Access To The Net

Some of you have asked how we can have access to the internet in such an isolated place. Well, the fact is that the Tongarevan are no noble savages. The modern world of the commercially mediated reality has crossed there doorsteps and they have absorbed the nasty habits of substituting direct observation of their immediate environment with watching TV, chatting to their neighbors with checking email and listening to the stories of their elders with surfing the net with the same ease their forefathers forfeited their ancient beliefs for the blood drenched gospel of the tortured Christ. Pumped down by microwaves from satellites that circle overhead invisibly during daylight and mingle with the myriad twinkling stars at night the message of isolated information has corroded their brains and made them think in a way amazingly and hauntingly like ours. Of course, here like anywhere else, the primary use of technology is neither for freeing the mind nor for alleviating any of the many other hardships humans face when etching out a living amongst the multitude of critters sprawling and crawling in the cracks of livability on spaceship Earth. While hardly anyone here understands much about the workings of computers, everyone immediately senses and uses the fact that by simply owning a laptop you are set apart from the rest of your peers. The potential of immediate and infinite information that most brain-like of all machines gives to the one who knows the art of navigation does not somehow magically impregnate the one who doesn’t. It is for him or her but another piece of furniture filled with function only through pretention. I’ll tell you what I mean by that in a bit.

The main village of Omoka in the East is by virtue of its size the more advanced in veneration of modernity. Of the forty to fifty households maybe eight or nine are hooked up to the net, while virtually all of them sport at least a midsized TV poised usually on an altar like pedestal decorated with embroidered white linings, shell and snail collars strung from side to side and surrounded by as many family photos as you can possibly fit on a wall. The internet is relatively inexpensive, something like US$40 per month, so making friends is usually all that’s required to be able to get access for checking our email and a little bit of Skype maybe once a week. Yep, you heard that right, once a week, and I hear from afar the sigh of panic in the brawny brains of our friends living at the pulse of Silicone valley. There’s a size limit on that deal with a certain amount of Gigabytes per month and if you pass that you’re paying big time. For those friends to remain friends you’re not going to suck their monthly allowance out of their modems in a couple of days!

Our first chance to catch up on news, family and friends after sailing away from the Marquesas was during our first four days on the island while Aluna was dancing like mad on the churned up waters of Omoka harbor. Remember the wedding we went to that Friday? Well, that was a real spurt of the moment decision and we had to leave on short notice, getting dressed up before that. Beatriz had not finished her Skype session with her family back home, so she stayed on while I went to the venue with our host. Apparently back there at the house Beatriz got dressed up by mama while her ears were still squeezed by the headset, finishing the chat with her sister and then got wisped into the car to come to the wedding. An entire month passes living the simpler life on the East side of the atoll before we set foot on the other side again and have a chance to return to Omoka. Visiting our friends we learn that he had trouble finding his contacts in Skype, had called his daughter for help, but alas in vain, had had to “restart” Skype and “delete” all the contacts, but that it was still not working “as it is supposed to”. Opening up his laptop to see what might be going on I see that Beatriz’ account is still open, all her contacts are gone and even her account owner’s picture had been changed. Obviously Beatriz had forgotten to close her account that day, her account stayed open continuously during an entire month, while our friend tried to make it his as much as he was able to! The simple solution of logging out and then in to their own account had not occurred to anybody.

Our other internet source back over here in Tautua only half jokingly accused us of changing his account preference in Skype to Spanish. Our efforts to explain to him that we would have to have his password to open his account for doing that were fruitless. He had heard us talk in Spanish while we used Skype on his machine, and that was enough for him to solidify his suspicion! A computer a magical thing for them, like new things are for all of us while they are new, but dominating those contemporary beasts easily becomes a question of self-esteem. What you mean, that you know how to work this thing and I don’t? That can’t be, since I’m at least as good as you guys! A couple days before the end of February we went to our friend Rio’s house again, hoping to fulfill our weekly ritual of staying in touch with the world. We were informed that he was close to reaching his monthly allowance and that he needed what’s left for his family affairs. To prove his point he opens up his email program and show’s us an email a couple days old. “Here it is, I’m not trying to fool you!” he goes. That message rightly informs that his usage had reached 80% of his monthly quota. Scanning the bold list of unread messages above I immediately spot that there’s a newer message from the provider and I indicate that to him. His surprise is great when he learns after opening it up that his usage had actually passed the 100% and his mind strains to connect the dots of that piece of information with what he mumbles as: “Well, we did use Skype for three hours yesterday evening to talk to our daughter!”

Computers aren’t by any means the only machines that suffer from a lack of owner training under the tropical sun. A supply ship comes loaded with goodies once every couple months, and there used to be a weekly plane connecting the airstrip built during the US occupation with the capital of the Cook Islands on Rarotonga. Everybody has relatives there and also in New Zealand and Australia. Beautiful hats and fans woven from bleached and died palm leaves are sent down there to be sold on the market and all kinds of consumer goods and gadgets return. The Kwai, an interesting trading experiment from Hawai’i, calls into Omoka harbor twice or three times a year, shipping in construction materials, washing machines, slippers and much more. A handful of small cars putter along the short streets of the two villages and some of the outboard motor powered aluminum skiffs have been around for forty years. The comfort of petrol-powered transportation is here to stay in spite of exponentially rising gas prices.

While the frantic end of the past century has been a time of economic growth it created the illusion of progress, making remote communities all over the world believe that they are on the way to catching up and will eventually reach the glorious height of their masters in the capitals. Then by some heavenly magic they will be relived of the yoke of their systematic exploitation. This century almost since it’s panic ridden inception has been one of economic and mental contraction. Especially in the last couple years most services are being reduced while taxes and mandatory contributions increase. Just a couple months ago Air Rarotonga cancelled its regular flights to Tongareva after jacking up the price to NZ$1700 one way, a ridiculous amount, which nobody here was willing to pay. One supply ship was lost on a reef last year, with no replacement in sight, so more and more there’s a scarcity of imported goods, which does start to make people rethink their newly acquired habits of comfort foods and things. After the high powered ascent of economic progress there’s now a feeling of the beginning of a free fall towards economic oblivion, the exodus to the “mainland” has accelerated and that has understandably hardened hearts, souls and the mind of those that stay behind. Their forceful declarations of “There’s no place like home” more often than not sound void of sweetness and tend to transpire a pale broth of stale absurdity, reminiscent of the innocently convicted bandit sitting on death row filing his fingernails in apparent calm while enthusiastically praising the perfect pitch of the songbird chirping not far away from the welded window sealing his fate.


One Response to “Access To The Net”

  1. boatsmith Says:

    hello Beat and Beatriz, I am enjoying your travels vicariously. I am wondering how the Harbor Freight cooker has endured? I am ready to install a new cooker and that one was certainly at a good price. David

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