2009-08-20: To Duplex or not to Duplex

As we where walking to the office Fakaofo was at Fanny’s sitting in
her umu chatting. He yelled, “Talofa” and said he needed to talk to
me but would come to the office. When we arrived at the office the
head teacher, Malipa, showed up with a panic look on her face.

She frantically informed me the toner on the copier had gone out and
they didn’t know how to load the new cartridge. They were in the
middle of final exams and had to delay them due to the lack of exam
papers. “Didn’t Fakaofo come get you?” she asked. I told her not to
worry and followed her to the school to help out. Fakaofo never
showed back up to the office as the Pacific way is passing
conversations are much more important than any tasks you are about to

Amazingly the copier they have is better than most back in the states.
It was purchased by a benevolent tourist who simply asked them what
they needed. When they responded, “We need a new copier,” he bought
the nicest one available.

As I started disassembling the toner package, which had to be shipped
in from Labasa (no running to Office Depot here), I realized the power
was not on. This was another lengthy step in the process as all the
male teachers had left for Nadi and they were the only ones who could
turn on the generator powering the school compound.

After about 10 minutes of searching, Fakaofo showed back up and
started laboring on the generator. The spring on the pull crank had
broken so the process of turning the blasted thing on is quite
lengthy. It involves wrapping a rope around the pulley while keeping
it taught, perilously holding it tight while gaining balance for the
heave, quietly saying a prayer that the engine will crank over this
time, and then giving it your best without tearing a rotator cuff.
After about three of four goes the engine turned over and we had
glorious power. Power is something you don’t take for granted on the

We ventured back to the copier room, plugged everything in through the
maze of extension chords and power strips, and powered up the copier.
Since it was a new machine the instructions are all in graphic format
and very easy to follow. I made sure Melipa and Monika, a teacher,
watched in case such a tragedy happened again. I reflected at how
interesting it was that here I was in a third world country showing
teachers how to load toner into a copier. It was capacity building at
is finest. Back home I had done the same thing but it was mostly for
people whom where to lazy to do it or acted like they didn’t know how
so they wouldn’t be stuck doing it in the future.

These two genuinely wanted to learn but had to overcome their fear of
the large machine in the corner that represented four years of hard
earned salary.
After I showed them it was easy to use and the toner was safely loaded
with no explosions, tensions where eased and tragedy averted.

As Melipa started making copies I noticed she wanted to conserve paper
by copying on both sides. However, to do this she would run the first
page, flip it over and put in the paper tray, and the run the
remaining copies. When I inquired if this was how everyone did it she
said yes, even the clerk.

I quickly ran through another capacity building session on duplex
copying and showed her and Monika how the machine could scan the
entire document and then print both sides in sorted stacks in a
fraction of the time. As they watched the machine process the paper
in and out amazement filled their faces. It was truly a poetic moment
and probably increased their productivity 25%.

Later that evening as we attended a retirement dinner for one of the
teachers, Fakaofo was retelling the amazing feats the copier had
performed thanks to Mataio’s magic. I didn’t get every bit of the
story as it was in a language I don’t speak or comprehend at the
moment but his dramatic hand motions of a paper being run through the
copier duplex gauntlet and use of non Tuvaluan words like “machine”
and “computer” with random Mataio’s thrown in made it abundantly clear
the tale was of the days earlier copier conquest. Such are the simple
and satisfying stories of life in the Peace Corps. You come over
thinking you will change the world and end up training how to duplex
copy in rotate sort mode. And in the end you realize just helping
people out is all that really matters.

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