The Jalalabad Fab Fi Network Continues to Grow With a Little Help from Their Friends
Editors Note: In this post Keith Berkoben and Amy Sun from the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT report on the Fab Fi network in Jalalabad. These are cross posted on the Jalalabad Fab Lab blog. Keith is first up with great news on the continued growth of the fab fi mesh around Jalalabad City. Twenty five nodes up and running simultaneously – pretty impressive. Amy Sun follows with a solid demonstration of using keen insight, humor and classic leadership skills while working through language and cultural difficulties to do a little problem solving.
When we first brought FabFi to Afghanistan we brought our own idea of the best solution. It looked something like the photo below. With a little training, our afghan friends figured out how to copy reflectors like the one in the photo and make links. That’s super cool and all, but you can’t always get nice plywood and wire mesh and acrylic and Shop Bot time when you want to make a link. Maybe it’s the middle of the night and the lab is closed. Maybe you spent all your money on a router and all you have left for a reflector is the junk in your back yard. That, dear world, is when you IMPROVISE:
Pictured below is a makeshift reflector constructed from pieces of board, wire, a plastic tub and, ironically enough, a couple of USAID vegetable oil cans that was made today by Hameed, Rahmat and their friend “Mr. Willy”. It is TOTALLY AWESOME, and EXACTLY what Fab is all about.
For those of you who are suckers for numbers, the reflector links up just shy of -71dBm at about 1km, giving it a gain of somewhere between 5 and 6dBi. With a little tweaking and a true parabolic shape, it could easily be as powerful as the small FabFi pictured above (which is roughly 8-10dBi depending on materials)
For me, the irony of the graphic above is particularly acute when one considers that an 18-month World Bank funded infrastructure project to bring internet connectivity to Afghanistan began more than SEVEN YEARS ago and only made its first international link this June. That project, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, is still far from being complete while FabLabbers are building useful infrastructure for pennies on the dollar out of their garbage.
I haven’t been in Afghanistan since September, missing my January window of opportunity this year. Fortunately, our Afghans have discovered Skype and the FabFi-GATR-internet has been sufficiently stable that I haven’t missed much.
Having Afghans with high speed internet and skype is pretty much like having TV (something else we don’t have by choice, like heat). The intrepid FabFi team in Afghanistan (now exclusively Afghans) have been expanding at a quick pace and everyone wants to gab. As long as the connection is up it seems at least one is online and wants to chat. Some of it is utterly content-less and we patiently plod through with the idea that it’s good English practice. Keith is fantastic at half-rolling out of bed in the morning for a couple hours of conversing – I’m just not socially presentable until there’s at least a couple cups of coffee in me.
Previously on That Afghan Show,
One night around 2300 Afghan time, our friends Hameed and Rahmat wanted to video skype with us but the city power isn’t on then. So in the darkness they went to the hospital water tower and climbed the 5 stories to the tippy top and chatted with us from the windy roof of Jalalabad in the middle of the night. We couldn’t see them so well since they were only lit by the light of their own laptop but they could see and hear us which made them silly happy. I hope that gives readers a decent impression of the security situation – it’s not a war zone everywhere. In some places, it’s like any other city with people that just wanna reach out and chat with their friends.
Logistically the FabFi mesh network is hampered by difficulties in obtaining routers in country. This is completely my fault though I thought that I had verified that you could get these routers on my first trip. But progress is occurring even though sometimes it’s hard to see. We’ve discovered that the Afghan fab folk can get joint personal bank accounts at the Jbad branch of Kabul Bank which is backed by some German bank. We’re able to wire transfer funds to and from each other. Now, Afghans can wire us money to purchase routers which we ship to them. In theory, anyway, next week we’re going to try to transfer a small sum to see how it goes. It’s a sore point in our project because it takes local shopkeepers out of the loop and creates a large reliance on order it from America.
The drama these days is a brewing conflict over the key to the water tower at the public health hospital (PHH). Edited to fit your screen and time limits:
HAMEED: Problem: Someone broke the old lock and installed another lock. We (Rahmat and Hameed) have no key to the water tower now. We are about to start working on another connection and may need to get to the tower. Please tell Talwar or someone at the Fablab to give us a key to it. I can get to the top of the tower from another way without opening the lock. But it’d be handy for Rahmat.
RAHMAT: yes that is what we want. there are many people asking us for net connection. but we say them that you need routers and they just find it hard to find routers in Afghanistan or Pakistan
TALWAR (to Amy): Dear Amy sun I did not broken the lock Mr Dr. Shakoor change the lock he toled me Mr Talwar every one in every time going up to the tower we dont know these poeple if some one do something wrong in the tower are you resposible of that i toled him no i am resposible of myself therefor he changed the lock
AMY: I am not your mother (all of you), do not come crying to me when you can’t get along. Afghanistan has many difficulties in her future and you must become brothers and work together to build a working city and country you are proud of. This starts with communicating with each other especially for something so simple as a shared key to a shared resource. I can think of many possible solutions to the who has a key problem, can you? Talwar, Hameed, Rahmat – you are all intelligent grown men capable of figuring out what is the right thing to do. Do it.
TALWAR: Thanks Miss Amy sun form your direction that you gave to Mr Rahmat and Hameed your right your not our mother to solve our all problem we should tray to solve our problem by ourslefe and work friendly. bu i dont know why mr Hameed asked you for the Key he didnot asked me yet for the key, he did not asked in the hospital for the key. is the key is with you they are asking you for the key?
M: Just talked with Talwar and he told me he would leave the key with Dr. Shakoor, head doc, at hospital.
HAMEED: Regarding Talwar, we’ll try to work something out with him.
RAHMAT (to Amy): Yes you said very good things and I agree with.
RAHMAT (to Keith): but we have a small problem that is the key of water tower to which we have no access. the one we have put here has been broken by someone
KEITH: I understand that Talwar has a key. Has Hameed gone to ask him for it?
RAHMAT: Not yet nowadays Hameed is busy with his exams and we will going to activate another new connection these days. We are not fighting we just want the fablab to be extended in Jalalabad
KEITH: Talwar is probably worried that he is losing control of something by giving you access. You must make him see how all of you will be better off by working together.
B: I called Dr. S. He is not budging on having a gate on the tower. He says the key is with him and not with Talwar. I told him that he has to make sure that Hameed can have access to this key when ever he needs it. If there is ever a problem he should call Dr. S. If that doesnt work, he should call me and I will call Dr. S. This is far from an optimal solution, but as Dr. S is unwilling to make copies of keys this seems to be the only option.
I explicitly told Dr.S that Talwar cannot be part of the key handout process. He agreed to this and said that anytime H or R call him he will give it to them directly.
RAHMAT: I , Hameed and one of fabfi users went to Dr.S directly and asked him to give us the key he told us that there are many security reasons that they don’t want to give the key to everyone and also told us that only Talwar will fix everything and also he was telling us that instead of internet the water tower and its water is very important.
TALWAR: i am not the director of hospital to be responsible of the hole hospital that every one coming to me and say give me the key of water tower. dear, hospital has there own director the key is with him every one can get from him not from me than why every make me blame.
We’re now entering the third week of this plot arc. It’s funny, but it’s not. This set of guys are our friends and some of the best hope we’ve seen. They’re intelligent, dedicated, trustworthy, and diligent. They know each other and have worked together to make and assemble reflectors and grow the project, and yet they’re stumbling here where there needs compromise and communication. <sigh> But of course, when and how would they have had opportunity to see this behavior in action?
Baba Tim: Anyone who has spent time working with Afghans has a story similar to Amy’s tale above. The take away point to these two posts is that there is nothing hard about doing COIN. You just have to get out and do it…..it is that easy. Once again I feel compelled to point out that all the good work being done by the Fab Folk is self funded. They have reached the end of their resources and could use a little help. Please take the time to stop by Amy Sun’s blog to donate what you can in support of the Jalalabad Fab Lab. The smoking fast internet we have all enjoyed for the past two years is about to go away forcing Team MIT to come up with a replacement. Without some sort of funding their two years of work will go down the memory hole taking all the hope, dreams, and potential of the local children with it.