Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trash-burning Smoke Signals, Passenger Condors and the Burro Express

I wrote this for our newsletter and thought you might enjoy it...

As part of the Pomabamba Health 16 crew, we know a thing or two about the lack of technology. We’re the ones on the “other side of the mountain” from the other volunteers and our capital city.  Huaraz is technically our capital city, but it is 10-14 miserable hours on what feels like a mechanical bull from where I live to Huaraz.  There is America-fast internet there at cafes with coffee to make your nerves get nerves.  It’s beautiful.  But in Pomabamba, which is considered our bastard capital city (which is also smaller than some volunteers’ sites), things are slightly less… ummm… advanced?

Yeah. So in Pomabamba, there is total cell service. That’s not an issue in the raging metropolis of Pomabamba where the bank actually runs out of money with enough frequency to note the issue.   However, internet is something else.  I graduated high school in 2001 so I remember when internet was so slow that it was essentially useless.  You know, back in the 90s.  But those were more innocent times.  We didn’t need email to hear about committee meetings, turn in reports and figure out who’s hooking up back at home.  Honestly, I don’t remember how we did those things, but we managed, I guess. 
And only about half of the 10 of us have decent cell phone service.  A couple of those without  service have the ¨when I stand outside near the Oracle of Delphi, sometimes I get two bars” kind of reception.  So the real question is, how have I submitted this article?

We’ve considered things like trash-burning smoke signals, passenger Condors and a Burro Express to aid communication.   But those are just dreams. Dreams like finding funding from local municipalities.  However, in the last 6-7 months, we’ve figured out a few tricks. 

In the south, Gisel, Will and Sara have found an internet chacra.  I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but somewhere out there between maiz and trigo, they get signal.  And Facebook loads with less internet than html gmail.  The cell phone tower around there has been built. But it was built on an Incan burial ground. So it had to be moved. Now it’s moved and the volunteers there are pretty sure all they have to do is push a big red button and they’ll all have service, but no one’s pushed it yet.  I’m pretty sure they would have called us out of novelty but they haven’t.  But hey, if it’s an emergency, it’s only about a 12-hour hike from Pomabamba. 

You can never go to an internet cafe in Pomabamba with the expectation of actually using it.  First of all, you need to buy some candy to get through it.  I recommend chocolate and sprinkle-covered dinosaurs.  Second of all, you have to know it might take 11 minutes to open your gmail in html.  If you still have dinosaurs left and haven’t gone mad yet, you can probably read five emails in 30 minutes.  This is why I’m really, really good at my cell phone games, especially ZooZoo Club.  You can expect to reply to three of the five emails you’ve read.  It is possible at times to download a small Word document but forget about Excel or anything more than three pages.  On a really good day, like in the morning when kids are in school, you might be able to upload a small Word document, too.  But no photos. Forget about them.  Vacation request forms can be sent sometimes, but hey, that’s why we have Mari Elena’s number in our phones. 

Laura has discovered an interesting solution to get cell service.  She has found a corner of her room near the ceiling with service.  She tapes her phone to the wall with duct tape and when it rings, climbs onto a chair, answers the phone on speaker and yells ¨hang on a sec” and runs outside to her corner with service to talk. 

Also, Heather and Brianna have the internet sticks and actually get a little service in their rooms.  Since they can watch an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia while their email loads, it’s slightly less irritating. Then they call the rest of us with service about updates and news.

And, like many other volunteers, not having the internet for a while at a time really makes you think about stuff you’d otherwise look up.  For instance, I’ve had lengthy discussions about topics such as ¨why do gallinas lay eggs that aren’t fertilized in the first place” that could have been answered with a speedy Wikipedia search.  However, it became a half-hour discussion that makes you think in depth about biology.  It’s not all bad, but the conclusion is probably incorrect.   Stimulating, but wrong.  I still don’t know the answer. 

And when we’re in Huaraz, we’ll sit at cafes long enough when we’ll have to eat lunch and then dinner because we’ve been there so long we get hungry again.  Because we can, we often gchat with each other across the table instead of talk.  And when you only have a day to use the interent, things like the chicken and egg question become irrelevant. I’ll never know the answer.

And in most of our sites, electricity is nebulous.  Sometimes it’ll just go out for no apparent reason and we have no clue when it’ll come back on.  One time, I didn’t have electricity for four days but my alcalde said it might have been weeks before it would have been turned on again because we had to wait till the entire town paid the bill.  We’ve all had to come to Pomabamba to charge our computers, cell phones, Nooks and ipods to write those reports and not go crazy.  And sometimes just to finish season 5 of Dexter because everyone knows that if you start it, you have to finish the season no matter what.

If you call water issues technological, we have those problems too.  Sometimes we have to wear dirty socks because we missed the small window of water to wash them.  Once, I couldn’t get any water even to drink and there are only the tiendas in town where you have to know the lady who runs it to have her open it for you.  So, I just had nothing to drink for 12 hours. But on the upside, I didn’t have to pee in my bucket in the middle of the night due to dehydration.  At least three of us have piss buckets in our rooms because the bathrooms or latrines are too far to get to in a pinch. Or when it is dark. Or when we’re too lazy to walk bajar a ladder and walk through a chacra.

So how did I send this? Well, we definitely don’t have wireless. And my USB is way too f*ed with viruses from the computers to put it on there. I had to buy a blank CD to burn the Word document from my computer, put it on the other computer and hope to all hell there is good enough internet to attach it.  If you’re reading this, somehow, it worked.

But all being said, we’re all mostly happy here.  We’re isolated and rely heavily on the scraps of cell service we have.  We check in with each other often to make sure all is pretty ok most of the time.  Despite all this, remember one thing;  Ancash is better!

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