Sunday, March 27, 2005

Rumors of My Death Are Highly Exaggerated

(Title blatantly ripped off from Wil Wheaton's excellent blog).

My apologies for being so quiet the last couple weeks. It has been a period of glacial change over here. I haven't received anything from Peace Corps in a very, very long time, other than a short e-mail by the Guyana Country Desk folks to let me know they received my Aspiration Statement and Resume e-mail just fine, and that I should spend this time applying for my no-fee passport (done) and studying my Welcome Packet (which I'd love to do, but I haven't received it yet). I check the mailbox every day, even on Sundays, though it is futile. I better receive it soon, because I have now about one month before I need to move from this address, and just about a week before I begin packing my things to move to Texas before staging. I'm visiting my ex-gf "M" in Atlanta this week, where she's going for a Demography conference. It will be nice to hang out with her before I leave the country, for unless she comes down to Guyana to see me, I probably won't see her again for a matter of years, especially if I move straight to Hawai`i upon returning to the States.

My mind has been principally occupied lately with the impending Peace Corps departure. Specifically, what I should be bringing with me and what I shouldn't. I've read God-only-knows how many online packing lists (because I haven't received mine yet -- but I'm not freaking out) and I've had to make some hard choices. Like: I was going to buy a brand new 60 gig iBook and a matching iPod for this trip, because my lovely iBook ("Leilani," I call her) is now over three years old and has passed out of the safety-zone of the Applecare extended warranty, and it cannot be renewed. Which means that anything that happens to it from now on is totally my problem. No more will I be able to call Apple and have the technicians walk me through problems or have me send in Leilani for fixing (which has unluckily happened a few times since I got her -- my fault most of the time).

But anyway, all the talk on the peacecorps2 Yahoo! group, and in personal e-mails I've had with current and returned Guyana PCVs, and various packing lists and discussions online, have all made me acutely nervous about any computer I might bring with me. The problems, to wit:
• According to this great Welcome Book addendum by "Broke Kid," 4 out of 5 laptops brought to Guyana in his group died pretty soon after arrival. The culprit is probably heat and humidity.
• A problem worldwide for PC volunteers -- and Guyana is no exception -- is that of theft. If certain local characters even suspect you have something of value in your home or on your person, they'll find a way to purloin it. B&E (breaking and entering) is a very common problem throughout the Caribbean. Heck, sometimes they don't even care if you're at home!
• About 1 in 3 Guyana volunteers are placed at a site where they have no electricity. Needless to say, having a laptop, iPod, digital camera, and all that stuff will be useless under those circumstances. They would be dead weight.

So between the triple threats of heat, theft, and powerlessness, the odds that I'll be able to enjoy a computer in Guyana are slim, and my hopes of them are repidly shrinking. It makes me sad; I'd really, really like to have them during my two years. I know, I know: a lot of people would be quick to say this somehow indicates I'm not "right" or "ready" for Peace Corps service (it seems some people are just straining at the harness for a chance to prove someone else isn't "Peace Corps material," and they jump at every statement of disappointment or frustration or nervousness to do so). But I, like anyone, would of course prefer to have access to such things, even if on a semi-occasional basis. Who wouldn't like to have power and running water? I bet the people in Guyana would. And so would I. I'm willing to live with it if that's what I end up with, but given the choice I'd take the power and water. Besides, I'm a writer trying to finish a novel, and I don't want to cease writing for two years, so a laptop will be extra important to me. Sure, I could use notebook paper or journals, but things I handwrite lack the flow and quality of my typed words; I succumb quickly to hand cramps when writing by hand and I get this claustrophobic feeling that's hard to explain. Maybe because I think much faster than I can write, even with my crappy corner-cutting penmanship.

I can try to mitigate each of the three threats to my laptop, but such steps are limited. To help with the heat and humidity, I bought this cool little laptop stand, about an inch tall, that has fans to slough the heat out and away from my laptop. Plus it's powered by the USB port -- it doesn't need to be plugged into an outlet! Trés bon. To fight crime, I'm going to get insurance with one of the two companies whose literature comes with the Invitation Packet. It should cost me just under $100 US a year to insure every last thing I own. Although the deductible runs at about $125, so unless several items or one major item are lost or destroyed, it won't be worth it to file. And for the third threat, the problem of having no electricity, I can only knock on wood (although I knocked on wood last fall that I'd make my originaly Nomination in November, and look where that got me). My thoughts are that I should probably be placed in Georgetown, the capital city, especially working at the University of Guyana because A) I have college experience, and B) the Office of Medical Services insists I'm placed somewhere with "psychological support services," and being out in the bush wouldn't match that requirement.

So here's what I've decided. I'm not getting a new computer. I'd hate to blow $1100 on a new iBook and not be able to use it, have it destroyed, or have it stolen. Instead I'll bring my old one. It's beyond warranty if something goes wrong, but at least I won't be out over a thousand bucks. Similarly, I'm not getting a new iPod, something I also salivated over (have you seen the 60 gig iPod Photo?!?) but I may order one later, once I get out to my site and have an idea about the conditions.

It's better this way, because I'll save beaucoup bucks that I can use on travelling to various South American or Eastern Caribbean sites next year. And, as Broke Kid mentioned, it might be better to wait until I get out to my site and get a sense of what's possible, then just get a "cheap desktop" -- maybe one of those $500 US new iMacs that are nothing more than little tiny boxes.

Another long post, but just some stuff weighing on my mind. There are other issues, but I'll explore them in a later post.


2 comments: said...

Sounds like you are making a wise choice. I once read a PCV's blog, who was over in Africa, I believe. He wrote a story about the night people broke into his house while he was asleep. Nerve-racking story, I tell ya. Not that that kinda things doesn't happen here every second of every hour....but still. :-/

Brian Reeves said...

I know... I'm very nervous about getting robbed. I swear I'm going to buy a locking trunk and keep these things sealed away night and day, and not tell a living soul I have them. Also I'm hoping to get a second or third-story apartment, if possible, to cut down on the amount of window-climbing the local burglars can manage.