Xela Day Two: A Tale of Two Servers

I ended up passing out on top of the sheets in the hotel due to the tired state in which I arrived, but today was full of plenty of excitement and activity.

We walked down to the clinic after breakfast from the nice people at Casa Mañen. The clinic is, to my knowledge, the only permanent free clinic in Xela, and has a few permanent staff members in addition to the volunteers who come down with the “medical brigades” (as Jonathan calls them). I spent the majority of the morning organizing components and parts for the systems after American Airlines confirmed that they found our primary server and that it would be here Tuesday morning (tomorrow). My sister Shelley went with me, as my Spanish is just about as good as my Greek (which is to say, non-existent). We were able to ride the “micro buses” to take us out to purchase a SIM card for the T-mobile Android phone which my sister-in-law loaned me for the trip, as well as scoring some replacement parts and some webcams.

As a quick aside, if you’re looking for Ubuntu support for the “Manhattan USB Webcam”, don’t. It uses the gspca driver’s pixart_pac7311 driver, from what I can divine, but the USB ids aren’t present in the stock driver, so it’s going to be a fairly painful process to get support worked in, especially since the gspca is in the mainline kernel now …

Getting back to the day’s events — We were lucky to have taken the microbuses, at a bargain rate of 1.25 quetzals a person, since it started raining again. I, of course, had no rain gear, but my backpack is/was waterproof, so the laptop and camera remained safe. Everyone was amazingly friendly, even to the point of walking us to a store when we didn’t understand their directions. I also tried to be friendly with a few of the feral dogs, but they mostly kept their distance, probably because I didn’t give them any food. Better that way, Natasha wouldn’t be very happy with me bringing home another dog.

In the afternoon, we set up the four donated workstations in the clinic, but rearranged them to function as inventory collection workstations for the pharmacy for some short term data collection, mostly due to the clinic being open and overbooked on Tuesday. We used Google Docs to create a quick and dirty web form with some simple constraints as a frontend to a shared spreadsheet for drug collection. This was done since we still don’t have the primary server, and I decided on “bulk loading” the drug data into the system later on, to save entry time.

I have learned a great deal from the clinic staff and volunteers about not only clinic and pharmacy work, but also about some of the problems with operating in conditions which are less than optimal, including so-called “distance medicine” work in extremely rural areas. Tuesday, I’m planning on observing the clinic operation to see if I can streamline any parts of the interface to help facilitate ease of workflow and smooth adoption a little. Wednesday, we’re headed to the pueblos outside Xela so that I can watch the distance medicine teams, and attempt to figure out the best way to bring in data (as well as provide access to data) in extremely remote and poorly connected areas.

I’m struck with just how much I have in common with the doctors, nurses and other volunteers here in Xela; they all seem to have a pervading sense of need for social justice and feel that a little effort can make a difference. I wish there were more people willing to staff places like this.

In comparison, there are shops here selling American goods and foods at prices that are on parity, considering the exchange rate to dollars, with what they would cost in America. Then I realize that the average pay here in Xela is something like 35 to 40 quetzals … a week. (That’s something like five American dollars.) Once you start to think about that, the social support systems in America don’t really seem that bad. We spend a lot of our time taking for granted things like even and well maintained sidewalks, relatively clean air through use of emission controls, and even basic animal control… Guess you don’t miss them until you visit a place that doesn’t have them.