Saturday, December 20, 2008

The end of the first term

Today marks the first day of the last week of our first term in Africa. While we are here, the rest of the world seems to not matter.
A new US president, a Vancouver municipal election, and the Canadian election? How easy it is for us to not care while deprived of the advertising and news. In Ghana, we just endured a national election last week. Officially, it’s a multi party system, but in practice the top two parties take 95% of the vote. The two sides were so evenly divided that neither party earned the 50% needed to decide on a president, and a re-election will be held in two weeks.
What economic crisis? We hear about this being the worst global recession in years, but somehow I think the street vendors who make do on about $3 a day selling oranges aren’t too concerned about that.
Recorded Christmas music blaring out of shopping mall speakers? I’ll gladly take a pass on that this year. Although this is the first holiday since we’ve arrived that we will share with our mother country, it is celebrated quite differently here. No symbols of Christmas here to remind us of the upcoming holiday; only the students’ preparation to return back to their families in their home villages and a Christmas celebration at the school later this week. In one mathematically geeky way, we’re similar to you in temperature-- 37 degrees. Here, in Celcius, for you in Farenheit (which works out to be around 1 or 2 degrees C).
Time does seem to stand still here. At home, I’ll browse the news on a daily basis to see what’s going on. Here, our sporadic, slow and relatively expensive internet connection make browsing anything on the internet a distant memory. The topics of the discussion among the locals are relationships and personal experiences, and time is relative to that. Even the weather slows down time. There are two seasons here—the rainy season and the dry season, so the granularity of a year is down to two from our regular four.
Tamale has been really good to us, and far from the big city, people are quick to befriend us, shake our hand, and greet us in the local language (to which the correct response is a Dabani word that sounds like “naa”).
Pastor Joshua and Auntie Caterina, whose home we stay in, have graciously passed on some of their 20 years of African experience with incredible stories that we initially couldn’t believe, but we later too realized were the African Way. Through them, we’ve learned to understand the Africans different priorities from our own—how family and their status in society means much more to them than anything else. For example, it is perfectly acceptable for an African to leave his work because his father has asked him to buy something from a store for him. For example, firing somebody from a job is difficult because it would be a terrible insult for them in front of their coworkers.

In the last four months, Tim has taught a three week computer introduction class, has taught about six weeks of Excel classes, taught the teachers some basic Java, has given a few DOS classes to interested students, has developed Access databases for storing student data, has created an Excel project for charting a teaching schedule, has disinfected probably 100 computers of viruses, including writing his own antivirus for one particularly persistent one, has resurrected numerous PC’s from a storeroom appropriately called the “graveyard” to restore them to operation, has installed a Windows Server 2003 domain controller to network 25 computers together, has installed some PHP web applications on the server to give the students a sense of what the internet is like (since we don’t have internet access at the school), and in this final week is teaching the teachers how to use the network with security in mind.

He has lead discussions on the purpose of life with his class, has given a two day class to share about the differences between North American and African friendship, and has visited the homes of many students to get to know them better.

For Dora, the time has gone quickly. She has spent time getting acquainted with the children and teachers of the school to write a suitable English curriculum for the primary school, made a number of resources to use for English and math, found, assembled and organized leveled readers from K-P6, made many classroom observations to help train a number of new teachers, taught some demo lessons, lead teacher training sessions on teaching phonics, improving the teacher’s English, teaching math and classroom management, gotten to know and visit a few teachers and students at home, and spent spare moments supervising children on the playground.

Although we can be confident that our presence here has made a difference in the lives of our students and teachers, there still seems to be so much more that could have been done if there was only more time. Four months in Ghana seemed long enough when we planned this trip half a year ago, but how long will our impact last? For this uncertainty, we must trust that God will continue His plan for Ghana through Pastor Joshua’s leadership at the school in bringing education and introducing a Christian perspective on hope, friendship, and family.

In about 2 weeks, we will be in South Africa to begin the next part of our mission. The locals all assure us that the bark is bigger than the bite, but Johannesburg's reputation is not without merit. Please pray for safety and security during our vacation time as we do a little travelling before we begin teaching there in the second week of January.

Merry Christmas to everyone. May your snow be cleaner and less grainy than the pervasive African dust.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stepping back in time

Who remembers a time when gas was actually pumped by hand?

Posted by PicasaOr when grain and chaff was separated by wind?

(if pictures are not appearing, go directly to our blogspot address)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Journaling my Reflections on Ghana

Time is fleeting and there is only 2 weeks left before school holidays begin, and my work here ends.

I'm going to miss the safari ride to school on the dust trodden road. Leaving the compound gates and the crazy dogs that nip at the car tire. Peering into the tick tree forest to catch anyone by surprise using the toilet. The fearless goats and sheep that see our truck as an invasion to their sweet slumber in the middle of the road. They inch slightly to the right or left to let our car can pass. Young kids with big bellies and worn shirts hollering “suluminga” or “China! China!” to get our attention. Adults turn and stare until the dust obstructs our view. We cautiously approach the intersection where a ménage of bicyclists, motorbikes, trucks and wild taxis crisscross following their own invisible traffic lines. I thank God every time we successfully complete the left turn in this intersection. I inspect the view out my window, of women carrying all sorts of oddities on their heads. A bucket of water, bucket of buckets, bucket of an assortment of lotions and creams on sale, a bag of rice, construction materials of all sorts, a sledgehammer. Though I’ve seen it many times, I still nervously examine how tightly the young kids are holding onto their mother or father, as they sit on the back seat of the motorcycle weaving between traffic. Sometimes there are 3 or 4, sometimes they look only 3 years old. We pass the campus of T-Poly (Tamale Polytechnic), dodging large tree trunks that are blocking most of the road. “They’re protesting the “construction” of the dirt road,” says Pastor Joshua. “The newspapers announced the completion of the road 4 years ago,” he likes to remind us. Just before we make the last turn towards the ECG school, I crane my neck towards a huge tree to look at the hundreds of some kind of yellow bird fluttering beneath their hanging basket nests. Finally, just as we pull through the gates, I hear the eager shouts of children “Teacher Dora! Teacher Dora!”

Monday, November 24, 2008

What did we expect an African church service to be like before we came to Africa? The closest thing we could picture was a lively praise followed by a preacher soliciting Hallelujah’s and Amen’s from the crowd, Southern Baptist style. But that’s like expecting a Chinese church in China to behave like a Chinese church in Canada. We’ve now visited three different churches, each with their own style, but all quite different from what we may expect in North America.
The school that Dora and I teach at is supported by the ECG, or Evangelical Church of Ghana, and we consider that our home church in Ghana (second photo). A few main differences between that our home church in Vancouver:
- We start with some singing. Music is simple, but loud. Usually just percussion (drums and a pair of bongo drums) accompaniment.
- dancing in the aisles and at the front (men and women) is common. They will form a line, dancing to the front, waving their handkerchiefs to the beat
- no such thing as silent prayer. Instead, everybody vocalizes their thoughts to God in unison, a cacophony of voices delivering their prayers towards the heavens.
- giving offering is a joyous affair, with music guiding all attendees to dance towards an offering box at the front.
- no powerpoint. Everybody knows the words to the songs by heart. The worship team communicates the order of the songs by singing the first line, then everyone else joins in.
- They like repetition. Other than 1 or 2 songs new songs, they sing the same songs every week, and everybody loves it!
- service is in two languages – English and Dabani (the local dialect here). A translator is usually used
- they welcome each other like we do in Vancouver, and most people will circulate throughout the entire church to do so (not just the neighbouring rows)
- the church building is made of simple four walls of concrete blocks and a steel roof.
- nearly 100% participation in singing and clapping. I don’t see many shy people here.
- Men and women sit separately. It’s roughly a 3:5 ratio of men to women.
- about 100 people attending

The second church we visited was in a small farming village (first photo). We drove for about 15 minutes off the main road through the bush to get there. The road was so seldom used that grass growing in the middle of the road was taller than the hood of our car. The church was a smaller building, and we had maybe 30 people in attendance. Again, percussion drove the praise, albeit on a very simple drum set. Small barefooted children danced during the music, then slept on the floor during the sermon.

The third church was a baptist church with at least 200 people near our house. Their music included a synth, bass guitar, and drums. It was also amplified uncomfortably loudly, but nobody seemed to mind. The singing lasted at least 45 minutes, and engaged everybody with clapping and dancing, a little too enthusiastic for our tastes. We were told that this church encouraged tithing or fundraising in a more direct way, by calling people up and asking others to donate a certain amount to “free” that person.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ghanaian government vs. private school

A few weeks ago, we were given the opportunity to visit classrooms for kindergarten and P1 in a government school and a private school. This contrasts with our school, which still collects school fees, but costs about half that of the private school. See if you can guess which one is the government school and which is the private school. (I'd show more pics, but I think these ones are all you need to answer the question)

The private schools have about six teachers for a class of 35 kindergarten kids. The government schools have 4 teachers for a class of 70 kids. In the government school, the children were always talking or being subject to caning by the teachers. In the private schools, students were well behaved, without the need for caning. There are many factors that affect the quality of education, including the education level of the parents. The parents who send their students to the free education of the government school do not attend PTA meetings, while parents of the private school are actively involved in school meetings.
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Friday, October 24, 2008

Precious Abundant Water

It's the rainy season in Tamale, Ghana, which means that every few days we have a huge downpour, usually accompanied by lightening. The rain is nothing like Vancouver. It's more like a Hollywood studio when the sky flashes continuously in rhythm with the thunder claps and rain pounding over our tin roof. It can last anywhere between 10 minutes to an hour. Last Friday, the storm came right after school and lasted for about an hour, so most teachers (including me) were stuck in our classrooms waiting the rain out. Some of us took naps on the tables. When the rain finally stopped, we were free to go home, dodging huge puddles and avoiding the splash from cars and motorbikes. Most roads are dirt roads with either no or poor drainage, so some who walk have to take off their sandles and tread through the water. Bikes and motorbikes have to be equally careful on the slippery mud roads. Luckily for us, we get a ride home in the pastor's truck.

In spite of this apparant abundance of precipitation and Ghana's management of the world's largest man-made fresh water lake called Lake Volta, most homes (poor and rich alike) experience water shortages. Since arriving in Ghana, we’ve probably only enjoyed a handful of days with water served to our home through the city pipes, then into our tap. It’s a common occurance here, so most wealthier locals know to store their water in 250 gallon drums whenever the water is available. Tamale's water company has just one working pump, and one spare pump that has broken down years ago. The spare pump is too expensive to fix, so if there are any problems with the single working pump, water is cut off to the city. Another company was claimed that they have found a solution to the water shortage. They announced that they would solve all water shortages by August. August and September came and went, and we're nearly ending October still with water shortages.

At the guest house where we and the pastor live, we have 4 drums. Two of the drums are elevated, feeding water into the house's pipes via gravity. The third tank is elevated just high enough to put a bucket under its faucet so we can fetch water. The fourth is a tank from which we fetch with buckets.

The effect is that we have learned to conserve water tremendously. BC Hydro would be proud of us. Between taking showers, cooking, washing dishes, washing clothes, and flushing the toilet, we found that flushing the toilet uses the most most water. Every flush requires a full bucket of water, which we have to fetch from the drum outside, then manually pour into the back of the toilet. To conserve water, our toilet is usually only flushed twice a day (when someone goes #2). A phrase we learned from Caleb, "if it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down", is taken very literally here. We've learned to take bucket showers, which surprisingly uses very little water! A shower usually uses 1/4 a bucket of water, and almost 1/2 if I wash my hair. Washing dishes requires multiple rinses in a very small tub, but only uses about 1/2 bucket of water.
Water usage may be a little inconvenient for us, but it is hardship and even life-threatening for most of the population. On the way to school and on Saturday mornings, we've seen huge groups of women and children washing their clothes by broken water pipes, and walking long distances with tubs of water balanced on their heads. As the fresh water from the broken pipes run out, the only source of water is from dams of stagnant water. The transmition of cholera is not uncommon during these times.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thanks for all the comments...sorry we can't reply to them all individually, but we do read them all! As a gift for those of you slogging through Tim's long diatribes, here are some photos. We finished posting the kili photos, and also some other photos from Ghana/Africa.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Village Experience

This past Sunday, we had the chance to go to a church service in a village and visit a bit with the people.
The route there started off pretty normal with a mix of concrete and dirt roads, but then we turned off onto a hidden road between guinea corn towering over both sides of the car. We passed many fields of various vegetables like okra, maize and cassava. Finally we arrived to a cozy mud/concrete rectangular building with a tin roof. In fact, most of the modern houses in the city are constructed in this fashion, but for this village, the church building was the best building in the village. There were about 20 people in attendance, half of them chidren either sitting on the benches, lying on the floor or walking about. As expected, Pastor Joshua (our host in Ghana) was called to preach without any warning. Of course, he was prepared, as he has been living in Ghana long enough to expect these kinds of surprises. What caught my attention during worship was this little 4 year old boy drumming and dancing with the most interesting rhythm and he was on beat! It would put any attempt at dancing on my part to shame.
After service, we walked around the village nodding and shaking hands with people (as that was the best we could do to communicate with them). An interesting plant we saw growing was marajuana. Like home, it's illegal to grow them, but also like home, because it's a significant source of income and the police hardly check the villages, they continue to do so. With the money made, they were able to repair a wagon tire.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Islamic life

Today (well, the day I write this, not the day I post) is the last day of Ramadan, the equivalent of Christmas in Islam. For the last few weeks, the Muslims have been fasting during the day, consuming neither food nor drink. They must not even swallow their saliva. Only at dusk are they permitted to eat and drink. At midnight, then again at 4AM they awake to pray. They end this regiment tomorrow morning at the celebration called Sala when they gather at the mosque or open field to pray, followed by a huge feast.

As a result of the fasting and the tiresome sleeping schedules, some of our muslim students have fallen ill, while others come to class with bloodshot eyes.

Update: We enjoyed Tuesday off from school as Sala was declared a holiday for the country. The following day, fewer than half our students came to class as many were still celebrating and feasting.

The price of software

In North America, there really isn't an excuse for most of us to pirate software. Much of the stuff we actually need is within the budget of the working class. And for those of us who can't afford it but are still technologically savvy, linux and other open source/free software is easily downloadable through our broadband connections. With the help of a quick internet, we are afforded ample opporttunity to research the software we are interested in before buying it, or finding a legally free alternative.

In a third world country such as Ghana, software is free like air is free: It can be acquired cheaply or freely,but only long term usage will reveal whether it was healthy or filled with disease. As mentioned in a prior post, just about every computer, if lucky, is infected with only a couple of viruses. If unlucky, it will be crippled by over a dozen. Initially, the student body was suspect for bringing in their own infected USB keys and stacks of bootlegged CDs, but I soon realized our own archive of software was infected. On our Windows XP ISOs were "free tools" such as Partition Magic and license key crackers. A virus scan revealed no fewer than three viruses or trojans hidden away in these tools. Everyone endures these threats willingly, as the cost of going legal is impossible. For example, a teacher's monthly salary equals the cost of a Windows Vista license in Canada. I am not aware of any "third world" discount, nor have I seen any Future Shop or Best Buy where one might acquire the software legally. Not that we'd be able to run any currently selling version of windows on our 256mb of ram that most of our machines at school have anyway.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

wet and dusty

You'd think that one would be able to adjust to cold showers. With the heat here, sometimes the water is a welcome reprieve. But usually, it still takes a few seconds for the skin to cool enough to adjust. Since arriving in Africa, we've had only about 5 warm showers, and those were only in hotel rooms during the first weeks of travelling. In Ghana, hot running water is a rare luxury. Heck, even running water is scarce. Despite the frequent thunderstorms which pour buckets of water upon the city, indoor plumbing among the shacks and mud thatched homes doesn't exist, so many residents make a daily commute to a nearby dam or a local burst water pipe for their drinnking water, fill buckets with rainwater for showers, and make their local ditch their toilets.

It is now rainy season, and the lush vegetation keeps the roaming goats and chickens constantly eating and the maize and rice fields growing (that is, for those fields protected from the goats). The rains here accelerate the deterioration of the dirt roads, etching rivers and softening potholes, leading to natural speedbumps that keeps traffic below 30km/h amongst the livestock and the children.

Despite the moisture, dust permeates everything, from the inside of our home to the insides of the computer classrooms. Each day, the classrooms are swept, raising clouds of dust which are then sucked into the computers. It's amazing the machines don't overheat more often. However, it isn't the dust that is the greatest threat to our hardware, but our fluctuating power supply. The 230V is generally stable, but is known to spike and burn out electronics. When the power goes out, which has happened twice at home and a couple times at school, it is standard practice to turn off the power switches connected to the outlets to protect against the spike that will inevitably follow when the power returns. I watched a monitor blow up last week when its wall power was not turned off properly.

I've now taught 5 classes, and with any class in any country, there those who are keenly learninng, and there are those who just want the certificate. It's quite easy to tell who from who by their attention in class as well as where they sit. But all are grateful for my teaching, and tell me so. As with Dora, I struggle with their trisyllabic local names, and their family name may not necessarily be the last name. Not only do I need to match the name of the student to their face, but also how to pronounce their name, and what name they would like to be called. Not that I actually need to know their names to teach, but in this relatinship driven
society, being able to call them by name would increase my effectiveness as a teacher.

Geek talk: there are two viruses here that propogate prolificly: one that abuses autoconf.inf to run viral code that is copied to pen drives (which in turn will execute automaticly when inserted in most Windows computers), and another that hides all folders and creates .exe files with the same name as the folders and an icon as a folder in the hopes that the hapless user would incorrectly doubleclick the .exe .

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mr. Tim

That's what they call me. The students, I mean. A bit of of a mix between formal and informal. It's nice. And many students want to learn DOS. But half of the class has never used a computer before. Only a handful have email addresses. And only 2 have computers at home. But most are very eager to learn. And nobody has an umbrella, so when it rains, people stay home. Most of the computers are infected with various viruses, and I'm trying to get antivirus software installed on them all. Which is a bit of a chore when none of them are networked and I need to use USB keys to do it (which in turn get infected upon insertion).
Dora's Random Rantings on School:

Today was the third day of school, and things are sooo different here. Students show up randomly almost. In our class we are suppose to have 31 students. On the first day of school, 16 showed up, yesterday, 19, and today, 21. Because of the African concept of time, NOTHING starts on time. The kids play in the playground for almost an hour in the morning (until all of the day's students show up), then at around 9:30-9:45, class starts. Recess and lunch is almost just as random. None of the teachers wear watches and there are no clocks in the classrooms. But that is the norm not only in this school, but all schools in Ghana, and for everything (other than flight times) in this country. I've heard about the phenomenon, but experiencing it is another thing. CRAZY!

I'm partnered with a grade 1 teacher, and thank God we get along well. The kids are pretty good though. The pastor, who's also principal (or we call him director here), is from Hong Kong, so the kids are well disciplined. However, the behaviour of the new students (new acceptances) are atrocious. Today I broke up a fist fight. Two students got into some argument, then they started hitting each other. Then a friend of someone who was in the fight came along to "help" by hitting the other person. Then another friend of the other party came along to "help" by hitting the other. It was a disastrous chain that spread to about 6 kids. While I was breaking up the fight with one pair, behind my back, the other kids started to hit each other. It was too much for me..I was only able to talk to 3 of the students after the whole thing stopped because then it was lunch time, and the rest ran out. Usually I would want "justice served" for all the kids involved, but they all look alike to me!

That's my other struggle. All the black kids look alike. Especially the girls who have their head shaved. So it is a challenge to learn their names.

Another challenge is their accent. I'm having a really hard time understanding what they're saying and vice versa. Makes classroom management and teaching challenging. Two kids would be arguing about something right under my nose and I wouldn't be able to tell what they're saying or who's right/wrong.

Next Monday, hopefully all the students will arrive so that we can actually start teaching. I'm going to train a few teachers what little I know about starting a school-wide reading program (though this only involves 3 classes for now), so I hope it goes well. There are so many cultural differences here to get used to, understand and accept, so hopefully I will be able to be sensitive to their cultural differences when I'm training them so that the reading program will be acceptable to them. Especially since I have heard that the teachers here are a bit reluctant to try new things.

Friday, September 5, 2008

In Ghana

Dora and I have arrived in Accra, the capital city of Ghana. We got here two days ago via a hectic day of flying and waiting in airports. Our flight was delayed by over an hour, but fortunately Pastor Nambu and his wife, a local pastor here, waited patiently for us at the airport to pick us up.

Pastor Siu and his wife Caterina will be our hosts for the next three months. They just arrived yesterday. Today, we load up on groceries and supplies for our 10 hour drive up north to a small town called Tamale, which will be our home. As it is a small town, there is not very much variety in terms of groceries, and what variety they do have is expensive. We stop by a Chinese supermarket where the Nissan instant noodles are $1.50 each. Dora buys me one as an early Christmas gift.

Differnces between Ghana and Tanzania:
- everyone speaks English here. No more Swahili lessons for us.
- Back to the right side of the road for us.
- More courteous drivers. Not courteous by Canadian standards, but here, they give more than 30 cm clearance to pedestrians and cyclists.
- More honking. Despite the aggressive driving in Tanzania, the only honking I heard was to alert pedestrians and cyclists of our approach. Here, the tqaxis will honk at pedestrians just to get their attension, producing a cacophony of honking at any major intersection.
- People selling everything at intersections, from plastic bags filled with water to snacks to toilet paper.
- Haven't encountered any street touts. But that's probably because we haven't visited any tourist areas

We've had two people ask us to read Chinese for them already. And there's a fairly common perception that all Chinese know how to fight. I've had one person ask me to teach him martial arts already.

Dora now has a new favorite insect-the preying mantis. We've spotted four different species since coming to Africa: one that looked like a brown dried leaf during the safari; a black one mimicking a large black ant; a green one that we saw briefly before it flew off in Zanzibar, and at the missionary guest house an inch long green one that moves slowly, swaying from side to side if disturbed to mimic a blowing leaf with a head that curiously pivots its large eyes and antennae around. In their natural surroundings, they would've been invisible, but so far we've seen these crawling on walls, chairs, and tables making them easy enough to spot.


Last night, Pastor Joshua drove us up to Tamale. It took us a full 12 hours, and we stopped only for a bit of food and bathroom breaks. I don't know how he has the stamina to stay awake-Dora and I were snoozing in the car, and we were still tired when we spilled out of the pickup truck.

This morning, Dora and I visited the school where we'd be teaching. We were introduced to the local pastor and some of the teachers. A strange thing that I'm sure we'll be getting used to-when it rains here, as it did this morning, nobody ventures outside. In fact, when we arrived at school for our meeting with the teachers, only 2 of the 9 or so came before us, and the rest didn't come until the rain stopped. We were told to expect the same from the students here.

The teachers are all very friendly, and I was anxious to start the school year with them.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In Accra/Killi detailed blog

We've arrived in Accra, Ghana, and have a bit of an internet connection. Here's a more detailed writeup of our hike.

More Photos at (will eventually add more when the connection is better)


We arrive after dark. Airport small. We pay $50 each for a visa. Our driver who was arranged to pick us up from the airport (arranged through our hike company) is absent. We get a bit suspicious of the company we hired, as they've already accepted our money. We manage to give them a call via a taxi driver who lends us his phone, but only after purchasing a phone card for $2 US. Ake, our contact with Summits Africa, responds that the driver is on the way. Driver is courteous and friendly. Roads are unlit and terribly dark. A bit frightening to be introduced to left-side driving in the dark, as every pair of headlights coming the other way seems to threaten a head-on collision. A half-hour drive later, he pulls into a dirt road with small dimly lit shops on each side. He drives further and further up the road, and again I get the sense of fear that he is about to turn the car off, gesture to his friends in the shadows to come out, and rob us. We are happy this doesn't happen.

The L'Oasis hotel is very much an oasis-it is very well kept, the employees speak decent English, and is relatively clean. We are glad to have a place to rest after more than 2 days of flying and sitting in airports.

Day 1

This was our only "free day" for the next two weeks. We used it to walk into the town of Arusha to take a look around. We feel relatively safe for most of the walk, although we do get lots of strange looks of curiosity. Find a restaurant to have lunch, where we get our first taste of African food. Walking around, there are plenty of street touts (sales people) looking to escort us around. We eventually are approached by one who assures us that he'd be happy with whatever we can give him, such as 2 or 3 dollars. He tells us that having him around will keep us safe from stabbings (something I doubt), and that he'd tell us where we could take photos (something I'd value). So we let him tag along.

After a short 20 minute tour of the town, he changes his tone and asks for $10, which I adamantly disagree to. After a bit of back and forth, and realizing that our time is running short, I unhappily give him $8. Fortunately, this lesson in negotiation is the extent of our unpleasant experiences in Africa. Nothing stolen yet, no corruption experienced, no bribes needed yet. Dora thinks of this a little more seriously, thinking we've been ripped off.

We return to the hotel in time to meet with our contact with Summits Africa, Ake. He introduced us to our lead guide, Sam who previewed the hike with us. Found out later that despite being owner of a company that employs several hundred people, Ake still makes time to personally meet with the clients.

Kilimanjaro Day 1
Crew of 21 meets us in a bus at the hotel. Overwhelmed by the support staff needed. As bus heads off, they sing a song of welcome. We are introduced to Ashley, assistant guide. Talkative guy.
Bus makes a stop for the grocery store. sam gives them 5 mins but one straggler hops on just as the bus pulls out of the parking lot.
Bus ride takes a couple of hours before winding up a forest road. Young kids wave to us on the street.
We arrive at gate, where crew unloads a large supply of bags which I assume are our food and tents.
There is a slight problem with our bus which was supposed to return to arusha but was booked by someone else. One of our porters needs to accompany our baggage back to arusha while we hire another porter (there are dozens waiting at the gate for the chance to work. We have to wait about an hour during which we sign in and we get served tea and biscuits. Other clients from other organizations look on with jealousy. Sam then takes the first of many measurements of our heartrate, oxygen level, and breathing, notes it in his data, then gives us the ok.
Before long Sam introduces the crew of 17 porters,the cook "Chlli sauce", and the campsite chief "Sorrow" (meaning crazy in Swahili). We shake their hands,then start our expedition. The crew take off ahead of us and it's just Sam and Ashley escorting us up the mountain. Ashley studied wildlife in school, and is passionate about animals. He shares his philosophy with us of the balance of nature and how people are animals too. We stop for our lunch break to a table nicely set up in the woods. The food is more than enough as the table is covered with plates of cold cuts,veggies and bread. We are also introduced to Milo, a chocolate flavoured powdered drink mix similar to Ovaltine. Sam's favouriate way to make it is with 2 spoons of milk, one sugar, and one spoon of Milo. He spends lunch and subsequently, all meals with us together. We set off again, asking many questions about the fauna and looking for common North American house plants in these woods.

We see many others on the trails. Tourists like us in group sizes of varying numbers, from 2 to 15. Many porters dash past us, carrying huge loads of canvas bags, chairs, or buckets on their shoulders or top of heads. We must have seen almost a hundred people on the trail, but Sam says that this is not the busy season yet.

We hike through what seems to be a rainforest. Despite it being the middle of the dry season, the air felt quite cool and damp, and it even drizzled a bit. Apparently the weather around the mountain is independent of the plains in the surrounding areas,

Clearing where table set up for us. Other groups are saying "hey look, they have a table". Food is good. Porters hold umbrellas over our heads to shield from rain while eating.

We know we will have a lot of time with our guides, so we determine to learn some Swahili on the way. We learn the numbers 1 to 10, but it takes much longer than anticipated, mainly because of the unfamiliarity of the language. In about 20 minutes, we get it. But Ashley is able to learn 1-10 in Cantonese in under 10 minutes.

We finally arrived at our first campground after going "polei polei" (slowly). We head straight into the registration cabin where we sign into what looks like a very worn school exercise book. The air is significanly colder and a thick mist hangs in the air. Sam says that we are camping below the cloud line which makes this campsite perpetually foggy.

We are shown our tent, then are invited to wash up, and have tea in the mess tent while we wait for dinner. That routine continued everyday at the end of each hike. Though in the beginning we felt really spoiled to have our tents set up for us (and our sleeping bags laid out), hot water boiled for washing, and a 3 course meal all prepared for us, by the 3rd day when our bodies grew weary from hiking so many distances everyday, we felt so grateful to come "home" to some rest and comfort every evening. Even in the morning when we were given our wake up call, we were served hot tea in our tents.

Each day revealed different terrain to us. By the second day, we ascended out of the forest into a moonscape of rock and very little vegetation. A fine dust puffed up around every step we took. The volcano in the mountain was becoming more and more evident.

One thing we noticed about Africa was that the sun rises and sets very quickly. In the evening, twilight lasts for about 30 minutes before a flashlight is required. The night sky and thin atmosphere offered us our first glimpses into the southern constellations. At this latitude, the big dipper only visible during certain times of the year, and Polaris lay beyond the horizon. I missed being able to orient myself by the night sky.

Day prior to summit: about 6 hours of hiking ending about 2 in the afternoon. We try to sleep for 2 hours, a difficult task given that we camp in the same place as other campers who've just descended kili and are alert, talking, and packing. Tim also has a runny nose forcing him to mouth-breathe, and the dry mountain air dries out the mouth in a minute. Tim ends up not really sleeping. We wake at 5:30 for dinner, eat for an hour, then return to bed around 8pm and sleep until 11pm. An hour later, we begin our trek up the mountain.
Day of summit: We are fortunate to hike during a full moon. We have headlamps, but they are not needed. We follow a snakelike procession of headlamps of the dozens of other hikers heading to the top. Around 3am, our minds are tired, and our bodies are just mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. We eagerly await the daylight that might psychologically wash away our tiredness.

By 6:30, the sun pokes above the horizon. I mentally wake up knowing the peak is not far away. I quickly check on my camera battery and find it expectedly frozen. I place it into my glove to warm it up, hoping it won't let me down for the glorious souvenir photo at the top. It is not terribly windy, but it has been well below freezing for about 4 hours by now. At the top, I'm guessing it's -12C. Not only are our batteries frozen, but also drink tubes from our camelbacks. We've been drinking from some bottled water in the backpacks of our guides, which also are frozen though not completely. The landscape up here is beautiful, with jagged glaciers majestically rising out from the black of the mountain,

We finally reach the peak, where we take our quota of photos before the next group takes their turn at the sign. Dora is looking quite miserable at this point, freezing and cold, and immediately turns around and heads down. I continue to take photos knowing this is once in a lifetime, but do so guitily knowing that my pausing to take photos is extending Dora's suffering. She is tired, she can't feel her feet anymore, and two porters and Ashley who come up with us escort her back down the mountain.

The way down from a hike is always worse for me than the way up. Going down, the only thing to look forward to is the bottom. There are few new views and I'm too tired to be interested in taking more photos. Dora has already been whisked away, almost carried down by her porters while I'm hiking down with Sam. Knowing my knees can't sustain repetitive pounding of running downhill, and being tired enough to collapse should I take an incorrect step, I quietly endure descending slowly. About 9am, Sam grants me my request to take a 10 minute nap, during which I sleep instantly upon lying upon my backpack.

After hiking down for 4 hours, we are back at base camp. We negotiate a snooze for about 3 hours (we wanted to sleep longer, but doing so would've put our arrive at our next camp after dark), we have lunch, then we continue to the next camp (the current one does not have a water source). It totals about 16 hours of hiking in the last 24.

On the way down, we get passed by a group of porters rushing a climber down on a stretcher. He apparently has succumbed to some form of altitude sickness. Dora had joked earlier that she'd fake altitude sickness to get the porters to carry her down. After seeing the bumpy ride on the one-wheeled cart by the sick, she changed her mind.

Souvineurs taken from Kilimanjaro:
- small pieces of obsidian rock found on the slopes
- a cut on Dora's index finger from closing the hatch on the outhouse door
- a permanent tingly feeling in Dora's toes from being frozen for 7 hours during the hike to the summit. (Don't worry, it's just frostsnip).
- a sun burn on Dora's nose to her upperlip from catching a cold, and blowing her nose too much, consequently blowing off any sunscreen applied in that area. (Makes her
look like a man with a really bad PM shadow).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Some photos

In our pre-volunteer part of our trip, we did some travelling. We've finally got a decent internet connection at a hotel that graciously gives free time, so here are some photos. I apologize for the incorrect temporal ordering...blogger makes it difficult to manipulate images. These photos are from kilimanjaro. The hardest physical thing we've ever done. 5 days going up, 2 coming down.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

First impressions

I didn't think I had any, but spending a day in a culturally diverse place has proven me wrong.

- Africa is hot
last night when we arrived in Kili airport, it was only 12-13 degrees.
- malaria is about
no mosquitos to note as of yet, possibly because of the dry season, possibly because of the cool climate
- tropical fruit is juicy and sweet
they are sour

First time experiences

-met friendly people from the UK and Egypt at the airport lounge in nairobi while waiting 12 hours for a 40 minute connecting flight that would have taken 4 hour by bus
- wearing a fleece in 20 degree weather to blend in with the locals
- Swahili phrases like 'jambo' [hello], 'asantei' [Thank you], 'mambo' [how are you]
- a ride in a car on a unlit one lane highway with cyclists and pedestrians just walking on the shoulder and cars passing each other on the opposite lanes.
- being woken up by roosters at 6am
- friendly kids saying hello, chasing after us practising their "how are you's" and "fine thank you"

Sunday, August 10, 2008

8 hours later...

The last two days have been a whir. We've been packing and confirming the financing for our trip. The only moments of non-packing have been attending a wedding, or eating. We've only gotten 7 hours of sleep in two days, and it's looking like it is 7 hours in three as I resign from attempts to sleep on the overnight flight to London. On Friday morning, we were up late enough to see the very impressive opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics (I probably went to bed around 6:30 am).

We've brought about 8 carloads of stuff to my parents' for storage, and each time we do we get a pungent reminder of a spill of rib water into the upholstry of Dora's car. Two weeks ago, we prepared ribs for a bbq, and in transport, what once was delicious rib juice spilled into the car. We sopped up what we could of the oily mess into paper towels, but much of it seeped in to provide a delicious breeding ground for a healthy colony of bacteria. Our thoughts and prayers are now with my parents and brother, who are currently tasked with entering this rancid environment and unloading our last carload.

In our final hours in Vancouver, our most loyal prayer supporters joined us at the chapel at YVR to pray for our safety and the success of the mission (Thanks Donald, Pastor Inho, Auntie Aida, Caleb, Noelle, Jayne, and Bob!) Their companionship with us to the very end was truly comforting, to know that through the next 8 months, we will have their (and your) prayer support.

Prayer items that have been answered:
- Dora's cell phone contract has found a new owner
- our apartment has been rented for just the length of time we want, to a friend
- I was in serious doubt that we'd be able to raise what to me was a lofty target of $10,000 to partially support our trip. In just over a month, we've now exceeded that (our total trip costs of the volunteer/missions part of the trip will be closer to $17,000)

Geek talk
- computer equipment I'm bringing down: two motherboards, about 3 gb worth of memory chips, network cards. I've tried to protect them by sandwiching them between foam and packing that into our checked in luggage
- got a Dell Axim X51v a few months back to replace my viewsonic. It locks up from time to time, and for the last 12 hours, unbeknownst to me, it ran the battery dry. Good thing I brought my trusty Viewsonic V37 on which I'm typing this now.

Our next stop is the apparently unimpressive Heathrow airport, where we will sit around for a good 6 hours, hopefully near a wifi access point where I can send out this update. It may be the last time I get an internet connection until September, when we arrive in Ghana to begin my gig as a teacher, and Dora's as a teacher of teachers.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Another day at home

In the story of Tom Sawyer (or was it Huckleberry Finn? I always get those mixed up), he and his buddy Huck Finn stage their own deaths in order to witness the earnest reactions of the townsfolk. During the funeral, endearing statements are made about the deceased, opinions that would not be shared if only they were still alive.

I think I've figured out how to get roughly the same sort of feedback without arranging an elaborate insurance-scam scheme. Thursday was my last day with the company I had spent 9 years getting to know, and during the last week, friends and colleagues that I had known for this time (some of them just people I had seen regularly in the hallways but never got to work with) shared my optimism about our upcoming trip to Africa. The feeling was bittersweet, as I worked alongside some great people, and I knew not when I'd see them next, if ever again (ignoring Facebook for a sec).

Just about every day since then, we've been meeting up with various other groups of friends and supporters for our final sendoffs, and it's a wonderful comfort to know our trip is built upon a foundation of your prayers and support.

I think this is the second public holiday in a row that I stayed at home. Canada Day was spent organizing our trip details, and today was the beginning of our frantic packing mode. Our personal items in our apartment are slowly being sifted into boxes to be packed away in storage, and suitcases that will accompany us. We called up our various banks and credit card companies to redirect mail and alert them of anticipated charges from Africa. Also got a 2gb SD card (which we'll need for photos) RMA'd with Crucial--they said they'd mail it out and we should get it within the week. Lifetime warranty is great, but I still have to mail in the dead card.

Todo (geek list):
- empty out remaining fish tanks of water and a few small cryptocoryne plants - transport all 7 tanks to parents'
- put male Aphyosemion killifish in with the females and see if they'll lay some eggs (their eggs incubate in air, and I'll hatch them when we return by adding water)
- take apart older computers to salvage them for their memory, motherboards, and CPU. See how much hardware I can actually bring without exceeding the measly 44lb baggage allowance.
- send outline of the courses I'll be teaching to Pastor Joshua, who runs the school in Ghana
- many other details a bit too boring for a blog
- keep on I only time for writing this now because the last 90 minutes tossing and turning in bed seemed pointless. I imagine that as we near our departure date, I'll have more and more trouble falling asleep as I anxiously await our trip and nervously recount what I could be forgetting to do.

Monday, July 28, 2008

in 21 days

As I'll be teaching a basic Java/C#/VB.NET course, does anybody have a three week curriculum I'd be able to follow? Like a "Java in 21 days", preferably with exercises and solutions?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Email subscriptions enabled!

Type in your email on the right to subscribe to updates in this blog. For now, that will be easier than managing a separate email list, and you should be able to unsubscribe as you wish. We suspect that it'll be easier than you checking up on the website at random intervals. The email subscriptions are brought to you by Feedburner, which is owned by Google, so those concerned with privacy of your email address may rest a bit easier knowing that your address is unlikely to be harvested by the same company that already hosts many of those email addresses (gmail).

Also note the Atom/RSS options at the bottom (for those of you familiar with that technology of pushing updates to your mobile devices or web portals)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Laptop and childrens books wanted

Doesn't need to be fast. Only requirements:
  • at least 192 mb of RAM (or if less RAM, can be expanded beyond that)
  • USB port
  • Power supply capable of accepting 220-240V
  • VGA-out
If we could borrow it for 8 months, that would be great. Or else you can donate it to us which we'd then donate to various schools in Africa, and we may be able to get a tax receipt for you.

For the childrens picture books for ages 6-9, the books must be
  • softcover books (easier for us to carry)
  • must be culturally neutral. No images of North American lifestyle (ie. houses, caucasian people, etc)
The books will be donated to the schools in Africa.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

online donations

If you've donated online, please send us an email to make sure we know about the donation. Turns out there is some trouble getting the donations registered to the members' accounts.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Whoo Hoo!! 26 more days to go. Just in case you're wondering what we're up to d

Highlights of our presentation(if you couldn't come):
- Tim got to practice his teaching skills (which means Dora will have less than a month to train him into the teacher nobody forgets)
- Dora deep fried plantains (fancy African word for bananas) for the first time, and they tasted pretty good!
- Seeing good friends that we haven't seen in a while

Just in case you're wondering what we're up to these days:

- Tim's still working while Dora finally gets to sleep in a bit (her internal alarm clock of 6:30 has finally switched off since TOCing ended a week and a half ago)
- moving some of our belongings out in preparation to rent out our place to a friend
- errands errands errands...(still working out flight details, visas, taking care of finances


- I'm hoping to find someone to take over my Telus contract (I'm still being billed by the second).
- My Scout group will be in survival mode until we return next April, so if ANYONE is interested in helping out, please let me know. They meet at 4:30 every Thursday during the school year.


Some people have asked whether we need donations of items to bring down. We do know of computer things and children's books that they have need of, HOWEVER, we're still figuring out our luggage restrictions, so we'll let you know later.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cheque or credit card

Our friends have been asking how they can support us financially while we volunteer to teach in Africa:
1. Cheque. Make it out to either "SIM Canada" or "CIM Canada". Only they can issue tax receipts. In either case, write our names in the Memo field.
2. Credit card through SIM's secure website. . Make sure you enter the names "Timothy Chu and Dora Ho" in step 3.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Fundraising presentation

On Sunday, July 6, we'll be hosting a fundraising event at our church:

Awana circle room (enter through front doors, then go down the stairs
Vancouver Chinese Alliance Church
3330 Knight Street

What will you see?
- We'll present what we're doing in Africa (geography lesson?)
- outdoors skills demonstration; planning an overnight camping trip
- Windows tips & tricks demo--I guarantee that you'll learn at least one thing you never knew about the Windows operating system. And not just the nerdy command line stuff.

What will you taste?
- traditional African foods

Probably will last to around 4pm.


Dear friends,

Married life has been pretty smooth sailing since June 2007, with Tim continuing his work at a software company (but still with time to spend with his fish) and Dora working as a teacher-on-call and spending her time helping out with Scouts.

Though we have our fair share of adventure camping in the wilderness of BC, the Lord has planted the desire in our hearts to greater challenges in life. For Dora, it began with a dream that she was sitting in a mud hut with an African child next to her. She has always known that God has a greater purpose for her life, and Africa, she believes, is just part of the process of discovering what His will is. Tim always has had a desire to serve people in practical ways. He has been inspired by family that not only nurtured compassion, but a responsibility to take action for the broken. He also wanted to work in an incredibly diverse continent which has been mostly neglected by the western world. After much prayer and many months of research and waiting, God has presented us with not one, but two different organizations that serve in Africa: CIM (Chinese International Missions) and SIM (Serving in Missions).
Our organizations

CIM’s role in Ghana on the west coast of Africa focuses on outreaching to the Muslim young people through their Computer and Business College in the town of Tamale and to the young children and their families through a pre-school ministry, which will be expanding to include kindergarten and grade 1 as well. We saw God’s hand in matching this organization’s needs with our specializations exactly.
SIM is a global organization with positions throughout the world. They will be sending us to South Africa to work with disadvantaged children in a semi-rural school (Aurora Primary School) where Tim will be reconfiguring the computer system to make it more user friendly and teaching computer literacy while Dora can put her experience and training with kids to good use.

We’ve decided to volunteer with both organizations in order to gain a wider perspective of global missions. Like the North American school year, West African schools commence in September. As teachers, we will start the school year with CIM in Ghana and remain there for three months, then from January until March, we will start another new school year with the school that SIM and another organization jointly runs in South Africa.

One can never anticipate all problems, so we invite you to be a part of our service mission to Africa with your prayer and/or financial support.

Prayer support

  • safety: plane, overland transportation, and meeting the right people in the right places
  • teaching: that we can be prepared to teach not only the lessons, but to be able to connect and form a trusting relationship with the students
  • logistics – working with two separate organizations to coordinate scheduling and budget
  • spiritual: to be sensitive to God’s leading, and how we can accurately represent our Christian values (in word and deed) with the Muslim community (in Ghana)
  • emotional: to transition healthily through the stages of culture shock
  • financial: relying on God to provide for us

Our goal is to raise prayer support for every day that we are on the field. Please contact us if you would like to be a prayer partner!

Financial Support

For the missions specific portion of the trip these are our expenses:

Trip expenses $5400
Preparation expenses $2985

Daily expenses
SIM $3800
CIM $2700

Approx. TOTAL Requirements $14,885

Our financial goal is to raise $10,000 (to cover a portion of the expenses) by July 25, 2008.

If you desire a tax receipt, please indicate this on our donor form, ensuring your name and address are correct. Donations can be made to either SIM or CIM. If you do not have a preference, please check with us first.
You may also make donations to SIM through credit card online, at SIM.CA .
If you’d like to donate in installments, you may write postdated cheques to either organization. We welcome you to contact us at or call us directly if you would like to know more about our trip or just want to get to know us.

In Christ,
Tim (604) 724-1376
Dora (604) 837-1654

In a desert land he found him,
in a barren and howling waste.
He shielded him and cared for him;
he guarded him as the apple of his eye,
Deuteronomy 32:10