Saturday, September 19, 2009

Smoke Signals

That’s nearly what we had to resort to this week in order to communicate with the rest of the world. It was either that or beat the bongos.

This was the week that our husbands were off in some far reaches of the country holding seminars and graduations, and Heather and I were left to “keep the home fires burning”. We did our best to keep that little expression as just that, since August to October are the months when all of Africa burns. About the last thing we needed to contend with while the guys were away was an out-of-control brush fire roaring through the mission farm.

We started off our week with a bang on Monday when internet quit working. Out here in the bush, there is no cable or telephone company to conveniently deliver internet to us. We run a number of components in order to “beam” it here ourselves.

1. A power generator for electricity (we do that for ourselves too)
2. A satellite dish (catches the signal)
3. A modem (transmits/sends signal)
4. Sundry cables
5. Wireless routers X 2 (in different locations)
6. Power cords

So when internet goes off, you methodically have to go through the system starting with power supply, the routers, modem, cables, etc. This entails a lot of walking from the house to the office and back. This is what I did on Monday, and after checking everything and rebooting the system several times, it was time to call our service provider in the UK.

Now, phoning from here is no straightforward matter either. We depend on cell phone coverage, but because our signal from the tower is weak, and because there is such a high a volume of traffic to cope with, calls often either:
1. Don’t go through. Period.
2. Go through but are shortly cut off.

What this means is that you can’t just stand in the office trouble shooting with the technician on the line. You have to take paper and pen in hand and go stand outside (maybe even drive the few km’s to the highway) to make the call. When/if the call goes through, you identify yourself and your whereabouts, describe the problem, write down suggestions, hang up, go back to the office, do what he says, see what happens, go back to good-cell-phone-reception-spot and call him back. This process must usually be done many times! On a good day, internet gets restored. On a bad day, like if your modem is fried, you have to wait for one to be shipped from overseas. By the end of Monday, it looked like we were headed for the latter category.

Life without signals is very quiet. Until you get a smoke signal, that is.

At noon on Wednesday, we noticed billows of smoke from an uncontrolled brush fire that had swept across the farm’s boundary. The staff all grabbed green leafy branches and ran to try to beat the flames back. Right then, as if on cue, Dwight and Rick drove in from their trip. I’m sure they’d seen the smoke from a long ways off and were hurrying to cover that last stretch home. They were exhausted from their trip but had to jump straight into firefighting!

It was a hot (+35C), dry, windy day, and the 10-15 foot leaping flames were just too menacing to tackle by hand.

So eventually an emergency firebreak was created by lighting the area between the approaching fire and us.

Lighting the fire break.

This kept the fire on the other side of the this ravine and helped save the main section of the farm where the tree plantations and buildings are. Unfortunately, most of the grazing area was burned to a crisp anyway. Even more sadly, several huts were burned to the ground. This is a sad thing that happens year after year because of uncontrolled brush fires.

Once the fire crisis had passed, it was time to tackle our internet problem again. Thankfully cell phone signal right outside the office was ok that day.

(Dwight, on the phone, in front of the satellite dish, by the office.)

For much of the time, it took one person outside making phone calls, one person inside the office doing the suggested system checks, and another person relaying messages between the two.
(Another decent cell signal reception spot.)

(Standing on the running board helps. The roof worked pretty good for note-taking too!)

Dwight and Glen (who arrived Tuesday) watching for "a sign" that signal transmission is taking place. I'm happy to say that eight hours later, the system was back up and running again.

Here's to hoping our internet signal stays.

And smoke signals stay away :)


Russell said...

I bet the bakkie roof acted as a reflector for the cell phone signal - acted as a ground plane.

Enough science though.

That is a big fire! I wish I could smell the smoke.

Amanda said...

Good post mom :) neat pics, even if they were of something somewhat devastating for the bush and a few huts :(

Penny said...

You always include great details that really give us a feeling for what your day to day life is like. Great post!