Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, September 19

Internet

The internet is a tricky devil. When I first got here, I figured Mboro was a great site because I would have wireless internet service in my room. My host family had already commissioned internet service from the local provider because they have a pc of their own. So the way things had been set up was to connect the router directly to my family’s pc, which would then turn around and send out a signal for wireless connection. As my family was already paying for this service, my contribution factored into my rent and I didn’t have to worry about pesky things like bill paying.

This worked out just peachy until it was concluded that as the first family in the neighborhood to get internet- let alone wireless- we had been targeted for bandwidth boosting. Our neighbors brought in lap tops and started picking up our signal for their personal use. In an attempt to regulate this problem my predecessor, Devon, used his net savvy to put a password on the signal. This didn’t last long as neighbors would just come to the house and demand the password. Unfortunately for my family, in African culture one cannot say no. If you have something shareable you are obligated to do so. And there is no easy explanation for why my family couldn’t share the internet. Just how do you translate “all the movies and programs you’re downloading leave me waiting 10 minutes to load my email and I’m sick and tired of it?”

So Devon and his aforementioned savvy were commissioned again. This time he locked the signal to a single random IP address. And only those people who knew the address were able to connect to the internet. This slowed our boosting problem almost completely… and only one stubborn neighbor (determined downloader as I’m told) was able to figure out what had been done. So the very last measure taken was to enter our system of internet confusion, determine the receiving IP address of my neighbor and block it permanently from our signal. I’m told for a while he continued to pass by the house demanding help to figure out what was wrong with his computer… but that eventually he got the message.

Enter me. When I got to Mboro no one explained all this to me. I spent a week not able to connect to the house internet because I had no idea about the locked IP situation. I don’t have even half the internet tech skills as the former wonder volunteer and I quickly became a huge disappointment to my host family in this regard. I tried my best to learn what I could from Devon, who was amazingly closed lipped, and how-to websites but it didn’t take very well and I still find myself quite confused.

In the months that have followed, a whole variety of problems have derailed my dreams of reliable and continuous internet service. For a while neighbor kids would come to use the house computer… which included tinkering with all sorts of computer settings. Not only did they interrupt our connection settings, the desktop picture changed at least 2 times a day. A password was put on the house computer that only members of the family were supposed to know. The problem then became my host brother who insisted on downloading like a mad person and was impatient with waiting. So he would purposely turn off the broadcasting wireless signal to further his downloading progress. I’d have to log into the house computer to turn it back on. This on/off cycle had a rotation every couple of hours.

After a week or so my brother started changing the password to the house computer, thus locking everyone out and enabling his uninterrupted downloading. The entire situation erupted, quite explosively, when I confronted my brother about this. I was too direct for their culture and I was very pissed. My host Dad got involved with language skills I still don’t have to this day, and told him he was not allowed to turn off the internet nor change the computer password anymore. He has not done either since.

Our next hurdle was an incredibly old and slow computer. And because of the aforementioned downloading extravaganza, I’m sure there were numerous viruses and zero available space on the hard drive. The computer was now prone to getting it-self so worked up it would freeze when a neighbor kid would open up too many programs. We’d have to restart every few hours. After much insisting, I got the family to completely refurbish the computer- wiping everything clean. It ran faster and didn’t freeze up… but the modem software had to be reinstalled and our CD drive was broken. A week went by before a new one was bought, and maybe another two before someone was called out to install the software and once again restore our connection. This whole process bought us only a few days before the family downloaded again all the programs they wanted and clogged up the computer once more. The hard drive was just too small on this ancient computer to sustain our needs.

So we switched out and borrowed one from my mom’s school. As it is the summer, this didn’t seem to bother anyone. I have no idea what the plan was once the new school year started, and I may never know as other problems popped up long before we had to think about it. First off was the increased heat. The hot season is upon us and one does all they can to escape it. This means an increased usage of fans, air conditioners (for those who have them) and refrigerators. Well this creates quite a problem as there are not enough infrastructures to power all of Senegal’s electrical needs. Thus the power is frequently cut. And even though I live in an area where the power is always on, the internet service provider of Senegal does not. So every so often our connection went out through no fault of our own.

Or latest problem has arisen with the arrival of the latest weather season. The rainy season has brought with it power surges which dim the lights, blur the TV, and cause our fans to sputter. Devon was kind enough to mount a voltage regulator to my desk so that every last one of my appliances powered through this escapes surge related problems. I was under the impression that with the two surge protectors sitting in the living room that my family was also educated in their usefulness. But alas, I was wrong as the family- prone to fix it yourself measures- and changed around our system of extension cords leaving the computer exposed (obviously without my knowledge). And low and behold, it didn’t take long for a brown out to zap our household computer.

The moral of this story is that internet service is never guaranteed in Africa, you get what you pay for (next to nothing) and that shit happens. More importantly “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.” As of this blog post, I am again in a house without internet service. This is the reason I’ve been lacking on blog postings, personal email replies, and chat sessions. As you can imagine, I’m never lacking on content for these postings and my writings have been keeping up with the weeks. Therefore, I’ll be scheduling a series of blogs to automatically post in my internet absence.

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