Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Door Story

Something happened here at Bryant street recently. To understand it, you'll need a couple background stories.

First was several weeks ago when I sent a short list of things that needed to be fixed in the apartment to my super, including the fact that my bedroom door wouldn't stay closed unless locked. He came in and decided the best solution was to give me a new lock. He installed it and gave me a new key, letting me keep the old key as a souvenir.

Next was about a week ago when I was having drinks with a couple guys who were from Cape Town originally. I told them I was living in the neighborhood of Bo Kaap.

"Ooh. Pretty place. Dangerous though." One said. I was a little surprised, I'd thought it was a very safe place. "Yeah," he said, when I told him that. "Well I had a couple friends living there, they had stuff stolen out of their car twice and their house was broken into. So be careful up there."  He did at least assure me that they'd never been mugged.

A few days after that, earlier this week, I was eating breakfast when Natalie, one of my five housemates, asked if I was going to be home in the afternoon the next day. I told her I was going to be at work. She looked perturbed and asked what I was going to to about "the visit." When I asked what visit, she asked if I'd checked my email. I hadn't. Our landlord was apparently showing someone around both my room and Natalie's since we were both moving out soon, and asked us to leave our rooms unlocked. She's the most security conscious of us and didn't like the idea, but I assured her it'd be fine for one afternoon.

Now, our house isn't big. The layout is like so: immediately after walking in the glass entrance door you'll find the room of my Swiss-French housemate, Hubert, who spends a lot of time here with his brother, Fabian. When they aren't working in high end hotel consulting, they're surfing in Muizenberg. After walking past his room you'll enter the small common area with kitchen and dining room table. To the left again is French hospitality intern Amandine's windowless bedroom, and down a short hallway to the left is German wedding business intern Natalie's room. Then are the two bathrooms before you get to the glass doors to the back porch. There is also a set of stairs leading up a floor and to the back of the house. At the top of the stairs, furthest from the front entrance you will find the room of Duy and Slobo, the German-Turkish Model and her German-Serbian stuntman/stage fighter husband, and opposite that, my room. All the rooms have individual locks with very old fashioned looking keys.

Short version: closest to the front door is Hubert, the ladies are in the middle, and furthest from the door are me and the married couple.

So, that night, about 4:30am, I wake up to a loud banging on the front door. My first thought is someone is very clumsily trying to attack us or break in. I figure Hubert will be the one to take care of it, since hes closest to the door. But it keeps going, and going, and going. Finally I hear room door downstairs open, and then the front door, then Amandine and Hubert talking rapidly in French. After a few minutes of this, I get out of bed and stumble downstairs to see what's up, followed shortly by Slobo, who said he was about ready to beat up an intruder.

There were Hubert and Fabian, who explained that they had lost their keys. I was the only one whose number they had, and my phone was off. They were the ones who had been banging on the the door until Amandine had let them in.

So they'd gotten into the house, but not their room. Hubert needed to get his laptop out of there for work, where he was supposed to be in a few hours.

While they pondered, I stumbled over to one of the bathrooms, since I was already up anyway. While I did my business and thought about looking up lock picking techniques, I heard three more loud bangs, but not on glass this time.

Here's what I found when I came out:
That's Amandine and Fabian. When Hubert stepped back out of the hole he'd kicked in his bedroom door (which apparently is made mostly of cardboard), I was the one to tell him the landlord was showing someone the place in twelve hours.

I'm not sure how the viewing went the next day. I wasn't there. I don't think any of us were.

But I do know that, to add even more insult to injury, we later tried both my room key and my old room key on Hubert's room on a whim. The second one fit the lock perfectly.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Quick note on photos

Hey folks, having some technical issues with the photos here. The service I used to use to seperate photos within albums for each blog entry no longer works. So in the meantime, you can see some of the photos from the trip so far here.

Also, there's a video for you. Check it out here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Reversal

Looking back over the last couple weeks, thinking of what to put here, I've realized something a little weird. The things I'm doing that are the most remarkable to normal people seem to me to be background. Meanwhile the stuff I find the weirdest to adapt to and deal with is what's background to most normal people.

In other words, stepping out of a 16 seat van with twenty people in it on a highway in Mozambique, and negotiating sandwiches from street vendors in Portuguese? That's normal for me. Sitting at my desk figuring out when I should write up a report or talk to my boss about the progress of my work? Almost completely alien.

What I've been doing here hasn't been exactly the photo worthy moments you might expect of me going out into a township and getting to know people and their problems. Mostly I've been at the back end in the office helping people who help people help the beneficiaries we're trying to serve.

For example, when I came in, I found out that the company was 95% temporary interns, all of whom were very smart and skilled, but none of whom had institutional memory beyond six months. Nobody in the office had any easy way of figuring out who was doing what, leading to a lot of duplicated work. Plus there was no working way for people to share files beyond emailing each other.

So I fixed that by activating a file sharing system and an app that now functions as a directory and project management tool. Setting it up took an hour or two. Most of my time since then has been showing it to each intern and signing them up so they could use it. Now even if the people leave, the work remains, and whoever comes next will have a much easier time figuring picking up what we leave behind.

Interesting to me. Probably boring to 98% of people reading this. But it does help the people in my office who are teaching business skills and getting nutrition to poor people. It's just not all that direct.

The direct stuff is coming.  I've just started working with a project that uses technology for education, and seeing if it will work in poor communities.  I'm not  100% certain that it is going to work.  But we can get it pointed in the right direction.

 But that will come after tomorrow. As of 25 minutes ago in this time zone, it's now my birthday. So I've got a few other things to do first.