Sunday, July 09, 2006

Letter to Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs
Apple Corporation

RE: Customer complaint

Dear Steve,

I am writing concerning my Ipod mini, which of late has been performing in a manner that does not reflect the level of performance upon which I have come to depend, as my Ipod is on a brief list of material items that contribute to my mental well being. In the past few months I have noticed that it loses its battery charge very quickly, even when I have charged it to full.

I work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, managing an emergency project where we conduct evaluations in zones where people have been displaced do to conflict and distribute basic household items as necessary. This work involves a bit of time on the road, packed into a Landcruiser with my Congolese field staff. By “road” I mean bumping dirt paths that more closely resemble moderate-to-difficult mountain bike trails than flat stretches of pavement. My job also involves seeing the best and worst of humanity, and though this point is not quite as relevant to my current complaint regarding my Ipod, perhaps the presence of a noble cause will add a certain gravity that the obvious observation “there no Apple stores in Congo” lacks.

In Congo, people like to discuss. Anything. Simple questions like, “Is there cell phone reception in village X?” can lead to an hour-long debate on the number you dial to find out which villages have cell reception, how much a sack of coltan weighs, and the validity of using geological maps from the 1950s to determine whether certain areas have minerals. While I am constantly amazed that Congolese can turn the simplest of topics into philosophical conversations, I sometimes prefer to tune out these conversations in order to provide a mental escape, particularly when I am on the road. And therein lies the importance of my Ipod.

As we left Lubumbashi behind us last week and rumbled towards central Katanga, I reached for my faded messenger-styled bag, which is conveniently dust-colored. I sat between the driver and my colleague Laura, with my body twisted slightly so the driver could still shift gears without elbowing me in the chest. After adjusting the earphones, I scrolled through my albums and decided on Bloc Party. Peppy music makes the drive into the bush seem more like a choice than a job, and if I try hard, I can momentarily convince myself I am in a long Landcruiser commericial. I wave at the soldiers at a toll during the fourth track, and even if I can’t hear them, I know that the children yelling at the vehicle during the eight track are screaming, “muzungu!” Next I chose Franz Ferdinand. I made it to the second track when my Ipod informed me that it was low battery, seconds before the music cuts off. I stared at it, trying to coax it back to life. However, the Ipod would have none of it.

So Congo comes back, in the form of non-stop conversations in the back seat, which I can no longer drown out with my music of choice. Instead, I listen to my three field agents debate the following topics, among others, for the next five hours:

Are crazy people crazy all the time? (Sub-topic: Influence of the moon)
Does God give you money? (Example: If I buy a Coca Cola, is God responsible?)
Rarity of gynecologists in Congo (in particular Bukavu)
Curative properties of water
How many Congolese politicians have resigned in the history of Congo (one, apparently)
Whether women prefer male politicians

Nothing lasts forever, as evidenced by the decline I see around me in Congo. Some villages have been burnt to the ground as recently as a few weeks ago, others are dilapidated monuments to former mining towns, with an odd touch of 1960s art deco influence, like Manono town from where I am sending this email. I am not too sure where my ipod’s descent fits into landscape. Nobody could warn the Congolese that their cities would fall to pieces because of neglect, looting and war, whereas Apple might have given me a head’s up that my battery was not going to make it until the Congolese elections slated for the end of July.

Most sincerely,



Blogger mom said...

Sarah, Interesting and amusing discussion. Tried to call you today (7-9), couldn't get through. Watching the World Cup final, still in 1st half, France and Italy tied 1-1. Italy favored, rooting for France. Huge Louvre exhibit coming to High. We'll have to go. Or have we seen it all already? Love u...

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautifully put.
It's amazing how deflating it can be when the things that temporarily take us away from Congo get taken away from us.
My ipod seems to have trouble with Airserv flights. It just whizzes and clicks for an hour til the battery runs dead.
But even that doesn't hurt as much as when my laptop battery goes half way through a DVD. It's the fact that the car battery at the end of my bed that i have plugged in to gives no warning before cutting out that makes me want to scream.
It's just too sudden. Stranded under my mosquito net in the pitch dark hit by the crushing realisation that Congo is back and grinning, and there is no way to escape til the generator comes on in the morning.
Presumably someone will tell me it is character building, but it just feels like a pain in the...
Talk to at some stage when i hit civilisation in a week or two.

9:31 AM  
Anonymous said...

Dear Sarah, thanks for buying Apple Products . As for the batteries' discharging we suspect it's all your fault. (Perhaps your grand-grand-mother's christian name was Eliza? check it please) .

Sincerely, B.Ottomface
Apple customer care.

1:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BLESS YOUR HEART MY CHILD!!! Sarah,I have not read your blog for the last month and I used my lunch break to keep up with it. I was laughing all the time (I really needed that) and you certainly made my day. Came back last Tuesday from my nine cities in six days trip through the Congo. Had our own DHC 8 plane to take us around, it was really fun to do Mbandaka, Kisangani, Goma, Bukavu, Bunia, Kindu, Kalemie, Lubumbashi, Kananga in six days. Had a brief stopover in Kindu (why did you like this place and had the briefings and site visit and lunch at MONUC HQ (rice and goat - i only ate rice since I am vegetarian). The time I spent in bukavu and goma was fabulous. While in Goma (with Kabila in town) we took it easy and spend the day in Rwanda (50 meters from my hotel) with friends and swam and sunbathed in the lake. Lubumbashi was our last overnight but I took it easy since I was sunburned and nauseous from my Goma experience. Then back to the stress from working and living in Kinshasa. I will be going back to Athens for two weeks in mid August and then a few more months and then back to Greece and hopefully next July I will be in Washington DC. If you are ever in Kinshasa drop me a line. I would like to take you out to lunch.

Take care,


3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

brilliant. i loved the sub-conversations. and I just upgraded my ipod. jon stewart and lost in my own pocket--i can hardly believe it. by the way, it was a nerdy thrill to realize that i fly airserve, just like you. take care, kid--sara b.

4:05 PM  
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6:10 PM  
Blogger 007 in Africa said...

Loved this entry...Though I consider you luckier than me-our topics of conversations were nowhere as intellectual. They centered: how bad is the road, is there a worst road in the world than this, how did the road get so bad, how the road can be fixed easily, and should this really be called a road?

11:14 PM  
Blogger Bryce said...

I think I saw you in Manono today, it was like seeing a celebrity, but I wasn't sure so I said nothing.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Sahara Sarah said...

ah, comments. in many ways they are replacing my emails.

mom- sorry, was watching WC finals too and reception isnt great. will be back in lubumbashi tomorrow.

emmett- you have enough character. you need the darn dvds to play. don't let anyone tell ya different.

gio- does this mean i dont get a free ipod?

tasos- quite a tour! kindu is definitely a bump on a dusty jungle road, but if you are there for a while, then its cool. you see why people pittied me for that posting, though....i'll probably be in kinshasa late july/early august. would be great to catch up if we are both around!

sara- didnt we both get ipods when we got our jobs (along with the pink pepper perfume after our interviews?!). can't believe that was so long ago we now get to upgrade. i still have the perfume.

manuel - will definitely check it out when i hit civilization tomorrow

007- viva france! guess what - phil quit. crazy, eh?

bryce- ha! that was indeed me, cleverly disquised with glasses and a cap. small small world. i was a bit pre-occupied with our kits. have a nice time in goma.

9:28 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

Now the question is, did you actually send this link to Apple? 'Cause I think you should - who knows what ol' Steve would come up with. Better yet, send it to the Gates Foundation AND Apple..... Greetings from Jakarta, and take care! judy

4:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

habari Sana wana? Je Jambo
mimi nakupenda wewe,
Aksante kuiapa...
apana anachoka mingui!!!!

2:13 PM  
Blogger Nicky Reiss said...

Dear Sarah,
Your writing is terrific - actually makes me happy to be in Bukavu (and not out there in the bush!). Keep it up!

8:07 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

My pod was never loud enough to save me from Nigerian movies and Christian rock music they blast on the nicer buses in Ghana. Sigh.

6:01 AM  
Anonymous courtney said...

Let me guess--you've had this Ipod just long enough that the warranty just expired? t'would be an oh-so-familiar story....

1:04 AM  
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