5-18 Cell phone wars!

Vanuatu recently gained a second carrier for cell phones. Recently as in a few years ago. Before that, Digicel was the only one available and it was expensive, unreliable and with poor coverage. The second provider to come in is Telecom Vanuatu Limited or TVL.

According to the map in the Digicel store, we should have “good” coverage here in central Pentecost. In reality, we have had coverage on sunny days in specific spots. TVL has better coverage but no more reliable service. Both towers are solar- and wind-powered. During rainy periods, we lose service. During wind storms we lose service. At night, the service gets flaky. Sometimes, the cell phone gods just hate us and don’t want us to talk to our friends and we lose service. Both providers eat text messages, or deliver them three weeks late.

The economic theory that when business fight, the consumer wins seems to be holding true for us. In an attempt to win more customers, Digicel is expanding its coverage by 30%. One of the new towers they just put up is about a 2 hour drive south of us (driving about 20 mph and stopping frequently to ford rivers). Because this new towers is out on a point and our village is out on a point, when we get Digicel, I can lay in my hammock and talk on the phone! This is such an improvement I can’t even begin to describe it to you. Of course, we still only get service about four days a week and the tower has the hiccups, but still.

The final side effect of this new and improved communication option is the potential of getting email on the island before we end our service. Right now, the target date for internet at the school is November. Digicel has a blackberry type phone that we could possibly use to check email. We are looking into the options to see what is possible and reasonable and fits within our budget. If we get the blackberry, expect more regular, if shorter, updates.

In less stellar communication news, our computer is on the fritz. It is having some hardware-power related issue. We are hoping that it is a combination of needing more silica packs and a better cooling system. We are also looking into warranty, repairs and the expense of a new computer. Stay tuned for updates on this unfolding drama.

In the spirit of honesty and forthright storytelling of our experience here, if our computer goes down completely it will suck big, hairy, monkey balls. We don’t use it a lot, but we use it for things that will be hard to work around. Not impossible, just hard. For instance, we listen to a lot of podcasts. We both use an iPod touch to listen to them. Because of Apple’s proprietary software, we have to have the iPods linked to a specific computer. That is this computer. If it goes down, we can’t put on or take off any new material. Those podcasts are going to get really old, really fast. Before you all start to object, I know we can jailbreak the iPods, but that requires internet which we also don’t have. The same goes for setting them up to a new computer. We’re looking at our options.

We have both started doing a lot of photography. (Hopefully you’ve noticed an improvement in the quality of photos.) We use the computer to sort, weed and adjust the photos as well as for storage. We have a system. If we have to do it on a different computer, it will take a lot more effort, a lot more organization and limit the amount of photos we can take. That would suck.

I have been doing more writing since I got here. I am doing a lot of it on the computer because I don’t like to re-copy my work. I can’t do that if the computer breaks. I will go back to writing long hand, but I still haven’t gotten all of the first round of long hand writing typed up.

Finally and I think worst of all, is losing access to the computer while in Vila. The Volunteer Resouce Center is an amazing thing. There are four desktop computers hooked up to the internet that we can use from 8am to 8pm on weekdays. There are also 80 volunteers vying for time on these computers. The numbers there are just not ideal. A lot of people have laptops, which takes some of the pressure off, but that is only a minor relief for the people trying to use those computers. We also use the computer after 8pm and before 8am to download on the hotel wireless, skype with our family and friends, update the blog and generally communicate. All of that will be taken away if the computer breaks. It will make our already insane time in Vila even more insane and infinitely more stressful.

The last part of the computer breaking is in Jason’s head. He is a tech guy. It is what he has built his career and identity around. He loves gadgets and playing with the newest, latest toys. Being here has cut him off from the newest toys but at least he is learning more about these ones and the challenges of being in this environment. If the computer goes kaput, the last of his tech guy identity goes with it. That will be a struggle for him and one that I can only be supportive while he figures it out.

We’re really, really hoping the computer isn’t totally kaput. If it is, we’ll find some interesting solutions.

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