Monday, June 29, 2009

More Pictures

Next door to James' Aunt's house where we had lunch some kids had an impromptu dance performance.

More impromptu dance pictures.

Walking on water... that's how I roll.

Training the computer repair class from STeP UP. They wanted to learn about the project.
At our deployment school. We brought a soccer ball as a gift for the headmaster.
Dinner at our house. This is our screened in porch.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Exciting Weekend

We had a very exciting weekend filled with trips to the Blue Lagoon, Neves (Nevish), the beach, and STeP UP’s 5th birthday party. Friday night we went to Pestana, a luxury resort with nightclub and it cost way to much money. I wasn’t excited about going when I heard it was $10 to get in the door. Anyway, we went and it was empty because no locals can afford the entry fee while still having a good time. We want to go again as an end of the trip celebration but it’s just too expensive.

STeP UP's Birthday Cake

Saturday we started nice and easy at the beach before heading to STeP UP’s 5th anniversary party. The Minister of Education was in attendance and there was great food as well as cake. After we headed to a soccer game where security was tighter than the airport; army personnel with guns, police with riot gear and a barbed wire fence surrounding the entire field. The game was calm, thankfully, but it had a lot of energy and I found myself yelling at the officials with the rest of the crowd during a few bad calls.

Fun in the sand. OLPC.

Riot Gear: These Police appeared to be the officials personal guards

Sunday we started bright and early with a trip to Neves to eat crab. Neves is located at the north west end of the island, about an hours drive. We stopped at the Lagoa Azul for a quick photo opportunity. Driving through the country shows a completely different side of Sao Tome. Despite having a much lower quality of life, fish and fruit are abundant year round on the island so no one is going hungry. We ate fantastic fresh crab and took the trip with two other Americans from Seattle who are with the Mobility Project, an international NGO setup to provide wheelchairs to third world countries. Tuesday they will deploy 60 wheelchairs as a trial run for the 200-400 they would like to bring in the future. After eating we left to go to James’ (our local contact) aunt. We had another meal (again, fantastic) and met lots of his cousins and uncle. We were witness to an impromptu dance performance at the house next door and eventually returned home.

Old Tree near the Lagoa Azul

Crab in Neves

This week we will start working with the teachers to get the ready to teach lessons using the XO.

Lots of pictures! YAY!
-XO Mike

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Paul 2, Corey 2, Ashley 1

We’ve had several accidents while here in Sao Tome. It all started with Paul at the grocery store trying to buy a few beers. Here, they stock their fridges with individual bottles well above the max capacity of the refrigerator. As Paul went to grab one, another started to fall which created a domino effect sending a few bottles to the floor; one of which broke. Paul 1.

We went shopping for a pitcher to make our water purification process easier. The best we could find was a carafe which has a glass core container surrounded by a plastic protective casing. As Ashley went to pick it up it fell to the floor shattering the glass core. Ashley 1.

Danielle is working on a mapping project and received about 20 large maps with together make up the entire island. To lay them out Corey, Danielle, Ashley and Chika cleared out our living room. As Corey went to pickup my XO he dropped it on the floor and broke the screen (these aren’t indestructible). I replaced the screen with one of the spare XOs as this is the administrator computer. Corey 1. Mike -1.

Paul owns a motorcycle on island and the other day he asked me if I wanted to take it for a spin. I went around the neighborhood and before long, Corey wanted to try his luck. I asked him if he knew how to drive and he said yes. I told him which lever was the clutch and he responded, ok that’s what changes the gear… I knew we were in for trouble. I showed him the pedal which actually changes the gear and after a few more minutes of training he wanted to go. We told him to give it a little gas as he slowly releases the clutch. Corey hit the gas and dropped that clutch, popped a small wheelie and rocketed away for about 10 feet before the bike tipped over and he hit the ground. Corey got up OK but the bike’s clutch lever snapped off. Within about 1 minute James had someone coming to repair the bike and it was fixed within the hour for a very small fee. Corey 2.

Corey with the broken parts from the moto. He'll try again this weekend.

Last night we wanted to make spaghetti for dinner. In Sao Tome you can’t buy pasta sauce so we got a small can of tomato paste as a base for our sauce. We forgot that we don’t have a traditional can opener so we had to use the triangular end of a bottle opener. As Paul dug into the can, the tightly packed paste shot out all over Paul’s white shirt, Chika’s white shirt and half the kitchen. Paul 2.

Hopefully the rest of our trip will be incident free although we have a long way to go.

-XO Mike

The Minister of Education

We just had our meeting with the Minister of Education and it went very well. We found out, during the meeting embarrassingly enough, our school our contact at STeP UP recommended was a politically charged move and we have since moved to a different school. One main drawback from the meeting is that the minister didn’t want the students to take them home for fear that their families would sell the laptops. This will be a focus of ours to convince the community that it is in their best interests not to sell the laptops and to convince the community that by buying the laptops they are hurting students.

Left to Right: Chika, Corey, Danielle, Ashley, The Minister of Education, Paul, Myself

After our meeting we visited our school and determined that the fifth grade class has 45 students and the sixth grade class has 40 students. The school has power and we have word from the ISP on island that they will provide internet at the school. We are looking to saturate the two classes and recycle the laptops to the next fifth grade class after the year. This afternoon we will work with the teachers to develop a laptop learning schedule.

-XO Mike


Yesterday was sort of a bust. We had plans to go visit our potential school and meet the headmaster and several classrooms. Our contact at STeP UP told us to meet her at 11am. Paul suggested we arrive around 11:30 because she would be late. At 11:30 we arrived and started waiting for our contact, Roberta, to arrive. At 12:30 we left and went to lunch. It’s 8am the following day and still no word from her.

The plus side is that we’re about to go meet the Minister of Education and let him know what we’re up to. Even more exciting than that is we confirmed a rumor that the Prime Minister received a gift of 500 XOs from Portugal and because he doesn’t know how to deploy them, they are sitting in storage. We are going to push to get to help deploy these laptops. In order to get more time with the Prime Minister we are going to have a meeting as well as invite him to our 4th of July party. This party should be HUGE. Several ambassadors from various countries, several ministers, and many friends Illinois has met over the past three years.

Off to our meeting.
-XO Mike

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Daily Life in Sao Tome

So far our day to day life has been much different than expected. The sun rises around 5 and sets at 6. We can accomplish actual work from around 9 until noon and 2 until 3:30 or 4. The rest of the time people are at home.

A lot of our day is spent figuring out what to eat and when to make it. Nearly everything here is imported so to save costs we go to the open markets to get the best prices. There is a general goods market where we can get any produce which is locally grown and there is a fish market to get anything from the sea (we had barracuda last night). Once we go to all the markets and find what we want (we do this everyday because our refrigerator is too small) we need to bring it home and prepare everything: gut the fish, season the fish, chop the vegetables, cook the vegetables, etc. Eating has become a full time job.

To help with the extra time life takes in Sao Tome and to give back to the economy we have hired several people around our house. We have hired a housekeeper who comes on MWF to do laundry, clean around the house and cook (if we’re home). When we moved in our house had been vacant and neglected for a year so we hired someone to clean up the yard, when he was done he asked if he could stay on as our gardener so we agreed. We also hired a night watchman and he is about the scariest person ever. It gets dark around here and with his dark skin it is impossible to see him at night. One of the first nights the power went out and Corey and I were near the front gate and I said, shouldn’t the watchman be here by now? At that time we took another step towards the gate and from inside our walls a man appeared and opened the gate thinking we wanted to leave. He had been there for a while without us knowing and I nearly wet my pants.

At night we have been relaxing playing cards (last night it was hearts and Danielle is going to teach us rummy later) or watching TV episodes and movies we have on our computers. If we want to get online we can walk 3 blocks to the national library and sit out front but the mosquitoes prohibit prolonged usage.

Another bit about African mosquitoes; while they may carry deadly diseases, their bites are way less annoying and I only get a small dot of a bump that goes away by the next night. In the US I get obnoxious bites which itch for days.

-XO Mike

Monday, June 22, 2009


My first full day in Sao Tome started with me going with James and Chika to get some power strips for our house. We went to a Nigerian merchant and James introduced him to Chika who is also Nigerian. They found out that they were from very close towns and they spoke the same language. The man invited us to a party that night.

When we arrived at the party we realized that it was an entire block party, at least a few thousand people spread out over a few blocks including live music, DJs, dancing and lots of vendors. We went to Mr. Cato’s house with about 10 in our group and we quickly outnumbered his seating arrangement. He left and after a minute or two came back and told us to follow him. We walked into a little (two table) restaurant and found the management kicking everyone out to make way for us.

It was a great night and Mr. Cato took care of food (cooked sea snails) and beverages. The way that everyone moved out of the way for visitors and took every step to make sure that we were comfortable was incredible and has really challenged me to better welcome people in the US, particularly foreign exchange students.

-XO Mike

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Another Safari Picture

I'm kind of in love with this picture so I'm posting another from the Safari.

Great Success!

When we landed in Lisbon I forgot to post that Chancellor Herman awarded us a grant to pay for our on island expenses. Thank you for this donation!

Jealous Yet?

Today we're spending our time at Ned's house. Ned is the director of STeP UP and is from San Francisco. He has worked with numerous NGOs throughout Africa.

The water is about 6' deep during high tide at the end of the dock.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Safe in Sao Tome

After our amazing adventure in Nairobi and safe flights to London and Lisbon, we met Paul at the airport in Lisbon and headed into town for a while. We drove to St. George’s Castle which was the main castle for Portugal and walked around with the rest of our group before we headed over to one of two elevators in the city.

The city is very much like San Francisco and has huge hills in different parts. To help people traverse the hills they built elevators which are part of the city’s mass transit system but because of their construction they offer great views of the city. We walked back to the hotel where the rest of the group stayed before going to the airport to catch our flight to Sao Tome.

We approached the runway only to see people and stray dogs on either side of the runway watching us land. The airport is not entirely fenced in and we would come to find that there are stray dogs everywhere. Our day was filled with running errands: buying groceries, getting cell phones and SIM cards (my number is +239 933 182), picking up 94 laptops at the airport (6 have walked off) and meeting our contacts at STeP UP. We ended the night making dinner back at home and relaxing. This weekend we are going to continue settling in and will start work on Monday.

-XO Mike

Fly All Day, Safari All Night… I’m in Nairobi!

After a half day of learning, Corey and I headed to the airport to catch our flight to Nairobi. We had a 7.5 hour layover and expected to wait in the Nairobi airport for the duration of the trip. As we were landing we saw one of the OLPC staff and he asked us if we wanted to go on a safari. Wait What?!?! Corey and I had read that visas were $125 and we didn’t want to spend that much but one day visas are only $20. Another $30 for the park entrance fee and whatever the cab cost for 2 hours and I was sold. We grabbed a cab and negotiated for $50 for two hours (split three ways).

On the drive to Nairobi national park we hit lots of traffic; I mean turn your engine off traffic. Lots of locals had figured this out and walked up and down the street selling everything from 5’x10’ world maps to knives to fruit to jumper cables. By the time we made it to the park we had about 1 hour until sundown. We headed into the MASSIVE park and started asking everyone, “where are the animals?” We saw two giraffes from afar and I was happy but we pressed on into the park. We finally found a lady that told us two adolescent lions were on the path straight ahead. We found the lions and I could have touched them with how close we were. Farther up the path we saw antelope and zebras. Our drive ended as we found a lion and her two cubs on a ridge as the sun was setting. I have some great shots of the three. It was black by the time we left the park and I think we were the last ones out and it was amazing. What I expected to be the worst layover turned out to be the best that I’ll ever have.

We were only 30 feet from this lion as the sun started to set.

Put another stamp in my passport!
-XO Mike

Final Thoughts - Kigali

Kigali is definitely a place I would like to visit again. The city is clean and the people are nice although I would like to know some French to better communicate. The only beggars in the city that I saw were children and none appeared to need to beg, all looked well nourished and were playful until they saw us Mzungus and put on their “please sir, I’m hungry” act.

Getting around was very easy although the Motos only know a select few destinations. Bartering for a decent price was a different story. Upon seeing Mzungus (white people) they would start over quoting despite us knowing what the correct rate would be. This got to be annoying if you really wanted to get somewhere and didn’t want to barter for 5 minutes.

Without valuable natural resources the country is moving to become a technical hub for the East African region. The city has a long way to go but is taking the correct steps to achieve their 2020 vision. I’m excited to take William Watkins to see Rwanda sometime in the future.

-XO Mike

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Free Day!

Today there was nothing required and it was so nice to sleep until 9. I went to an impromptu church service led by some OLPC people for OLPC people and it was fun. One of the guys gave a short sermon and we sang several different songs, most of which I had never heard but played along.

I and many others really wanted to see the Genocide Museum here in Kigali and we arranged transportation to the location. The museum was really heavy. There were 3 different indoor sections: a history of Rwanda and the Genocide, a memorial/remembrance of the children of the Genocide and a genocide awareness exhibit to shed light on other genocides in recent history. Outdoors were gardens and several mass grave sites.

The history of the genocide was really interesting and sad at the same time. It was sick to see how systematic this was; there were plans in place to setup roadblocks in Kigali and begin killing 300 people every 20 minutes. We met some locals at the hotel the other night and they were saying that they fled to Uganda before things started happening and they were near the river that runs from Rwanda to Uganda. They told us how they saw countless bodies floating by, dogs eating the rotting flesh and people going down to take watches and jewelry off of the bodies. Some of the larger mass killings took place at churches with one church accounting for 20,000 deaths. Another church congregation thought they would be safe with their Hutu pastor however the pastor locked everyone inside and ordered the building to be bulldozed killing 2,000 people.

Upstairs at the museum was an exhibit about the children. There were lots of pictures and plaques giving a few facts about the children. The worst was seeing their last words, their last memories or how they died. It really is amazing how well the city has recovered despite having their infrastructure destroyed and having 1,000,000 people wiped out.

At night we went out to an Italian joint which was really good, despite them not understanding what we meant by sausage. Rwandan food isn’t bad, but it is the same thing at every meal. EVERY MEAL. I’m getting excited to head to Sao Tome soon.

-XO Mike

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Police Checkpoint

First of all, I have read that police here are the least corrupt in all of Africa and they are everywhere. It really is comforting because you usually aren’t more than a block from an officer.

Now last night around 2:30am I start heading back from KBC (local club) with Carolyn and Savannah (Indiana University). We all get Motos and barter down the price to the one we want and start riding. After a few minutes on the bike we see a police checkpoint: two officers and spike strips. As we roll up and stop Carolyn and my drivers start moving around and grabbing stuff but Savannah’s driver is just sitting there. The officers spoke in French but by their pointing it looks like they want Carolyn and me to keep going but Savannah needs to stay there because the police are going to take the bike. Before anyone can drive off Carolyn and I hop off and are trying to tell our two drivers we need to wait for another Moto for Savannah.

We’re on a main road and figure it can’t be long but we see other motos coming towards the checkpoint turning around to avoid the stop. We are waiting and the two legit driver start getting ancy and annoyed that we don’t want to go. Finally a moto rolls up from the opposite direction and we start the process of negotiating a price again: back and forth between us and the driver, the driver and other drivers and the driver and other locals…

Another adventure in Africa
-XO Mike

Saturday in Kigali

Today we started early despite it being Saturday. Today was less of a technical day and more of a Rwandese culture day. We drove two hours south of Kigali and visited the King’s House and the national museum.

While Rwanda is under a ruling democratic government, there is a royal bloodline extending from the 15th and 16th centuries. The last king died in 1959 and I didn’t quite get the scoop on the current ruling king (something about a step brother or half brother). The King’s house was not worth the trip in my opinion but it was still interesting to see the traditional huts and tour the former King’s modern house.

The next stop was the national museum which is quite small. There was a gift shop at the entrance but I decided the goods were overpriced, that and I need to get some more Francs. I’ve only spent about $38 since we landed which may sound like a lot for a week but to be honest, most of it was last night and I won 6 bucks at the casino!

-XO Mike


Today we were scheduled to visit several schools throughout Rwanda and teach teachers how to use Scratch (an animation/math/programming application). The day did not go as planned; This is Africa (TiA) as we have learned to call it.

At 4:45am we awoke from our night at the Casino and headed down to the bus which was expected to arrive at 5:35 for our breakfast at the Hilltop Hotel. Our busses were expected to leave for our school sites at 6:30. 5:35 came and went… 5:45… 6:00… 6:15… 6:30… 6:40 the bus comes to take us to Hilltop and we are almost expecting our busses to have left by now. We sat down and ate while we waited for the busses to get ready to leave, they still weren’t ready to go to the sites. Our sheet said we would leave for the site at 6:30 and arrive at 8. We left at 6:50 and arrived at 7. WHAT???

Children begin bringing in desks to prepare our room and about 8am teachers start arriving. The morning was incredibly slow as the teachers had not touched an XO before (or even a computer) and Scratch is a very advanced program. We spent three full hours grinding away before we started to make any progress and broke for lunch at noon. We had two hours for lunch as everyone goes home and we walked to our contact’s house nearby to wait for the food which was late and was expected to arrive at noon. 12:15… 12:30… 12:45… 1:00… 1:15… 1:30… This entire time the company is telling us 5 more minutes every five minutes we call. Our OLPC contacts finally give up and go out and buy us lunch which arrives at 1:45. We eat and head back to school to see our food arriving at 2; TiA.

All of the teachers are arriving at this point and the food at the same time just creates confusion. The delivery company won’t leave until we drink all the sodas because they need to return the glass bottles so we give what’s left away to the teachers. At about 2:40 we can finally start on the second half of the day and the teachers ask to review other applications. We introduced Record (the camera program), Write, Paint and a few others and this part went really well. Teachers were trying new things and teaching each other as they learned.

Throughout the day as we saw kids I was snapping pictures of them and they LOVE to see their pictures. Justin, a kid from the University of Minnesota deploying in Senegal, took a picture of about 30 kids and knelt down to show them and he got swarmed. I have a picture of him in the center of a million heads. On Monday we will be working with 5th grade kids handing out laptops and it should make for a lot more good pictures.

-XO Mike


Two nights ago we went to a club, despite our 5:15am departure on the following day. We headed to KBC which is one of the best bars I’ve ever been to. The bar has several rooms: a techno dance floor, a club dance floor, a pool room, a posh bar area, a chill bar area and another room with couches and tables. At about midnight we decided to walk to Kigali’s only Casino.

I lent Gordon $20 in startup and took out $20 myself; at the casino you bet in US money instead of the Rwandan Franc. Around 1:30 Gordon had fought back from down to $3 to even at $20 and cashed out, around the same time I was up about $6.50. The $0.50 chips in Kigali are useless as they don’t payout in coins so you need to get two so that you can re-bet it, I kept my chip as a souvenir.

We got back to the hotel and prepared to sleep only three hours… this will be a fun morning.

-XO Mike


I've been trying to reply for about 15 minutes now. It's just not going to happen. Sorry, I am reading the comments and I enjoy them, so keep em coming!

-XO Mike

Saturday, June 13, 2009


In Kigali and most of Africa taxi cars are hard to find but Motos are everywhere. Motos are motorcycles and scooters which are single seat taxis and are incredibly cheap, usually less than a dollar. The bikes are EVERYWHERE!!!! If you try to hail a moto and try and negotiate where you are going and how much for more than about 30 seconds you will have 2-3 more motos circling you and trying to give you a better deal.

The bikes are government regulated and drivers are required to wear a helmet and have a helmet for the rider as well. My only complaint is that they are sooooooo cold at night! We want to just go on moto rides at night for fun even if we have no destination but we figured it would be too hard to relay to a driver, “just drive me around and bring me back.”

That’s all, short post. I wish I had some pictures for you and will try to get them uploaded ASAP in London or Lisbon.

-XO Mike

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quick Thoughts

Sorry for the posting schedule. We hardly have any free time. I've been writing on my computer and I copy paste whenever I have a chance.

Pictures won't happen while I'm here because the internet is too slow. Sorry that the post's aren't as interesting.

-XO Mike

The time I met two of Time’s 100 Most Influential People

Starting a day at 4:30am and ending with cocktails and playing drums for a traditional Rwandan dance group were two things I never expected to do in one day.

Today we were scheduled to go to a meeting for OLPC for the launch of OLPCorps and The Center for Laptops and Learning in Kigali. We knew going into the day that there would be high security (read: guys with AKs everywhere) and airport like security screening so we were told that we would be on a bus by 6:30 which meant breakfast would be at 5:30 and we would leave our hotel at 5:15. At 5:15 we were all ready but no busses arrived until 6am. It was fine and we arrived at the Prime Holdings Conference Hall at 7am; one full hour before our scheduled arrival time on the itinerary we received at the conference hall. Our itinerary included the arrival of ministers, arrival of the Prime Minister, arrival of the Supreme Court President, arrival of the Senate President and arrival of the guest of honor which was later announced to be the President of Rwanda.

The President arrived to a receiving room of approximately 200-300 people and after hearing the national anthem, addressed both the OLPCorps participants (me) and the other dignitaries in the room. After his and several others speeches we went out to have brunch. To my surprise the President met us in the gardens and chatted it up with other big wigs. Many of the OLPCorps members joked about going up and saying hi to him but after a while he came and approached us with Nicholas Negroponte, the chairman of OLPC and another of Time’s 100 most influential people.

After brunch and meeting the President and Chairman there were speakers from both Uruguay, where they have deployed over 200,000 laptops and are at 1:1 for the entire country grades 1 through 9, and Haiti where they are deploying three large test schools with XO laptops. After lunch the day became quite long as we had been up since 4:30 and it was a bit of a blur until about 4:30 when another member of OLPC started a speech talking to various diplomats from Kenya, Djibouti, Mali, and Tanzania who were all interested in starting nationwide XO deployments.

After the conference and several commitments from diplomats to begin establishing XO rollouts we went back to the gardens for cocktails and a traditional Rwandese dance performance. While drinking a $150 box of wine (OLPC provided but ordered on accident and imported from South Africa – it should be around $8) I started to hear singing and drums with the approaching sound of many bells in rhythm. Before I knew it I was standing in front of 10 dancers dressed in traditional Rwandese outfits doing choreographed dancing. It was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. After a song the boys switched for girl dancers and back and forth a few times. When they were done all of the OLPCorps and big wigs mingled for an hour or two before the dancers started up again. This time the crowd was even more into it and before long many OLPCorps members were in the group trying to dance along as best as possible. Although I didn’t dance with the group I did play drums for a while which was really fun as the whole group wasn’t necessarily precise although they were in time and together, mostly.

After the events Corey and I went to Hilltop (one of the other OLPCorps hotels where we get our dinner) grabed a bite with two UCal Berkeley girls deploying in Uganda before walking back to our hotel (about a 20 minute walk). This city is a wonderful place and is very calm, safe and clean.

And now to wake up at 6:45am! Woooooohoooo!

-XO Mike

P.S. Sorry the posts are becoming long but there is so much we experience in a day it is hard to even make it this short.

Kigali Day 1

We departed for another hotel where we would eat breakfast at 7:15 and breakfast was quite good; lots of bread, fruit and eggs (omelet or hard boiled). We met a few more teams at breakfast and eventually headed to the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST). Kist has a beautiful campus and large, modern buildings. On the drive over I, and almost everyone else, recognized how clean Kigali is, much cleaner than any American city. There were lots of workers tending to beautiful flowers along the road and sweeping dust off of the sidewalks. Many cars had I <3 Rwanda stickers across the back and in just a somewhat short drive it was obvious that the people of Rwanda take a lot of pride in their country and community. We also heard that the last Saturday of every month is a national cleaning holiday. All streets are closed and businesses and taxis are not allowed to operate until noon. Everyone just goes out and cleans. There is no trash in this city.
We had meetings all day and left for happy hour and dinner at a local bar around 5. Everyone was exhausted but it was great getting to meet people from all over the world with different plans throughout Africa. Tomorrow we are meeting a lot of dignitaries from across Africa but no one will say exactly who, my guess is that it is someone big if they aren’t saying because of security reasons. We are waking up at 4:30 (I’m writing this at 8:30) to leave our hotel at 5:15 for breakfast. Sooooo tired still but I’m not yet sick! :-)

-XO Mike

The Best Flights of my Life

Our flights got off to a rocky start but ended quite well. We woke up on time at 3:30am after only three hours of sleep and went to the lobby to grab the airport shuttle at 4:20. Keep in mind that our flight takes off at 6:30am. The shuttles only operate to terminals 1,2,3 and 5. We are flying out of terminal 4 but the concierge and the driver assure us that we can go to 1,2,3 or 5 and take a short tram to terminal 4. We arrive at terminal 2 around 4:40 and head down to the train.

The doors to the station were locked and there were no signs about when the trains would start so we started to get a little nervous. We decided it would be best to grab a cab over to terminal 4. We hop in and the driver doesn’t move. He tells us that the trip is 4.5 miles (not kilometers oddly enough) and that it will cost 22 pounds. We only have 22 pounds and the smallest US bill we have is a $20 but at this point we don’t really have another option. We take the ride over for 22 pounds, tip roughly 12 pounds ($20) and get dropped off at what looks like an abandoned construction site. The driver tells us where the elevator is and says he has no idea what’s beyond the doors.

We take the elevator down and head into a deserted airport terminal. Eventually we find a line of people over 200 deep for the bag check and jump in line. We make it to our terminal with only a few minutes to spare and we were off to Amsterdam.

The flight to Amsterdam is 45 minutes by air. KLM is the best airline to fly. We were served sandwiches (bread and smoked gouda and another cinnamon raisin roll) and beverages. When we got on our 747 for Nairobi there was service like you wouldn’t believe. During the usual safety video they advertise that we can go to the galley whenever we like for a beverage or a snack but within minutes of the seatbelt sign coming on they were serving our hot meal. On European flights all beverages, including alcoholic, are free of charge. I toasted a glass of wine with the gentleman next to me. I eventually fell asleep and apparently missed ice cream (and another round of drinks). I woke up to them serving another fantastic meal and another round of drinks; the man two seats to my left ordered a beer and brandy (separate). I was seated in the exit row (ahhhhh legroom) and we faced the flight attendant during takeoff and landing and as we were on our approach I was telling her how wonderful the service was and that it’s nothing like this on US flights and she looked baffled and asked me, “what do the flight attendants do?” I have no idea Elona.

Our final flight from Nairobi started with a 2.5 hour layover in Nairobi. Nairobi inside the terminal was pleasant enough and we found two other OLPC teams waiting for our flight. We got to know them and when our flight arrived we headed out. There was no jetway, we walked straight onto the tarmac and started at two Kenya Air jets with no signage to differentiate which plane to get on. We eventually found a man to ask and he directed us to a third plane. When our 1 hour flight to Kigali took off we were again served a meal and had wonderful service from the flight attendants. Landing in Kigali was quiet at this time (midnight) and customs was quick and painless. Our luggage arrived safe and we were off to Chez Rose, our hotel for the trip.

-XO Mike

Saturday, June 6, 2009


After napping in the lobby we checked into the room and agreed to sleep until 2. 2 became 5 and we finally showered and left here around 6. We took a bus back to the airport to catch the underground into the city (which took almost an hour). Corey hasn't been to London before so we had to hit the major landmarks: Big Ben, Westminster Abby, London Eye, Tower of London and Tower Bridge. The inside tours were all closed when we arrived but it was still fun to be out on the town. London is so much fun to navigate with the tube.

We grabbed a bite to eat and toasted a glass of wine before we started heading back. We left at 9:30 from the London Bridge Underground stop and are just now arriving back at the hotel (it's 12). Public transportation has it's disadvantages. Although on our ride back we saw lots of other kids about our age: some huffing glue on the bus in neon colored pants and others just out to have a good time. We started chatting with one group (not the glue kids) and got off the train half way home to head to a bar with them only to realize that the last train towards Heathrow left in only 45 more minutes. We jumped back on the train and grabbed the last bus to our hotel.

We'll be up and off to the airport in only 3.5 more hours so I'm going to repack and get some sleep.

Lots of new pictures here:

-XO Mike

OLPCorps - Why I joined OLPCorps

OLPC has asked us to make weekly postings on topics provided. I will title all of these posts OLPCorps - XXXXX. Some of the topics might not be as interesting and you may want to skip these posts.

Starting in the Spring of 2008 I began volunteering at PrairieNET a local non profit who's mission was to provide technology access to low income families and areas including providing computer labs throughout East St. Louis. PrairieNET has worked with STeP UP, our local partner, for several years setting up technology access throughout Sao Tome and Paul, my boss at PrairieNET asked if I would like to go to Sao Tome in the Summer of 2009. I wholeheartedly agreed to go and began making plans. When the OLPCorps internship was discovered I met with Paul to see if it would be alright if I participated in the OLPCorps program instead of the PrairieNET program. Paul thought that it was a wonderful idea and began assisting our planning for the trip.

I wanted to join OLPCorps because I enjoy serving others and I love working with technology and I'm good with it. This opportunity fits perfectly with my skill set and my desires so it was natural that I became involved. Before even hearing about the program I wanted to go to Sao Tome and setup computer labs, repair existing computer labs and teach how to use and repair computers. When we were initially not accepted I began planning my trip with PrairieNET. One way or another, I was going to get to Sao Tome this summer.

-XO Mike

Half way to Kigali

We've arrived safe in London with all of our baggage.

The trip started back in Chicago and everything went smooth. I loaded up my cargo pants to lighten the load in my carry on but they didn't even weigh it; let's hope TAP does the same. Our wait at the gate was rather long but at least we were not stressed about getting there in time.

On Time.

We got the munchies before we boarded so Corey left security to grab McDonalds for us; what he forgot is that you can't bring liquids back through security and was forced to chug a 20oz Coke :-). Whoopsie!

Our Plane.

The plane ride was smooth and there were a few extra open seats next to Corey (we were seated one row apart) so I sat with him most of the night. It was difficult to get any sleep because I'm not used to falling asleep at 8 or 9pm. After only two hours of rest it was already daylight and we were receiving breakfast.

Customs was quite slow and took at least 30 minutes to complete and then, thankfully, our baggage awaited us at the carousel. At this point we realized we had no hotel reservations, no addresses of hotels, no phone number, etc. I had looked up rates online before I left and found them for around 50 pounds per night. We found a desk which made hotel reservations and asked what the rate would be, she said 150 pounds to 300 pounds. No. Thank. You.

Corey and I broke out our laptop, paid 5 pounds to get internet access (which is working here at the hotel as well!) and jumped on We are staying at the Holiday Inn, just 5 minutes from the airport for $50 (taxes and everything). We're pretty excited with the deal. Actually, I'm ecstatic about this deal.

We're now at the hotel waiting to check in (the earliest will be about noon and we arrived at 10). Corey and I are eating and napping in the lounge before we will shower, change and head downtown to see some sights. The weather is crummy (chilly and rainy) but we're going to power through.

Our hotel for the night.

Corey eating a wonderful cajun chicken sub in the hotel lobby.

I updated with three (this is the third) posts just now so keep reading!

-XO Mike

Last Call

I’m sitting at the airport waiting for Corey to arrive so that we can start the trip. I’ve packed everything that I could think of and can only hope I have everything that I need. I never knew how little amounts to 41lbs. My suitcase has some room to breathe but I’m at the weight limit. I would have liked to have brought some other items such as a second, child sized baseball mitt but I won’t be able to.

I had a great last two days in the US. Wednesday night Brian Meeker, a friend from school, through me a going away party and I really enjoyed seeing the sunrise with the whole group . After packing up my apartment and driving home I went to Na’s for a going away/Pat’s Birthday party. I am exhausted enough to sleep through any babies crying on this plane.

Tomorrow Corey and I will spend the day around London before we head off to Kigali starting at 6am Sunday.

I believe our team is very prepared. Chika, Danielle and Ashley will be bringing the rest of our supplies (routers and flash drives) when they leave in a week and a half. We will meet them in Lisbon and spend some time around town before departing for Sao Tome.

Sorry if this post is abrupt. Chika met us at the airport to send us off (and take any excess weight off our hands) and I put down the blog to chat with him.

-XO Mike

Should I pulverize your house?

One quick joke:

In Sao Tome there is an initiative to reduce the spread of malaria and one of the ways they do this is to spray your house for bugs. Our contact in Sao Tome told us about the program and then asked, “should I pulverize your house?”

Sure, kill the bugs but leave the house in tact please :-).

-XO Mike