…for such a time as this

Stories about the adventure that is Peace Corps Tonga

no worries

Because you are a native English speaker in Tonga, that seems to qualify you as an “expert” in just about everything. Since I have band-aids and antibiotic cream, I am a doctor, and since I own a computer, I am a computer technician. One of my many jobs is assisting the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food with projects and computer problems.

Computer problems in Tonga are abundant. The high humidity, the bees that like to nest in CPUs, the electrical surges, the lack of understanding of what a computer is and the ever present flash drive. Tongans love flash drives, everyone has them. They love these remixes, kind of like mash-ups from the tv show Glee and they share them (just like everything else in Tonga). The problem with this is viruses. I don’t know why there are so many viruses here, but there are. I have been telling my co-workers since day 1 that emailing their documents/songs/pictures from one computer to another is the only way to safely transfer files between computers. This is not an easy feat, internet is sporadic here and getting high school kids to create a gmail account then remember the password is next to impossible. (See http://johnoutsidethelines.blogspot.com/2011/05/common-sense-isnt-always-common-sense.html ) But that’s high school, it’s expected.

My boss at the Ministry has a brand new computer from the European Union. They came to Ha’apai, built a nursery so we can sell more vegetables and worked with farmers to establish vanilla exports. Anyway, the computer has been here for about 4 months. It’s a nice Dell one, with a scanner/fax/copy machine. When I started working here in February (after moving out of the convent and into government housing) I did a short tutorial on basic computer maintenance and protection. I said over and over again that flash drives were never to be used. They are full of viruses.

Lolohea, one of the ladies in the office understood this. She had gotten a virus on her computer and had to send it to the main island to be fixed. Because this is Tonga, it took 6 months for her to get it back. This greatly affected her work, she got it.

Last Tuesday while running around for Camp Glow I kept getting phone calls. I was busy and couldn’t pick up. Since I live next door to my boss, he came over that night and asked if I could look at his computer. “It keeps shutting down unannounced” he says. I knew exactly what it was. I asked him if he’d used a flash drive, he said his kids did to work on their reports over the weekend. I told him that there was nothing I could do; the computer had a virus, he’d need to send it to Tongatapu to get fixed. He shrugged his shoulders, got his personal laptop and asked me to make it work. I downloaded all the necessary updates and now he uses that.

He broke a $3600 pa’anga ($2500 USD) computer and didn’t think twice about it. And it wasn’t out of ignorance, it was out of laziness. What kills me is that he’ll get another new computer the next time some aid organization comes through. He didn’t buy the computer he broke and he won’t ever have to.  I remember a time at Flatiron when I left my company provided Sprint aircard on an airplane. I was fully prepared to pay for the replacement myself, that’s just what you do.

Maybe there are developing countries that need foreign aid, and maybe some of them are truly thankful when they receive it but I am afraid that most countries treat it the way Tonga does……break something? Don’t worry, another free one will be on its way soon.


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