2009-10-03: Phone Home

We just arrived back home from
our week of training.  I have to say it
is good to be back on island time.  The
big city is just a little too hectic, and expensive, for my taste. 


Training was very productive and
we made some good contacts and picked up a ton of information to help us with
future projects.  It was also good
learning about other volunteer’s projects. 
This is perhaps the best way to learn because you can avoid all the
pitfalls through the lessons learned. 
Possibly the one I’m most excited about is the ‘turbo oven’ that Joe
showed everybody.  It is an ingeniously
simple design.


The design creates a vacuum of
air that increases the fire’s heat, reduces smoke, and conserves fuel.  I love simple and effective designs and this
one is amazing.  For his model all that
is needed is a sheet of plywood, mesh reinforcing, concrete, and sand.  It is about an F$70 investment, which is
cheaper than a gas stove and about the same as a kerosene stove.


I hope to revise his prototype a
bit using CMU blocks, sand, and bamboo. 
If it works it won’t be as portable but hopefully easier to build.  No formwork, plywood, or carpenter would be
required.  This would be a cheap way to
help the villagers save wood and decrease the amount of smoke the women
inhale.  For that matter the amount of
smoke the village inhales.  On still
days, it looks like a scene from Beirut
around here.


We also picked up a ton of
resources from SOPAC, an NGO working in the South Pacific, CBS Electric, a
private firm that installs alternative energy equipment such as solar, hydro,
and wind, and the Ministry of Libraries. 
I think we’ve got enough to keep us busy for several years and now the
challenge will be narrowing it down to what we can start and complete in
two.  It’s a good problem to have as some
volunteers are struggling with the stifling politics that often shut down
development in Fijian villages. 
Thankfully we haven’t encountered these yet, but who knows. 

I was hesitant to post the
following passage about our frustrating trip through the confusing world of
Fiji Telecom as it seemed more of a whining session and only mildly
entertaining.  However, after stumbling
across the handbook, “A Few Minor Adjustments”, looking for a quote for a
cartoon I was working on, I realized it was a productive lesson for me, and
possibly for others.


The following episode was a
textbook case of ‘culture shock’ and I failed to realize it as it
occurred.  My values and assumptions
towards how customer service should work are vastly different than the values
and assumptions of most Fijian employees. 
This is especially true in the service industry.  The behavior displayed among the several
employees we came in contact with was ‘logical’ to them and completely
normal.  For us it was completely bizarre
and did not sync with our expectations. 
From now on we’ll definitely be more alert to these norms and behaviors
and ready to confront them in a positive way, but in no way will we feel
obliged to like them or embrace them as our own.  The ultimate lesson learned from this
experience was that being culturally sensitive does not mean the same as being
culturally converted.


While in Suva we tried once again to find a way to get
an internet connection in our village. 
The council has one, but it doesn’t work with our Macs and their
computer will only work on generator power. 
Yes, there are some things a Mac can’t do!!!  I had tried calling to get more information
but often this results in a phone hot potato game amongst the several
technicians and an empty promise to call back as soon as they find someone who
knows what they’re doing.


So we hopped a cab to the Connect
store, Fiji’s
main high-speed internet provider, to get the latest information on what would
work.  We arrived and were told there
were no solutions for Macs.  We didn’t
get a warm fuzzy that this information was correct or the attendant had any
clue what a Mac was or for that matter what day it was.  She kept looking at me as if I had a
tarantula on my forehead. 


So we went next door to the TFL
store, Fiji’s
main telecom provider and part of the same company as Connect, to see if there
where any options with their dial up service. 
They made a few calls and said there were but we would have to travel
back to downtown to the main TFL store to get the right phone. 


We caught a cab, made it back to
downtown, and asked for the specialist who’s name had been given to us at the
prior store.  We found her and stated
what we were after.  She mumbled a few
words that resembled a yes, and said we needed to go sit in the waiting
area.  We waited a bit until her
assistant came over and asked us to sit at a desk.  She then asked what we needed.  We repeated the request and she walked
off.  After that a male employee came
over and told us to move to the next desk. 
So we moved over to another representative.  She then asked what we needed and we repeated
what we needed for the third time.  At
this point Kelly was about to go into orbit and I was just numbed into a
bizzarro world trying to enjoy this alternate universe before reality came
back.  About the only consistent
experience during shuffle between employees was the wide-eyed tarantula look
cast in our direction every time we asked a question.    


Finally she brought out the phone
and told us in order to activate internet we would have to go to the Connect
store, where we had just come from. 
Kelly was boiling at this point and although I was appreciative of the
sign I was still in a parallel universe, I was more concerned about getting
back to the store before five o’clock closing time.  We realized it was now or never as a trip
back to civilization would probably not occur until next year.


So we hurried to a cab, caught
one as we walked out the door, and sped our way back to Connect.  I think the cabby sensed our urgency and
decided he would embrace the gas pedal and cast away any and all inhibitions
towards defensive driving.  At one point
I think we were three wide with a taxi and dump truck speeding down a two-lane
road around a blind curve while praying the late 90’s sedan would not rattle
off its last lugnut.


Thankfully we made it safely to
our destination, and as we walked into the Connect store at 4:50 pm we spotted
the same attendant who was still casting forelorn glances at my cranium.  I checked my head for critters and sat down
to explain the latest developments.  She
then proceeded to give us the same canned response we had heard before.  When we advised her that the same company she
worked for advised us there was a solution, she called for reinforcements.  A well-spoken gentleman from the technical
department came out and told us the same news, no solution for Mac.  He explained there was a solution a few
months ago but they stopped selling the modem for Macs.  He then proceeded to tell us that the TFL
store sold us the wrong phone and the Huawei phone was the correct one to
use.  I asked him the model and it was
the same as what the island office uses. 
I had already exhausted that option as learned from the Huawei technical
website that the phone was not compatible with Macs.  Not wanting to pursue the endless journey
into the black whole of customer service in Fiji we decided to pull the ripcord
and return to reality.


We left $14 in the whole for cab
fees, a $29 phone that doesn’t work with a Mac, and a little wiser to the
shenanigans of the Fijian telecom business. 
I know in the end it doesn’t really amount to anything important, as we
can still be effective at our jobs without internet.  We also learned how much we take for granted
customer service back home.  Even at
marginal companies in the states I could usually get someone to respond with a
reasonable answer, except of course ATT and Sprint.


So the lesson learned is if you
want internet in Fiji,
don’t bring a Mac.  Instead, bring a PC
and watch it die a slow death from the epidemic of computer viruses here.  And perhaps the best solution is a Big Chief
tablet and crayons because these work no matter what world you’re in!


2 comments on “2009-10-03: Phone Home

  1. Matt and Kelly~ I am living vicariously through your site, loving it. Life after PC in the US is no cake walk either. Do good work and continue to absorb.

  2. I was laughing so hard just now, bob ask me what was so funny. He has already read this. I read it outloud and we doubled over laughing again.
    I will try to not stare at your forehead anymore. Hahahahhah.

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