More back posts below about adventures in Jo’burg and an update on the situation now. The political situation here seems to be calming according to word of mouth adn BBC and some of our Addis-based workshop participants got in OK today so things are looking promising on that front. As for the workshops, they are proceeding apace. We’ve done the separate AGORA and HINAI tracks today. It’s also the end of Ramadan, a major holiday, so I woke up to even more of the sounds of the meuzzein’s (sp?) call which was nice. . .The staff is on holiday so I can’t call out internationally but I’ll be in touch via e-mail and blog and Mom, I’ll try to call tomorrow.

ETA: Update on the Actual Day

So today we started day 2. My presentation this morning went a lot smoother though I thought it still could have been more interactive, like Gracian’s rousing good morning. But I got all three presentations and demos done without mishap in that module. Then we went on to registration which went a lot slower than I expected. After watching someone hunt and peck and misspell their way through a registration form for about an hour, then you realize what level we’re dealing with (some people hadn’t used computers until the last year or so since they just weren’t available in teh rural areas). And then figuring out if your institution is already registered was a process (you’d think people would already know that since they knew they were coming to an AGORA/HINARI workshop but you’d be wrong). And then figuring out the librarian’s and institution director’s names and emails—oh, the painful process. But Gracian got through it and then I moved on to CAB Abstracts which I thought went OK and I was fairly clear but it just moved so fast and again you could see people glazing over. I think I realized that an hour to breeze through wasn’t going to do it and that it needs to be vastly simplified, vastly.

Also I realized that the interfaces have changed for a lot of things and that the exercises which I thought were relatively clearly worded aren’t at all. In one exercise I ask people to find a journal by using the Quick Search; it’s actually called “Search Journal Title” and it’s caused untold confusion.

People did exercises after we’d done both how to use AGORA and CAB Abstracts and it wasn’t at all clear to them which one they use for which purposes (finding or browsing specific journal titles or looking for articles across a subject area) [ETA: though the survey I gave at the end showed that it actually sunk in a lot more than I thought]. And I realized how non-intuitive some things are, especially the things we didn’t explain much, like “scope notes.” I mean, what is a scope note really in non-librarian lingo? And I’d asked them to find a citation but abbreviated to Am. J. Bot. How are they going to know it’s the American Journal of Botany? And most of them were searching for it in CAB Abstracts which is not an invalid way of thinking about it but what I was going for was for them to look for it in AGORA without logging in and then after logging in. And many of them seemed to want to do more with the questions that I intended-find a volume or issue or download the paper or something.

It’s amazing how much computer literacy I take for granted and how used to certain computer things I am, as far as navigating around, using the back button, knowing how to scroll, closing multiple browser windows or opening them and keeping track of them more or less. It’s also amazing how fast some people catch on and how adept they are after so little practice. An older gentleman in the class just sailed right through and picked up a few glitches and mistakes in the database and the exercises. And then I think about the fact that some of these researchers and librarians have barely had a chance to work with computer much less the Internet (in some places they have to ask the director’s secretary or borrow time from another department). And the fact that they are catching on as fast as they are is amazing; in 2 days we’ve thrown at them the basics, history and functioning of the Internet; an intro to AGORA and HINARI as well as at least six or seven other resources, and an “in-depth” look at AGORA, HINARI, PubMed and CAB Abstracts as well. And all this for a range of people who can’t mouse well to those who are Internet savvy. Really the training needs to be longer, but cost-wise we just can’t do it Gracian says.

And it’s gratifying to see how happy this access makes people. One guy smiled at me in ill-concealed joy when Gracian told him AGORA gives access to more than some US universities can afford. Another guy told me at tea break that when he was doing his Master’s he had to come 500 km to ILRI to do his research. The benefit this could have is clear. And everybody seems fairly determined to use it. Addressing the problems of bandwidth, skills training, and the like are the next steps.

I tried calling Mom after lunch but since it’s Eid there wasn’t an operator. Again, there’s that realization that you’re not in a place where everything just runs and is available when you expect.

In the afternoon session, we did hands on which was great since I got to see exactly what kinds of difficulties people were having. And I saw people making real progress, things becoming clear. Gracian went over publishers websites and TEEAL as well.

At dinner, we talked about the troubles a bit and then traded (well Gracian and two participants traded) info on Internet connectivity at their respective places and places they know of (Gracian’s a pro at getting that info), principal crops in their areas, notes on religion, Ethiopian names (Gebre means ‘son of God’ or ‘son of the name following’ and is particularly common; it’s also given after baptism in the Ethiopian Orthodox religion, Owassu (sp?) is the female version. Also apparently Ethiopians typically only have on given name and then the father’s name which isn’t used so much like our last names are. Mostly people call you the equivalent of Ms. Camille) They also discussed Mugabe’s harboring of Mengistu (the former Ethiopian dictator), the continuing topic of terrible and long-lived dictators, and the AIDS crisis (in places like Botswana and Swaziland 32% and 38% of the populations (which are only somewhere over a million people anyway) are infected. As the doctor we were speaking with said, it’s a kind of biological warfare and antiretroviral drugs aren’t going to help when half your population practically is infected. Only behavior change will, they say. And with a king who takes a wife almost every year (Swaziland) what kind of example is that to set, Gracian asked. The doctor said that some older men believe that sleeping with a young woman will cure them of AIDS so they marry young women even knowing thir HIV status, so changing people’s beliefs was paramount. And polgamy was often cited as the reason for the low infection rate in Arab and some subSaharan African countries–many wives and less use of prostitutes basically. The doctor also said more money and education campaigns are being focused on polio and measles, which are not the big problem right now. I pointed out the money being spent on Viagra as well and the doctor joked that a man cold spend 92 birr (a little over $10) for one Viagra pill so he could then go get AIDS. Again, there’s that genuine laughter in the face of crisis. A lot of what I am reporting sounds and is terrible but a lot of it was imparted with a peculiarly African brand of comedy when it wasn’t matter-of-fact grimness or outrage.

After dinner, I changed and went to the club for a beer with Steve and Flatiel (participant form Mozambique who will be helping facilitate the Maputo training)where we watched footage of the Eid celebrations (festive, with concerts) and the earlier riots (just long segments of people, little more than children in most cases, throwing stones, various burning things and smashed windshields, and crowds running away and standing off against riot police). We looked on in silence mostly as the TV went on in Amharic and I made abortive noises about what was really going on here (apparently the May elections were rigged in favor of the ruling party, there was some protest which was quashed but is now springing up again, maybe because of the OAU summit, the opposition party walked out of parliament and now the current protests are being rather ruthlessly quashed) and how could this happen and felt very American and naïve.

Most of my conversations about Africa’s troubles seem to go this way—either fatalistic hilarity or varying levels of comprehension (grim and/or outraged) or incomprehension (naively American and gauche) on my part. This visit has certainly been educational in more ways than one.