A Year of Living Dangerously

Monday, July 18, 2005

Internet Connection...

The internet connection really is unbelievable in the office. Sometimes it takes me 5 minutes to open an email, let alone download an attachment. Anyway, while I wait, sometimes I resort to playing a game of solitare, if I have nothing else to work on while I wait. The problem with this is that by the time the email is open, sometimes I’ve forgotten why I had opened the email in the first place. It’s a problem.

And I’m using a webmail server for my UID email account, which takes a long time to load. The program automatically logs me out of the email account if I haven’t done anything with it within X-many minutes. So if I’m having a not-so-intensive email day, I often get logged out and have to reload the program.

Anyway, the time I lose logging into email and waiting for items to download is truly amazing. I know Gina & Frans don’t have better connections. Poor Maggie has the same speed connection, but also has an ancient computer. She is also copied on all emails sent by F & G, Thang, me, and anyone else sending a UID-related email. I can only imagine how much time she loses everyday waiting for the server.

What kills me about this is it is not just the time lost waiting, but because everything is slow – you lose your train of thought and your momentum on work. It has happened a couple of times that by the time I’ve managed to open an email, I have forgotten why I needed it.

Really, if I took the time, I could estimate how much time is lost by F, G, T, M, & I and it would probably be equivalent to one full-time hire’s salary. It would certainly be enough to warrant the purchase of an additional server (or 2 or 3 or 8) to service the building. While labor in Indonesia is cheap, and in other places it makes sense to pay less for the connection and have the people wait, UID does not have that luxury. Frans & Gina and Maggie are all well-educated, efficient people. Their time is valuable and the work they do is important. Not to mention the fact that I feel like my time is being wasted by something as easy to fix as internet connection.

I do understand that the internet connection, our office space and our (well, their) salaries are donated. I do not mean to be ungrateful for donations. But, the value of a better internet connection is less than the value of the time of the people employed. This is a waste of donors’ money.

Another big problem that UID faces is dealing with is verifying the accuracy of data. We had a phone call with the elementary school in Krueng Raya, during which the principle was begging for help. He said that the building was non-functional, there were no doors, no chairs, tables, etc. I believe I wrote about this in a prior post. I don’t think he was being dishonest, but when we sent someone to the school to take pictures (we were supposed to go ourselves but were unfortunately re-routed last trip), we found that the building was in tact. It also looked like he had all of the tables and chairs that were necessary to operate.

Perhaps the principle was concerned about additional students registering because his school has no tuition, where other schools in the area don’t. Maybe he had some other reason. But unfortunately, we have to create our proposals based on facts that we can verify. And all of the proposals go out with our names on them. If any of the proposals have faulty or misrepresented information, it is our reputation that will suffer and we won’t be able to get funding for any projects.

Sometimes, explaining to the donors exactly why we need to travel to the project sites multiple times is difficult. I’ve heard Frans & Gina struggling with phone conversations, trying to explain UID overhead charges. It is not their salaries that are being covered (that’s already taken care of). And UID is not trying to make a profit on any of these projects. But still these charges (travel, data verification, etc.) are a constant source of questions from the donors.

In fact, UID actually only charges 3% overhead. Everything else comes out of their endowment (what little they have from their current backing). I think it is truly amazing what F & G and everyone here pull off given the amount they charge.

Side note: The United Way charges 10%. I remember this from working with them at General Mills and they were very proud of their minimal overhead.

Anyway. Enough about the troubles of being a small NGO. I think I’ve made my point. Good news! I read in the paper that GAM (the separatists in Aceh) have come to an agreement with the Indonesian government about not ceding. This is great news because it means that things in Aceh should calm down. I was really glad to hear this. Granted, however, it will probably be a long time before things are completely safe and friendly, but this is a step in the right direction.

The rising oil prices have created something of a crisis here. I don’t really understand the whole issue, but I know that the Indonesian government has stopped running the fountains and non-essential lighting in downtown Jakarta to preserve electricity. This is especially noticeable because it gets dark here by 6PM.

Side note: Since we’re so close to the equator, apparently the sunset and sunrise times do not change significantly throughout the year. Mentally I understand this, but it still is weird.

The other day I decided to google Paul Jordan (the security guy I wrote about in a previous post). I knew he was a published author, but was not expecting to come across any of his works online. Here’s a link to one: http://www.anzacday.org.au/history/peacekeeping/anecdotes/kibeho.html It’s first hand account of the genocide in Rwanda. Not for reading by the faint of heart. I had Maggie print it out for me and I read it while on the way to work the other day. I was a mess by the time I got to the office. Unbelievable. Reading this hit me harder than watching Schindler’s List.

I got an email from Tephanie Longo the other day – a close high school friend – through Classmates.com. It was very cool that she contacted me and I emailed her back. While I was on classmates, I was looking around and decided to click on Stacia George’s profile, thinking “she was really cool. I wonder what she is up to.” Well, Stacia works for USAID and lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I couldn’t believe it! SO COOL! I sent her an email and am hoping to hear more about what she is up to.

I’m really loving my job here and am beginning to think I want to join the Red Cross or UNDP or something similar after school. I was just shocked to see a high school friend doing exactly what I want to do. Very cool.

On that note, the summer is more than half over now. It has gone so fast. And so much of the rest of the summer is packed with things I already know I have to/want to do. I already know that I’m going to miss it.

This past weekend was rather quiet. I had dinner with Rita on Saturday night and Saturday and Sunday, during the day, I took scuba lessons. I’m going to take a little bit of time towards the end of my stay here in Indonesia and go to Bali. I decided that I would really like to do some scuba diving while there, and in order to save money, it was cheaper to take the classes here in Jakarta. So, I hung out at the bottom of a swimming pool all weekend.

We leave tomorrow for Nias again. Agenda:
Tuesday, July 19th – fly to Medan
Wednesday, July 20th – fly from Medan to Gunung Sitoli
- Meeting in Gunung Sitoli (see well)
- Travel to Sirombu
- Take boat to Hinako (a tiny island off the west coast of Nias)
- Visit elementary schools in Hinako, see if they need to be rebuilt
- Overnight in Hinako
Thursday, July 21st –
- Return to Sirombu
- Check on housing construction progress
- Return to Jakarta via Gunung Sitoli and Medan

Anyway, so I’m off. I’ll post again when I return.