Archive for the ‘Phase 2’ Category

Tuesday July 10th

Paul and I headed south with two of our partners from Step Up, Roberta and Danny, to a plantation just south of the village of Santana. It was about an hour drive up into the mountain, through the jungle on unpaved roads, however, the view at the top was breathtaking. The village does not have electricity, which we knew, but they did have a generator to power their community meeting room. We purposely brought our smallest computer only 1.5 amps and a monitor donated by Step Up, which was 2 amps. We had an audience of about 50 people while we set it up, but unfortunately 3.5 amps was too much for the tiny generator, we could only have the computer or the monitor on at once, not both. We were a little disappointed, but I spent some time chatting, in my limited Portuguese with the women of the village. They asked me if I had any babies or a husband, when I told them I did not they offered to help and introduced me to a man who was ready to get married. He was very nice, but probably about 10 years to young for me.

Baby Paul

Another woman, Teresa, showed me her newborn baby and told me she wanted me to give him an American name. I named him Paul and she told me I was his godmother. I had a wonderful time chatting and joking around with the women and they told me to come back and see them when I return to Sao Tome.



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Monday July 9th

In the morning Chris, Helcio and I went to the village of Santana and looked at the library. They currently have one computer, and do not have internet. Since we were still having trouble locating working monitors we told them about the project and contacted the village President, to see if he knew of any in town that could be used at the library. Next we went to the secondary school, and looked at their lab. Since the power was out at the time, they started the generator for us. They had three computers that were dead, and after trouble shooting we determined they had serious memory and hard drive troubles. However, they did have 3 more computers that had Fedora Red Hat (a Linux operating system) installed, they told us they did not understand how to use it or remove it. Their other computers had Windows operating systems installed and they would really like it if they were all the same. We did not get a chance to remove the operating system, but that is something I would like to accomplish in the future. One computer had internet, but the machine kept losing power and rebooting, I would guess from the low power coming out of the generator. I’d like to test the machines again when the electricity is on.

After lunch, Chris had to help Martin with the wireless project, so Helico and I went to the village of Trinidade. This was a library that we had visited on the first trip in February/March of this year, and they remembered me right away. I met with the President of the village and some of his assistants, one of whom runs the community center, which contains the library. Since I had last been there they had obtained furniture (chairs, tables, and bookshelves) and had organized the small room into a very nice place. The President and I discussed forming a partnership, and the importance of education. He wishes for a public access computer lab for the village, to be located in the library and would like to work with us to accomplish that. He told me I was the godmother of Trinadade, and I left one computer with him, Internet-ready for the library. Currently they have one computer on the Internet in the municipal office, located next door to the community center.

Next Helcio and I traveled north, to his hometown of Guadalupe. This was the village that we had visited a class before at the high school, but were unable to see the library as it was closed due to a bat infestation. The library was now clean and open, so after a visit with the village President, we headed to the library. The library contains a nice collection of books, sorted by topics, like a bookstore. They had 2 computers and 3 monitors inside, which I was told had not worked for over 2 years. I confirmed that one of the monitors was bad, because as I plugged it in it began smoking. After trouble shooting with the two computers, I found I was able to fix one by wiping the hard disk and reinstalling the operating system Along with the machine I brought, I left them with two working machines.

We had one more stop before we returned home, and it was to the western side of the island, to the fishing village of Neves to find a site for the computer on the co-op cacao plantation of Generosa. The wireless project team was planning on setting up the network the next day. It was getting dark and we were headed home when we got a flat tire. Luckily we were in a jeep so the spare was right on the back and Helcio changed it in no time and we headed home.


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Monday and Tuesday finally brought about an opportunity for Team Wireless, Chris, Bridgette, and Martin (back from Malaria), along with Sao Tomeans James and Helcio, to begin testing the wireless links. Chris and Paul actually began the work Sunday afternoon, setting up the node at the house so that an antenna was already pointing to the airport and sending out the node’s signal. By mid-morning Monday all the needed equipment was inventoried and prepared for the link between the airport and the house. But by mid-afternoon the team was still on hold as talks to avoid a strike by the airport workers union went long and kept Jorge very busy. An attempt was made after the talks ended at 5 PM, with the team managing a full installation at the airport in under 30 minutes! However, subsequent testing found that while the wireless node at the airport was clearly sending its signal out past the airport grounds, the node at the house was not seeing it. Using flashlights, Bridgette and Chris came back to the house to try to reposition the antenna higher (it had been positioned on a clothesline by the house driveway), but to no avail. By 7:30 the group decided to pull things down for the night and regroup before the trip to Neves on Tuesday to setup wireless there.

Tuesday, except for a police roadblock on the way to Neves, everything went fine throughout the morning. However, based on the lessons learned from the night before, alarm bells were going off that there might be problems ahead. As the team looked around the Generosa plantation, the destination for the wireless Internet signal from the town of Neves, it became clear it was possible to clearly see the school from which the ISDN Internet signal would be originating in the town of Neves, but only through smallish gaps in the thick palm leaves. The suspicion was that while limited, the density of each leaf was such that it absorbed a much higher proportion of the 2.4 GHz radio signal than would an oak leaf, for instance, back in the states. In addition, only the primary school was visible from the Generosa plantation, while the telecom company, CST, had planned to put Internet into the Secondary school.

So the group set off on an expedition, complete with young men wielding machetes, to find a clearer spot from which to see Neves from Generosa. A site was identified that could clearly see both Generosa and Neves and would be an ideal location for a repeater node, but would require a solar panel/marine battery combination to power it. Before leaving the states, the team had decided that such an installation would have to await a subsequent visit to the island. Still, it was good to know that this could be an option later, because after a long afternoon of testing with different antennas and adjusting various directions on those antennas, the signal strength never went above -93/-95 signal to noise ratio, well below anything that would carry network traffic.

The lesson is a hard one, that while the distances are relatively short given the equipment being used (just over 1 kilometer for equipment that has been used in ideal conditions at ranges up to 30 kilometers, and indeed we used these precise antennas in East St. Louis at ranges over 3 kilometers), the thick palm branches or other environmental conditions mean that the signal simply cannot cover that distance with sufficient strength to carry network data. But options are available, such as the solar powered repeaters, that could provide much more flexibility, as we were limited to locating antennas within 100 meters of a power source.

But the day Tuesday brought with it a surprise highlight that may prove the most valuable. CST sent one of their engineers, Agnaldo, to Neves to meet up with us. Agnaldo not only works for CST, but also has his own NGO that is working to bring computers to the villages and plantations around the island. He has a Ph.D. in computer science, but clearly has a love for the people and history of his country that is driving him to find ways to help them improve. He has been looking for a good way to bring wireless Internet to outlying areas and after a couple hours of discussing the CUWiN technology, he was highly intrigued. Other alternatives he had been considering brought with them considerable restrictions that he found too constraining, and he greatly appreciated the open model of the CUWiNware. The group always knew these initial installations were primarily meant to provide an example of what might be accomplished and work through some of the challenges to be encountered in doing the work. But the greatest role long term would be to pass on the knowledge developed in setting up these pilot sites to others so that the local Sao Tomeans could actually do the major implementation themselves. The meeting with Agnaldo indicates that there might be partnerships available, perhaps even with his NGO, that might allow this aspect to move forward even though the pilot sites will not be operational before the team departs from the island this Saturday. Friday, Martin, Paul, James, and Agnaldo will sit down together to explore these possibilities further.

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Sunday July 8th

People in Sao Tome, like many developing countries, are under employed. They work more than one job. Some of our friends who work at Marlin Beach, the hotel that we often frequent, are starting an excursion company. To assist their venture, we are in the process of building them a website to advertise their trips and tours. Today, Ceseltino, one of the young men involved in this excursion company, offered to show us some of the places that his tours visit. That way, we would be able to get a good understanding of what is offered and be able to best represent it on the website.

The day started early: we had much to see. Taking the road along the north side of the island, we had an amazing view of the Gulf of Guinea as we drove through many villages. Eventually, we stopped at one called Santa Catarina. There, we were able to walk around, talk to people, take pictures, and see how the traditional dugout canoe is made.

After leaving the village, we returned to the capital and turned up another road to head into the mountains. Near the top of a mountain is Bombaim, a former plantation house transformed into a small ecotourism hotel and spa. We admired the amazing view of the surrounding mountains, the beautiful house and the bedrooms on the second floor.

Leaving Bombaim, we stopped to explore one of Sao Tome’s many waterfalls. Then it was back to the city to take the south road. Our destination was Sao Joao dos Angolares, a southern town with a Roca Sao Joao, an ecotourism hotel and restaurant run by a well-known painter from Sao Tome. We decided to eat at its open air restaurant, which had an amazing view of the mountains behind it and the city and bay below. Music rang up the hill from a celebration in the village below as we dined on many courses made from traditional island ingredients.

Stomachs stuffed, we started back to the capital. On the way, we paid a quick homage to Boca do inferno, a natural blow-hole shaped by the constant crashing of the sea against the volcanic rock. Then it was back to the house to relax, regroup, and plan our work on Ceseltino’s website.


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We’ve been busy…

With the malaria beginning to clear in a phase of post-medication followed by plenty of rest, my cloudy thoughts are lifting and I feel that I can help to recap some of the events that have been keeping us all busy the past few days…

On Sunday, Paul, Ashley, Jake, and Bridgette toured the island by car with Cesaltino for the entire day, in which they covered 3 days worth of excursions into 10 hours for the purpose of developing his website. The trip began around the north of the island to the village of Santa Catarina, with a stop or two on the way to see the point where the Portuguese landed when the island was discovered and take in some of the natural beauty. Chris and I accompanied the group for the first part of the trip, heading back to the house around midday to rest with Martin and Beth who were feeling under the weather, exhausted, and needed to spend time on the home front. The rest of the crew then continued on to the south side of the island, where they ate an 11 course lunch at a former plantation that has been converted into a bed and breakfast, and visited a local waterfall as they continued to wind through the village laden mountains. What gorgeous sites this island has to offer!

On Monday I was able to continue resting, and had a chance to read a book, while Ashley kept me company and prepared her lesson for the English class on Tuesday. Beth and Chris spent the morning in Santana at the local high school and library working on computers in the hopes of getting things in order despite problems with power and a lack of monitors. Monitors seem to be in short supply on the island, along with many other computer parts that have been left by others that come to do work here and never return. Bridgette and Martin spent the morning running diagnostic tests for the wireless and in the afternoon, Martin and Chris continued preparation for the wireless project by making further attempts to run various tests from the house. Beth passed the afternoon at our village sites with Helcio, in Guadalupe and Trinidade, where they set up a donated computer at each village’s local library. Jake spent the day working at Step Up and the National Library, fixing various issues that arose at each site. Paul, as per usual, seemed to run around the whole island to set up meetings with many contacts, purchase various needed parts, tie up lose ends with contacts that have previously been made, drive the rest of us to various sites and check on our continuing progress for the project as a whole one could say that he is the glue holding all of us together…

It is now late into the evening on Tuesday and with my newfound energy I am the last one awake. Half the group spent a long and busy day in Neves with James and Helcio, working with the possibilities for wireless connectivity in the mountain villages. Hard at work, Martin, Bridgette, Chris and Jake evaluated future possibilities for wireless on the island by measuring the site at Neves and running various network and signal diagnostics. They had the pleasure of eating fresh crabs as large as their heads and had a chance to discuss plans for continuing this aspect of our project on the next trip (Phase 3). I accompanied Ashley to English classes, and had the opportunity to be retested for malaria, in which the results showed negative. Of course Martin and I plan to follow up with doctors once returning back home and are luckily both continuing to feel better each day, thanks to the help and support of our friends here.

One never knows the unexpected twists and turns that are constantly presented to us in Sao Tome & Principe, but it seems that we are learning to adapt to every new situation and experience through the exchange of thoughts and ideas with the wonderful people we meet and work with. As we aim to wrap up Phase 2 of our project over the next few days, we continue to look toward the future partnerships of which we are now beginning to build the foundation. In adjusting to the rhythm of how life moves here, our new relationships take shape in the same way…leve-leve… (slowly-slowly) and with time.

– Stephanie

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Saturday July 7th

Saturday, thoughts of rest, organizing for next week, and working on plans for completing our wireless connection between the airport and our house. Some rested, and some worked on the wireless (although not yet complete). Paul shuffled the planners out to the airport by 5:30am. We wish them happy travels. Our more pressing issue has been that Martin and Stephanie have been under the weather the past two days, and were taken today to get a malaria test, and they both have a low grade strain, the lowest known strain here. They are taking 24-hour medication and already feeling better. The rest of us are being extra diligent about taking our malaria suppressants and wearing DEET at night, when the mosquitoes are out. This evening everyone feels fit enough to visit more of the island tomorrow, Cesaltino one of our local partners (with whom we are providing web development assistance) will be our host and introduce us to the floral, fauna, and historic plantations on the island.


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Friday July 6

Ashley and Jake headed out to Step Up early, Jake to continue work on the lab and for Ashley to continue language lessons for the morning. Beth and Chris were taken to the coast guard where they set up a small computer lab. After setting up the lab, Beth and Chris joined Paul and Helcio over at the Immigration Office to discuss getting our visas extended for a year since Paul’s, Beth’s and Jake’s will be expiring next month. After eating Barracuda at the Filomar Restaurant for lunch, the group headed back to the house to test the wireless antennas and establish a long-range wireless network. We managed to set up the antenna at the house with a direct line of sight to the airport. We worked on the wireless for the afternoon and then headed to Marlin Beach Hotel and met with the Planners, who had been touring the island and are heading home on Saturday morning via Lisbon.


Today was the last day for the Urban Planning crew. So after a week of intense interviewing, it was time to see another side of Sao Tome, the island itself. We rented a car, packed a lunch, and headed north to see the areas where new resort development was taking place. Here, the savannah landscape coated the mountains as we cruised down to the most scenic ocean drive. We then backtracked and headed toward the southern tip of the island where the landscape dramatically turned tropical. A few miles outside the city of Sao Tome, we came upon an old colonial settlement that still seemed to be inhabited. Turning off the beaten path, our car was chased by a huge crowd of kids curious to see what interest we had being in their village. They pointed for us to drive up a hill where we came upon the most amazing abandoned palace, probably occupied at one time by a rich Portuguese roça (plantation) owner. After exploring it for a bit and attempting to converse with the kids in broken Portuguese and French we headed off to a peaceful beach for lunch. It was absolutely gorgeous with more sand dollars coating the shore than I’ve ever seen. Again, we met two local boys who were curious about us Americans, and one named Gude even climbed a 30ft coconut tree to present us with coconuts to drink out of. In fair exchange, we shared some of our snacks and introduced them to the power of binoculars. After a failed attempt for Jay and I to climb the tree ourselves, we headed out again passing village after village so withdrawn from the modern world it seemed surreal. By this point we were deep in the midst of banana tree forests and the roads started getting a bit more treacherous. Before having to turn back, we finally saw a glimpse of Sao Tome’s tallest mountain peak rising out the middle of the country. Simply breathtaking!
Later evening, half the Illinois group met up at the local discotech to get a taste of island nightlife. Our Santomean amigo, James, was gracious enough to reserve us a special table right next to the dance floor so we could be up with the action. Watching everyone dance, and trying it out a bit for ourselves, we attempted to blend in with the locals. Like most things on the island, we learned the pace is really all about Léve Léve (take it easy). But all in all, quite an experience, and very interesting to see the diverse group of people present as well as hear some new kinds of music. As Stephanie (on the trip) once said, “you know, in order to really know I culture, you gotta find the music.”

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