Bringing Tech to Liberia

This post is really for future Peace Corps Liberia volunteers, but technically inclined people might also be interested to know what sort of gear I carried here. Backpackers, survivalists, and Burners might find some tips of use as well (especially in the buying guide, next post), since we all share common environmental conditions 🙂

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what tech to bring to Liberia. It was hard, since the impression I got from reading comments on the Peace Corps Liberia Facebook page was that “everything electronic will get dusty and wet and then explode when a generator has a power surge”.

That is pretty much the truth about things here. The weather alternates between being dusty and wet, and power surges from the cheap generators they run in the charging stations here are the most common way electronics are borked. Don’t bring any piece of equipment you’re attached to. (And you may want to consider getting a small solar system to charge your stuff, like I have… I’ll be making a post about my setup in a bit!)

All of this is made even more challenging by the fact that if something does break it’s hard to replace. If you are lucky enough to find the part you need in Monrovia, it will cost three times as much as it should. If you get someone to mail it to you in a package, the package will take a month to get here and your part may disappear from the package along the way. The most reliable way to get electronics is to have volunteers visiting the States bring back what you need in their luggage.

So it pays to plan ahead. Bring duplicates of non-generic, single-point-of-failure things like AC adapters, batteries and cables for all your devices (that includes laptop, cellphone, camera, etc.). And bring enough storage media to make a lot of backups. You want to be sure that at any moment, if your computer fries, your camera fries, your portable hard drive fries, your usb stick fries, etc, you won’t have lost anything of importance that you don’t have somewhere else. The pictures I’ve been taking here, for example, are backed up on the camera, the microSD card in my phone, a portable hard drive, and my netbook. (Not to mention that I periodically send a microSD with all my pictures home for my parents to back up on their machines).

I also highly advise getting personal property insurance. The Peace Corps insurance offered by Clements is a pretty good deal, in my opinion. You pay $60 for every $1000 you insure for a year. You get two types of insurance: unscheduled, which covers everything, and scheduled, which coveres specific things like laptops, cameras, instruments, etc. Unscheduled has a $100 deductable (so it’s good when you have a bag stolen… Compared to other Peace Corps Africa posts, volunteers in Liberia have had twice the number of security incidents), but scheduled insurance covers EVERYTHING (except old age). That means when your laptop’s screen breaks or AC adaptor blows up (which it will), they will pay to fix or replace it. Totally worth it.

When you get here and something breaks, feel free to talk to me. Sometimes I can fix things with the tools/parts I’ve brought with me, and when I can’t sometimes I know other people you can go to (I found this awesome guy in Kakata named “Master Isaac” who can fix electronics).

Edit 3/8/14: After watching all my things slowly rust and destroy themselves, (I’m on the coast and so my site might be more of an “electronic-killer” than other sites), I’ve started putting all my electronics in giant ziplock bags each with a dehumidifier in them. You might want to do the same. No idea if it’s working, but it helps me sleep at night. I’ll rig up an experiment sometime to see how effective this is… I’ll keep you updated.

I’ll sign off here with three general electronics/computer tips:

1) If something isn’t working, try turning it off and on again. If that doesn’t work, make sure it’s plugged in.

2) If you spill water on something electronic, IMMEDIATELY pull the battery out, dry it as best as you can and then, stick it in a bag of rice for at least three days. (Maureen of LR4’s computer can attest to the efficacy of this method)

3) If your hard drive (in your computer, or external) is making ANY kind of weird noises (clicking, humming, etc) it hasn’t made before, turn it off at get it to me. The more you use it at that point, the closer to total death you bring it. I have ways of saving your data before it poops for good.

Next: Bringing Tech to Liberia: Buying Guide

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