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Just a Form

Yesterday I was asked to get the water tested for The Happy Latrine Project. The Peace Corps granting agency has the notion that when we build, we should do no harm. Therefore we are obliged to test the water that comes from city pipes to our new latrines and hand washing stations. I am all for this.

But, it requires a form.

Let me break it down for you. I live in a town with intermittent electricity and have wifi (that a former PCV had installed) at my home site. We aren’t savages. My school only has electricity in the director’s and administration office. One printer, no wifi. To print something on paper requires strategic planning—and an entire morning.

After downloading and emailing the form to myself (using a shared flash drive is computercide) I ride my bike 20 minutes away to the computer shop. The shop is a tin-roofed wooden hut with red plastic chairs and about a dozen old model HP computers with one black ink printer, one for color. The canvas sign out front says in both Khmer and English: Print! Scan! Facebook! It’s closed. Locked up. Sign gone.

I try the wedding invitation printer across the street. He says the wifi is down and the computer does not work. I peddle 20 minutes in the opposite direction towards a place I vaguely remember seeing on the way out of town. Finally locate the sign, but the place is empty. The barber next door says, “No more” with a Queen Elizabeth wave.

Rode home and thought about copying the form by hand, but figured the water testing company would reject it as unofficial. Called my counterpart and asked his advice. “Oh, the computer place moved up the road to the north,” he tells me. After lunch, I ride out again and finally find it. The wifi at the new shop is down as well, but my guy cleverly copies my pdfs from his cell-connected laptop onto his own flash drive and, after plugging in the printer, warming it up, dusting it off, then rejecting the first copy because the ink was too pale, plugs into another printer, warms it up, dusts it, and finally prints the one-page form. It took five hours (with a lunch break) to accomplish this task.

When I taught college English in California, I had lots of multi-media tricks. All classrooms had in-class computers and projectors. Often, along with my lecture, I’d give handouts, show a 10-minute film clip, or share an audio recording of a poem, or show an inspiring moment from a TED talk. Students would use PowerPoint to illustrate their presentations. Media is employed in every aspect of teaching in America. Schools require their teachers to be tech savvy and students expect it. But here in Cambodia your school is advanced if they have markers and a whiteboard instead of a chalkboard. My son was a PCV in Togo, Africa. He once illustrated the phases of the moon to kids using a flashlight and rocks. Pedagogy can be accomplished with a stick drawing in dirt.

But I digress. That it took five hours to get one page printed is just the way it goes around here. It’s to be expected. I am not even cranky about that. Other PCV teachers know what I am talking about. You deal with it. When Alice was in Wonderland she said, “One can’t believe impossible things.” To which the Queen replied, “When I was your age I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Although I am not in Wonderland I do dwell in The Kingdom of Wonder. I often wonder if I am ever going to get anything done, let alone impossible things. Six impossible things before breakfast? I’d be happy with one ordinary accomplishment by the end of the month. It’s not as easy as it looks. You will probably need a form for that.

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