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Connecting our team in Haiti

Haiti, February 4, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Kody Leonard/Mercy Corps  </span>
    The wifi tower we have to connect to from our office. Photo: Kody Leonard/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Kody Leonard/Mercy Corps  </span>
    My local cell phone. Photo: Kody Leonard/Mercy Corps

Today the Internet has been real fast, relatively speaking. This is a pleasant surprise because some days the speed can be a significant challenge (another shoutout to Blackberries for keeping us connected!), especially as more and more people (at one point 16 of us) connect to the Internet. There's no real way to predict how fast the Internet will be each day, making methods of reducing the amount of data we're transmitting necessary to keep everyone focused on their urgent tasks. Compression and data filtering are key to reducing our network load.

You'd be surprised at how many people have cell phones in Haiti. The cell phone culture here is much different than the U.S. where feature-rich devices are expected no matter the cost. Here, cell phones are simple and very accessible to all levels of income since pre-paid plans are the norm.

I am happy to discover that viruses haven't plagued the office. So far we've only had one infection that really stopped someone's work. Again, connectivity was an issue for many reasons: the person often works in austere environments without a good connection, so virus updates were not current; to obtain the tools I needed for removal, I had to wait a long time to download data; and updates could fail at any point as the connection went down. Fortunately, I came prepared with enough pre-downloaded software to alleviate to make the removal easier.

In Haiti, the connectivity problem in our office will be eliminated soon with an even better and more-reliable connection. I'm hoping our connection through NetHope will also provide another long-term option to investigate. We are upgrading our equipment through a local service provider with the hopes that the connection to their satellite will improve.

The days here are long. It's pretty much work, work, work as soon as you wake up until you need to crash for bed. The busiest parts of the day for me are in the morning before the team heads out and as soon as they return right before dark. The days go by quickly because there's so much to do. The days are hot and as soon as the temperatures start to feel pleasant for this cold weather-acclimated Portlander, the mosquitos begin to swarm.

I somehow slept through the 4.0 tremors last night. However, I was awake to hear gunshots close by, but we think it was someone scaring somebody off rather than an assault.

I quickly learned to make sure I zip up my bags. The cockroaches are trying to catch a ride back to the U.S. with me. I plan on saving that extra space for a local favorite food: Mamba spicy peanut butter.