Because Banana Beer is the Lutefisk of Rwanda, Vanessa insisted that dcm and I try some. So last night’s dinner was actually somewhat Rwandan, as compared with the other food we’ve been eating. (Photo by dcm.) The restaurant (La Republica) had a great view of the night time city. The menu was a bit sparse, but did include goat dishes. And Banana Beer. dcm took a couple of sips of the muddy stuff and, after declaring it “tastes like mead”, he refused to touch any more. That left Vanessa and I, operating under the twin principles of “Waste not, Want not” and “Eat what is put in front of you” respectively, to finish it off. I ended up swigging the last of it down and regretted having any before I was finished. The syrupy stuff didn’t make me retch, but the way it sat on my stomach was unpleasant, to say the least. The other food, (goat soup and plantain) was really good, and considering the buffet of native-ish food we visited for lunch, I’d give the countries fare a B overall so far. Not too outstanding but, with the right seasoning, quite edible. Just don’t give me any more banana beer.
This morning, I finished up the installation of the HRIS server for the Ministry of Health. Now I have remote access to the box and will begin setting up monitoring on it so that we can better maintain the system. Afterwards, I had fun showing the head of IT around the command line a little using PUTTY. I’m in the process of uploading some of the photo’s I’ve taken. Uploads take forever.
I was thoroughly exhausted this morning and slept 2 hours past the time I was supposed to meet the others for breakfast. Ouch! I finished setting up the developer laptop and used bzr to download the source code for iHRIS Manage to the laptop. I’ll customize the software for the Ministry of Health using the laptop and then, if we’re able to hire a Rwandan to do in-country development, they’ll have everything ready to go with php-mode set up in emacs and (of course) a link to my PPA so they can get updates easily. Up till now, I’ve been pretty scared of the customizations they needed since I have to finish them up in the next few days. Once Vanessa started sending them to me, I was really relieved. Most of it does look pretty simple. “Add a field here, change a label there.” Speaking of in-country developers, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that dcm and Vanessa were able to find someone with LAMP experience. One can always hope. In the afternoon I met with the head of IT at the Ministry of Health and installed Ubuntu on the server for them. He doesn’t know much about Linux but seemed willing to learn. I’d like to have someone here that I can talk to if we have problems, so I’ve been trying to at least get him or one of his underlings comfortable with Linux. We walked back up the hill to the hotel and dcm soon crashed. I guess it was his turn to be worn out Overall, I’m really pleased with the way things are turning out. I came into this really scared, but I’m getting more confidence by the day. One thing I would like to see is more support for Rwanda in Linux and especially Ubuntu. When I’m setting up Ubuntu, “Rwanda” is not a choice for either the French or English language. And, despite lots of work being done on Linux translations to Kinyarwanda, where “Ubuntu” is actually a word native to the Language, I can’t choose that language as the default in the installer. This affects other areas of the installer, too. When it comes time to pick a timezone, I can’t. I have to tell the installer I’m in South Africa, which means that za.archive.ubuntu.com is picked for the Ubuntu mirror — a far better choice for the network connections I’ve used is still one of the U.S.-based mirrors. (I’m not the only one to think Linux distributions should be more aware of Rwanda, either.) Finally, it would be great if RwandaTel or some other organization took an interest in promoting Linux in Rwanda. They could set up a kernel.org mirror so that I could get my Linux fix faster!
In response to my complaint about Zimbra’s slow web interface, Nathan said I should use Amazon’s EC2. The problem is that even if I use EC2, the server is in a single place … and I can’t choose that place. And Zimbra is still a very heavy web application. And, worse, Amazon (unlike Google and Yahoo!) is not obsessed with page-load times. When I cleared my cache and pointed YSlow at Amazon’s front page, it took over 40 seconds to load! And a good 10 of those seconds showed nothing but an empty page. Twitter (front page load time, 15+ seconds) uses Amazon’s S3 for image hosting and if you go to someone’s page on Twitter (say, USofA, 75+ seconds!), you can watch each of the images for the people he is following load slowly, one after another, as they fill in on the page. People are using S3 for a content distribution network, but that isn’t what S3 is. I expect EC2 to fair worse than S3. By contrast Google took under 5 seconds and Yahoo! (a lot more images) took about 10 seconds. (Nathan’s page to just over 12 seconds. My own page took over 20 seconds and didn’t display anything for a while, something I need to work on.) This is where I’d like Zimbra to focus. So that even those of us who only have one server hosted in California (or on EC2 somewhere) can get to our email quickly. But I can’t just sit on my butt about speed. Actually coming to Rwanda helps me understand that page load times matter — a lot. We don’t know what sort of connection people will have to any applications we build. For Ajax apps, Google Reader gives a good idea of how to build a useful, responsive application even when you don’t have a 1MBit connection.
I stayed at the Capacity offices as long as I could. I could feel the fatigue hitting me pretty hard, but after lunch (including some kind of purplish yam and a good dose of caffeine) I managed to get the System 76 Laptop in some kind of working order. I should give props here to dcm who suggested that I “download the internet” and take it with me to Rwanda. I managed to get around 175GB of the Ubuntu repository mirrored onto a disk. This proved invaluable when I was installing the system and applying updates. For a little while I switched to the usual web-based mirror and was told it would take a couple of hours to download everything I needed (for perspective, at home, the download times take no more than five or ten minutes). Having the disk handy meant I could install packages directly. The mirror isn’t complete, so some things did have to be downloaded, but the majority of stuff was right there. One bug I ran into showed up after I did an “aptitude dist-upgrade” after doing a clean install. All of the sudden I couldn’t log in via GDM. (The last time I had problems with a gutsy upgrade, it was using XFS so probably not something that was a core concern.) Weary from lack of sleep and not really in the mood for too much trouble-shooting, I ended up purging “ubuntu-desktop” (and its dependent packages) and then reinstalling it. Strangely enough, that did the trick (for the most part). After that, I told Vanessa I was ready to give in to sleep. We walked back to the hotel with me snapping pictures like a madman on the way back. I saw some armed police standing outside and asked if I could photograph them. “It is not allowed.” Fine, no close ups for you! Once back I crashed in the hotel. The turndown service woke me up twice. First when they came in un-announced — or maybe I didn’t hear them knock and only woke up when they opened the door — and the second time when they called me (two times in a row). I was so confused I thought they were asking for someone named “Tom”. I was pretty annoyed, but it didn’t keep me from falling back to sleep quickly. Finally dcm woke me up so we could go have dinner at the Mille Colline. Curried Veg, yum!
If you’re fascinated by my travelogue so far, check out dcm’s impressions of Kigali. He’s gotten out and about a bit more than I have, so he probably has more depth to his point of view.
(You may want to see my first post on my visit to Rwanda if you missed it.) Right now, I’m sitting in the Sentenary House, the home of the Capacity Project in Rwanda, upgrading a System 76 laptop with Ubuntu Gutsy. I hope to prepare this laptop for a Rwandan developer for the iHRIS project I’ve been working on. Of course, that’ll mean Emacs. I hope to spread the Church of Emacs to Rwanda. In my last post I kind of left you hanging on the Mille Colline. Yes, I had a coke there but I should tell you how disappointed I was that the movie showed a completely different building then the actual Hotel. I’m sure they had their reasons (they always do) but I really do expect movies to give me an accurate portrayal of places I’m extremely unlikely to visit. Just in case, you know, I visit. Also, we had a brush with fame. The hotel I’m staying in (the Kigali Serena) is where Tony Blair was staying. For a brief moment, we saw President Kagame rush in and then quickly back out. I had no time to request an autograph. Mostly because I didn’t recognize him. Dramatic difference between Kigali and the US: the number of gates and guards. It seems that every major intersection has one or two men in uniform carrying AK-47s. Almost every building and home has at least a guard and, unless it is right on the road, a fenced in courtyard with razor wire or shards of glass atop the walls. I remember similar gates and glass-topped walls in Haïti, but the guards are an unsettling addition. Vanessa told me that, in part, the practice started as a way to employ men who have been fighting most of their lives and hadn’t developed any marketable skills. Fair enough. Another thing about Rwanda is the number of people walking along the road and the street vendors walking about. Some (evidently) sell SIM cards or minutes for your phone. This is in addition to a wireless shop on every other corner. I was amused by the portable phones they carry that look similar to a desk phone, but without the desk. Finally, though I seemed to be on a normal sleep schedule after my first night here, I couldn’t sleep at all last night. Seriously, I saw the sun rise. I’m sure part of it was that I was up hacking away till 4 in the morning (“just one more thing”) but, still, right now I’m tired. Thank God Rwanda’s primary export is coffee. I need it now!
Since I know more than one person is interested in this and I don’t want to write a different email to everyone, I’ll try to keep a running dialog of impressions going here. Expect mostly stream of consciousness. I’ll attempt to refrain from too much self-editing. Friday morning started out with three or four inches of snow and, in addition to last minute scrambling to get ready to go, I had to shovel the walk and driveway. The kids helped, but it still had to be done. The storm that brought the snow also meant that the flights my traveling companions and I were to take into New York City’s JFK airport were canceled. I was already on the train to Philadelphia when I found out. They were routed to a different flight from Chicago. I hate doing new things by myself (taking a seven-hour flight across the Atlantic counts as a “new thing” for me) but I survived. Sleep came sporadically, but on the second leg of the trip from Brussels to Kigali, Rwanda, I threw my coat over my head, blocked out all the light and slept most of the way over the Sahara (but was awake long enough to get some bad pictures of snow covered mountains and the Mediterranean and a bit of the desert. . It was enough sleep that I feel pretty rested this morning. We arrived in Rwanda at night, so I couldn’t see much on the ride from the airport to the hotel, but overall it felt a lot like Haïti when I was there 21 years ago. Hills, lots of low-slung buildings, lots of people, and obvious poverty. Still, there is a lot of new economic development. Bush opened a new U.S. Embassy here last week and that building is not the only new one built up. That, and compared with what I remember of Haïti, there is a lot more electricity and, with it, lit-up billboards. After dinner, I watched a few Bollywood music videos (gotta love a country that, with just a few television channels, manages to show Bollywood videos) and crashed. Today, we walked around a bit and ended up at the Mille Collines, (from Hotel Rwanda fame) and had a Coke. The weather here is awesome, a dramatic change from the snow I left in Pennsylvania.
A canceled flight and over fourteen hours later, I’m in Rwanda about to fall asleep. Tiny airline seats don’t make a good place to sleep.