Happy Labor Day weekend everyone!
This weekend, I celebrate two successes of some long-term labors here in Cotonou, stuff I’ve been working on pretty much since I got here a year ago.
Nothing is as easy as it looks in Africa, or in the State Department.
One of the problems I ran into when I first got here was that it was hard to communicate through the thick security windows in the consular section. Not because of the French, you just couldn’t hear through them! I ended up with a sore throat each day from screaming to be heard. I partially solved the problems by using the intercom system with some new headphones that cleared up the tinny sound, but what I really needed to do was replace the tile walls and floors and high ceiling of the enclosed interview booth with sound absorbent materials. Like a recording studio, this would fix the acoustics of the booth, and I had done it at home where I had converted a spare closet into a recording booth. All you need is some acoustic foam (available over the Internet) some two sided tape, and an afternoon. In the case of the booths, add a suspended ceiling and carpet for the floor.
And only a year later ( I first applied for the funding about this time last year) they’re finally done! Well, almost. There’s still some final cleanup to do, which is why no photos yet, but the foam, ceiling and carpet is up and working. The foam color they chose is a little weird, but with the green carpet it kind of gives an “Eddie Bauer” vibe to the whole thing.
The second long term project has been SMS text messaging for the warden system. In other words, a way to text all the Americans in Benin in case of emergency, or just when the Embassy wants them to know something. The Ambassador took a personal interest in this, so it’s been embarrassing I haven’t been able to deliver up until now. That’s particularly true because about 11 months ago I chose the bulk SMS messaging software I wanted to use and tested it successfully. It’s called Frontline SMS. It’s free. It’s designed to be used in places like Africa, where your only communication may be a cell phone, or you may have Internet access.
Without going into details, I had problems:
- Getting an Internet Connection
- Getting a cell phone
- Getting a GSM modem (like a cell phone without the phone)
- Getting a laptop to run it on
Some of this was Africa. Some of this was Washington. All of it left me banging my head against the (not yet padded with acoustical foam) walls.
After the most recent roadblock, and approaching a year without success, I decided to take Joe Shea’s advice that “better is the enemy of good” and walk away from my best solution to a “good enough” solution. There are online services that will do worldwide text messaging. You’re tied to the Internet (instead of being able to work from a cell phone and laptop) and it’s less flexible, but it had the advantage of my not having to deal with any of the four bullets above.
So, this week I successfully sent out the first SMS message from Embassy Cotonou’s consular section.
Wrapping up, Congrats to Andy, husband of Alex, incoming Public Diplomacy Officer next March, who just passed the Oral Evaluation to join the Foreign Service. Goodbye to Pete, our TDY Management Officer who dodged Hurricane Earl on his flight home. Welcome to Madagascar for Misun, my former across the street neighbor at her new post, this time in tandem with her husband Glen.
Only one more month of FY 2010!
[Note: an earlier version of this post identified Alex as the incoming Political Officer. The Times regrets the error :-)]