So I wanted to give a little summary of everything that happened. If you are interested in some more of the details and hear some more of the story there are about 4 or 5 posts that I wrote during my trip. As I write this it has been about a week since I got back to the States and have had some time to adjust back to life here and think through a little more all that happened while I was in Kenya. The whole point of the trip, in-case you don’t know already, was to move RVA (missionary kid boarding school in Kenya) from their existing shared phone system to a new phone system that would no longer be shared.
Gosh. So much happened while I was over there it is hard to believe it all happened in 4-5 days. In that short week I did more fast-paced work than I normally do in 4 months at HDC. It isn’t that we don’t deal with the same kinds of stuff (though we have yet to have a lightning strike take out half our network *knock on wood* at HDC), it’s just that they are more spread out over time. They don’t all happen right on top of each other. The only time I can think of being that rushed was when we went live with Arena. We came out of installing our new phone system and then had just over a month and a half to prepare for and install Arena.
So my trip. The travel itself was good. Long, but good. Nothing bad happened on the plane flight. No delays, no missed flights, no lost luggage. Once we landed in Kenya, however, we got stuck in Customs and ended up paying about $400 in duties on the equipment we brought on, which was a first for RVA. In 6 years they’ve never had people coming in have to pay duties on anything brought in. “Just tell them your with RVA and they’ll let you right through.” So we tried that. “Never heard of them.” *sigh* That whole debacle added about an hour to our time in the airport. Oh. And as we are going through passport control we notice a big sign stating that it will cost us $50 to enter the country. It kind of left me wondering what would happen if somebody like me had flown 18 hours to Kenya and then was told they couldn’t enter the country because they didn’t have $50. “Thanks for the visit, come back when you have the cash!”
It was at this point that I first met Hany (one of our team that flew out of Egypt) and Jeff (from RVA). Both were really great guys. Hany proved himself to know quite a bit about electronics and just had a good grasp of “how things work” in general. At this point it was around 10:30 or 11pm local time so we hit the road for about an hour drive to the RVA campus. The drive was… exciting. We gave Jeff, who was driving, a hard time though I don’t think any of us truly felt afraid for our lives – but the roads there sure gave us quite a few thrills and scares. Most of the road has no lines and no dividers and people pass all the time wether it’s safe to pass or not. And there are lots of random curves that make you think you are about to have a head-on collision until the last second.
Sunday started with church at about 10am or so. It was a great service. It had it’s rough spots and hiccups (which were apparently not normal) but was still great to stand there worshiping God with people from over a dozen different countries. After church and lunch we made a trip down to the hospital (about a mile away) where the telephone line comes in. Most of the afternoon was spent there trying to work out how the current system works and figure out how to interface the new phone system with the telephone company as well as the old phone system (which the hospital was staying on, only the school switched). Monday morning was also a quick trip back down to make perform some tests with the old system to make sure we can interface.
Monday after lunch is when the fun started. Just as we were about to break up and tackle all the various tasks we had ahead of us there was a massive lightning strike. Again the first that anybody at RVA can remember actually hitting a building (and causing damage). The toll as of when we left (and I’m sure they have found more since we left) was that the lightning took out their 10,000watt UPS (which runs all the servers), 9 out of 15 network switches, over a dozen lab computers, and 3 staff/faculty computers. Amazingly (i.e. God) none of the actual servers were hit. The hard power off caused some issues with the mail server that will take awhile to work out, but for the most everything critical to their operations survived.
So the rest of Monday and all of Tuesday was spent rebuilding their network. It was so damaged that we couldn’t even really work on the phone system. Jeremy, and myself helped Jeff get their network back up and running while Hany and Fady worked on tracing out phone wires and doing the re-wiring in preparation of installing the phone system. Those guys deserve some serious props for sitting in front of these little 1ft by 1ft boxes with over 300 wires in them tracing things out, moving wires around, labeling and cleaning up stuff so that we could jump right into installing the new hardware once the network was up. I think all said and done over the week they spent probably more than 25 hours sitting in front of those boxes. One we got the network up Tuesday night, Tom (a college intern from the States) another Jeff from RVA and myself worked until around 5am to get their staff/faculty computers back up and the computer classroom so they could hold classes in the morning. While we were doing this, by the way, Hany and the first Jeff were still wiring in the boxes.
We all took a short nap and then Wednesday morning (late morning) began working on bringing the actual phones up on the new system. We basically worked the rest of Wednesday until around 11pm and then all day Thursday again patching phones in and testing them. We had crossed lines to untangle, lines that were shorted together that we had to move around, and just tracing random phones that got missed the first time around. We were able to quit a little early on Thursday, about 8 or 9pm, so that we could all spend a little time with our host families whom we had basically not seen or talked to since we arrived. Generally we would have gone home around 7 or 8pm each night but because of the lightning strike we had so little time we never got home at a decent hour.
So our last night there I got to spend about an hour or so chatting with my host family and getting to know them (and them me) a little better. I wish I could have gotten to know them better, but I’m glad that God worked it all out in the end. I think we were all a little worried that our trip to install the phone system might turn out to be a wash. We were all very glad, however, that we were there when the lightning strike happened. They could have gotten things back up, but it would have taken longer. As it was they went from a team of basically 2 people all the way up to a team of 6 with us there.
Friday we got to spend the morning and part of the afternoon doing a Safari, which was a lot of fun. We all had a blast getting to see the various animals. From there we had a short stop back at RVA to collect all our stuff and then heading into Nairobi to spend the night, as our flight out was pretty early in the morning.
All in all, we managed to get everything critical done. Out of about 170 phones we got all but about 10 online. Of those 10 it is mostly just a matter of them needing to trace out a few phone lines to figure out where they should be patched. They are able to call from RVA down to the hospital. The hospital can (sort-of) call back to RVA. We didn’t have time to reprogram the old system so they have to dial one of 8 extensions that we captured and then they can dial again for the actual RVA extension. They are hoping to have somebody out to program the old system in the next day or two so they can just dial direct, or at-least dial a single extension instead of 8. We only gave them a 5-minute overview of the phone system software so we have been doing some simple e-mail support to answer questions as they have come up.
I have already said this once, but I have given it a lot more thought since I originally said in my last post that I would enjoy going back. I still would enjoy going back. The truth is I had a great time at RVA. It was tough, long hours, nothing but rushing around. But I would love to go back and do more I.T. work with them and, hopefully, have a little more time to get to know everybody. It was truly a blessing to me to have gone. I’m glad my friend Jeremy didn’t take my initial “no” as final and instead asked me again when the timing of the trip changed. I think God worked in me as much as he was able to work through me during this trip. I’m not sure when or where my next trip will be but I know I will be doing more traveling in my future. Not just because there is a huge need for I.T. “missionaries” but because I think God has a lot to teach me and because there are things I have decided I want to do. I don’t want to just sit on my couch any more. I want to see what there is in the world. I want to see what God can do through me.