Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

High-Tech Reporter in a Low-Tech World

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

High-Tech Reporter in a Low-Tech World

Article excerpt

NIVEAU-A' is made of sticks, formed in the shape of a giant A. A string hangs from the apex. During my stay in Haiti, that primitive instrument was the most intriguing piece of technology I saw.

Haitian farmers use it as a leveler. When the string hits the middle of the A's horizontal stick, farmers know the land is level. That's where they build barriers of straw and rock to keep the soil from eroding away.

Low-tech stuff, of course, but I realized these farmers depended on the Niveau-a for survival in a way that I would never depend on my notebook computer or professional cassette recorder. In this battle of third-world versus first-world technology, third world won. And perhaps it had something valuable to say about my own high-tech existence.

The Monitor's editors sent me to Haiti to cover the United States' military intervention there. That meant trooping behind US soldiers, running alongside Haitian demonstrators, and keeping my head up - and down - at the same time. An impossible task. But once in awhile the view would clear, and I'd catch a new glimpse of third-world perspective.

Gonaives is one of Haiti's poorest cities, and it has the highway to prove it. An engineer could not have laid out potholes more strategically. At any point, two wheels of our car were up on hard pavement and two were down in deep ruts. We bounced mercilessly. Top cruising speed: six miles an hour.

While we labored, the pedestrians, cyclists, and burros around us navigated just fine. Their technology was far more suited to local conditions than our Subaru. It struck me how much the cutting-edge inventions depend on a huge base of functioning, workaday technology that we take for granted.

Like electricity. When I first arrived in Haiti, power came from generators. Since fuel was so scarce, the generators ran only a few hours a night. When the electricity stopped, so did the water system. At one hotel, the maids brought buckets of water so we could manually flush our toilet. …

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