC 1015, which I upgraded to 2gb working memory. I had the same one in Eastern Congo over the last seven months and was very happy with it:
  • It survived. In very hard conditions. Jumping up and down in 4x4s. Dust; so much dust! And I used it very intensively: over the last seven months I maybe turned it off ten times maximum.
  • It is powerful. Without problems it ran all my computer programs and simulations.
  • It's cheap. I just bought this new one for less than 300 euro (the 2gb RAM is an extra 50).
  • Its battery. One battery last for around ten hours. I also have a second battery. So longer periods without electricity are no problem.
  • It's small and light. 10 inch and around 1kg. Great for when one travels a lot. And belief me, you get used to the small keyboard.

My new friend for upcoming months.

Yesterday, after receiving the laptop, I spent most of my day installing programs and downloading my documents unto the laptop and emails into Outlook. I am using the following programs:
  • Stata SE: An expensive, but an easy to use and powerful computer program for statistical analysis. Very necessary to analyse data, but also to build, clean and edit databases. Luckily I can get it via Columbia for free.
  • MS Office: A necessary evil. Luckily, again for free via Columbia.
  • Skype: I have to stay in contact with mom and dad, friends, and very important for work.
  • R and packages: A completely free program that can do almost anything you want it to do: statistical analysis, building maps, solving equations, etc. All done in the R language - a language that I am still not very comfortable with after using the program for a year. However, a crucial, fantastic, and very powerful program. Download the program and packages here.
  • ArcGIS: Way too expensive program for making maps. But used by everybody in the GIS world. Luckily, again for free via Columbia.
  • TeXnicCenter, MikTex and packages: This is my default program for word processing. It's fantastic. You have to learn the language LaTeX but it's not difficult, and the software is for free, it is much faster than Word if many equations are used, the output documents look so much better, and you can do much more with this program than, for example, with MS Word. See here for a video on how to install.
  • Pendragon: A computer program we use to create surveys so that they can be put on PDAs and used in the field.
  • CutePDF: A free PDF converter. See here.
TeXnicCenter. Great free software.

Three computer programs I want to discuss in particular:
  • Notepad++: For Stata and R I often write so-called do-files. These are documents with code that tell the program exactly what to do. I use Notepad++ to write these do-files. It's great. First, others have written free so-called 'language-packs' (here) so that different commands get different coloring. Secondly, from within the program it is possible to immediately run script (how to get this working look here). Also, this program is completely free and since yesterday I know they have an awesome shop.
  • Dropbox: This is likely the most amazing program ever. If you don't have it get it (here)! In brief, Dropbox is a folder on your laptop and on the internet. It is great for two reasons. First, if you work together with others it is possible to share (part) of your Dropbox-folder. For example, in my Dropbox-folder I have a folder called "Congo" that I share with Macartan and Raul. If I change something in this folder it is automatically changed in the same folder on Macartan and Raul's computer. Fantastic! Secondly, Dropbox is great when you use different laptops or when you often have a new laptop. All my documents are in Dropbox (around 40gb). Just before leaving the Congo and giving my counterpart my old laptop I "unlinked" the Dropbox-folder and I deleted it. Yesterday I installed Dropbox on my new laptop and I linked it to my Dropbox-folder. It immediately started downloading my 40gb+ of files. It's great! You get 2gb for free and for a 100$ per year you get 50gb.
  • iDrive: My program that back-ups files. Every 3am - automatically - iDrive makes a complete scan of my computer and back-ups all the documents that changed during the day before and saves this new version online. Thus, if I have a document X that I worked on for over 10 days I thus have 10 different versions of that document online. "I should never have deleted that chapter. Where is it?" will thus never happen. See here to download it (5gb for free and 100gb [500gb] for 5$ [15$] per month.)
Notepad++. Again, completely free.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Back in the Netherlands.

After a busride from the border of Eastern Congo to Kigali (Rwanda) to Kampala (Uganda) to Nairobi (Kenya), and a flight from Nairobi to Istanbul to Amsterdam, I am back in the Netherlands.

Mom, dad and both brothers picking me up at Schiphol. Mom...

and dad.

First impressions back in the Netherlands:
  • It is not necessary to copy&paste an email before sending it (being afraid that the internet breaks down while sending). Fantastic!
  • While on the road: "Where are all the 4x4s?" , "There are no holes in the road?", "Where is the CODAN?", and "What!? People stay on their side of the road?".
  • KLM does not mean "Kilo, Lima, Mike" and stop thinking like that.
  • A working shower! Even better: with warm water! And I can keep my mouth open. Ha!
  • When leaving the house I feel empty without a backup phone, GPS device, satellite phone, pocket knife, etc.
  • Here when things are written on walls it is graffiti, not information about vaccinations that took place.
  • More serious. There is so much abundance. I know that it is now the year's worst moment (Christmas and New Year), but still. Breakfast, then coffee with a slice of apple pie, then it's time for lunch, after that it tea with chocolate, etc.
  • So many serious things are going on in the world. What are the Dutch people busy with? The yearly top-2000 best songs, what to wear during New Year, etc. The scariest thing, though, is that in a matter of days I'll be used to all of the above again.

Back home. My town (Oudewater) covered in snow. Gorgeous!

Upcoming months

January 24th: flight back to New York. Then about two months after that I hope to be back in Africa.
So now until the 24th it is holiday?
Not really. The evaluation continues. Raul and me have daily contact with the teams in the field,
Raul (in Spain), Macartan (in Ireland) and me
did two all-nighters in row; so the work continues.
I do hope to finally get some time for my dissertation. Scary! The second semester of my fourth year is about to start. Maybe I should start writing something.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Training in Bukavu.

In total the evaluation consist out of four steps (A to D) and takes place in four provinces (Maniema, Sud Kivu, Haut Katanga and Tanganyika). Step A, B and C teams have been trained and in the field for over two months now. Yesterday we finished the training of the step D teams for Maniema and Sud Kivu.

For two weeks Raul and me trained 30 people of which in the end 24 were selected. How to conduct focus groups and general assemblies. How to audit a development project. How to conduct a myriad of different surveys. How to take GPS locations and use a PDA. Etc. It was much fun. The students are intelligent and very participatory; by default 1/3rd of the room had their hands raised.

Teaching 30 people.

A great group of students.

And many simulations to understand the survey's questions.

Step A, B and C teams visited during the training.
A, B, C and D: one big Tuungane evaluation team!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Congo River.

In the previous post (or actually the previous 4 posts) something was missing. Something big. From October 28 to October 8 I was in Kindu; the capital of Maniema and a city build next to... the Congo River. Over the last years I have read so many books about this River. Books such as Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Crichton's Congo, Hochchild's King Leopold's Ghost, Butcher's (horribly bad) Blood River, Naipaul's A Bend in the River, Roberts' A Journal of a Tour in the Congo Free State, etc. had created an image in my mind of the Congo River - or "La Fleuve" ("The Source" as they call it in Kindu) as this big, mystical river. A river that in reality could never surpass the expectations I had of it. How wrong was I:

I flew with a MONUSCO plane from Bukavu to Kindu: only about a two
hour flight. After about an hour the rainforest started. I thought I knew what
to expect. When I finally saw a big river running like a snake through
the forest, I felt... nothing. Dissappointing! Was this what I read about.
Was this the magical Congo River?! But we kept on flying. After thirty more
minutes a new river could be seen snaking through the rainforest far
away. As we neared the River I got a chill on my back: This was the Congo River!
So beautiful and so big. On the picture: A first glimpse of "La Fleuve".

There is a reason why the people call the River "La Fleuve". First, Kindu
is completely isolated; a city hidden in the rainforest. Everything is either
flown in from Bukavu, or (mainly) brought from Kinsangani via the River: a
5-day trip in a piroque to get from Kindu to Kisangani (back to Kindu
takes longer as it is against the River's current). Second, people wash their
food, themselves, their clothes, etc. in the River. People use it as a big toilet
and use it as drinking water. On the picture: Close to Kindu there are not
too many crocodilles and hippos so children play in the River.

On the picture: As soon as the River stops. The rainforest starts.

The mode of transportation on the River is the
piroque. These are boats cut out from a tree (yes in
one piece) and can be as long as fifteen meter. They are
really impressive. On this picture: We often had to cross the
River with our motorbikes to reach a new village. Thus:
motorbikes in the piroque.

The Congo River is the deepest river in the world with depths in
excess of 230 meter and the second largest river in the world by
volume of water discharged (yes, Wikipedia). It is a river you do
not want to see angry. On the picture: This was shortly before a storm.
For one hour: strong winds, heavy rain and waves that made me think
I was in the Netherlands looking at the North Sea. One hour later
the sun was shining again as if nothing happened. So impressive!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Back. 1/4

Back. A very appropriate word. After weeks hereby another blogpost. After weeks I am also back from the field. The last month I spent my time throughout Sud Kivu: in piroques, on motorbikes, and many hours of walking. From end October I did the same in Congo's province Maniema. The first part of the evaluation has started and the teams are deployed. I arrived back in Bukavu a few days ago. A break? Definitely not. Tomorrow Raul and I start the training of the Sud Kivu and Maniema teams for the second part of the evaluation. Needless to say, there is so much to tell - I have had so many great experiences over the last weeks. Hereby four brief posts with several pictures to give at last some idea.

October 18. With the Sud Kivu team to the first village. In South Kivu
there are three teams of two for the first part of the evaluation. On this
picture: Because it is the first village we went all together: one car and
two motorbikes.

Most of the times villages are not reachable by road.
On the picture: walking for two hours to reach the
village. The views are gorgeous though.

One of the things the evaluation teams do in a village is to conduct a
large meeting with the villagers to inform them about Project RAPID. We
require that at least 25% of the villagers are present.
On the picture:
One of the team members conducting a general assembly.

On the picture: And the views! Amazing!

Because the teams work often for 2 days in a village
at arrival we ask whether there is a place where we
could sleep in the village. This is never a problem. On
this picture: In this village in Sud Kivu's territoire
Kalehe we were especially lucky. Not only was there
a hospital with beds (and no patients) where we could
sleep. In the evening the village offered us rice and a
living chicken. The chicken tasted great.

Back. 2/4

Heading towards another village. On the picture: the
provincial supervisor for Sud Kivu on the motorbike.
The road you see is a really really good road. Most
roads - if existant at all - are not doable by 4x4s and
often also not by motorbikes. The teams often walk
hours to reach a village.

Several of the villages that have to be visisted are on
islands. On the picture: our transport to the village.
These boats are piroques: boats often cut out of a tree.

On the picture: heading to the next village. The team together in a

The first few villages still need a lot of oversight. Thus, every evening
- even after a long day of work in the field - more work. On the
picture: debriefing of a trip to a village in Sud Kivu's terroire Kalehe.

On the picture: the tough life!

Back. 3/4

With the team in Sud Kivu's territoire of Walungu where we stayed in
in a paroish with nuns (who make amazing liquor from fruit). Important
when using motorbikes is maintenance. On the picture: At 6am in the
morning, before leaving to the next village, the team cleaning and
verifying the motorbikes.

Much time of the teams is spend on obtaining information: socio-
economic indicators, information on displacement and conflict, etc. On
the picture: interview with randomly selected villager.

Every evening the data collected that day has to be checked and
entered into PDAs. On the picture: Late in the evening by candelight
working with the teams.

The teams, including me, sleep most of the time in the villages where we
work: most of
the time in the house of the chief or in another house or
building in the village. On the picture: Beds are a rarity and most of the
times we
sleep on the ground.

Congo is a beautiful country. Plagued by povery and conflict, but
gorgeous. On the picture: The view when waking up early in the
morning. Try to beat that!

Back. 4/4

From October 28 to November 8 I was in Maniema to launch the
evaluation there. In Sud Kivu, Haut Katanga and Tanganyika we work with
the IRC. In Maniema we work with CARE International. On the picture:
briefing the CARE staff about the evaluation and introducing the
evaluation team (not on the picture).

The teams make very long days. During the day they introduce project
RAPID: conduct interviews, do general assemblies, focus groups, etc.
In the evening they verify the collected data and enter it into PDAs.
On the picture: In one of the village chef's house (where we all slept in
the evening on the ground) the team is filling out the PDAs.

In Maniema the security rules are substantially less
strict. It is, for example, allowed for me to drive a
motorbike and thus I made many many kilometers. Such
a sense of freedom. On the picture: My Yamaha bike,
sun going down and the Congo river. Truly amazing!

All decent buildings in Kindu (the capital of Maniema) are still from the
Belgian period. The building ares thus decades old but have not been
maintained. People do live there. On the picture: "La Roche" a former
Belgian dancing club.

On my flight back to Goma (where I would stay one evening to take the
boat to Bukavu the next day) I also landed in Punia and Kasongo. On
the picture: the awesome aiport of Punia. In the middle of the rainforest.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The evaluation has started.

After months of preparation here in the Congo, and over one and a half year in New York City with some several-month long trips to the Congo, the evaluation started! Raul had the honor to start with his Haut Katanga team yesterday. I leave tomorrow morning for the field with my Sud Kivu team. It is a very special feeling. After so much work, ups and downs, it is really going to start!

The last two weeks were nuts regarding work. Therefore the absence of posts. Given the absence of internet and for large part phonecoverage in the days and weeks to come, don't expect many posts. If you want to get in contact:
  • Phone with Zain-coverage: +243998399330
  • Phone with Vodacom-coverage: +243810930927
  • Satelite phone (always on from 8-820am and 6-620pm): +8821643340723

Saturday, October 2, 2010

All alone in Bukavu.

After living together, working together, and sharing lots of ups and downs together for almost three months, Raul left me last week. I am all alone in Bukavu. In the months to come Raul will be responsible for the evaluation in the provinces Haut Katanga and Tanganyika; me for the provinces Maniema and Sud Kivu.
Before leaving however, the Sud Kivu and Maniema team that we trained the week before invited us for a goodbye-Raul drink. We had (yet again) a great evening together, which ended with them giving us two wooden carvings. The first is a hunter that carries a prey; the second a hunter that carries a wounded collegue. The first symbolizes how we have a job to do, the second how we will have to work together in the months to come.

Getting the work done, ...

by working together and helping each other.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Motorbike training.

For the evaluation we were planning to buy 16 motorbikes - those nice big 125CC Yamaha DTs. First, this would make logistics easier in the field; 4x4s can't get to most of our villages, and try to find a mode of transport different than walking when you are in the middle of nowhere. Second, after some engineering on the motorbike it would be possible to charge the GPS devices, PDA, laptops, etc. Anyhow, this sounded great in New York.
Once here our implementing partners told us it would be difficult to find more than eight people that would be both good for the evaluation and can drive a motorbike. So, we bought only eight motorbikes and during the training we assigned people to position taking into account whether they could or could not drive a motorbike. Knowing this is the Congo we were very explicit during the training. In one-to-one conversation we asked them "Can you drive a motobike?" and asked them explicitely about their level of experience, whether they had a driver's permit, etc. After the training we had our eight drivers. At least, that's what we thought.
Yesterday, just to be sure, I asked the IRC whether we could borrow a motorbike for several hours to check the guys for their driving abilities... You're ready? Of course within five minutes the first person was lying in a ditch next to the road with the motor on top of him. With the exception of two of them, none of the eight could decently drive a motorbike. So yesterday we arranged two motorbikes and two instructors for several days and thus today and the days to come it is... motorbike training.

This time the Sud Kivu supervisor not falling.

Two motorbikes, and

a lot of tests.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Training in Eastern Congo.

For the evaluation 560 randomly selected villages in Eastern Congo will be visited 3 times (step A-C) to implement a development project. After that 1,120 villages (including the 560) will be visited for a survey (step D). In total around 90 people will work on this for a year; we have to train all of them in the months to come. Raul and I trained the first 14 - the teams for step A and B for the provinces Maniema and Sud Kivu - last week; 7 will go to Maniema with me next Monday, the other 7 will start in three weeks in Sud Kivu. Raul heads to Haut Katanga next Monday to train the next 14.

During the training we covered a lot of material. You're ready?
  • We discussed the idea behind the evaluation, including the importance of randomization; both for selecting the 1,120 villages and for selecting the treatment and control villages of the program we're evaluating;
  • How to conduct and take measures during general assemblies;
  • How to conduct and take measures during focus groups;


and Peter teaching.

  • During step A and B a lot measures are taken along the way, so we had to go over all these different forms, which includes several different types of surveys (the chief, households, different types of general assembly participants, committee members, etc.);
  • There were also practical things that had to be discussed: 1. When and how to go to which village (there is a schedule to follow); 2. language to be used in the field (we worked on the protocol and scripts for over a year); 3. how to take GPS coordinates (in each villages more than 10 coordinates will be taken); 4. How to randomly select households, people within household, and people from general assemblies; 5. how to use PDAs (all forms will have to be filled out on PDAs); 6. how to charge PDAs with solar panels; 7. how to upload data from PDAs to laptops; 8. how to drive a motorbike, etc.;
  • All these things had to be practiced, so we created games, exercises and played a lot (a lot!) of simulations;
  • And because only a sample would be selected from all the people present, we also created exams - as an extra measure - to get at people's quality level.

More on training

  • Training is so important. We have been working on this final part of the evaluation (step A-D) for over a year (the evaluation itself started in 2007); creating surveys, protocols, scripts, etc. When all combined this document is over 200 pages big. Needless to say, while we can discuss language for days, think carefully about which questions to ask, etc. if the people in the field do not understand things, we could just as well throw away those 200+ pages. This is quite a scary thought;

  • In total, professor Chimanuka - the implementing partner for Sud Kivu and Maniema - had brought 25 people to the training; this so that we could select the best 14. This was not an easy thing to do at all. Most of them were older than Raul and me, some were doctors, lawyers, etc. and above all many were unemployed but with a family and there were some that had left their job for this; all to get this job with one-year job security;
  • Raul had been sick-ish in the two weeks running up to the training. On Monday he got really sick and Professor Chimanuka - a specialist on malaria - tested him for malaria: he tested positive. Despite the fact that he looked and felt horrible last week, he kept on teaching - and very impressively;

  • We noticed that Congo seems to have a very different teaching-style than Raul and me are used to. Here students seem to listen and frantically try to copy whatever the professor says into their notebooks. We quickly got rid of that and moved to simulations, exercises and them teaching each other. People really seemd to enjoy this and, we hope, learned much more as a result.

Professor Chimanuka playing the chief of a village.

And another simulation: Tshimanuka doing step B.

Luc (the provincial supervisor for Maniema) teaching.

  • When do you know that people start applying what you taught them? Well, during lunch we walked around the room with a bunch of bananas for the people to take. One student replied: "I will choose my banana randomly." HA!
  • Then on Saturday evening it was over. After a very intense week it was finally time to relax and get to know each other socially. We first went to a local restaurant where we ate and drank until late in the evening. After that we visited "Parc au Prince" and danced until early in the morning. We not only have 14 very smart people, they are also a great group socially - something that is going to be important when in the field together for a year.

Marline, Pascal, Raul and Chris. Check out the latter two: that's team building.

FLTR: Peter, Sylvie, Alain, Marline, Pascal.

The teacher is going strong.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Eggs. Anybody?

Next to DRC - Rwanda border (Congo side).