Here’s a quiz for readers below the age of 30:
Do you know what this is?
It’s an aerogram — more specifically, a 1970s aerogram from Nepal. I know it may look like a relic in an era when so many people communicate via text messages, FaceTime, Skype, Facebook and the like. Indeed, I use those platforms regularly myself. But I also remember my first tour as a Peace Corps volunteer, in Nepal in the late 1970s.
Back then, I relied on aerograms to communicate with my family and others in the United States. I’d write on both sides of the blue paper, fold it up to become an envelope, seal it and drop it off at the village post office on my way to school. It took two weeks for the aerogram to reach New York, then another two weeks for a reply. Phone calls to America were extremely difficult and expensive, so I never made any. The Internet didn’t exist yet, much less Viber or Snapchat.
(Readers below 30: Are you still with me? Feel free to roll your eyes.)
I noted previously how Champa and I have been downsizing in preparation for our joint Peace Corps service, which begins at the end of May. Our upstairs storage room is filling up. At the same time, I’ve been buying some electronic gear to help us do our jobs and stay connected in Moldova.
Here’s Champa’s new Lenovo laptop and carrying case. We were going to buy her a MacBook Air, to sync with my own MacBook Pro, but it turns out most people in Moldova use PCs. They include teachers, with whom Champa will be sharing files and presentations. We checked with some of the current volunteers and finally decided a PC was the better choice. We bought this one at a local Best Buy and the pink case on Amazon.
We’ll need to recharge our laptops and other electronic gear, so I bought a bunch of converters to fit the plugs in Moldova.
Extra cables to connect the plugs to the laptops and other devices? Yes, we got those, too, as well as a charger that holds six USB cables.
The power supply is uncertain in some Moldovan towns and villages, especially at night. My Peace Corps mentor, who is already serving in Moldova, suggested we buy a Waka-Waka light and charger, which we did. We love it already. It’s both a flashlight and a charger that can provide a boost to cell phones and other small devices. It gets its own power from a cable or built-in solar cells. Waka-Waka donates one device for every device it sells in the West. They gave us several choices about where to donate ours, and we chose a Syrian refugee camp. A bonus was that when I first Googled “Waka-Waka,” I was reminded of the fun video Shakira recorded for the World Cup in South Africa.
I’ve never been a big user of e-readers. Given the weight limitations on our luggage, however, I can’t pack a lot of books, so I bought an Amazon Paperwhite Kindle. I’ve already loaded it with several classics that I’ve been meaning to read, all of which were free: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Dickens, Hemingway, Conrad and the like. I also downloaded some cookbooks, mysteries and other material. I’ll probably subscribe to some Kindle-friendly magazines and newspapers, assuming the wireless connection is good enough where we’re living.
I’m the first to admit that all of this is a far cry from walking through the Himalayas to drop off an aerogram and then waiting a month for a reply. But even though Eastern Europe is relatively more prosperous than some other parts of the world where Peace Corps volunteers serve, it’s hardly unique in enabling them to take advantage of smart phones, the Internet and other modern communications technologies. Most volunteers around the world are now very connected — perhaps not 24/7 in the ways we expect in the United States, but still easily reached.
Before you post a sarcastic comment saying, “Gee, this looks really rough, David,” let me conclude by showing you one final image. It’s from our “new clothing pile.” It shows my new insulated gloves, which are among several warm items we’ve bought to see us through the Moldovan winters. We’re going to be a lot colder than we were in North Carolina. So there’s that … and undoubtedly many other challenges we’ll be facing as well.
We’ll see whether my fingers get too cold to turn on the Kindle.