Line of sight

About a week ago, I went to USAID for a meeting about the future of the College’s Internet connection. Those guys are paying for it, and its expensive: hundreds of dollars per month. There is an idea that we might be able to raise some of that by selling off some of our bandwidth with a community wireless network, while reducing the cost by seeking a different kind of connection. I was in town to pick up some ‘pooters that have been kindly donated, I went along to meet the man from Blue Broadband.

Isaac, the college driver, took me up to the well guarded USAID office in a well guarded compound. The security at the gate took my ID card and issued me with a visitors pass saying “to be accompanied at all times” (my reputation preceeds me?). Then at the entrance to the building I was scanned and had my pockets emptied, the security here took my mobile phone and gave me a well thumbed laminated receipt. I sat in the hall and watched a party of other visitors being humiliated by the beeping scanner, relieved of their phones and generally attended to while I waited for my escort to arrive.

I was shown in, through a big metal door, as if I was entering a nigh security Frigidare, into the sandy beige coridoors of United States Agency for International Development.

I’ve not seen one of those crank-handle pencil sharpeners since primary school. Here there was one screwed to the wall in the coridoor as a resource. I imagined the legendary “water cooler conversation” transferred to the pencil sharpener: As I was waiting to sharpen my HB the other day I happened to hear Johnes talking about the crisis in Sudan…

I sat in an office for two and a half hours waiting for mr Blueband to arrive. He had, apparently, called to say he was on the way — otherwise we might have called the meeting off and gone home. USAID closes on friday afternoons; by the time he arrived it was almost closing time. We sat at a long narrow table and everyone else exchanged business cards. (When I graduate I think I’ll get some printed in Nairobi just for fun).

Apparently the connection we have at the moment, the one I’ll be using in a moment to post this entry, involves **two** satelite hops. Which accounts for it seeming painful sometimes. Dial-up was not an option because of the antique telephone exchange here, ISDN neither, apparently for similar reasons. And then there is Komarock, a big lump of a hill, with a big statue of Our Lady holding the crucified christ on top, blocking our line-of-signt to Nairobi. Or so we thought.

“Where exactly is it?”, Asked Mr Blueband. Feeling very pleased with myself for being prepared, I opened my pink cardboard wallet-file and took out the front page of the proposal for College’s cybercafe that I had prepared. It has a small map of the area between Nairobi and Tala on the front page.
“About here”, I said, pointing with my bic. Meanwhile Blueband himself fumbled in his bag and hauled out a well battered powerbook with a screen that looked as if it belonged in Warner Village. He jabbed mercilessly at it for a while then swung it round to reveal a 3D elevation map of the area, with Tala and Nairobi as labled points joined by a line that passed just North of the shaded lump that clearly represented Komarock.
“We recently downloaded the radar topography data from Nasa”, he told us, “three gigabytes”.

All this was clearly intended to impress customers; I was impressed. I leaned forward, studied the title of the window and consoled myself that we were looking at a .jpeg image and, therefore, probably one he had prepared earlier rather than something he had summoned, like a Ginie from a lamp, by rubbing the Mac’s glidepoint.

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