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Meet Jeff Hartman, one of World Next Door’s newest year-long journalism fellows, currently on assignment in Rwanda. You can find “behind-the-scenes” thoughts by Jeff and the other WND writers here on the WND blog, but he will also be a major contributor for World Next Door Magazine, available now for tablets and smartphones
(click here for details).
This blog post is going to date myself a little bit, but I hope it will give you a little insight into my technological evolution. An evolution that has peaked here in Kigali of all places.
Growing up in rural Wisconsin did not help to develop an instinct for technology. I spent much more time outside than behind a TV. Computers weren’t even around our neck of the woods.
My first exposure to computers and video games were the Atari and Commodore 64. My first attempt at computer programming was my senior year in high school. I successfully programmed a smiley face on the Apple IIe that would scroll down the computer screen. It was awesome.
The first time I went overseas was in grad school. I went to Switzerland for a semester. The inTRA-net (not internet) was going strong on campus back home but Switzerland was still pretty primitive in this regard.
My first trip to the developing world was in 1999 when I went to Nepal. Computers were being used for basic activities such as word processing, but tourists had to comb Kathmandu for an internet café.
Phone calls home consisted of 2-5 second pauses between sentences. Needless to say, this was extremely frustrating and almost not worth it. Fortunately I have evolved slowly over the years and now have many means of communicating and access to information right at my fingertips.
When Brooke and I signed up to go to Rwanda, we immediately looked into ways we could communicate. We figured access to the internet and cell phones would be possible but not easy. I assumed we’d be able to get in touch with friends and family back home, but I wondered if I’d be regressing back to my Nepal or Switzerland days.
Like many people, what we knew of Rwanda was basically that there was the genocide 19 years ago and, well, that it’s in Africa. Its relatively primitive and nowhere near the United States technologically …. Right?
Well, as you continue to follow us during our time in Rwanda, you will see a trend developing. Our impressions of Rwanda before arrival were nothing compared to the reality of what life is actually like in many parts of the country.
The first couple of days in country consisted of setting up all our data and cellular plans, setting up our computers for wi-fi, communicating extensively via Facebook and planning Skype meetings back home.
We have been able to watch the elevation change with our cell phones while driving through the 1000 hills of Rwanda (note, highest we recorded was around 7000’) and we have been able the access the internet with our phones at Cyimbili, a rural coffee plantation only accessible by boat or vehicle on unpaved roads. In many ways it isn’t that much different than the US.
Yes, poverty exists on a grander scale here but the technology exists and is easily accessible to those with means. Its quite amazing how connected we are and how small the world feels as a result.
Perhaps the most amazing thing occurred this past Friday when I was sitting in my room watching my Wisconsin Badgers take on the Indiana Hoosiers in the Big Ten basketball semi-finals on my computer. I was lost in the game cheering as if I was at the game but in reality I was over 7,000 miles away!
I shut the computer off after the game and went to bed thanking God not just for my experience here in Kigali, but for allowing me, and the world, to share in this phenomenal new level of connectivity.
When I leave Rwanda, I may fly thousands of miles to reach my home, but my new friends and colleagues here will always be just a few clicks away.
About the Author: Jeff Hartman is a year-long fellow with WND. Jeff has degrees in physical therapy and public health and has worked in numerous countries around the world. Jeff has an eye for photography and is willing to do almost anything to get “the shot.”